Talha Ahsan (in his own words) – House of Lords Written Evidence to Select Committee on Extradition #HLExtradition 26th September 2014 – Talha 1st written document since his freedom

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Syed Talha Ahsan – Written evidence (EXL0067)

Submission to House of Lords Select Committee on the Extradition Law 2014


My name is Syed Talha Ahsan. I am a British citizen born in London, UK. I am 35 years old. I was educated at Dulwich College, South London and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. I am diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome – a condition on the autism spectrum.

Eight years ago I was on the verge of becoming a professional librarian. I want to share with the Lords Extradition Law Committee some details of my personal experience with extradition.

My submission is organised as follows:

  1. Events Prior to my Arrest Relating to my Co-Defendant, Babar Ahmad
  2. My Arrest and Extradition Proceedings
  3. My Case in the US
  4. Removal to the US and Conditions of Incarceration
  5. Sajid Badat – Shoe Bomber and the US government’s Co-operating Witness
  1. Lord Justice Scott Baker’s Report and the Inconsistency with his Ruling in Sheppard and Whittle
  1. Findings of the Judge at Sentencing
  1. Application of Notification
  1. Conclusion


I thank the committee for understanding my current circumstances and extending the deadline for my evidence.


Respectfully submitted,


Syed Talha Ahsan

26 September 2014


  1. Events Prior to my Arrest Relating to my Co-Defendant, Babar Ahmad
  1. On 2 December 2003 four men in my local area were arrested in pre-dawn raids by Metropolitan Police anti-terrorism officers. After six days of questioning all were released without charge.
  2. One of the men, Babar Ahmad, was assaulted by arresting officers and sustained 73 physical injuries.
  3. In July 2004 the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge Mr Ahmad with any criminal offence arising from evidence seized in the December 2003 police raid.
  4. On 5 August 2004, weeks after the CPS decision, Mr Ahmad was arrested on his way home from work pursuant to an extradition request by the US under the terms of Part 2 of the Extradition Act 2003. He was denied bail and taken into custody.
  5. On 18 March 2009 the Metropolitan Police admitted full liability for the 2003 assault and compensated Mr Ahmad £60, 000 while he remained in custody at high security prisons.
  6. For further details on Mr Ahmad’s case I refer the Committee to his submissions to the Home Office Extradition Review in 2010/11.
  1. My Arrest and Extradition Proceedings
  1. During the searches in December 2003 a floppy disk was found in the house of Mr Ahmad’s parents. This disk contained a Word document with a description of movements by US naval ships in Spring 2001.
  2. The document was a transcription of an unsolicited near-illegible handwritten letter sent to the Azzam Publications postal box. Azzam Publications was an online media outlet focussing on the conflicts in Bosnia and Chechnya. Mr Ahmad was in charge of Azzam Publications. I typed up that document when in April until September 2001 I was giving occasional help to Mr Ahmad with mail orders for books and tapes sold by Azzam Publications. The file’s author name was mine.
  3. The CPS did not regard the existence of this document as sufficient grounds for prosecution for him and in turn for me. I have never been questioned by British police arising from this document.
  4. On 8 February 2006 my family home was searched by Metropolitan Police at the behest of US authorities. Amongst items taken were two computers which were returned 72 hours later with the contents intact. Personal property belonging to other family members was also taken including my younger brother’s music CDs and my nephew’s cartoon DVDs.
  5. On 19 July 2006 I was arrested at my home for extradition to the United States. The police came to my home under the guise of returning my passport. Before I signed for its return I was told an accompanying officer wanted to speak to me who promptly arrested me. I was placed in handcuffs and taken to a waiting car. I was denied bail on the basis of information presented in an affidavit by a US assistant attorney from Connecticut. As I had no right to see the evidence for those allegations I could not challenge my denial of bail.
  6. On 19 March 2007 the Magistrates Court ordered my extradition. At the High Courts on 10 April 2008 I lost both my appeal against extradition and an appeal for judicial review into the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to not charge me in the UK.
  7. There have been significant parliamentary protest in late 2006 about the extradition of UK citizens to the US particularly when they have never left the UK. As a result there was a UK-US agreement that cases would be carefully looked at as to whether they could be more appropriately prosecuted here. Mine was the first case to raise this but the court said it was too late for me and that my case was already linked to Babar Ahmad.
  8. I was classified as a category A prisoner subject to protocols such as regular strip searches. I was held at high security prisons: HMP Belmarsh until 22 January 2008 then the Detainee Unit, HMP Long Lartin where I remained until my extradition on 5 October 2012 (with a stay at HMP Manchester between 13 October 2010 and 6 January 2011 owing to building work at the Detainee Unit). Certain high-profile Muslim preachers, who I avoided when I was growing up for fear they may get me into trouble, were my fellow inmates.
  9. On 9 December 2008 the then Governor, Ferdie Parker, prohibited all members of the Detainee Unit without any individualised risk assessment from mixing with the general population of the prison. We were no longer allowed to mix with mainstream prisoners for use of the gym, education or Friday prayers.
  10. After a visit to the Detainee Unit on 4 April 2011 HM Inspectorate of Prisons reported that “too little attention was paid to their uniquely isolated and uncertain position.”
  11. Ten days after my extradition the Home Secretary allowed Gary McKinnon, with whom I share the same medical conditions, to remain in the UK based upon associative risks. A psychiatric report in 2009 by Dr Quinton Deeley, one of the country’s leading authorities on autism, also described my vulnerabilities to suicidal ideation stating: “It should be noted that by virtue of his Asperger’s syndrome and depressive disorder, Mr Ahsan is an extremely vulnerable individual who, from a psychiatric perspective, would be more appropriately placed in a specialist service for adults with autistic disorders and co-morbid mental health problems, with a level of security dictated by his risk assessment”. I noted that the Home Secretary procrastinated in her decision for Mr Mckinnon, who had long exhausted all remedies against extradition, until my ECtHR case had been dismissed and I had been extradited.



