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  • Tensions Ahead Over U.S.–U.K. Extradition Treaty

    It’s a common-sense idea that criminals should not be able to escape justice in one country simply by fleeing to another. In this Internet age, it’s also common sense that citizens of one country should not be able commit crimes electronically in another without fear of punishment. This is the problem that extradition is intended to solve.

    Of course, it’s also true that all democratic nations have the obligation to protect the rights of their citizens and uphold their national sovereignty. Thus, any system of extradition must balance the national obligation not to become a safe haven for criminals with the vital importance of sovereignty.

    The current extradition treaty between the U.S. and Britain, signed in 2003, has become controversial in Britain because, it is alleged, the treaty is biased in favor of the United States. The controversy has centered on the case of Gary McKinnon, a British national accused of hacking into U.S. government computers to confirm his belief that Washington was withholding information that proves, among other things, the existence of unidentified flying objects, the U.S.’s refusal to publicize the anti-gravity technology it acquired from the UFOs, and a 9/11 conspiracy. The British government has asked Sir Scott Baker, a senior judge, to conduct a review of the treaty, a review that is due to conclude this coming summer.

    Last year, Heritage published a study of the treaty that concluded that, while extradition from Britain was too easy, this was not the fault of the U.S.–U.K. treaty. Rather, it was because the Labour government of Tony Blair wanted to make it easy to extradite individuals from Britain. Blair’s government therefore created low standards for extradition and applied them to many countries, including the U.S. The U.S.–U.K. treaty is compatible with higher standards if Britain chooses to apply them. In a paper published yesterday by the Foreign Policy Centre in London, Andrew Southam, a former extradition case officer at Britain’s Home Office, agrees that criticisms of the treaty are misconceived.

    Southam also makes a series of well-considered recommendations for British policy going forward, including the need to work with the U.S. and other democratic countries to review the handling of complex crimes committed over the Internet and the need to monitor best practices in extradition, as both the U.S. and Australia have done.

    Most important, though, is his final recommendation: The Baker review was a response to public pressure. If its findings agree with those of Heritage and Southam, British ministers need to make the case for the U.S.–U.K. treaty. The Labour ministers who negotiated it have done a disservice to U.S.–U.K. relations by badmouthing their own work. David Cameron’s government should make a calm, clear statement that the treaty works, and both sides should demonstrate a willingness to uphold its provisions conscientiously.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to Tensions Ahead Over U.S.–U.K. Extradition Treaty

    1. Phillip Norris - Lon says:

      There are several issues here the intention of extradition is as you said to bring fugitives back to face justice not to 'legally' kidnap people from their homeland. Cyberspace is a fiction invented by science fiction writers one is no more in that other country than if you had called it long distance.

      It is an insult to imply that US justice is more capable than UK justice. It is only capable in the sense that it is less easy to obtain justice in the US. Disparity of sentence – excessive pressure to take a plea – use of the evidence of convicted felons in return for a reduced sentence – pre-trial incarceration – no legal aid – inhumane prison conditions – privatised prisons – official acceptance of torture (waterboarding) – a death penalty mentality. The list is endless.

      As you, yourself, pointed out, the treaty IS unbalanced, it requires contestable evidence to extradite an American (which rarely happens anyway see below) and it requires not even one shred of evidence to extradite a British citizen!

      According to a freedom of information request to the home office – as of june 2010 only THREE individuals with American nationality (or dual nationality ) were extradited to the UK, while TWENTY-EIGHT British citizens were extradited to the US despite the fact that the US has more than five times the population. Which means that (per capita) FIFTY TIMES AS MANY BRITS ARE EXTRADITED THAN AMERICANS!!!

      According to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) there is only enough evidence to show that Gary McKinnon is guilty of illegal access ( not an extraditable offence) and it carried a six month (probably non-custodial) sentence although there is a statutory time limit on this which has long since expired, according to a CPS disclosure No valid evidence of damaged was received by the CPS. Yet the US is still determined to give McKinnon SIXTY YEARS!!!

      British people have a strong sense of Justice which is why this extradition is just simply wrong and the extradition treaty as it stands is a betrayal of British people.

      David Cameron himself said:

      "'If he (Gary McKinnon) has questions to answer, there is a clear argument to be made that he should answer them in a British court.'

      "The Extradition Act was put in place to ensure terrorists didn't escape justice. It was never intended to deal with a case like Gary's."

      Curiously enough because of America's bad human rights record, terrorists don't ever get extradited to the US !!!

    2. Phillip Norris - Lon says:

      Perhaps the answer would be for Obama to allow Gary McKinnon to be tried in the UK. It could be done in May when Obama is here.

