Today saw the verdicts on the long running court case in Madrid, where 24 suspected Al Quaeada terrorist cell members were on trial, for membership of a proscribed organisation, and some of them, on charges of helping in the September 11th 2001 attacks (not the March 2004 train bombings in Madrid, as most of these people were in custody by then).
Read the 447 page judgement (.pdf), obviously in Spanish.
Interestingly, the Spanish Judges rejected the "evidence" of mobile phone call conversations, as being "untrustworthy".
The BBC reports:
"But the judges dismissed evidence of recorded telephone calls used by the prosecution, saying they were misleading and often based on misunderstandings of the Arabic language."
The case of Farid Hilali, who was to be the first person to be deported from the UK under the new European Arrest Warrant, without being able to challenge any evidence against him, as none was presented to the UK court, under this new "fast track" extradition procedure.
Hilali's case demonstrates just how weak some of this "evidence" must have been. He was accused, on the basis of an alleged "voice print anlaysis" taken whilst he was in custody in the UK, of having been the mysterious "Shakur", who had several mobile phone conversations in August 2001, from south east London, with the leader of the Al Quaeda cell in Spain, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, during which the translated conversation, leaked to the press, contains no direct references to anything illegal.
There was no evidence of a secret substitution code" such as that which was used to convict Andrew Rowe (even though there is no evidence that this code was actually ever used).
Farid Hilali does not appear to be on the list those convicted and sentenced today in Madrid.
We had assumed that he was actually extradited to Spain back in June, but his fate as an illegal Morroccan immigrant remains unclear. Perhaps he is still being held as Prisoner No. HP8485 in Belmarsh prison. Post a comment here, or email us, if you know any more about what has happened to him.
This case demonstrates the difficulties of using telephone intercept evidence in terrorist prosecutions, and also shows how innocent people can have their lives destroyed by being tarred as "terrorists", simply on the basis of alleged "phone evidence", which may be entirely circumstantial or wrongly interpreted by the intelligence and police authorities, who are under pressure to show some results.
If actual intereceopted phone conversations of terrorist suspects who are under intensive surveillance, are so untrustworthy, then why should we trust any European Union wide scheme for the Data Retention of the Communications Traffic Data ?
If the targeted prosecution of 41 suspects only results in the conviction of 18 of them on the offence of belonging to proscribed terrorist organisation, and only three of those being convicted of having anything to do, indirectly, with an actual terrorist attack. then how many more innocent people will be caught up in web of false accusations if the plans for Data Retention of the Communications Data Traffic of 450 million innocent people in the European Union, goes ahead as proposed ?