It's sad to see, therefore, that the use of extradition as a political and judicial weapon is not confined to states like Russia. The West, too, has its own political ideologues and agents whose commitment to personal liberty is shaky, to say the least - and this is particularly true of Britain and the United States.
On March 31 2003, David Blunkett, the then UK Home Secretary, signed an Extradition Treaty on behalf of the UK with his United States counterpart, Attorney General John Ashcroft, which was promoted on the basis of the need for a streamlined extradition process to deal with the new global terrorist threat after September 11. One of the first cases to arise for consideration under the new treaty was that of three British NatWest investment bankers, who were charged with having conspired to commit "wire fraud", sending faxes and emails across US federal borders in furtherance of an alleged conspiracy to defraud NatWest. If convicted, the men face up to 35 years in a US penitentiary.
As the Friends Extradited website makes clear, no charges - either criminal or civil - have ever been lodged against the men in the United Kingdom, and all three protest their innocence. It appears that a law intended to trap terrorists has been misapplied in a way that is reminiscent of the judicial system in states where democracy and the following of due process are held in low regard.
In a letter to the Financial Times today, Jeremy Putley has commented on the NatWest Greenwich case. Though the letter was published in the paper edition, it did not appear in the FT's electronic editions, and the author has asked me to give it an airing here:
A treaty unequal in execution and content
With respect, it is not the lack of reciprocity that is the chief concern over the US-UK extradition treaty of 2003. A more fundamental consideration is that it is wrong in principle for this country to hand over its citizens under extradition arrangements where there is no requirement for prima facie evidence that there is a case to answer. It is particularly wrong for the courts to rule that human rights considerations do not give grounds to refuse the US request. This is not solely because extradited individuals will probably be incarcerated for extremely lengthy periods while the cases are prepared for court hearings.
It must also be considered relevant that in recent times the American administration has routinely denied detainees in its custody access to courts, legal counsel and relatives; it has engaged in deceptions in order to subvert basic human rights protections and the rule of law, by moving detainees around and keeping them in secret locations; it has been involved in the secret transfers of detainees between itself and countries known to use torture; and it has unlawfully abducted individuals from other countries. Documented conduct towards prisoners of the US administration includes instances of treatment indistinguishable from torture.
Amnesty International wrote last year: “The USA’s continuing penchant for secrecy in the field of detentions betrays a lack of genuine commitment to its international obligations on human rights and the rule of law.”
This country must pay heed to its own standards. The extradition of three former investment bankers should now be urgently reconsidered.
Update: the letter is now available in the electronic editions, but only as a restricted access item.