Mon | Mar 27, 2023

The return of Abu

Published:Sunday | October 26, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Gordon Robinson
Abu Qatada

Gordon Robinson

Regular readers (both of them) will recall that for two years, I've used the story of Abu Qatada as a reminder that we must abolish the Privy Council.

Oh, the games people play now

Every night and every day now

Never meaning what they say now;

Never saying what they mean.

Who is Abu Qatada? I introduced him to readers on May 1, 2012 ('Abu to you') as follows:

"In 1993, Omar Mahmoud Othman, a Jordanian, entered the United Kingdom (UK) on a forged United Emirates passport. Alleging torture by Jordanian authorities, he sought political asylum. He succeeded in 1994, changed his name to Abu Qatada, and became a radical Muslim cleric.

His alleged preachings to the UK's growing Muslim community included:

(1994) calling on British Muslims to martyr themselves in a holy war on oppression;

(1995) issuing fatwa to kill Algerian converts from Islam;

(1999) calling for the killing of Jews and praising attacks on Americans."

People walking up to you

singing glory hallelujah

And they're tryin to sock it to you

In the name of the Lord.

Not surprisingly, the UK government urgently desired to see the back of Abu Qatada. Foolishly believing it had authority over UK residents, the government detained him under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Then, when that act was repealed and he was released on bail, made him subject to a very stringent control order under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Deportation proceedings were promptly commenced.


Abu Qatada appealed all the way to Britain's highest court, the House of Lords, alleging he'd be tortured or evidence against him would be manufactured if he returned to Jordan, where he'd already been convicted in 1999, in absentia, for two terrorist conspiracies. His appeals were rejected. He appealed further to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which, under the European Convention, is now to the UK as the Privy Council has been to Jamaica. Throwing sovereignty and common sense to the wind, ECHR overturned the House of Lords' decision in January 2012, stating the cleric could still be a victim of injustice if deported.

But neither one will ever give in.

So we gaze at an eight by ten

Thinking 'bout the things that might have been

and it's a dirty rotten shame.

So began a series of events closely mimicking a three-ring circus. British taxpayers were forced to provide Qatada with a house and £1,000 per month in welfare benefits while their home secretary, Theresa May, undertook several embarrassing begging missions to Jordan. She eventually concluded a 'mutual legal assistance' treaty containing a key passage to the effect that where "serious and credible allegations that a statement from a person has been obtained by torture" exist, the evidence wouldn't be used. Finally, more than £1,000,000 in government costs and £647,658 in legal aid for the terror suspect later, Abu Qatada was deported to Jordan in 2013.

After all this, on September 24, 2014, The Guardian reported:

"Radical preacher Abu Qatada, the subject of a near decade-long battle by the UK government to be deported to the Middle East to face terrorism charges, has been acquitted in a Jordanian court and released from prison."

What? No torture? No made-up witnesses? What's going on here?

The report continues:

"On Wednesday, the court in Amman ruled there was insufficient evidence against Abu Qatada, with the judge describing the charges as weak and inadmissible."

They're gonna teach you how to meditate;

Read your horoscope; cheat your fate;

And further more to hell with hate,

Come on get on board

These were the same charges that formed the basis of his 1999 in absentia conviction. That conviction was overturned. For 15 long years he hid from the Jordanian courts in England and made more mischief than Clieven Bundy at a rap concert when all he had to do was face up to the charges in the first place. While in a Jordanian jail awaiting trial, Qatada surprised his extremist supporters by declaring the recent beheading of journalist James Foley as un-Islamic. According to the Guardian report, he said, "Messengers should not be killed."

Look around, tell me what you see;

What's happening to you and me.

God grant me the serenity

to just remember who I am.

After the verdict was read to a cacophony of cheers from family and friends, Qatada's lawyers gave interviews. The Guardian quoted Ghazi Althunibat, one of Qatada's lawyers, as saying, "Justice took place today. The decision is aligned with Jordanian law and the UK treaty. He's innocent and he deserved to be declared innocent." So, what was all the fuss about?

Thanks to a foreign court (ECHR) with an obvious lack of understanding of Britain's local sensitivities, this man was allowed to cost England £1.7 million and untold waste of human resources at a time of austerity on what has proven to be spurious allegations and England was prevented from responding to national urgencies with its own legal policy.

Will Jamaica learn any independence lessons from this? Or will we continue to play political games with Jamaica's Independence? Three guesses, and the first two don't count. Those games began long before 1962.

'Cause you've given up your sanity

For your pride and your vanity.

Turn your back on humanity

and you don't give a da da da da da ...

Joe South, born February 28, 1940, wrote and first recorded Games People Play in 1969. He previously experienced a mixed-bag career as a studio guitarist. It's Joe South you'll hear playing guitar on Aretha Franklin's Chain of Fools and Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde album. In the late 1960s, he focused on his writing, radically changed his stage style, and rose to superstar status, winning the 1970 Song of the Year Grammy for Games People Play. In 1972, he wrote another Grammy-nominated song, Rose Garden, for Lynn Anderson. Joe South, genius songwriter and music icon, left us on September 5, 2012.

In 1969, Jamaican songwriter-vocalist Keith Anderson (Bob Andy) was so enthralled by South's song that he rushed to cover it without thoroughly researching the lyrics. However, he made one phrasing change, which resonated with his young audience, in that he brushed aside Joe's caution and substituted 'damn' (very bold move at the time) for South's suggestive closing scat. It's one of the very rare covers recorded by the great Bob Andy.

The lyrics reproduced here are as performed live by Joe South on the Smothers' Brothers Comedy Hour, a variety show on NBC that lasted only two years (1967-1969) until it was cancelled in breach of contract because of persistent contention with network executives over content. The hosts insisted on showcasing protest music acts like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte and The Doors (who were banned from the Ed Sullivan Show for refusing to delete the lyric 'high' from their hit song Light My Fire) and their biting political satire was decades ahead of its time. The show was a major commercial and critical success despite its unfavourable time slot opposite Bonanza, one of the most popular TV shows of all time and the darling of conservative America.

Peace and love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to