Unequal partners: UK rethinks US extradition treaty
All take and no give – that is the growing feeling in Britain’s parliament against America’s controversial extradition treaty. It was signed in 2003 and makes it far easier for the US to take people from the UK than the other way around.
Now, 45 members of British parliament from three main parties have crossed the political divide and joined forces. They have finally forced a debate and parliamentary vote on what they call an injustice.
“I think [signing the treaty] was a mistake,” says Keith Vaz, an MP and chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. “It's not a level playing field. Even with a partner like America, we need to make sure that we are being equal and we are being fair to our citizens, and that is not the case at the moment.”
Britain must present evidence for any extradition, but America is not required to. A long-awaited independent inquiry recently ruled that this relationship was balanced, but the numbers suggest otherwise.
As many as 123 people have been surrendered to America under the treaty since 2004. Only 54 have gone the other way.
America’s ambassador to the UK branded those figures as “myths and inaccuracies”. But they were figures his embassy refused to release. He even accused MPs of willfully distorting the truth in the run-up to this crunch vote in parliament that could see the balance changed.
But MPs are not backing down, joining the battle some have fought since the treaty was signed.
“I think now they’ve seen how many injustices have been caused because of it. It was meant to be for terrorist offences, it wasn’t mean to be for the kind of things they are using now,” says Janis Sharp, a campaigner against extradition and Gary McKinnon’s mother.
Gary McKinnon is a mainstay on America’s extradition wish-list. He was arrested 10 years ago after hacking into Pentagon files. He says he was merely searching for UFOs.
Gary has Asperger’s syndrome and, according to his mother, should be tried in the UK on medical grounds. But America is not giving up on one of their most wanted.
“It’s so vengeful. They think he is Osama Bin Laden,” Janis Sharp went on to explain. “It’s so over the top. They left him on his internet for three-and-a-half years after the arrest. If Gary was a slightest threat, that wouldn’t have been done. But it’s very much, I think, he embarrassed them, and because of that they were very angry at him.”
There are nine cases currently fighting extradition to the US – Richard O’Dwyer’s is the latest. He is wanted on copyright charges for creating a search engine for pirated content. It is not even considered a crime in the UK, but at the moment that does not matter – America can still get their man.
The Coalition Government promised to change this while in opposition – now is their chance to deliver.