Extradition: MPs must stand up to US Bullying

SACC Press Release

Human Rights group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) has accused US ambassador Louis Susman of "crude bullying" in his statement to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday. Louis Susman's statement comes in advance of Monday's full Commons debate on Britain's extradition arrangements - a debate that was never meant to happen and wouldn't have happened but for the 141,056 people who signed an e-petition calling for extradition victim Babar Ahmad to be tried in the UK, and the many supporters of the petition who then refused to be fobbed off with a debate in Parliament's Westminster Hall.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"One of problems with the current Extradition Act is that it has allowed the US to interfere in British legal processes by seeking to extradite Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan to face trial in the US for activities allegedly carried out in the UK. Now Louis Susman wants to trump that by interfering in a Commons debate. I hope that MPs will take this as further evidence that it's time to say no to the US.

"Louis Susman says that it is 'incumbent on the UK government to stand in support of' the US-UK Extradition Treaty. He claims that 'myths and inaccuracies' were repeated during last week's debate by MPs in Westminster Hall. He says that what he calls 'constant use of skewed arguments and willful distortion of the facts by some to advance their own agendas remains of great concern to the United States.'

"The Ambassador's statement has been described as 'strong language for a diplomat.' I'd put it more plainly. It is an attempt at crude bullying.

"It's also unnecessary and disproportionate, since the reforms that Parliament will be voting on - and which SACC urges MPs to support - are of a limited nature. Any changes needed to the US-UK Extradition Treaty would be minor. In the opinion of some experts no changes would be needed at all.

"The only purpose behind the Ambassador's intervention seems to be to frighten MPs out of voicing any criticism of the US.

"The US-UK Extradition Treaty is built on the assumption that the US is a country that respects the rule of law and shares the belief of the British people in basic principles of justice. But in order for British courts to accept requests for the extradition of terrorism suspects, the US has had to provide assurances that the prisoners won't be sent to Guantanamo. And it also has to provide assurances that they won't be subject to the death penalty. The European Court of Human Rights is currently considering whether to block a number of extraditions from Britain to the US because of the likelihood that the individuals concerned would be subject to solitary confinement in the US. But solitary confinement and isolation in US prisons isn't restricted to people convicted of terrorism. It's endemic in the US penal system.

"If the US upheld justice as understood by the British people, none of these difficulties would arise. Whatever guarantees are given on these particular concerns, they should remind us that US justice and the US penal system are far too remote from British values for a cosy, fast-track extradition arrangement to be permissible.

"When the Extradition Act 2003 was passed by the British Parliament it might have been possible for MPs to regard Guantanamo as a temporary aberration. But Guantanamo is still with us and there is no sign that it will close. On Thursday the US Senate approved a bill providing for indefinite military detention without charge. US drones have carried out a series of extra-judicial executions. We cannot conduct business as usual with the US under these circumstances.

"Ambassador Susman claims that it is no easier to extradite someone from the UK to the US than vice versa. Many campaigners have rightly drawn attention to the apparent imbalance between the two procedures as an indicator that something is amiss. But this apparent imbalance isn't the most important issue. We want justice, not balanced injustice. Evidence-free extradition promotes injustice and it should stop."

SACC believes that the Extradition Act 2003 is unjust and should be repealed. As an interim step, we support the motion that will be debated in the House of Commons on Monday calling for the Government to introduce a Bill to enact the safeguards recommended earlier this year by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and to pursue such amendments to the UK-US Extradition Treaty 2003 as are necessary.

