WHEN SUSPICION IS MISTAKEN AS PROOF -
the sorry tale of Khalid al-Fawwaz
06 March 2003
Khalid Al-Fawwaz, a Saudi dissident who arrived in the UK in 1994, was detained in September 1999 as a result of an extradition demand by US authorities. He was charged with involvement in the bombing of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam in 1998. The US government presented two ‘anonymous witnesses’ to support the allegation, who could not be cross-examined or challenged by Al-Fawwaz and his defence team. The magistrate subsequently observed that he “was not satisfied that their creditworthiness had been fully investigated and disclosed by the United States government.” The point was made that if Al-Fawwaz did not know who the witnesses were, he could not himself “adduce, or alternatively look for” matter that undermined their evidence. Though the US extradition request was rejected, Al-Fawwaz was not released either. He remains to this day in Brixton prison.
On 16 September 2001 an article by David Leppard of The Sunday Times, who often writes citing ‘senior security sources’, claimed that “tens of thousands pounds were channelled through a Barclays account controlled by the man [Al-Fawwaz] suspected of leading Osama Bin Laden’s operations in Britain”. However a recent report in The Daily Telegraph (3 March 2003) now states that the amount in Al-Fawwaz’s account at Barclays in Notting Hill was not £23.19 million, but £23.19. There had been “a civil service tying error”. It is to be hoped that this discovery will now lead to an end to Mr Fawwaz’s incarceration.
In its extradition case, the US authorities claimed that Al-Fawwaz’s association with the ‘Advice and Reformation Committee’ (ARC), and his acquisition of a secure telephone line and a satellite phone system, served as evidence of involvement in the bombing in Nairobi. One of the anonymous witnesses relied on by the US claimed to have been directly involved in the plot. The witness was now “in mortal fear by reason of his cooperation with the authorities” and his identity would only be revealed once Al-Fawwaz was extradited to the US and brought to trial there.
Al-Fawwaz stated in court that though he had been an original signatory of the lease of the premises of the ARC in London, this ceased in February 1998, before the Kenya bombings. Moreover the secure communication link was intended for proper use by Saudi dissidents. Its routing through the US was to conceal that the calls were coming from Saudi Arabia and had no sinister purpose. The US authorities alleged that this satellite phone system was intended for use by bin Laden when he removed his operations to Afghanistan.
It should be noted that there are now a number of US-instigated extradition cases where there has been a miscarriage of justice. These include the wrongful detention of Mr Lotfi Raissi, the Algerian pilot held for five months before being released in April 2002. The US authorities claimed that Raissi had trained the September 11 hijackers. The Home Office advised Judge Timothy Workman of the Bow Street magistrates’ court that there was no prima facie case - there was not enough evidence.
A number of other post-September 11 cases have revealed unusual procedures that are adversely affecting the transparency and integrity of the judicial process. At the conviction of Richard Reid in New York in January 2003, his lawyers referred to classified government information “that could potentially clear him” on some of the charges (The Guardian, 23 January 2003).
Mounir Motassadeq, the Moroccan sentenced in Berlin for 15 years for “membership of a terrorist organization”, more specifically, transferring funds to a US account held by one of the hijack pilots, was a ‘flawed prosecution’: “During the trial, the defence tried repeatedly to call as witness two close Hamburg friends of Mr al-Motassedeq who it said would confirm that the accused knew nothing of the September 11 plans. Both men, Ramzi Binalshibh and Mohammed Haydar Zammar, have been arrested since September 11 – on suspicion of being plotters behind the attacks on New York and Washington. Despite the international attention of the al-Motassedeq case received, legal request to call the two men as witnesses were denied. The US Department of Justice refused to explain why Mr Binalshibh, a Yemeni now seen as a ringleader of the Hamburg cell, could not appear in court. Syria, which took custody of Mr Zammar after his arrest, officially denies any knowledge of him. Mr Zammar is a German of Syrian origin. Even the German government refused to submit statements by the two men that it admitted receiving from US investigators who have questioned them. Passing on such evidence would ‘jeopardise national security’ and break an agreement with US intelligence services, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s office said”.
(The Financial Times, 20 February, 2003).