'The Bea­tles' at cen­ter of a tus­sle

The Pak Banker - - OPINION -

The un­seemly bar­gain­ing be­tween Bri­tain and the US over the ju­di­cial fate of al­leged mass mur­der­ers El Shafee El­sheikh and Alexanda Kotey has reached its un­sa­vory con­clu­sion. If all goes to plan, the two mem­bers of the ISIS gang known by their captives as "The Bea­tles" on ac­count of their Bri­tish ac­cents will now be tried in a US court where, thanks to a le­gal chal­lenge brought in the UK by the mother of one of the men, they will be spared the death penalty.

The two Bri­tons were one half of a four­man group of rad­i­cal­ized Mus­lims from West Lon­don who left the UK to join ISIS in 2013. Be­tween 2014 and 2015, the four were al­legedly re­spon­si­ble for the sick­en­ing on­cam­era be­head­ings of dozens of captives in Syria, among them the Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists James Fo­ley and Steven Sot­loff and Bri­tish aid work­ers David Haines and Alan Hen­ning.

Al­though in the Western me­dia it was the fate of the Western captives of Is­lamic State that pro­voked the most ou­trage and at­tracted the ma­jor­ity of head­lines, it was Syr­i­ans and Iraqis who paid the heav­i­est price dur­ing the de­monic rule of the short-lived "caliphate." Among its vic­tims were the 22 mem­bers of the Syr­ian armed forces cap­tured by ISIS and tor­tured and killed by "The Bea­tles" be­tween Au­gust 2014 and Jan­uary 2015.

In June 2014 the United Na­tions said ISIS had mur­dered more than 1,000 peo­ple in Iraq in the two weeks since the group had be­gun to sweep across the coun­try. "This fig­ure," a spokesman said, "should be viewed very much as a min­i­mum."

Two months later a video emerged show­ing scores of Syr­ian sol­diers be­ing abused and beaten as they were marched to their mur­ders af­ter the cap­ture of Tabqa air­base in Raqqa prov­ince. And in Fe­bru­ary 2015, downed Royal Jor­da­nian Air Force F-16 pilot Muath al-Kasas­beh was filmed be­ing burned to death in­side a cage in Raqqa.

So why are El­sheikh and Kotey, such well-known sym­bols of all such atroc­i­ties, to be tried in an Amer­i­can court, where they are to be guar­an­teed im­mu­nity from the ul­ti­mate pu­n­ish­ment that they so bru­tally im­posed on so many of their vic­tims?

The pair were cap­tured in Syria in early 2018 by the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, the US-backed Kur­dish mili­tia. The Kurds handed them over to the Amer­i­cans in Oc­to­ber 2019 when the Turk­ish mil­i­tary moved into north­ern Syria, and the two were trans­ferred to US cus­tody in Iraq.

Bri­tain, which had stripped the pair of their cit­i­zen­ship, agreed to share in­tel­li­gence about the two men that Amer­i­can pros­e­cu­tors be­lieve is cen­tral to the case against them. Un­usu­ally, Bri­tain's home sec­re­tary at the time, Sa­jid Javid, did not seek an as­sur­ance that the pair would not face the death penalty, abol­ished in the UK in 1965.

Then, in July 2018, El­sheikh's mother took the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment to court, seek­ing a re­view of the de­ci­sion. The case was thrown out, but in March this year Maha El­gi­zouli won an ap­peal to the Supreme Court, which ruled the de­ci­sion to share in­tel­li­gence about the two men with the US with no re­gard to the death penalty was un­law­ful and "based on po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency."

Now, in a deal to break the dead­lock and al­low the two men to be tried in an Amer­i­can court, the US has agreed to take the death penalty off the ta­ble. Po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ence, rather than any real de­sire for jus­tice, has guided the stances of both the US and UK in the case of the two "Bea­tles," just as it did when Sad­dam Hus­sein, cap­tured by Amer­i­can troops in 2003, was handed over to Iraqi jus­tice and ex­e­cuted in 2006 in­stead of be­ing tried by a court in the US.

At that point it suited Wash­ing­ton, fac­ing a de­ter­mined in­sur­gency in Iraq, to try to bol­ster the cred­i­bil­ity of the Coali­tion Pro­vi­sional Au­thor­ity and its suc­ces­sor gov­ern­ments. Now, with Don­ald Trump fac­ing the in­creas­ing pos­si­bil­ity of de­feat in Novem­ber's US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, his ad­min­is­tra­tion is keen to show­case Amer­i­can vengeance in a tele­vised US court­room.

The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment, mean­while, des­per­ate for post-Brexit trade crumbs from the US, is ac­cused by hu­man-rights groups of hav­ing ini­tially waived its nor­mal ob­jec­tions to cap­i­tal pu­n­ish­ment in the in­ter­ests of cozy­ing up to the Trump regime.

Bri­tons and Amer­i­cans alike will be keen to see some form of jus­tice served on these two men. But what of the thou­sands of Syr­ian and Iraqi fam­i­lies dev­as­tated by the scourge of ISIS, to say noth­ing of the count­less in­di­vid­u­als in both coun­tries left be­reaved by the shock­ing mur­ders al­legedly car­ried out by El­sheikh and Kotey?

Where is their say on the form of jus­tice that will be meted out? Where is their day in court?

The spec­ta­cle of the UK and the US tus­sling over the fate of these two men for purely prag­matic po­lit­i­cal rea­sons is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of "we know best" neo-im­pe­ri­al­ism.

As such it is as nakedly shame­less as the Western mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions that have caused such chaos and suf­fer­ing in the re­gion over the past two decades, and rem­i­nis­cent of the carv­ing up of the for­mer Ot­toman Em­pire af­ter the First World War, with all the con­se­quences that are still be­ing en­dured to this day.

Iraqis and Syr­i­ans have as much, if not more, right to de­cide the fate of these two al­leged bru­tal killers.

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