  1. My Case in the US
  1. In the US I was held in solitary confinement at Northern Correctional Institution (NCI), the state supermax of Connecticut. I was housed in the same block as Death Row inmates. There were multiple suicide attempts and incidents of self-harm during my stay there.
  2. On 10 December 2013 as part of a plea bargain for a sentence cap at fifteen years and facilitation to serve the sentence in the UK, I pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and one count of providing material support to terrorists. I was not guilty of either but I otherwise faced the potential of receiving a life sentence if a jury convicted me in an atmosphere of serious prejudice.
  3. In February 2012, Lord Carlile QC, the former reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, described in an interview with Sky news that the plea bargain system in the US was “appalling” and “intimidating.” He said about one defendant: “Who can resist that sort of pressure? It is irrelevant whether the evidence he gives here is true or false, whether the plea he gives is true or false. It is the process. If you examine English law, particularly the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, then most American plea bargains would not be admitted as part of the English evidential system.”
  4. Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, has also criticised the plea bargain system. In March 2012 Kent News reported Mr Farage saying about one defendant: “It’s not a fair judicial system and I think it is unlikely he will get bail due to this as I imagine they will make his stay as unpleasant as possible to make him plead guilty.” He also described US prisons as “absolutely brutal.” It is not a controversial or radical position to find fault with the US judicial system and its prisons.
  5. On 16 July 2014 Judge Janet Hall sentenced me to credit for time served.  I was taken into immigration custody and held at medium security county jails. I wore leg shackles and handcuffs tied to a belly chain when transported from the holding centre to the airport up until the point I entered the aeroplane. I returned to the UK on 21 August.
  6. During domestic extradition proceedings I was represented by Gareth Peirce of Birnberg Peirce & Partners. In the US I was represented by Richard Reeve and Anand Balakrishnan of Sheehan & Reeve. I have no prior convictions.
  1. Removal to the US and Conditions of Incarceration
  1. Prior to my extradition I had never visited the US. I knew no relatives there or any friends. The first time I set foot in the US, I was wearing a jumpsuit in handcuffs and leg shackles while deprived of sight and sound by goggles and ear muffs.
  2. During my time in UK custody I had a clean disciplinary record. I was described by Ferdie Parker, then governor of HMP Long Lartin, as a “model prisoner.” Since 2007 after regular reviews I continually maintained Enhanced status as an inmate. I was entitled to the maximum privileges given to inmates at high security prisons, including wearing my own clothes, cooking my own food and using a fully equipped gym. None of these features were available during my time in solitary confinement.
  3. At an RAF base I was processed by US Homeland Security handlers in the presence of British extradition police. During times when I had to wait for others to finish I was made to sit facing a corner as a Homeland Security handler stood over me. I could only use the toilet with the door open in full view of the handler. Our bodies were examined, including below the waist undressed, and photographs were taken. I was not permitted to communicate with my co-defendant sitting beside me. I was boarded separately upon a private jet in handcuffs and leg shackles deprived of sight and hearing flanked by two handlers who took me on a zig-zag route. Once the plane was in flight the goggles and ear muffs were removed. I remained in handcuffs and leg shackles throughout the five – hour flight. When it was time to eat my right hand was uncuffed while my left hand remained secured to the belly chain. Once again, to use the toilet the door had to remain open and in full view of a handler. In every other regard, the FBI agents and the Homeland Security handlers were respectful and polite.
