Journalist, Producer & Researcher

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Eleven Years On: The Silent victims of 9/11


Today marks the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Eleven years ago, on this very day, al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into buildings on American soil. Over 2,000 people in New York, Washington D.C and Pennsylvania died and many were injured. The attacks marked a moment in modern history that would have major consequences for the entire world.  

Most of us remember where we were when the news broke. I am no exception. I clearly remember how I was sat in school, totally oblivious of what was happening. Little did know that these events would not only change the lives of those killed in the attacks but also have a devastating and profound effect on millions of people across the globe, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. 
 
While the world and many of us remember the people who lost their lives, we must not forget the voices of the voiceless who have indirectly also suffered as a result of 9/11. 

In the after-math of 9/11, the Bush and Blair administration responded to the attacks in the exact way al-Qaeda wanted. The War on Terror mantra was what al-Qaeda desperately required in order to make itself into a global brand. The decision to remove the Taliban by invading occupying Afghanistan and then Iraq only strengthened the al-Qaeda narrative and was used to expand global recruitment, as noted by Chris Hedges, the former al-Qaeda correspondent for the New York Times.

Since the United States commenced military action in Iraq, over one million Iraqis and over 4, 000 (officially acknowledged) U.S military personnel have been killed. The total number of UK troops killed in operations in Iraq has reached 178.  

While it is difficult to determine the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, it is estimated that this figure could be well into the millions and thousands for military personnel. The innocents, however, have not only been restricted to foreign lands. London, Madrid, New York, and other major cities throughout the world have been targeted by smaller attacks, which intelligence services warned would be made more likely if the US and UK invaded Iraq.

Along with military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, the War on Terror also led to the introduction of counter-terrorism policies that were specifically targeted at Muslims in the name of countering al-Qaeda terrorism. While targeting Muslims may not have been intentional, these policies bought on a wave on anti-Muslim sentiments ranging from racial attacks to carte blanche surveillance programmes which are still being felt throughout the world today.

We must also remember people like Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician who was shot dead on the London underground by UK police after being mistaken for a ‘suicide bomber.’  Men like Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan are also notable examples of those who have suffered as a result of imbalanced counter-terrorism policies implemented in response to 9/11.

 Let’s also not forget the hundreds of innocent inmates who were and are still held and in Guantanamo Bay. A document published by Wikileaks showed that hundreds of Guantanamo detainees are merely innocent Afghans or Pakistanis, including drivers, farmers and chefs who were illegally charged for offences relating to terrorism and placed in Guantanamo Bay.

Whilst the mainstream understanding has been based on projecting Western nations as the only victims of al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, this is far from the reality on the ground. Indeed more Muslims have perished in al-Qaeda attacks then non-Muslims living in the West. According to an article published in the Washington Times, in 2004 to 2008, only 15% of the 3,010 victims killed in al Qaeda-related attacks were Western. And in 2006 to 2008, only 2% (12 of 661 victims) were from the West, and the remaining 98% of those killed were inhabitants of countries with Muslim majorities.

While many of us around the world attend and watch memorial services or express our condolences to those who were killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, let’s also remember those one million plus who have been the silent victims of 9/11. They also deserve our two minutes of silence.

Featured in the HuffingtonPostUK

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Follow Reyhana Patel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ReyhanaPatel      (@ReyhanaPatel) 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Extradition Laws Fail to Protect British Citizens



Talha Ahsan

 Meet 32 year old British citizen, Talha Ahsan. Talha is a first class honours graduate, poet and writer and suffers from Asperger Syndrome. He is one of Britain's longest serving alleged terror detainees who have served the equivalent of a 12 year sentence at high security prisons, without a trial and without charge, in the UK.

On April 10th 2012, the European Court of Human Rights
ruled that the extradition of Talha along with four other alleged terror suspects to the United States would not breach their rights, despite the prospect of life imprisonment in solitary confinement. While Talha’s final appeal to the European Court of Human Rights is still under consideration, it looks like in less than a month's time; he could be taken away from his loved ones to serve a prison sentence in the US despite never being charged with an offence. He has never visited America and has always denied all terrorism charges.

Imprisoning British citizens without charge or trial goes against everything that Britain or what being British stands for. The UK is the
only country in the world that allows its own citizens to be extradited to another country to face trial, without evidence, and for crimes which committed at all, have been committed in the UK.

Meet Talha Ahsan
On 19 July 2006, Talha Ahsan was arrested at his home under the controversial Extradition Act 2003. He is accused in the US of terrorism-related offences which arise out of an alleged involvement over the period of 1997-2004 with the Azzam series of websites, one of which happened to be located on a server in the US. American prosecutors claim that the now defunct website - Azzam Publications - was used to upload 'extremist' videos and raise funds for the Taliban and insurgents in Chechnya.

