Talha was arrested on 19 July 2006 without prima facie evidence. The British arrest was a response to a request from the USA under the 2003 Extradition Act. On 6 October 2012, Talha was extradited to the United States where he pleaded not guilty of conspiracy to support terrorists in Afghanistan and Chechnya. He is accused of involvement with a series of Azzam websites, which have been denounced by authorities as part of a conspiracy to provide material support and communication links to people engaged in terrorism. One of these websites was located on a server in the United States.
He has never been arrested or questioned by British police, despite a number of men being so from his local area in December 2003 for similar allegations, all of whom were released without charge. Talha will stand trial in America on terrorism-related offences; if convicted he will spend 70 years in supermax solitary confinement.
Hamja Ahsan, Talha’s brother, has subsequently dedicated his life to the fight against his brother’s extradition. I wanted to know about the man who had perhaps been lost in his Government’s war on terror. “He was ironically concerned with civil liberties’ erosions himself, and campaigned for the British Guantanamo bay detainees and against torture, illegal detention years before it was fashionable and mainstream – as well as the Babar Ahmad extradition, attending a demo at Royal Courts of Justice – just imminently prior to his own arrest.”
“He remained concerned about other British injustices such as deaths in Hillsborough and deaths in police custody, right until his own extradition in his family prison conversations at visits. He had a job interview to be a librarian on the day of his arrest, and that is the type of person he is, he still talks of his imaginary PhDs he would like to do. He gained a 1st class degree in Arabic at SOAS whilst teaching himself the language from a book at the age of 16.”
In reference to the websites and charges of terrorism related offences, “President Bill Clinton said any association with the Islamic Emirate government (1995-2001) after 1998 would be illegal (as the government were seen as harbouring at the time) – there is no actual act of terror that has any direct link – even 9/11 is condemned on the site. Chechen Independence leader Ahmed Zakayev lives in exile in Britain, and Chechen insurgent is not on the list of proscribed terrorist organisations in the UK and never has been.”
“Every time he calls from a US Supermax prison, our family huddle together in a room, and it’s as if time stops still.”
How did he respond to the US allegations and US indictment against his brother? “The US indictment from the state of Connecticut concerns allegations from 1997 – 2004 relating to an obsolete website (obsolete since 2001 in US servers and 2002 in UK/Asia servers) and a London-based publishing house concerned with conflicts in the Bosnia, Chechen independence and the Afghan Islamic Emirate government with assorted articles on Iraq sanctions, Palestine and Dagestan. Whilst claiming to be an independent news service about foreign and historical Mujahideen – the US indictment alleges “conspiracy to material support” and “aiding and abetting”.
The “aiding and abetting” concerns the distribution of a video in Bosnia which has already been cleared by a British anti-terrorism judge as a historical document and not terrorist material. “Unfortunately, precedent in British law doesn’t apply in US cases. The use of pseudo-experts, such as the notorious Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism expert who doesn’t even speak or read Arabic, inflates claims that it is used by US prosecutors. It means a US judge may look at the same facts differently. Talha denies all charges and simply said, put me on trial in the UK for the six years of my detention without trial or prima facie evidence.”
Why did Hamja believe the Statutory appeal to the High Court of England and Wales was rejected, alongside the claim or a judicial review against the DPS in 2008, and then at the appeal to the House of Lords in May 2009? “The US-UK Extradition treaty of 2003 was part of the reckless authoritarian legislation done – eroding cornerstone civil rights such as habeas corpus and the presumption of innocence – under David Blunkett and the Blair-Bush partnership. It removed the requirement of prima facie evidence from the previous extradition, which had previously saved Lotfi Raissi, the Algerian pilot falsely accused of training 9/11 hijackers. He has since been paid £2 million in compensation from the Home Office.”
