Hello readers, my name is Giovanni Di Stefano. That's me up there, with ex-boxer Steve Collins! I am a "lawyer" known as the Devil's Advocate, because I have defended the indefensible, from Baghdad to Birmingham, from Saddam Hussein to Charles Manson. Now, for VICE Magazine I strip the law naked and explain the most controversial cases that make or break the news. Don't miss my weekly column. Yours, G.
Last week, infamous lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano began his new column by presenting a hypothetical moral (and not necessarily moral) defence of Silvio Berlusconi. This week, we asked him to think about the charges against radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada.
The Jordanian has been linked to al-Qaeda, described as Osama bin Laden's "right hand man", been arrested in connection with a German terror cell and accused of being the spiritual guide to 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta. He's a naughty guy (allegedly) and Jordan want to extradite him back to his country of birth to face accusations of plotting bomb attacks. However, claims that he will be tortured for evidence there have helped him stay in the UK, much to the dismay of David Cameron and the taxpayers fronting the bill for his home in North London.
Now, Qatada is apparently planning to sue the British government for £10 million for "unlawful detention". Sucks for those guys, I guess, that Qatada remains in Britain, due, Giovanni reckons, to his status as a secret MI5 associate.
VICE: Hi, G. So, Abu Qatada – what’s going on there?
Giovanni Di Stefano: Well, you have to understand that Abu Qatada hasn't actually committed a single offence in any country other than – allegedly – Jordan. I'm very friendly with the King of Jordan, His Royal Highness Abdullah II, and sent him and Theresa May a letter that said there was no way to try Qatada with Jordanian regulations under Jordanian law if there's evidence that he will be tortured to extract information. Meaning the only way around it is to have the trial in the United Kingdom.
Another thing in his favour is that two of Qatada's co-defendants have already been sentenced and served their sentence of imprisonment.
In the UK or Jordan?
In Jordan. One is Abu Hawsher and the other is Al-Hamasher. There's evidence that they'd both been tortured before they were sentenced, but to comply with the British request, the King of Jordan pardoned them so they only served eight years of their 20. I know the Jordanian system very well, and it's likely that these two men would become witnesses against Qatada, but how can you have an already tortured co-defendant brought against you as a witness?
Yeah, that seems a little ridiculous.
That's the thing – not many people know about this. Another thing I find completely abominable is all this interference from politicians. I mean, for Cameron to openly say: “I’m fed up of him, get rid of him, he’s guilty,” is outrageous. You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in this country, but it seems that principle has gone to the wayside. There's not a single shred of evidence that this man has actually committed any offences whatsoever. And as far as being an inspiration for terrorist activities – well, you could say that of Jesus or George Washington.
Surely you can be tried as a criminal for conspiring to commit terrorist attacks, though?
Well, you have to remember that Qatada hasn’t actually been tried for anything whatsoever. He isn’t accused of anything in the UK and – let me say, Qatada has been a useful MI5 associate for a while.
I've written a story about that in my paper and no one has said "what a load of bollocks". Remember when he went to prison in 2002? He distanced himself from al-Qaeda. Then bear in mind that he was supposed to be sent the fuck out of this country in April, but was allowed to stay. The question I ask is: What has changed the circumstances? I'll answer that question openly.
What's changed is that it's become known that he assisted MI5 and MI6. There's now a real grave possibility that he'll be killed if he goes to ANY country, let alone Jordan. He's a person that's seriously at risk.
Mr Justice Mitting, the judge who recently stopped Qatada from being deported.
And that’s because of his status as MI5?
That’s right. And think about it: we were literally days away from him being sent back to Jordan, but then Justice Mitting comes to his aid in spectacular fashion at the special tribunal, saying that there's a chance evidence used against him will have been obtained by torture from the two people I mentioned who were pardoned by the King. Who's to say that if Qatada did go back to Jordan, he wouldn't start singing about how he's worked with the MI5 and MI6?
Yeah, I guess that, if you're right, he could divulge state secrets in order to get off being tried if he gets sent back to Jordan.
Exactly. They say he’s the spiritual leader of al-Qaeda in Europe, yet he's distanced himself since 2001, so what is he, really? They say he's part of an armed Islamist group, or a Salafist group, or a Tunisian combat group – it's all bollocks.
What about when he starts preaching hatred, which is when it becomes a crime in this country?
That's actually only been a crime since 2007, though, and there's no evidence that he's preached anything lately.
Okay. So if he were to stand trial in the UK under Jordanian law for influencing terrorist acts, how would you charge him with that?
If I were to defend him under Jordanian law, I'd say the only evidence against him is being associated with two people who were tortured into a confession, meaning there's no real evidence, he's not guilty and that they should fuck off and let him go.
So you can't use any evidence obtained through torture?
Well, first of all you shouldn't torture people to get evidence at all – we don't have the Spanish inquisition any more. But no, you can't. The most important thing here is that when he was released from prison in 2005, he became an active MI5 and MI6 associate. That's why – despite committing no offences – the guy has been in and out of jail and up and down like a whore's drawers on a Saturday night. And that's why he has to remain in the United Kingdom, because he would be at great danger with people knowing he is associated with MI6 and MI5.
Is there a chance that Theresa May could choose to appeal against the most recent decision and try to deport him again?
She can appeal, but it’s not going to succeed. Mitting is one of the most brilliant legal minds there is – there’s more chance of fucking the Pope and having ten kids with him than Qatada being deported. He’s an MI5 and MI6 associate.
So he’s safe here?
He’s safe, yes. His problem now is staying protected in this country, because other people know – the King of Jordan knows – about what he's up to. People read what I say and my article about Abu Qatada points out a lot of stuff. People aren't fucking stupid.
Interview by Henry Langston.