Friday, July 09, 2010

No extraditions to the US

Another interesting legal ruling from overseas this morning: the European Court of Human Rights has halted the extradition of a suspected terrorist from the UK to the US. Not because he would receive an unfair trial (he won't), or because he might face the death penalty, but because the penalty if convicted may constitute torture:

However, they said there was a real risk that, in the case of "post-trial detention", Mr Ahmad would be held at a "supermax" jail – the US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, Florence, Colorado, known for short as "ADX Florence".

That raised concerns about breaches of Article 3 of the Human Rights Code on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment: "Their complaints under Article 3 concerning the stringency of conditions there for what could be the rest of their lives [raise] serious questions of fact and law of such complexity that the Court [has] to examine them on their merits," said the judges.

To explain this a little further, the internationally accepted legal definition of torture is the infliction of "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental". Prolonged solitary confinement and social isolation (as inflicted in US "supermax" prisons) certainly meets that criteria - it basically drives people mad. No civilised country extradites where there is a risk of torture, and so the extradition had to be halted.

This could have significant long-term consequences. If the court finds that supermax prisons constitute torture, then the result will be that no European country (and in the longer-run, no civilised country, because non-European courts pay attention to the ECHR's rulings) will be able to extradite to the US on any severe criminal charge where such detention is likely. Sadly, this is unlikely to result in the US changing its vicious prison system (they don't think they can learn anything from foreigners). But it is likely to stop the disease spreading any further.