McKinnon’s Extradition Will Be Unjust

I know it, you know it, Alan Johnson knows it, Gordon Brown knows it. Barack Obama might even know it, but not one of them has the balls to challenge the massively unjust 2003 Extradition Act. After all the Labour Party had the chance to review it in parliament a couple of weeks ago and by doing so aiding Gary McKinnon, but they thought playing party politics (aka business as usual) made more sense. McKinnon appears now to have lost his legal battle:

The high court decided against overturning a refusal by Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, to sanction a trial of the 43-year-old “UFO eccentric” in Britain.

Alan Johnson, the home secretary, is unlikely to halt the extradition. He has said a thorough assessment was carried out to ensure that the necessary extradition criteria were met.

McKinnon has admitted hacking into the computer systems of the US defence department and Nasa, but his supporters argued his obsessions led to his misguided hacking activities from his flat in Wood Green, north London, and that he should be tried in Britain.

The government’s independent reviewer of anti-terrorist legislation, Lord Carlile, intervened to say that prosecuting McKinnon in the US would be “cruel and unconscionable” because of his medical condition.

It’s quite appalling for Johnson to say ‘the necessary extradition criteria were met’ – of course they were. This law is so screamingly unjust the ‘necessary criteria’ would always be met – the US government doesn’t even have to provide evidence as ‘necessary criteria’ for goodness’ sake! Liberty‘s Anita Coles sets out the organisation’s position:

Liberty certainly does not argue there is no need for extradition: fugitives from justice should not be afforded blanket protection from prosecution. However, as with all aspects of the criminal justice process, there is a need for safeguards to ensure that injustice is not committed in the name of expediency. Extradition is a trauma in and of itself. It involves forcible removal to a foreign country away from family, friends and legal advisors. You may not know the language or legal system and you almost inevitably face imprisonment pending trial because being a foreigner ensures you are considered a flight risk.

Gary McKinnon is likely to face pre-trial imprisonment and a long jail sentence if found guilty. Many argue “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” but Gary McKinnon was sitting in his home in North London using his mother’s computer and our parliament has not imposed such severe sanctions for the conduct alleged. This does not mean he should avoid prosecution altogether, but it does raise the question as to where is the most appropriate place for him to be tried. Arguably it is in the UK – all of the actions constituting the alleged offence took place here.

In these circumstances Liberty believes a UK court should be given the opportunity to bar extradition if it would be in the interests of justice to do so.

It’s absurd that a law which was introduced to fast-track terrorist extradition after 9/11 should be used in this fashion, it’s shameful that the British government signed up to legislation with so few safeguards, but Alan Johnson is unbothered:

Some have argued that McKinnon’s case shows the law is wrong — that British citizens are at the mercy of an unjust extradition act and subsequent treaty with the United States. I disagree. The 2003 Extradition Act replaced the cumbersome existing legislation that couldn’t respond fast enough in an age where crime is increasingly indifferent to national borders. Without it we couldn’t have implemented the European arrest warrant to have Hussein Osman speedily extradited from Italy following his involvement in the failed terrorist attacks of July 21, 2005.

Typical New Labour spin. Johnson doesn’t just set up a straw man argument in invoking Osman, but he makes it appear as though the issue in the McKinnon case is chiefly his legal inability as Home Secretary to block the extradition itself. What I say is this: so what that the government got lucky with Osman – it doesn’t mean that the legislation is any good, nor that the absence of safeguards against abuse of the legislation is just. Should we really champion an arrangement where we might get lucky extraditing one highly dangerous terrorist, at the cost of people like Gary McKinnon or Andrew Symeou? The parliamentary Labour Party must stop its obsessive points-scoring behaviour and allow the Extradition Act to be amended – the means how can be read here.


One response to “McKinnon’s Extradition Will Be Unjust

  1. this made a splash on NPR over here but all the lawyers that were consulted basically said that McKinnon’s defense was so flimsy that there was no way that a judge was going to try to overturn the extradition. That there were ways that it could have been blocked but that none of those arguments were presented.
    While I think your countrymen could have negotiated a better treaty, the fact that they expanded it to cover multiple countries clearly indicates that they thought it was perfectly reasonable and not simply and requirement of the US -UK special arrangement.
    However retroactively negotiating a treaty clause is rather difficult and a poor showing that creates an atmosphere of mistrust in the international community. After all if each country simply rewrites every treaty that they are in than the system is thrown into chaos.

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