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UK ‘accepts’ US death penalty for British Daesh fighters

Sajid Javid, the UK’s home secretary
Sajid Javid, the UK’s home secretary [Chatham House/Flickr]

The United Kingdom (UK) has given the United States (US) a green light over the death penalty for a pair of British nationals caught fighting for Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

Sajid Javid, the UK’s home secretary, sent a letter to Jeff Sessions, the US’ attorney general, saying Britain will not demand “assurances” over death penalty usage. In a document reviewed by the Telegraph, the UK government assessed that the pair may be sent to Guantanamo Bay without trial and that such an ending will not be opposed.

“I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought,” Javid wrote, in the letter dated 22 June 2018.

“I have instructed my officials to set out the terms of our assistance and to work with your officials to action the request. As you are aware, it is the long held position of the UK to seek death penalty assurances, and our decision in this case does not reflect a change in our policy on assistance in US death penalty cases generally, nor the UK Government’s stance on the global abolition of the death penalty.”

But a source in the Home Office told the Telegraph: “We have proactively made it clear to the US that while we will share for the purposes of a criminal trial we will not for Guantanamo Bay.”

The pair, El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, are allegedly members of a four-man cell of Daesh executioners in Syria and Iraq which British media have nicknamed “The Beatles”. They were captured back in January this year, and stripped of their British citizenship, triggering a debate whether they should return to the UK for trial or face extradition in the US.

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Mohammed Emwazi, dubbed “Jihadi John”, and Aine Davis, are alleged to have also been part of “The Beatles”. Emwazi was targeted and killed in a US drone strike in 2015, and appeared in a number of Daesh videos showing the capture of British aid worker Alan Henning and US journalist James Foley and Steven Sotloff – both killed by executioners.

In May last year, Davis was found guilty of being part of Daesh and convicted for seven and half years by a court in Turkey.

It’s a “deeply worrying development”, Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International’s head of advocacy and programmes said. “A failure to seek assurances on this case seriously jeopardises the UK’s position as a strong advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and its work encouraging others to abolish the cruel, inhuman and degrading practice.”

“At a time when the rest of the world is moving increasingly to abolition, this reported letter from the Home Secretary to the US Attorney General marks a huge backward step.”

“The death penalty is a serious human rights violation and Amnesty opposes it in all circumstances.

“Capital punishment is the ultimate denial of life – it is always cruel and unnecessary, it doesn’t deter crime, and it means that rehabilitation is not an option.”

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are currently holding some 600 foreign fighters in custody, according to the Pentagon. The fate of foreign fighters has been subject to heightened debate since the establishment of Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis previously emphasised that the fighters’ countries of origins needed to take responsibility for them. The US has also recently expressed concern that the SDF will not be able to continue to detain the fighters, highlighting the need for a more permanent solution.

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