Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh are the two surviving members of the so-called “Beatles” of ISIS, so named for their British accents while torturing and butchering Western hostages. The same unit employed “Jihadi John,” who starred in videos of beheadings, making it a top target for military action that eventually killed Jihadi John and another member. Now they want Western due process, the pair tell CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh, but they may not be in position to demand it:
Two of the most wanted fighters from the British ISIS cell called “the Beatles” have called some of the group’s actions “regrettable,” and insisted that their legal rights are respected wherever they’re brought to trial.
Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh made the comments during a wide-ranging interview with CNN, which they consented to, from inside a detention facility in northern Syria where they are being held by US-backed Syrian Kurds. …
The pair joked about the United Kingdom or US potentially choosing to try them under Sharia law, or “hang, draw and quarter” them, while constantly referring to the rights afforded them under US and UK legal systems.
“l am not a democratic person, but I am being subjected to democratic law. So it is only right for those who claim to uphold this to fully uphold it,” Elsheikh said.
As infuriating as it is to hear that argument from Elsheikh, it’s correct … but it might also be irrelevant. Kotey and Elsheikh are among the dozens or more British ISIS recruits that may have had their citizenship stripped from them by the UK. At the moment, as Paton Walsh explains, they are being held by Syrian Kurds, whose ideas of justice won’t be to supply the two with the “fish and chips” they crave. Even Guantanamo Bay may not be an option, despite their murders of Americans on video and elsewhere, as Paton Walsh noted in February:
A US official says there has been no discussion about bringing Elsheikh and Kotey to Guantanamo Bay, the American detention facility in Cuba that is frowned upon by UK politicians. Further complicating the situation, one western official told CNN there is a strong possibility of the Beatles being stripped of their UK citizenship.
That would effectively leave them stateless, held by an unrecognized state controlled by Syrian Kurds in northern Syria. France’s foreign minister has indicated that its citizens should be tried in northern Syria. But the Syrian Kurds are unlikely to have the capacity to try hundreds of ISIS members. So then what? Indefinite detention, or execution, by an unrecognized state? Would that mollify Europe’s moral jitters here?
There is one possible solution. When US forces detain someone on the anti-ISIS battlefield, they sometimes hand them over to Iraqi security forces. Iraq is the only functional state where ISIS has territory, and with which the US has a diplomatic relationship. They have also been trying those ISIS fighters caught in their territory quickly and putting many on death row. Many detainees may have been to Iraq as well as Syria, perhaps putting their conduct under Iraqi jurisdiction.
Two months later, no one’s quite sure what their citizenship status is at the moment. The British Home Office refused to comment on it earlier today, but Elsheikh said the loss of his citizenship “would be a very black day for international law.” It’s not amusing to see two butchers hide behind international norms after serving one of the most brutal marauding armies in recent history, but it is instructive.
If Elsheikh and Kotey are such sticklers for due process, perhaps it’s best to have their detaining authority take charge of it. The Syrian Kurd army can certainly conduct a drumhead trial and execute any sentence from it. One has to suspect that the Kurds have been holding off on doing so out of deference to the UK over what had been their citizens. The UK can expedite that by explaining that it won’t take offense over a battlefield adjudication. The UK could point them to the Iraqis instead, who will also offer a much different style of due process. Either option will eliminate their opportunities for further PR stunts. We can at least rest assured that in any of these scenarios these despicable terrorists will get afforded much more humane treatment than they afforded their hostages and victims.