  4. When we landed in Connecticut the goggles and ear muffs were put back on. I was escorted into a vehicle and driven to the Federal Courthouse in New Haven where I was guided into a holding cell before the goggles and ear muffs were removed. Our arraignment occurred a few hours later and we had the opportunity to meet our attorneys shortly before. After our arraignment we were placed in handcuffs tied to a belly chain and shackled with leg irons before being taken by the US Marshals in an armed convey of vehicles to NCI.
  5. At NCI I was taken into a small holding cell. I was surrounded by Correctional Officers (COs) who held me as they took off my clothes. My hair and beard were examined. My glasses were confiscated. I was made to squat and cough while undressed below the waist. I was placed in a Ferguson anti-suicide smock – a one piece garment made of polyester held together with velcro. I had no undergarments. My shoes and socks were confiscated and I was given paper slippers. I was handcuffed behind my back and tethered to leg shackles. I was examined by medical staff and then escorted by COs down a long concrete tunnel with no natural light.
  6. I was placed in a concrete cell which had only a metal bed frame, a mattress and a safety blanket. There was also a steel sink-toilet unit.  I was told to lie face down on the bunk. The leg shackles were removed. The paper slippers were taken too. I attempted to get up but I was told to remain in place. After the door closed I was told to approach the trap and the handcuffs were removed too.
  7. I was not allowed soap, a toothbrush or a pen. I had to request toilet paper from COs who passed my cell for inspection every 15 minutes. The toilet could only be flushed by a CO with a switch outside the cell. The faucet water ran for one minute with a one minute delay. Meals were served in polystyrene cups without utensils. I requested vegetarian food but was refused. There was a window in the door a few inches wide and two feet long for observation. There was a similar window at the back of the cell that faced onto a brick wall. There was no way to know the time without asking a CO. Some of the COs were telling inmates that a terrorist has been placed in the cell.
  8. After four days in these conditions I was taken out to see the doctor. I was strip searched and placed in handcuffs tethered to leg shackles behind my back. I walked barefoot on concrete to the medical room. I was then placed in a normal cell that had a metal desk and stool. I was given two yellow jumpsuits and 3 changes of undergarment. My glasses were returned a few days later. It was only after the Vice-Consul, Jacqueline Greenlaw, visited that I received basic toiletries, pens and shower shoes.
  9. Some of the COs, in particular Mssrs. Orcutt and Congelos, had a campaign of hostility against me. At breakfast time they would recite the pledge of allegiance outside my door. They told other inmates I was a terrorist. They would conduct frequent “shake down” searches of my cell. They would be excessive in strip searches. I also believed they tampered with my food as my cell was in a blind spot. I raised the matter with the prison chaplain, Deacon Bernd, and the counsellor. They were eventually moved.
  10. I was unable to make a telephone call to my family for over a month. Every time I left my cell I was strip searched and placed in handcuffs tethered to leg shackles. I had showers wearing leg shackles. I exercised alone in the recreation yard. I was always polite and respectful with staff. I never got a “ticket” or disciplinary offence. After some months I no longer had to leave my cell wearing handcuffs or leg shackles unless during lockdowns or for transportation.
  1. Sajid Badat – Shoe Bomber and the US government’s Co-operating Witness
  1. On 9 to 10 April 2014 the government’s witness Sajid Badat gave evidence via videolink. Mr Badat was in an undisclosed location in the UK. My co-defendant, Babar Ahmad and I, were in the Federal building in Hartford, Connecticut. We wore leg shackles throughout the proceedings. Our attorneys flew to London to cross-examine the witness.


