RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We're going to go now to a legal case in Britain that speaks to a hotly debated question of whether a terrorism suspect can be detained indefinitely. British officials have held a Jordanian man since 2002. They say the controversial Islamic preacher is too dangerous to release. But he has not been charged with any crimes in Britain, and now a judge has ordered him freed. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has the story.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: This is what Abu Qatada sounds like when he preaches.
ABU QATADA: (Foreign language spoken)
TEMPLE-RASTON: He speaks there in Arabic. And as much as any other preacher, he's seen as having radicalized a generation of young Muslims.
PETER NEUMANN: He really was one of the key theologians within al-Qaida.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Peter Neumann is a professor of security studies at Kings College London.
NEUMANN: He was one of the key people who were providing the religious justification for committing acts of terrorism in the West. And if you wanted any sanction for whatever you were planning in terms of terrorist attacks in the West, you would go to Abu Qatada.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Before 2001, officials say he used to write letters of recommendation to help jihadis gain entry into al-Qaida training camps. Osama bin Laden called him his ambassador to Europe.
So for the past 10 years, the British have cobbled together ways to keep Qatada behind bars. Right after 9/11, British authorities held Qatada in prison, even though he hadn't broken any laws. When that authority was challenged, they put him under a kind of house arrest. When that was challenged, he was held pending extradition.
NEUMANN: From step to step they are coming up with a new legal tool, a new legal Band-Aid that is helping them to get over a few years and keep these people in prison until the court strikes them down or until it falls apart.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Again, Peter Neumann of Kings College London.
NEUMANN: I don't think that's necessarily a sustainable situation.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And he's right. The European Court of Human Rights just blocked Britain's efforts to send Qatada back to Jordan, which explains why a judge in Britain now says he should be released, possibly within a week. Qatada will be under strict supervision.
THERESA MAY: He will be under a 22 hour curfew.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Home Secretary Theresa May. She said he won't be able to use telephones or the Internet. His travel will be limited, his visitors tightly controlled.
MAY: He will be subject to a specific condition preventing attendance at mosques and leading group prayer. If any of these conditions are breached, he will be rearrested and we will seek his immediate redetention.
TEMPLE-RASTON: The Qatada case shows how much Britain is grappling with the issues that have bedeviled the U.S. at Guantanamo. Both countries are trying to deal with detainees who haven't been charged with a crime but are thought to be too dangerous to release. There are nearly four dozen prisoners who fit that description at Guantanamo and they could be held indefinitely.
SAM RASCOFF: And it seems to me with Abu Qatada the British system is essentially getting to indefinite detention, taking the long way home.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Sam Rascoff, a law professor at New York University. And he says these cobbled together approaches are dangerous.
RASCOFF: I think if there is too much of a sense that the government is going to have its way no matter what the courts say, it's just a matter of essentially trying a different approach. I think there's going to be a sense overall that justice is not being served, even if the government's objective of keeping someone behind bars is.
TEMPLE-RASTON: British Home Secretary Theresa May made clear where she stands. She told parliament that the right place for a terrorist is a prison cell.
Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.