On December 10, two British Muslims pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in a Connecticut court. The U.S. government accused Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan of recruiting jihadi fighters and sending money to terrorists in Chechnya and Afghanistan.
Ahmad ran a website, azzam.com (now defunct), that urged recruits to take martial arts courses, read books on military warfare and learn how to use an AK47 rifle. The website further called for jihad against "infidels," appealed for financial support and provided detailed instructions about how to send funds to named Taliban officials in Pakistan. British police intelligence claim messages from the Taliban passed through a string of rented post office boxes operated by Ahmad. The U.S. government also alleged that Ahmad was linked to a Chechen terror leader "who participated in, among other things, the planning of the Moscow theater attack in October 2002," in which 120 civilians were killed.
Babar Ahmad's website, as seen five days after the 9/11 attacks
Ahmad was extradited to the United States on October 5, 2012 after a lengthy battle against extradition in the UK, which garnered the support of various politicians, journalists and campaign groups -- some of which proclaimed Ahmad to be innocent.
The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), for instance, is one of the largest student umbrella groups and represents thousands of Muslims students. In 2006, Faisal Hanjra, Head of Student Affairs, said, "Deporting individuals like Babar Ahmad will serve further to reinforce the notion that when it comes to issues of terror the only thing you need to be guilty of, is being Muslim. Today it is Babar who has been extradited, tomorrow it may be any one of us. It could be your son, father or brother who is facing potential torture and injustice."
The day before Ahmad's extradition, The Guardian published an opinion piece by Ahmad, in which he explained his admiration for the Western justice system, habeas corpus and the U.S. as a sovereign nation. Ahmad also expressed his concern for the erosion of civil liberties, questioned the equity of the U.S.-British extradition treaty, denounced the cost to the taxpayer of a lengthy extradition process and compared his plight to those killed in the Bloody Sunday shootings.
These pained entreaties for Western human rights ideals to be upheld are a far cry from Ahmad's actions over the past decades, in which he fought with Bosnian killing squads, circulated letters by Osama Bin Laden justifying attacks on Western countries and "the Jews," and "sought to provide material support -- in terms of supplies, money, personnel, and weapons -- to aid the Taliban, Al Qaida, and the Chechen Mujahideen in Chechnya and Afghanistan."
The campaign behind Ahmad, however, has always sought to exploit human rights rhetoric to garner support for his fight and further delay his extradition. Ahmad's supporters are "demopaths" – people who use democratic language and invoke human rights only when it serves their interests.
The Free Babar Ahmad campaign, for instance, blames Ahmad's fate on institutional "Islamphobia" and treatment "usually found in dictatorial regimes." The campaign's website features a "messages of support" page, in which the first "key message" is from "Ivor Cohen," who claims to represent Britain's "Jewish community." Having exhibited its Semitic credentials, the campaign also, without any apparent confliction, lists messages of support from Suhaib Hasan, a leading Islamic Imam in Britain who claims Jews have secretly plotted the mass-killing of Christians. Hasan has also advocated, "The chopping of the hands off thieves, the flogging of adulterers, and flogging of the drunkard. Then, jihad against the non-Muslims, against those people who are the oppressors." The human rights veneer appears to be a thin one.
Civil rights groups, nonetheless, have awarded "human rights prizes" to Babar Ahmad's lawyers for their work fighting US extradition requests.
In 2011, another comment piece in The Guardian, penned by Guardian columnist Fiona Murphy, lauded Ahmad's "principled stand" against the police and commended Ahmad for his "bravery."
In November 2011, the BBC's in-house magazine, Ariel, published an article reporting Ahmad's gratitude for the support of a BBC journalist. The BBC quoted their own journalist explaining: "It was such a personal gesture. A piece I did was heard by the man at the very heart of it. For me his letter shows how…[we] can make a difference."
Ahmad has enjoyed strong political support as well. Sadiq Khan MP, the Shadow Justice Secretary and Ahmad's childhood friend, has lobbied against the extradition request. In 2005 and 2006, British police bugged conversations between Khan and Ahmad. The MP had visited Ahmad in jail "not as an MP, but as a friend."
In 2012, Caroline Lucas, a Green Party MP, tabled an Early Day Motion, which stated, "it would not be in the public interest for anyone to be extradited to the US from the UK" until extradition legislation had been amended, and found 65 MPs to sign the motion. Public meetings were also held in Parliament, at which a number of MPs spoke out in support of Ahmad.