  1. On February 28, 2005 Mr Badat had pleaded guilty to involvement in a conspiracy to destroy a US-bound aircraft with explosives concealed in his shoes. He still has an outstanding indictment against him and refused to travel to the US to give his deposition in person. Investigators learned how he regularly met with senior Al-Qaeda members, including Usama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.


  1. Altogether he served just over six years in prison. By comparison I served eight years with two in solitary confinement.


  1. We had access to four large binders of verbatim transcripts and summaries of interviews he had with UK police and the FBI since 2004.


  1. We also had transcripts of interviews with British detainees at Guantanamo Bay by the investigating officers in our cases.


  1. In April 2012 the Home Select Committee expressed concern that the British taxpayer has been supporting Mr Badat with accommodation and expenses after his release.


  1. Lord Justice Scott Baker’s Report and the Inconsistency with his Ruling in Sheppard and Whittle


  1. On 29 January 2010, in the Court of Appeal, in the case of Sheppard and Whittle, two British white supremacists who ran a website in the UK with a hosting server in California, USA, Lord Justice Scott Baker determined that the UK was the natural forum for their prosecution. He ruled the UK was the appropriate forum for prosecution since a “substantial measure of the activities constituting the crime that took place in England” namely the writing and uploading of the contents all took place in the UK. This case was indistinguishable from our case yet Lord Justice Scott Baker failed to properly examine the implications of this ruling in his report.


  1. Findings of the Judge at Sentencing


  1. I was unusually fortunate that the judge gave close attention to details without prejudice. She accepted what I and my attorneys argued especially through the expert reports and a detailed examination of the government’s evidence. She rejected much of the government’s version of events and their interpretations. The government also withdrew the testimony of their terrorism expert, Evan Kohlmann.


  1. At sentencing Judge Hall stated: “In my view, the Jihad does not equal terrorism…my understanding is that the concept of Jihad in Islam is struggle, and it’s both an internal and defensive struggle, but it’s never what happened on 9-11.”


  1. She made clear that I was not a supporter of Al-Qaeda in any form: “Mr. Ahsan went to Afghanistan and I don’t believe he was radicalised by his experience or the people he met there” and “The cooperating witness also testified that Ahsan did not support Al Qaeda or its terrorist actions against civilians. And unlike the cooperating witness, Mr. Ahsan did not join Al Qaeda.”


  1. On the so-called Battle Group Document, she made clear: “Mr. Ahsan had absolutely no interest in operational terrorist actions that would harm the United States…I can only draw the conclusion that it supports what I have concluded and will conclude generally, that neither of these two defendants were interested in what is commonly known as terrorism.”


  1. She recognised I had never contributed to the websites in either content or maintenance which was the basis of my extradition: “I find that you were not an administrator of the website. I find you were aware of the website and what was on it, and that you were assisting Azzam Publications in furthering its work, but that you did not place anything on the website. And I don’t think that you were involved, and the government can correct me later, in answering e-mail.” The government conceded there was no evidence I had access to the website email accounts.


