Could Extradition be the Non-Negotiable Issue in this “Special Relationship”?
Over the last decade we have constantly heard about our Americanisation and had our “special relationship” thrust in our face at any media opportunity, but a group of MPs seem to feel that enough is enough. How easily the Americans can be angered we are yet to tell, but holding a Parliamentary debate (including a vote) on whether our US-UK extradition treaty is still viable and fit for purpose is surely not going to please.
Long have we been the smaller brother of America, often clinging to their every word and whilst not always agreeing, always appeasing at least – but this now seems set to change. The UK has finally decided that it is not reasonable for us to have to present evidence to an American Court when we request an individual on an extradition charge when the Americans do not have to do the same.
The interesting element to this story is that it is not party political; whilst the Conservative, Dominic Raab, is the individual in whose name this debate has been secured, many Liberal Democrats and Labourites are all in agreement that this is one treaty that must be re-negotiated with haste. (It’s a shame there couldn’t be so much agreement on Europe!)
It must be noted here that there has been a recent independent review into this area by Court of Appeal Judge, Sir Scott Baker who found that the treaty “does not operate in an unbalanced manner” although even David Blunkett who signed the treaty when he was Home Secretary has admitted that he might have “given too much away”. Furthermore, whilst the purpose at the time was to deal with terrorism we are now seeing its use far wider than the original intention. Whether this is an abuse of British trust, a natural development or the US’ aim from the start we could not hope to guess although many campaigners are being very vocal with their own opinions.
This story cannot seem to be comprehended this side of the water without reference to Gary McKinnon, a 45 year old man with Asperger’s syndrome who hacked into American military computer systems. He doesn’t deny committing this act but in fact admits to hacking into NASA systems and those belonging to the US navy, air force and Department of Defense as well as leaving threats from his screen name “Solo” promising to disrupt the US at their highest levels as the “US foreign policy is akin to Government-sponsored terrorism”. However, he claims that all these activities were only undertaken as he was seeking evidence for UFOs and was on a moral crusade, believing the US to be hiding information. Much to the confusion of the rest of the world, the UK believes that extraditing Mr McKinnon is morally wrong and equivalent to breaching his human rights – Mr Obama said he respected the British Justice System and would let us reach our own conclusion despite alleging that he managed to de-stabilise necessary systems after 9/11 and cause around $800,000 worth of damage. What I question is this: if we truly believe the US not to be capable of dealing sensitively with an individual with Aspergers, to the point that sending him to face his punishment (likely to be up to 70 year imprisonment) in the US, then why exactly do we have an extradition treaty at all?
Whilst Monday’s vote is not binding on the government, if the majority do wish to re-negotiate this treaty, seeking more balanced grounds, then politically this can be ignored no longer. For once, it seems, the public may actually be setting the political agenda…