      Obama would look like a humanitarian

      Cameron would also look good

      Public opinion would be appeased

      Nick Clegg wouldn't have broken another pledge

      Then the inequality of the treaty,could be addressed quietly.


    3. Claire, London says:

      Presumably the author is aware that the UK-US extradition treaty has been loudly denounced for many years by civil rights groups in both the US and UK (ACLU and Liberty respectively) on the grounds that it is one-sidedly counter to the interests of justice, by virtue of the fact that it removes all safeguards from UK citizens. Never mind 'sovereignty', the removal of the requirement for an extraditing country to present contestable evidence for their allegations is an assault on the notion of justice itself. Even a brief perusal of the reasons given by Liberty and ACLU for objecting to the treaty makes it clear that these are not idle or erroneous objections, but have a strong and valid basis.

      Presumably too, the author is aware that Baroness Scotland herself (now disgraced) who was instrumental in negotiating the treaty, acknowledged at the time that these new extradition arrangements with the US were imbalanced, and that the bar to extradition from the UK was set very low – far lower than that in the opposite direction. As far as making extradition easier is concerned, I presume the author is aware of the somewhat immoral assurances (in letters disclosed under FOI) that B.Scotland gave to US Sentaor Feingold and others that the treaty would not be used to pursue suspected IRA terrorists who have sought (and found) safe harbour in the USA.

      Read one of the letters here: http://bit.ly/hu8VBb

      Let's be honest here: the treaty may have been about extraditing suspected terrorists from the UK to the US (though in 7 years it hasn't resulted in a single extradition in such circs), but it was explicitly about NOT extraditing suspected terrorists from the US.

      Presumably the author is also aware that David Blunkett, who signed the treaty, has admitted on a number of occasions that he 'gave too much away' (most recently, he made this point to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, in Feb of this year). And let us not forget that the treaty was not subject to due Parliamentary process, not presented to Parliament until 3 months after it was signed, and as such is of dubious legality anyway.

      If the author is familiar with the figures on extraditions between the US and UK since the treaty came into force (figures recently released under FOI), he will see that in practice, the extradition arrangements have resulted in a gross imbalance between the number of extraditions in each direction, representing a major advantage in favour of the US – when you control for population size, the imbalance is staggering. To suggest the treaty is even-handed in its operation is just not sensible when you look at the data.

      If the author is familiar at all with the case of Gary McKinnon, he will also know that one of the arguments often put forward against halting the extradition is that to do so would breach our obligations to the US under the 2003 treaty.

      He will also know that the allegations against Gary McKinnon (of damage caused), on which the extradition request rests, have been shown in open court to be without foundation. If it turns out that a person can be extradited for an offence that we already know did not even happen (the evidence shows that not a single dollar of damage was caused), then it is a dark day for British justice, and a dark day indeed for the US's international reputation.

      I'd be grateful if the author can please explain what case he thinks British ministers should be making for a treaty which removes the need for a requesting country to provide a shred of contestable evidence, and which therefore leads to gross injustices such as that inflicted upon Gary McKinnon for nigh-on a decade now?

      It seems to me that one can't have it both ways: If the treaty does not require the UK to permit unwarranted and unjust extraditions, then one has to accept that Gary McKinnon's actions are not extraditable. If one does not accept this, then one is by definition making a clear and compelling argument that the treaty is fundamentally counter to the interests of justice, and should be got rid of immdediately. Which is it to be?

    4. commenter, usa says:

      arent't there laws in britain that protect its citizens from being extradited to a country that uses torture? would putting someone in solitary confinement for years or even life not be considered torture in britain? i'm quite sure that burying someone alive until they die would at least be considered cruel and unusual punishment. in britain, you probably wouldnt subject a dog to life in solitary. how can you consider sending your citizens to a country that commonly uses solitary?

      countries need to stop bowing to the usa and trembling before it. please show some backbone, and just say no to usa torture.

    5. andrew robert james says:

      All the commentators fail to realize that their concerns, where reasonable, are about the Extradition Act 2003 which provides the underlying basis for the UK’s extradition treaties including the 2003 US-UK Extradition Treaty.

      There is a legitimate debate to be had about what standards the UK wants to apply to all extradition requests (though the direction of travel is heavily determined by membership of the EU).

      As has repeatedly been written, the UK changed all its extradition arrangements which included those with America as well as with leading commonwealth partners, South Africa, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and others. Any person who allegedly commits an offence which meets the dual criminality test is eligible for extradition whether the crime is terrorist related, a serious fraud, theft or an act of serious violence.

