A controversial and for some a deeply troubling document, the treaty has been gathering dust since it was signed with little fanfare by then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and then British Home Secretary David Blunkett on March 31, 2003.
While the treaty does not mention Ireland or the troubles, Irish American activists and groups, including the Irish American Unity Conference and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, fear that it could be used against Irish nationals, or even U.S. citizens, in the context of Northern Ireland.
Back in 2003, just a short while after the ink dried on the treaty, the
AOH wrote to Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Senator Richard Lugar, and the ranking Democrat, Joe Biden, urging them to examine “and then oppose” ratification of the treaty.
“Not only do Irish Americans feel threatened, but also this law threatens both due process and judicial review as it pertains to all United States citizens,” the letter to Lugar and Biden stated.
“This document recalls the extradition treaty signed in London on June 8, 1972 which was subsequently amended by the Supplementary Treaty signed in Washington on June 25, 1985,” the letter continued.
“Those treaties are certainly sufficient and there is no reason to feel they are inadequate with the exception that the present Department of Justice wishes to curry favor with the United Kingdom.”
The AOH letter said that the revised treaty would remove the right of U.S. citizens to protest against the government of the United Kingdom without fear of frivolous charges.
“There is no need for this treaty to be ratified,” the AOH letter argued.
Not surprisingly, the official U.S. view was rather different.
“Our new extradition treaty will give us more flexibility and efficiency in ensuring that fugitive criminals can be brought to justice in the country whose laws they have violated and whose people and institutions they have harmed, Ashcroft said at the treaty signing.
“The treaty covers criminal conduct from white collar crime and fraud,
to organized crime, money laundering, and terrorism. The new treaty we are
signing today should serve as a model to the world for successful and efficient cooperation in bringing international fugitives to justice.”
In his remarks, Ashcroft made no specific reference to any conflict, group or country.
Some things have changed since Ashcroft unveiled his “model to the world” while some have not.
Ashcroft himself has departed the political stage. Blunkett did so twice in disgrace. By contrast, Lugar and Biden are still in their respective seats on the Foreign Relations panel. Most significantly though, the treaty remains to be ratified by the committee and the full U.S. Senate.
And yet, despite the holdup, transatlantic extraditions continue, indeed, in the past few days they have been making big headlines.
Three former officials of NatWest Bank were extradited from Britain to Houston, Texas last week where they face trial in a case that has links to the Enron scandal.
This highly charged case has already led to the apparent suicide of one key witness with newspaper reports stating that the dead man, a former official with the Royal Bank of Scotland, had made allegations before his death that he had been “hounded” by the FBI.
Another case that has raised British ire is that of Garry McKinnon, a computer hacker who took a cyber ramble around supposedly secure and top secret U.S. military computer systems in 2002.
McKinnon claims he was just curious and only managed to penetrate the computers because the security surrounding them was lousy.
Current British Home Secretary John Reid granted the U.S. extradition request on July 4. McKinnon is expected to appeal, in part on the grounds that the evidence presented against him was not contested in a British court.
In the NatWest case there has been uproar. The Irish Times reported that there had been a “storm” of criticism over the “new extradition laws” which do not require the U.S. to provide prima facie evidence of wrongdoing to extradite a U.K. citizen.
“A growing sense of outrage has been heightened by the continued failure of the American senate to ratify its side of the deal, rushed through the Commons primarily as an anti-terrorist measure in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the U.S,” the Times reported.
So we have outrage in Britain over the new extradition laws and outrage over the failure of the U.S. to ratify the treaty containing those very same laws.
It was all enough to have lately beleaguered Tony Blair stand up and state that the case for extradition in the NatWest affair had been mounted under the old laws, not the new ones.
Which begs the question: If the NatWest three were successfully extradited under the old laws, why the need for the new treaty?
At the same time, it is not too far out of the ball park to guess that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing has been prompted at least in part by a British government aghast and confused by the sight of simultaneous invective being directed at the old laws, new laws and the Senate’s failure to ratify.
The situation has descended to the point where Blair – in apparent agreement with the AOH with his nod to the old laws – has been accused by a former Tory leader, Michael Howard, of being “a poodle” of the U.S. president.
The end result is that, ironically to say the least, the discomfort of some Britons with extradition cases involving its special relationship partner will be given vent at the Senate hearing by, of all people, Professor Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois.
Boyle has been leading the Irish American charge against the revised treaty.
He has argued that the revised treaty wipes out a number of constitutional and procedural safeguards on this side of the Atlantic.
“Most outrageously,” Boyle has stated, responsibility for prosecution would be transferred from the courts to the executive branch of government.
Boyle wants the Foreign Relations members to reject the treaty outright.
The odd thing is, not a few of her majesty’s subjects and public servants seem lately to be in sympathy with this position.