Friday, 29 June 2012

Extradition treaty with the US shows nature of special relationship

There has been growing resistance over recent years to the unjust extradition treaty agreed between the British and US governments.

For many the terms of the treaty reflect the very one-sided nature of the mythical special relationship between the two countries. On the one side there is the junior partner, Britain, which has to provide prima facie evidence to the US authorities of probable cause if it wants to secure an extradition to the UK. No US citizen has ever been extradited to the UK under the treaty for crimes committed when in the US.

On the other side, sits the senior partner the US, which if it wants a UK citizen for a crime, has only to put forward a claim of alleged wrongdoings. The test is reasonable suspicion. This claim is not tested in the courts and does not require prima facie evidence to back it up.

This arrangement was enacted in 2003 in the era of post 9/11 hysteria raging on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK case, the treaty was never debated in Parliament, instead being passed by an Order in Council.

There are four notable cases at present, where all of the accused argue that if they have a case to answer it should be in the UK before a British court because it is here that the alleged crimes were committed.

The four cases concern Richard O’Dwyer, Gary McKinnon, Baber Ahmad and Talha Ahsan.

Mr O’Dwyer faces up to 10 years in a high-security US prison for alleged copyright violations after setting up in 2007, a search engine linking to sites where users could watch and occasionally download TV shows online.

Mr McKinnon, who suffers from Aspergers Syndrome, has been fighting extradition to the US for 10 years over computer hacking charges relating to US defence department and Nasa. He was allegedly looking for information on UFOs. “Gary McKinnon has been hung out to dry by a British government desperate to appease its American counterparts," said Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg while in opposition. "Gary McKinnon is a vulnerable young man and I see no compassion in sending him thousands of miles away from his home and loved ones to stand trial. If he has questions to answer, there is a clear argument to be made that he should answer them in a British court," said David Cameron, prior to becoming Prime Minister.

Baber Ahmad has been held in custody since 2004, pending extradition to the US regarding charges relating to websites operated relating to Chechen and Afghan insurgents. The server was based in the US. A petition signed by over 140,000 people calling for him to be tried for the alleged offences in the UK has been given to the government.

Another Aspergers syndrome sufferer Talha Ahsan is similarly accused of terrorism related to the same website operation as Mr Ahmad. He has never been arrested or questioned by British police. He has though been imprisoned for six years pending an extradition decision.

The European Court of Human Rights recently approved the extradition of Mr Ahmad and Mr Ahsan, asserting that their human rights would not be infringed.

Others are further down the line such as Kent businessman Christopher Tappin, who was extradited to the US in February relating to allegations of selling batteries to Iran that could be used in weapons. He was bailed to his US lawyer’s address in April.

There have been a number of Parliamentary reports criticising the extradition treaty. Last year, the Joint Committee on Human Rights called for reform that would see a British judge able to refuse extradition where the offence occurred wholly or largely in the UK. They also wanted extradition denied where the UK police and prosecution authorities have decided not to charge or prosecute the individual on the same evidence relied on by the US authorities.

In March, the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Committee called for the extradition treaty to be amended so that the same test applies in both countries. It also called for a judge to be allowed to decide that a person be tried in the UK in cases where both countries have jurisdiction.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: "Evidence to the committee has shown that the current arrangements do not protect the rights of British citizens.The government must remedy this immediately."

The Coalition Government set up a review of the treaty under Lord Justice Scott Baker but he reported last year that the treaty was balanced. The evidence presented to the inquiry has not been published.

The leaders of the Coalition Government have failed to be as strident in their criticisms of the treaty as they were when sitting on the opposition benches. Some of this is thought to be due to pressure being exerted by the US over other matters relating to co-operation between the two countries. David Cameron has though brought up the McKinnon case with US President Barack Obama.

There is much to be done if the clear injustice of this one sided treaty are to be righted. Pressure it would seem is building on the government to act on the extradition treaty, what remains to be seen is whether it is prepared to stand up to the senior partner in the very special relationship.

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