On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of the UK’s ability to extradite five terrorist suspects to a U.S. “supermax” prison. These prisons, not unknown for their relative inhumanity, place prisoners under intense isolation – both from the outside world and from fellow human beings. That the EU Court of Human Rights believes such prisons avoid exposing prisoners to “ill” or “inhumane” treatment is borderline unbelievable.
Admittedly, this decision has been some time in the making. For over nine years, Abu Hamza al-Masri has been fighting against a U.S. extradition order under grounds that our system falls under "torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” which is in violation of a European sense of human rights and dignity. While extradition is a common enough practice with plenty of good and useful purposes, this particular case was unique because it required European courts to more or less assent to a completely American dispensation of justice.
Thus, while the UK has certainly facilitated its security relationship with the United States, one wonders at the cost. Indeed, the whole thing seems rather explicitly political in light of the Court’s earlier decision to forbid an extradition to Jordan. The Court’s reasoning was that Jordan’s justice system makes regular usage of evidence obtained via torture, and to expose another human being to such treatment would be immoral. Could the same not be said about the supermax prisons?
Statements released both by British Prime Minister David Cameron and the U.S. Embassy expressed pleasure at the ruling, which may not actually be finalized for another several months. While some small avenue for appeal does remain, it is more than likely that Tuesday’s decision will stand unaltered.
This entire incident ought to make us think a lot about the nature of punishment that we are willing to bring on to our fellow men – innocent or guilty. Never mind that one of the men, Babar Ahmad, has been held for over eight years at this point without trial; there is a larger issue: when the European Human Rights Court is able to look at a place described as a “cleaner version of hell” and give it a pass, something is wrong.
Aristotle described human beings as being, in essence, political animals. Everywhere you look, people gather into relationships, tribes, teams, businesses, parties, and societies – we are always coming together. It is a part of how and why we work. It is a hard thing to look mercifully at people who want to do bad things and hurt others, but the “justice” here is nothing more than cruel vengeance. We know instinctively that these supermax prisons are inhumane, but we have plenty of evidence that testifies to the same.
In all, the European Court of Human Rights had a chance on Tuesday to stand up for the sake of human dignity, and they failed horribly.