It is not difficult to uncover much of this human rights rhetoric as a charade, or to understand who is the driving force behind these campaigns. The telephone number for the We Are Babar Ahmad campaign, for instance, is the same as the press office number for the East London Mosque, which frequently hosts extremist preachers such as Sheikh Saad al-Beraik, who has called for Jewish women to be enslaved: "Muslim brothers in Palestine, do not have any mercy neither compassion on the Jews, their blood, their money, their flesh … Why don't you wage jihad? Why don't you pillage them?"
What is more difficult to understand is why the media and a considerable of politicians join in with the puffery that paints these terrorist operatives as victims of terrible injustice.
We have seen this before, though -- and to murderous effect. Just after the 9/11 attacks, the British authorities detained Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian national, who was later placed under a control order. Rideh had admitted working in Pakistan for the Islamic Services Bureau, run by Osama bin Laden's mentor, Abdullah Azzam. Police further alleged that Rideh distributed funds to terrorist groups with links to al-Qaeda and procured false documents to help jihadi volunteers travel to training camps in Afghanistan.
Newspapers such as the Guardian and the Independent printed puff pieces that included impassioned appeals by Abu Rideh's wife and children and painted Abu Rideh as a persecuted refugee unable to find peace in this world.
Groups such as Amnesty International launched a campaign in support of Abu Rideh, which implied he was the victim of state conspiracy.
In 2009, Abu Rideh was finally granted permission to leave the UK. Then, in 2010, jihadi web forums announced that Abu Rideh had become a "martyr in Afghanistan" and died fighting as part of an Al Qaeda terror squad.
Just before Rideh left the country, Amnesty International's "counter-terrorism campaigner" Sara Macneice told the media:
"It is very welcome news that Mahmoud Abu Rideh will now be able to leave the UK and seek entry to a safe country, and will no longer be subjected to the repressive measures of his Control Order, which have driven him to utter desperation. I have spoken to Mr Abu Rideh and this decision has given him real hope that he may now be reunited with his wife and Children's rights, and be able to rebuild his life."
As with Babar Ahmad, Abu Rideh's supporters only claimed that they fought injustice, and that Rideh was the victim of state brutality.
Ahmad has now revealed, albeit less explosively than Rideh, that he, too, is guilty of acting in support of terrorist organizations. But it is most unlikely that Ahmad's media and political cheerleaders will renounce their former support for this Taliban operative, even though one only has to take the most cursory glance through the archived website once run by Ahmad to understand what this Al Qaeda operative was doing.
When the United Kingdom's Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Sadiq Khan, personally intervened to stop Babar Ahmad's extradition, what, then, did that mean? Is that Khan believed Ahmad to be innocent? Or is it that this politician -- who will most likely, under the next government, be the minister in charge of the Ministry of Justice -- believed the United States of America's judicial system is so institutionally corrupt that it will imprison an innocent man? Now that Ahmad has pleaded guilty, what does Khan believe now?
Likewise, for the broadsheet newspaper editors who offered Ahmad column inches, and for the "human rights" groups who joined arms with extremist institutions in opposing Ahmad's extradition, what does Ahmad's guilty plea mean?
Will these self-proclaimed champions of liberalism, human rights, and habeas corpus also offer their time to Ahmad's victims -- the women and children slaughtered by the very Taliban fighters to whom Ahmad's supplied money and personnel?
The most important question, though, is why some of those purportedly dedicated to human rights oppose the extradition of terror suspects to face trial in United States. If they believe that justice should not transcend national borders, then why did Ahmad's supporters attempt to prevent Ahmad's extradition by appealing to the European Court of Human Rights, also an international court?
If Ahmad were indeed an innocent man, he could have avoided the years of imprisonment without trial by accepting the extradition order, instead of incessant appeals through many layers of court dates. Ahmad could have flown to America and cleared his name. Those who expressed support for Ahmad's plight are aware of this. Who can truly believe Ahmad is an innocent man? As with Abu Rideh, Ahmad's supporters, therefore, must believe the American courts present a greater injustice than the murderous crimes of the Taliban.
Babar Ahmad spent eight years in prison partly because of the support he received from human rights activists; they have worked not to effect justice, but to avoid it at all costs.