Talha Ahsan has never been questioned by British police, despite a number of men also being arrested and questioned from his local area in December 2003 under similar alleged charges. All were released without charge. One of them, Babar Ahmad
, was later compensated £60,000 by the Metropolitan Police for the violent physical abuse he endured whilst being arrested. It was evidence from this encounter which formed the basis of Talha's arrest two and a half years later.

According to the Free Babar Ahmad Campaign
, Azzam.com was an information portal providing updates of conflicts in Chechnya and Afghanistan in the 1990s, similar to websites reporting on updates of the conflicts in Syria today, where there is no independent media coverage. International Relations journalist, Phil Rees, told me that similar websites like Azaam.com are functioning without scrutiny on American servers.

Whichever claim is true may never be known as neither Talha nor Babar Ahmad
have been given a right to have their say in a British court; a right that should be afforded to every British citizen facing any criminal charge.

If extradited, Talha Ahsan faces a prison sentence of up to 70 years in a supermax solitary confinement prison. His Asperger Syndrome, which impacts his ability to process information, has been completely ignored despite experts defining
him as "an extremely vulnerable individual who should be placed in specialist care rather than a supermax prison.”

Innocent until proven guilty

I've never met Talha Ahsan and it is not my call to say whether he is guilty or not. It shouldn't be my decision or the Muslim community's decision. Nor should it be the police or Theresa May's
decision.  Whether he is guilty or not should be determined in a British court by a British judge and jury.

In a speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2011
, Prime Minister, David Cameron stressed the importance of universal human rights to be an integral component of British values. He added that when dealing with extremism, his government should only engage with those organisations and individuals who "believed in universal human rights-including women and people of other faiths, equality before the law, democracy and the right of the people.” The treatment of people subjected to the Extradition Act, such as Ahsan, however, show just how 'universal' human rights are considered by those occupying the corridors of power in Whitehall.

In August 2011, Babar Ahmad's family launched an e-petition
calling for him to be given a trial in the UK. The petition attracted close to 150, 000 signatures making it eligible for an official full parliamentary debate. However, despite David Cameron's words on democracy and the right of the people, the voices of these 150, 000 individuals were ignored by the government when it refused to debate the case.

The Extradition Act 2003
has stirred enormous controversy because it devalues the sovereignty of British citizenship. It was fast-tracked into UK legislation without proper scrutiny. Currently, the act allows the US government to extradite UK citizens and others for offences committed against US law, even though the alleged offence has been committed in the UK by a person living and working in the UK. Although this should work vice versa, many have argued that Britain has been failing to protect its citizens by allowing the US to have an  upper-hand when it comes to extraditing British citizens.  A  Freedom of Information Request to the Home Office revealed that not one single US citizen has been extradited from the US to the UK under the Extradition Act 2003 for conduct committed on US soil. The extradition treaty removes the most elementary civil rights such as habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, access to family and protection from torture and inhumane treatment.  

And it is just not Muslims that are feeling the brunt of this law. Along with Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad, in a similar position are Gary McKinnon, from Glasgow and Richard O’Dwyer, from Sheffield. 

O’Dwyer, a 24 year old student, is the subject of up to 10 years imprisonment for alleged copyright offences relating to TVShack.net, a website that provided links to places where users could watch TV shows and films online. The fact that there are hundreds of other websites operating like this across the world was not considered by the Home Office when it decided to sign off O’Dwyer’s extradition.  Mckinnon, who also suffers from Asperger Syndrome, was indicted by a US court in November 2002 after reportedly hacking into over 90 US Military computer systems from his UK home. He is still fighting extradition. 

As  Hamja Ahsan, Talha Ahsan’s brother argues, “there are close family relationships between all the families affected by this legislation. In sum, a bad piece of legislation bites back at all British citizens. …. Even Lithuania has better protections for its own citizens in relation to extradition than Britain.  In context, France doesn't extradite its citizens at all.  And within Holland, a foreign sentence is served on home ground.

The longer such injustices continue, the more Britain will continue to undermine its credibility and trust in the eyes of its people. It is time for this law to be
reformed. An Early Day Motion 128, supported by 57 MPs has been put forward in the House of Commons urging an immediate reform before any British citizen is further extradited. 

For a country that is supposed to be at the forefront of advocating human rights, democracy and the rule of law, Britain is failing the most important duty of all; protecting its own citizens. 

Featured in the HuffingtonPostUK, Birmingham Press, Counterfire and MPACUK

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Follow Reyhana Patel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ReyhanaPatel      (@ReyhanaPatel)