SACC believes that the Extradition Act 2003 promotes injustice for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  1. The British people have a right to expect that allegations of crimes mainly committed on British soil will be heard in a British court. This is necessary for the protection of the British public, for the protection of individuals accused of crime here, and out of respect for principles of natural justice. Current extradition legislation does not guarantee this, and may in practice have made it harder for the allegations against Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan to be heard here.
  2. It is inevitably harder for someone to mount an effective defence when far from their home, their family, their usual lawyer and their support networks. People should be tried abroad only when absolutely necessary in the interests of justice, and when they are guaranteed a fair trial that will take full account of the difficulties and disadvantages that they will face.
  3. Easy extradition invites jurisdiction-shopping by the authorities involved in the prosecution. This is particularly likely in relation to terrorism, where close international cooperation between security agencies is routine. The only purpose of such jurisdiction-shopping is to stack the odds against the defendant.
  4. Extradition from Britain to the US is at present only supposed to occur in relation to allegations that constitute a serious crime in both countries. But terrorism legislation in both countries is widely-drafted and difficult to interpret. Terrorism trials often involve a dispute about whether the behaviour of the defendant actually constitutes an offence. It is impossible to determine whether actions said in one country to be terrorist offences would be regarded that way in the other country without carefully considering the evidence. But the Extradition Act 2003 does not require prima facie evidence to be presented in support of an extradition request. This gives rise to particular concerns in relation to Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan. Some of the allegations against them appear to relate to alleged support for overseas groups that were banned in the US as a result of Executive Orders by President Clinton and President Bush, but were not banned in Britain. Similar problem are likely to arise in other terrorism cases.

For these reasons, SACC believes that Britain's extradition arrangements need a thorough overhaul going well beyond the welcome but limited reforms that MPs will be voting on on Monday. More information

Notes for Editors

  1. For the full text of Ambassador Susman's statement to the Foreign Affairs Committee, see http://london.usembassy.gov/amb-speeches/susman044.html
  2. Over 140,000 people signed an e-petition created by Babar Ahmad's father calling for Babar Ahmad to be prosecuted in the UK. Under a recent policy of the Coalition Government, a petition gaining more than 100,000 signatures is eligible for debate in the House of Commons. The Parliamentary Backbench Business Committee has so far refused to list this issue for a full debate in the main chamber of the House of Commons.
  3. Extradition, including Babar Ahmad's case, was debated by MPs on Thursday 24 November. The debate was held in Westminster Hall, rather than in the main chamber of the House of Commons, and therefore did not involve a vote. Many MPs expressed the view that the issue should be the subject of a full Commons debate with a vote. The transcript of the debate can be viewed at www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2011-11-24a.147.0
  4. Under the terms of Extradition Act 2003, people can be extradited from Britain to the US without any requirement for prima facie evidence to be produced. Britain's extradition arrangements were the subject of a review by Sir Scott Baker, published on 18 October 2011. The review gave broad backing to the current arrangements. It drew strong criticism from human rights campaigners, including Liberty, a long-established and widely respected British civil liberties group (previously known as the National Council for Civil Liberties).
  5. For more information about Babar Ahmad, see http://freebabarahmad.com/. Babar Ahmad is being held in a high-security jail in Britain while he fights the US extradition request. He has not been charged with any offence in Britain. He is now in his eighth year of imprisonment.
  6. Talha Ahsan is wanted by the US on charges related to those that Babar Ahmad is facing. He has not been charged with any offence in Britain but is now in his sixth year of imprisonment.
  7. The US Senate on Thursday 24 November rejected an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill that would have given the right of a fair trail to terrorism suspects captured in the US - see < ahref="http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/196609-senate-rejects-amendment-to-limit-domestic-military-detention">http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/196609-senate-rejects-amendment-to-limit-domestic-military-detention
  8. The full text of the motion that the Commons will vote on is as follows:

    "That this House calls upon the Government to reform the UK’s extradition arrangements as a matter of urgency to strengthen the protection of British citizens: by introducing a Bill in Parliament to enact the safeguards recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its Fifteenth Report of 2010-12, and by pursuing such amendments to the UK-US Extradition Treaty 2003 and the EU Council Framework Decision 2002 on the European Arrest Warrant as are necessary in order to give effect to such recommendations."

    The report referred to can be found at www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt201012/jtselect/jtrights/156/15606.htm

    In relation to the US-UK Extradition Treaty, the report says (para 105):

    "There appears to be some disagreement over whether the forum safeguard would be permitted under the UK-US Treaty and other bilateral extradition treaties without renegotiation. We did not take detailed evidence on this point and so we come to no conclusion. The Government should look at how such a safeguard could be implemented in practice including, if necessary, through renegotiation of the relevant extradition treaties."

  9. . Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) is a Scottish-based human rights group that campaigns for the repeal of Britain's terrorism.