The treaty, dated March 31 of this year, is yet to be ratified and must be approved by the Senate. But attorneys familiar with the sometimes heated debate over extradition and deportation proceedings involving Irish citizens in the U.S. said they are fearful that an attempt will be made to win such approval just as the Senate is breaking up for the summer vacation. They also claim that the treaty will have a potentially chilling effect on activities linked to the political situation in Northern Ireland on the part of U.S. citizens.
Francis Boyle, a professor of law at the University of Illinois, said that both governments were “pursuing the same strategy” adopted when a supplemental treaty was presented to the Senate back in 1986.
“At that time a State Department judge showed up before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just before the summer break,” Boyle said.
Boyle said that the move was aimed at securing approval of the measure by stealth and that he feared a similar tactic in the coming days.
The treaty was signed in March by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and British Home Secretary David Blunkett.
According to Boyle, the proposed treaty not only does away with the concept of a political exception clause, it also removes the possibility of judicial review in extradition cases while exposing individuals, including U.S. citizens, to the threat of extradition to the United Kingdom based on “totally unfounded allegations.”
“People could be prosecuted for simply helping people involved in the situation in Northern Ireland,” Boyle said. “The U.K. government does not need this treaty to get Real or Continuity IRA people. They already can under the current treaty as supplemented in the 1980s. This treaty is really aimed at shutting down Irish-American organizations and individuals.”
Boyle said he is fearful that the British government is using the new treaty to position itself in the event of the Good Friday agreement breaking down.
“I hope it does not, but if it does, God forbid, any Irish American who gives any support can be immediately shut down, even by totally unfounded allegations,” he said.
Asked if the revised treaty might not be linked more to the post 9/11 situation, Boyle said he did not think this was the case.
“I think the real target is Irish America,” he said.
But Boyle added that he did believe that the U.S. Justice Department would seek “to ram this through the Senate” while using “prevailing public opinion” that has been heavily influenced by 9/11 and its aftermath.
Based on his reading of the treaty, which runs to 15 pages, Boyle said he believed it would, among other things:
? eliminate the political offense exception for any offense
allegedly involving violence or weapons;
? transfer responsibility for determining whether the extradition
request is politically motivated from the courts to the executive branch;
? allow for extradition even if no U.S. federal law is violated;
? eliminate any statute of limitations;
? allow for provisional arrest and detention for 60 days upon request
by the UK;
? allow for seizure of assets by the UK.
The treaty, Boyle said, would apply retroactively for offenses allegedly committed even before the ratification of the treaty.
In New York, attorney Frank Durkan said that the language of the treaty was “so encompassing” and open to such wide interpretation that the Department of Justice “would have no problem in getting an indictment just on the language alone.”
Durkan said that the language used could mean that simply buying a ticket for a dinner could be interpreted as giving support to terrorism.
“This is not being directed at fugitives but people over here who have been active in campaigning for change in Northern Ireland,” he said. “It’s so full of catchall phrases that you could even go after a lawyer or someone who wrote a column.
“The whole idea is to stifle dissent.” Durkan said.
A State Department spokesman said he was aware of the treaty “bubbling out there” but was not aware of a specific date for presentation on Capitol Hill.