(CN) - The United Kingdom can extradite five of six terror suspects to a Colorado supermax prison where they will likely face long-term solitary confinement, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday.
The seven-judge panel says the security needs of U.S. authorities outweigh their apprehensions about isolation at Colorado's ADX Florence prison.
"As concerned ADX's restrictive conditions and lack of human contact, the court found that, if the applicants were convicted as charged, the U.S. authorities would be justified in considering them a significant security risk and in imposing strict limitations on their ability to communicate with the outside world," the court said in a statement. "Besides, ADX inmates - although confined to their cells for the vast majority of the time - were provided with services and activities (television, radio, newspapers, books, hobby and craft items, telephone calls, social visits, correspondence with families, group prayer) which went beyond what was provided in most prisons in Europe." (Parentheses in original.)
Transferring the suspects to ADX will not violate Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention, which bars inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees.
But the suspects, and their attorneys, can still oppose such a transfer on other grounds.
The most notorious suspect, born Mustafa Kamal Mustafa but known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, is least likely to see the inside of the Colorado prison because of injuries he sustained while fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
"The court observed that the United States authorities would consider Abu Hamza's detention at ADX impossible because of his disabilities (particularly the amputation of his forearms)," according to the court's statement.
Pictured with an eye patch and a steel-hooked hand, al-Masri is the face of London's Finsbury mosque, where he is known as al-Qaida's chief representative in Britain, The New York Times reported.
Al-Masri's suspected co-conspirators, Syed Tahla Ahsan and Haroon Rashid Aswat, are also hoping to avoid a transfer to ADX.
The court delayed hearing Aswat's case, and is considering whether Ahsan's mental health issues should bar him from long-term isolation within the Colorado prison.
Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled Al-Fawwaz will likely stand trial in the United States for their alleged participation in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Computer programmer Babar Ahmad has been incarcerated for nearly eight years without trial for allegedly helping to raise money for terrorism.
In an interview with the BBC, Ahmad complained that he has not been shown the evidence against him. He described long-term detention without trial as "the most unimaginable type of psychological torture."
The recent decision centered more on the permissibility of long-term solitary confinement, a practice shunned by many European countries, than issues of indefinite detention.
One ADX warden described the prison as a "clean version of hell," according to a statement submitted by the suspects from Professor Laura Rovner, who directs a civil rights clinic at the University of Denver.
"One lawyer, Mr Mark H. Donatelli, had conducted a survey which had found that at least forty-three inmates of ADX Florence had spent eight years or more in 'lock-down' conditions there and at previous prisons," according to the court's summary of Rovner's statements.
Aswat argued that a transfer to ADX would aggravate his schizophrenia.
"The evidence also showed that, despite the consensus in the medical profession that prisoners with mental illnesses should not be held in solitary confinement, ADX continued to house seriously mentally ill prisoners, including those with severe schizophrenia and bipolar disorder," the decision states. "Several inmates were too sick to communicate properly with their representatives; a report had been received of one prisoner who was too ill to write, but was living a cell that he had covered in six inches of rubbish and faeces."
But the judges, representing Poland, Iceland, the U.K., Finland, Cyprus, Albania and Montenegro, countered that ADX compared favorably with many European prisons.
"Although inmates are confined to their cells for the vast majority of the time, a great deal of in-cell stimulation is provided through television and radio channels, frequent newspapers, books, hobby and craft items and educational programming," the judges wrote. "The range of activities and services provided goes beyond what is provided in many prisons in Europe. Where there are limitations on the services provided, for example restrictions on group prayer, these are necessary and inevitable consequences of imprisonment."
Nevertheless, the judges told the U.K. that it would be "desirable in the interests of the proper conduct of the proceedings that the applicants should not be extradited until further notice."