Hamja works with the ‘Friends Extradited’ and the ‘We are Babar Ahmad’ campaign, who requested Talha was put him on trial in the UK to determine if he was guilty. Then if Talha were found guilty, Britain could put him on trial with evidence in a UK court of law. Requests are being made for a “forum” bar, which means a British judge rather than US prosecutor can decide where the best place for the trial to take place is. The campaign hopes to raise the profile of prolonged solitary confinement and extreme isolation in US prisons, something which has been condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
“We are asking for the same provisions that Liberty asked for and sentences served in their home country rather than in US prisons, which are scandalous and terrifying places, thousands of miles away from home, family and friends. Please bear in mind that Talha never set foot in the US.” The campaign ‘Friends Extradited’ is asking for trial-ready cases, instead of spending years in pretrial custody and solitary confinement prior to a trial.
“I have found a new set of heroes in the United States such as Robert King of Angola 3 (who made a video for Talha) and we have talked on platforms together. There is also Bonnie Kerness, a pioneering Quaker prison activist, academic Jeanne Theoharis and Valarie Kaur, a film-maker and advocate based in Connecticut who just made a film on the Supermax prison that Talha and Babar are detained in, which I hope to tour next year. There is James Ridgeway, the veteran journalist who founded Solitary Watch. All of them have since written to the family or Talha in prison.”
26 human rights organisations within the United States, along with 150 academics have objected to the European Court Judgement on the case of Talha, Babar Ahmad and others vs. US, which examined US prison conditions of extreme isolation and life without parole. In The Nation, Jeanne Theoharis and Saskia Sassen said it gave a green light to torture through extreme isolation. All of which was not reported in the UK press. Inspired by Talha’s spirit of endurance and courage along with his ability to maintain his sense of humour, Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen read out Talha’s poem entitled, Sonnet of Grime for my Right Honourable Theresa May, in which the last line reads, ‘Theresa May, my babe, my crazy chick, all I ask: drop this extraditing shtick.’
Theresa May, home secretary, fought for Gary McKinnon, who won his appeal against extradition and has also been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. “Many anti-racist organisations such as JUST and Muslim organisations such as Islamic Human Rights organisation and the Muslim Council for Britain, saw this as a case of racist two-tier law or a partisan application of the law. It was the condition of Asperger’s Syndrome with an assessed suicide risk, which were also in Talha’s papers. Theresa May has a long-track record of racism, with the detention of Palestinian activist Raed Saleh and the banning of popular TV show host Zakir Naik from the UK. I think The Daily Mail was the pivotal factor – which had a British justice for British Citizens’ campaign but referred to the British Muslim suspects as ‘other unwanted guests’”.
Hamja believes that Theresa May made the right and compassionate decision for Gary, “I am happy for my friend Janis Sharp, Gary’s mother and campaigner, who spoke on a platform with my dad at a demonstration outside Downing Street. I am happy that her family does not have to go through the same terrifying hellish ordeal that my family are going through. After nearly two months we received a phone call and now, usually, we receive a phone call and a letter every month. Every time he calls from a US Supermax prison, our family huddle together in a room, and it’s is as if time stops still.”
What does a future in solitary confinement hold for Talha? “Prolonged isolation in a US prison causes long-term physical and psychological damage. 23 hours a day in a room the size of your bathroom with no human contact. So I always worry for him. It has been psychological hell for the family. This is the strongest case against extradition, the hell on the families, caused by separation, and is not something the government whitewash, the Scott Baker report, even vaguely considers. The plea-bargaining system, the damage caused by years of pretrial solitary confinement and the post-9/11 hysteria trial by media, may likely result in an unfair trial and an unjust outcome.”
If convicted, Talha will slip out of the agenda and into a Supermax prison in Colorado. It holds some of the world’s most notorious American terrorists and murderers. In April 2012, Mark Collins, a spokesman for the prison told the BBC, “We have only the most violent, disruptive and escape-prone inmates in the federal system”. It is nothing less than a cleaner version of hell.
Whilst Asperger’s Syndrome may limit those who are afflicted with this form of autism, from effectively communicating, Talha’s words persist in unfolding his torment. Talha’s fate has become tangled in this war in terror. Extradition has written him out of the script of living history. In Talha’s poem Extradition he laments, “Perhaps they’ll clean their hands of me once there. And then my country feels I’m wiped away.” Talha’s case doesn’t start until October 2013.