      Implementing treaties through an Order in Council is an established and proper procedure.

      The Extradition Act, setting out the UK extradition’s strategy, was debated at length during its passage through Parliament.

      US extradition requests will inevitably outnumber British ones given that it has a territory and economy that match Europe in size and scope. US requests are proportionate, however, with the sum of EU requests – a fairer comparison.

      It is for a US court to decide on the serious crimes of which Gary McKinnon is accused. So far a British district court, the Divisional Court and the British Supreme Court have separately agreed that the US extradition request is proper.

      America remains a trusted and valued extradition partner. It was Britain which asked the US to change the extradition rules and as Dr Bromund has written, ‘The U.S.–U.K. treaty is compatible with higher standards if Britain chooses to apply them’.

    6. Ted R. Bromund, Ph.D. Ted Bromund, Heritag says:

      I thank Mr. Southam for his well-informed comments. Individuals who wish to pursue this further might read my lengthy backgrounder on the subject, in which I — inter alia — argue that the standard for extraditions from the UK is too low, and state my position that the UK government should "exercise its sovereignty and defend British liberties by creating such a “reasonable basis” minimum standard for all extraditions—a standard that, though incompatible with the EU’s framework and with the EAW, is compatible with the 2003 treaty." The US should be treated the same as other civilized countries: no better, no worse. The US-UK treaty poses no obstacle to pursuing such a policy.


    7. Claire, London says:

      Actually, Mr Southam, the treaty was passed using Queen's Prerogative (as I suspect you are probably aware), an arcane manoeuvre which bypasses due Parliamentary process. The wording of the treaty was not presented to Parliament until three months AFTER it had been signed. If you think this is right and proper, or even legal, perhaps you will tell that to the High Court, who ruled otherwise on such legislation at the beginning of last year. Or perhaps you will tell it to Jack Straw, who during his time in office described this procedure as 'an anathema to democracy'.

      The Extradition Act then had to take into account the UK's obligations to the US under the treaty, resulting in a pernicious piece of legislation which, as practice has demonstrated, leads to gross abuse and serious injustice. Instead of pursuing terrorists, the US has used this legislation to trawl through the decades and pursue retrospectively (against both the ECHR and the US constitution) various vulnerable people for non-violent, mainly white-collar offences, and offences for which not a shred of evidence exists.

      I note, Mr Southam, that you argue in your report that a person cannot be extradited without information which suggests 'reasonable suspicion' that they committed the offence in question. Perhaps you will then explain why Gary McKinnon is still fighting extradition to the US despite the evidence presented to the High Court in July 09 which showed that the damage claims against him (on which the extradition request rests) are entirely false, which demonstrated that Mr McKinnon caused not a single cent of damage, let alone the threshhold amount for extradition which is so conveniently, but quite improperly claimed. If the damage never even happened, which Professor Peter Sommer roundly demonstrated in his forensic report, then how can there be 'reasonable suspicion' that Gary McKinnon has a case to answer? On what basis is this extradition request being allowed to continue?

      If, as you argue, the halting of this extradition would not breach the UK's obligations to the US under the treaty, then perhaps you will explain why such an unjust and unwarranted extradition request has not already been disposed of in the proper manner, and instead has been allowed to continue at the tax-payers' expense for six years now (longer than the 3-5 you bemoan was the norm under previous extradition arrangements)?

    8. Claire, London says:

      In addition, I would like to say that I welcome Mr Bromund's position, and trust that the British Ministers and Home Office officials who have used the treaty obligations as an excuse for presiding over serious injustices, will take note.

      As to any imbalance in the operation of extradition arrangements, if you control for population size, Mr Southam, the number of UK citizens extradited to the US under the 2003 legislation is approximately 28 times the number of US citizens extradited to the UK. As I'm sure you are well aware.

      And I reiterate: not a single extradtion request by the US for suspected terrorist offences has to date been successful under the legislation – largely because of the ECHR, from which you may make what you will of how 'trusted' an extradition partner the US really is or should be for any civilised country. In any case, this surely represents a serious failure of the Act, given the purposes for which it was ostensibly intended!

    9. captain says:

      it has never been explained why the uk agreed to thisonesided treaty which demands no proof of accusation where the usa is requesting a uk citizen but explicitly demands proof in the reverse situation also why was this not picked up by parliament when it was ' laid ' are our politicians so ready to protect usa citizens more than our own? the answer must surely be that matters concerning the liberty of the subject should be the province of the sober debate of parliament not a hit and run procedure

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