Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

European Court of Human Rights Ruling Rebukes U.S. Prison System

European Court of Human Rights Ruling Rebukes U.S. Prison System

by Derek Gilna

A suspected terrorist diagnosed as mentally ill will not be extradited from Britain to the United States to face charges that he conspired to establish a terrorist training camp in the U.S., a European court has ruled.

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) denied the extradition of Haroon Rashid Aswat from the United Kingdom to the United States on the grounds that his mental and physical health would face “significant deterioration” in the “more hostile” U.S. prison system.

The ECHR’s initial decision was issued on April 16, 2013; a subsequent ruling, reported in September 2013, resulted from a request by the U.K. for the Grand Chamber to reconsider the case. The decision means Aswat will remain in Britain indefinitely. See: Aswat v. United Kingdom, ECHR Case No. 17299/12.

The Court’s ruling was widely viewed as a rebuke of the U.S. justice system’s severity of punishment and the treatment prisoners receive at “supermax” facilities.

Aswat was indicted for his alleged involvement with radical Islamic cleric and suspected terrorist Abu Hamza in a plot to establish a jihadist training camp in Oregon. British authorities detained him in 2005 after U.S. officials requested his extradition. Hamza, who is partially blind and has parts of both hands amputated, was extradited in 2012 to face trial in the U.S.

Under normal circumstances, Aswat also would have been transferred to the United States. Instead, in 2007 he challenged his extradition on the basis of his diagnosis and treatment for paranoid schizophrenia at a high-security psychiatric hospital west of London.

The ECHR found that, “In light of the medical evidence before it, ... there was a real risk that Mr. Aswat’s extradition to the USA, a country to which he had no ties, and to a different, potentially more hostile prison environment, would result in a significant deterioration in his mental and physical health.”

The Court noted that “such deterioration would be capable of amounting to treatment in breach of Article 3” of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits “inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice had told the ECHR that they could not say for certain how long Aswat would be incarcerated pending trial, nor where he would be held.

The Court said that if extradited, Aswat “could remain in pre-trial detention for a number of years and there was no information as to the conditions of that detention; and that it was likely that if convicted in the USA he would be detained in ADX Florence (a ‘supermax’ prison), where he could be placed alone in a cell and the conditions of isolation were likely to exacerbate his mental illness.”

The ECHR added it had given “full consideration to the submissions of the U.S. Department of Justice made in the proceedings before the Court, and observed, in particular, that it could not be determined with certainty in which detention facility or facilities Mr. Aswat would be placed if extradited to the USA, either before or after trial. It was also unclear how long he might expect to remain on remand pending trial.”

The ECHR’s ruling marks a rare instance where extradition to the United States was denied on grounds other than the possibility that a defendant might face the death penalty.

Meanwhile, Abu Hamza, Aswat’s co-defendant, went to trial on federal terrorism charges. He was found guilty in May 2014 and will be sentenced in September.

Sources: In These Times, BBC,


As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Aswat v. United Kingdom