One of uglier aspects of our ‘special relationship’ with the US is the enactment in law of a treaty providing for rapid extradition to the US. Under this law, bitterly criticised by our judiciary, Britain extradites for trial in America anyone wanted in a US court. We do this without question and require no evidence even of a case to answer. Our courts may intervene only to confirm the identity of the person being shipped.
You will not be surprised to learn we have no such rights over US citizens. The treaty does provide such rights to our courts; and that is why the treaty remains unratified by Congress.
In Britain this law was never proposed to Parliament but published in 2003 under orders-in-council, using the Royal Prerogative in the very way Gordon Brown renounced in his first speech as prime minister.
You will not be surprised to learn the law was endorsed as a measure to bring terrorists more speedily to justice. Nor, if you read beyond the headlines, will you be suprised that all but 2 of the first 41 people to be hurried abroad face charges entirely unrelated to terrorism. Once again, emergency measures provide helpful short cuts to busy officials hampered by due process.
These days our six-decade special relationship with the US is controversial. Our foreign policy has been tainted by complicity with recent American contempt for the very international rule of law that the US worked so hard to establish. We have much to do to extricate ourselves from this poisonous poodling.
An obvious early step, perhaps foreshadowed in the prime minister’s speech, would be to repeal the extradition law, and refer the treaty to Parliament should Congress ever look like ratifying it. A just corollary would be to resubmit immediately to British courts for the usual and proper scrutiny any extraditions not yet accomplished.
So much for general principles. Now recall the case of British-born citizen Babar Ahmad, one of the two people I mention accused, if not of terrorism, at least of an offence related to terrorism. Mr Ahmad, a technician at Imperial College, is charged in the US with running — in Britain, mark — a website sympathetic to Islamic jihadists. No one in Britain appears to think a crime has been committed here: the police have no plans to prosecute Mr Ahmad for anything. (Alert readers will recall we and the US used to support Islamic jihad in Afghanistan when the Soviets were on the hot end.) Nevertheless, even before his extradition process, Mr Ahmad was arrested violently in the middle of the night, injured and imprisoned, and then released without charge.
We fetter executive power because it is otherwise so predictably abused, and justice subordinated to administration. If we neglect to protect the vulnerable among us, sooner or later we find a boot planted on our own necks.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission investigated, as you might hope; confirmed Mr Ahmad had “undoubtably” been injured by the police; identified the four officers involved and announced that there would be no disciplinary proceedings. Commissioner Mehmuda Pritchard, responding to my inquiry, offered (page 1, page 2) that there is no prospect of successfully prosecuting individual officers. While it is clear that Mr Ahmad was violently assaulted by one or more of the four, the CPS declines to prosecute unless one of them cares to confess. Apparently the IPCC’s view is that two or more policemen can act with impunity if they are unobserved and won’t own up. Ordinary villains should pray to have their prosecutors apply such rigorous standards. If you wonder that someone with so limited a view of the responsibilities of the IPCC serves as a commissioner, you might write to Mr Pritchard about it.
Mr Ahmad has been imprisoned now for three years. If he has committed any crime at all he has done it here; but he faces no charge in a British court, and no British court can release him.
If he goes to the US, no one can know whether he will not, by Presidential order, be imprisoned indefinitely without charge in Guantánamo. We know only that our government appears unconcerned by the sight of us rotting there, human sacrifices to the Special Relationship.
No British court has been able to afford Mr Ahmad the protection our government so briskly waived. That he is still here — just — is thanks only to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which takes the opportunity from time to time to remind us of the free society we claim to be.
It would shame us all should it require the ECHR to overturn this ugly law. We should ditch it after ensuring no one else is hurried off to America. A petition to the prime minister urges him to stop Mr Ahmad’s extradition and have him tried in Britain.
Please add your name to it.