  1. She described my character:
  • “You had, and have, a nonviolent, I guess, outlook on life”
  • “I would, again, comment that he’s conducted himself in a way which reflects well upon him while in custody. I’m not sure that, I, myself could have conducted myself that way.”
  • “A moderate person who has peaceful views”
  • “You strike the Court as a gentle person.”
  • “In all, you appear and strike me as a man who is sensitive and curious, intelligent and talented. And as I say, there are many letters in support of you as well who speak about you and your character as one which is not violent and not aligned with the views of people who are violent.”


  1. She repeatedly made clear I was not a terrorist and I had no connection to terrorism:
  • “In my view, the conclusion I draw is that that’s evidence that you never intended to be a part of what I will call the false Jihad of terrorism.”
  • “You never engaged in any violent actions.”
  • “You did not support the bombings at 9-11 or the July London subway bombings. Indeed, before you were arrested, you are on record as denouncing them.”
  • “There is no sign that Mr. Ahsan’s view of what is Jihad in an Islamic sense should be equated with terrorism. There is no evidence that he adopted beliefs of people who believe in terrorism, attacks on civilians.”
  • “And I don’t see you in any way involved in anything that could smack of terrorism or material support of conduct which we describe as terrorism.”


  1. She spoke about my likelihood to “reoffend”:
  • “He’s certainly not likely to recidivate”
  • “I will add as a condition of supervision and hope that it will be respected by the U.K. authorities in the supervision of you, that you receive mental health treatment and counselling as is appropriate and needed for you.”
  • “I don’t think it’s in your nature to, as we use a legal criminal term, recidivate here, to go and do again what you did when you were 19 and 20 years old, but I do worry that to the extent you struggle with depressive periods, that at those times things might look different to you. But I don’t see that as a reason to conclude that you will recidivate, particularly if you receive appropriate treatment and support.”


  1. Application of Notification


  1. As a result of my having to plead guilty, so as not to risk a conviction by a jury which would have led to a far greater sentence, I now have a conviction for a terrorism-related offence of which I am not guilty. My attorneys gave the judge an expert report by Max Hill QC, a senior UK prosecuting barrister, to say that no one had ever been prosecuted in the UK for the allegations I faced during the relevant decade.


  1. On 28 August 2014 Metropolitan Police officers served an application of notification upon me. It is a request to a court for an order that I have further restrictions placed upon me for the next thirty years including such measures as signing at a police station annually, reporting any stay away from my home address for more than seven days, reporting upon leaving the country for more than three days as well as further demands.


  1. The solicitor for the Metropolitan Police, Andy Fairbrother, falsely describes my case in his statement dated 26 August 2014. He claims, for example, in paragraph 8 that the naval document was uploaded to the Azzam.com website from my home. He not only contradicts the findings of Judge Hall but also the stipulation of facts agreed upon by the parties in my plea deal that he attaches to his statement.


  1. On 9 September 2014 the Legal Aid Agency denied my solicitor funding to challenge the application.


I. Conclusion


  1. I have spent six years of my life in British high security prisons without trial and two years in solitary confinement in a country I had never visited all for conduct that was lawful in the UK. My criminality was not attending training camps which the Probation Officer and Judge after reading the expert reports refused to describe as “terrorist” training camps. My criminality was not transcribing an unsolicited letter that described the movements of a US navy fleet and its perceived vulnerabilities. My crime was the occasional help I gave to a local friend to sell books and tapes some of which were available in my university library. Now the Metropolitan Police want to apply further restrictions upon me.


  1. I am attempting to resettle without the benefit of a UK probation officer to explain my options and entitlements. I fear if I attempt to renew my passport it will be confiscated. I would like to make special mention of all those who supported my family throughout these years. This is only a flavour of what has occurred in the last eight years. I am happy to assist the committee in further solicitations.


26 September 2014


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