In the War on Terror, assumed guilty until extradition

An excerpt in the Guardian from Victoria Brittain's new book highlights the trauma of fighting extradition

By Natasha Lennard

Published February 20, 2013 10:14PM (EST)


In the Guardian Wednesday, an excerpt from a book by Victoria Brittain highlights the trauma experienced by families of al-Qaida suspects imprisoned for years in Britain facing deportation  to the United States. The passage tells the story of Ragaa, a religious Muslim woman from Egypt who moved to London following her husband Adel Abdul Bary. Abdul Bary had been arrested, imprisoned and tortured in Egypt when Hosni Mubarak and his predecessor had overseen roundups of religious leaders, politicians, journalists, army officers and others. When their family moved to London, Abdul Bary -- a human rights lawyer -- became, as Brittain puts it, "a bit player in one of the landmark cases of the war on terror."

Via the Guardian:

In 1990, Adel gained refugee status in the UK, three years after he had arrived. Ragaa and the children joined him, and for five years they lived a quiet family life in London. Ragaa spoke little English, only went out occasionally, always with her husband and his friends and their wives. "He did everything, everything, for me and the kids here in London," she says. "And I was happy because he was with me, playing with the kids, taking us to the park – it was the normal life we never had in Egypt."

In the summer of 1998, al-Qaida blew up the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 220 people and wounding nearly 5,000. It ended that normal life in London. There was a dawn raid by British police in white contamination suits, brandishing truncheons and breaking down the front door. Ragaa and the children were traumatized. A dozen or so men were suddenly in their bedrooms, shouting for her husband, searching the children's clothes, tearing out pages from any books with telephone numbers.

Brittain details how, despite the fact that the British police could find no basis to bring terror charges against Abdul Bary, the U.S. requested his extradition on terror charges based on the very same evidence available to the British police. Abdul Bary was charged with participating in the bombings of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and has been indicted in a case that also charged Osama bin Laden:

The British police found there was no terrorism case to charge Abdul Bary with. He was charged with possession of gas canisters, bailed, and then acquitted in a jury trial. (An official letter from the anti-terrorism police at the time stated that after nine months of exhaustive investigation, they found that he and the other Egyptian men arrested with him had no connection with al-Qaida, nor any connection with terrorism in Britain.)

However, six months later, Ragaa more than once noticed someone who seemed to be following them. Her old anxiety from the Cairo years flooded back. Her husband reported what she'd seen to the police. A week later he was rearrested. His extradition was requested by the US on exactly the same evidence dismissed in Britain the previous year. It had been sent by the UK to the US as part of the great fishing net of shared intelligence in the war on terror. His lawyers began to fight the extradition in a process that soon took on the character of Dickens's Jarndyce v Jarndyce in Bleak House.

What followed was thirteen years in prison fighting deportation to the U.S.. Abdul Bary was given limited to no access to his family and was, along with other Muslim men facing deportation, reportedly regularly treated to "disrespectful" and "racist" behavior from prison guards. "Extradition had become inevitable in the autumn of 2012, after the European Court of Human Rights refused his final appeal," notes Brittain, adding "since then, Ragaa has had only two 15-minute phone calls from Adel in his New York prison. He spoke to each child, leaving just time for a quiet word of greeting between husband and wife. Ragaa knows he is in solitary confinement and sees only his lawyers. The trial will be in October."

Writing in 2011, prior to Abdul Bary's extradition, Brittain noted that "the one concrete thing Abdul Bary is on trial for is possession of a fax announcing the embassy bombings – found in his office weeks afterwards." She commented that "such faxes were being distributed freely in places like outside the Regent's Park mosque, in central London, at the time."

Regardless of the outcome of October's trial, the terror suspect has already spent 13 years in prison just fighting deportation. His case highlights the mockery of an "innocent until proven guilty" premise under the War on Terror.





Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

MORE FROM Natasha LennardFOLLOW natashalennardLIKE Natasha Lennard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Adel Abdul Bary Al-qaida Egypt Extradition Terrorism Victoria Brittain