Indeed. Through their inaction, British authorities are giving the impression that they are afraid of what backlash may arise within Muslim communities if they move against Abu Qatada. “Why is Abu Qatada not on trial?,” by Richard Norton Taylor for the Guardian, February 14:
Much of the media, with no shortage of encouragement from Tory MPs eager to use the case to bash the European court of human rights, seem to be engaged in a feeding frenzy over Abu Qatada. As the government pursues its desperate attempt to deport him to Jordan (and persuade the authorities to agree any trial there will not use evidence obtained by torture) one fundamental question remains unanswered. If he is such a dangerous and influential man, who spreads al-Qaida poison throughout the world and is a serious threat to Britain’s national security, why has he not been charged under any one of the plethora of anti-terrorist laws introduced by the Labour government?
Incitement to terrorism overseas has been a criminal offence here since 2000. “The criminal law as it stands is enough. We have masses of legislation that deals with terrorism,” the former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, remarked 10 years later, in 2010, adding that calls for fresh legislation should be resisted. It is suggested in some secret corners of Whitehall that there is insufficient evidence to convict Qatada at a trial. Qatada never planned to plant bombs himself, it is said. His role was that of a radical preacher — to influence by words, not deeds.
Yet he hardly minced his words. Following one of its many hearings on his case, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) in 2007 noted that Qatada’s “views legitimised violent attacks on civilians, terrorist attacks more generally, and suicide bombings”. His words legitimise “aggressive violence against civilians”, it added. A year later the Siac judge, Mr Justice Mitting, made a point of emphasising that Qatada “expressed very forcefully his views direct to me” and that he had shown “no inclination of any change in attitude”. The former security minister Pauline Neville-Jones has told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme listeners that Qatada is a man with “a record of preaching real violence”. She continued: “Here’s a man who wished death upon others and I’m less convinced that he’s somehow been neutralised, so we must regard him as a threat.”
Qatada could be prosecuted under criminal and conspiracy laws, some of them going back to the 19th century. There has been no explanation — mere speculation — about why he has not been put on trial here. That he has not surely makes a mockery of our legal system. Do you have to make the bombs and plan to plant them yourself before being charged? Qatada has not only shared his views with fellow conspirators in sinister telephone conversations bugged by MI5 or the police. On the contrary, he has actually trumpeted them.
Such evidence — the product of phone tapping — cannot be used in court thanks to continued opposition from the security and intelligence agencies, which argue that if it was allowed their techniques would be dangerously exposed. Their fellow agencies in the US and most other countries do not have such fears. However, this consideration, in any event, seems irrelevant to the Qatada case since the views he holds have not been confined to private phone calls.
Siac noted in 2007 that in one of his appearances before the commission, Qatada argued that MI5 “knew the sort of views which he was expressing and took no steps to stop or warn him, to prosecute him or prevent his fundraising for groups which are regarded as terrorist groups “¦ or for training in Afghanistan”. MI5’s attitude, according to the Siac judgment, was based upon “an erroneous assessment of the damage which the preaching and propagating of radical views could do within this country and elsewhere”. Embarrassment about what would come out in court here is not an issue, it is said. So what has MI5 or the police got to hide from a trial?