One law for the Americans
Rod Liddle on the scandal
of the new extradition arrangements that allow the US to snatch
British citizens, but leave IRA men safe in America
One of my favourite quotes of the last ten
years, for a public display of unintentional black humour, came from
a spokesman for Noraid, the American-based organisation which raises
funds for the IRA.
This chap had been asked, a few days after 9/11, to comment upon the
possibility that people might perceive some similarities of method
between al-Qa’eda and the good ol’ knee-cappin’ Provos. The Twin Towers
had collapsed and Americans were, for the first time, acquainted with
the trauma of terrorism on their own soil. The Noraid man was quite
outraged by the nature of the inquiry and eventually spluttered, ‘There’s
no comparison at all. None whatsoever. The IRA always gives a warning.’
Now, to my mind, this attempted rebuttal falls some way short of actually
clinching the argument. But it seems to have done the trick with the
US authorities because, a little later, when George Bush’s government
drew up a list of proscribed terrorist organisations or organisations
which raised funds for terrorists, Noraid was notable by its absence.
So, too, was the IRA. Various murderous and wacko Peruvians and Tamils
and Colombians found themselves personae non gratae, along with a
whole bunch of Arabs, as you might expect. But as far as the US was
concerned, Noraid and the IRA were just tickety-boo, and so, at this
very moment, money is still being raised for the punishment gangs
and the arms dealers and the drugs runners in the shamrock-bedecked
bars of Boston and New York and San Francisco and Chicago. Perhaps
the Noraid man’s justification — that the IRA are kind enough to warn
people before they murder them — was more powerful than I, in my naivety,
had realised. Or maybe it’s that the US government did not wish to
estrange the millions of its countrymen who, for reasons which entirely
elude me, gain a certain sort of pleasure from pretending to be Irish
and complaining loudly about ‘centuries of Bruddish Opprussion’. Or,
then again, maybe the US government just couldn’t give a monkey’s
about terrorism carried out against its most stoical and unwavering
ally. Because there’s terrorism, you see — and terrorism.
I was reminded of the Noraid man’s contribution to the diverse lexicon
of political humour by the recent travails of everybody’s favourite
growling, hook-handed, fundamentalist Muslim, Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri.
The incendiary sheikh is residing in Belmarsh prison awaiting extradition
to the United States under this bizarre arrangement we now have with
the Americans which seems to allow them to point the finger at British
subjects and have them dragged stateside for trial — without the requirement
of anything so irksome and tricksy as a burden of proof. It is, of
course, strictly a one-way arrangement — as we shall see later.
The overwhelming majority of the charges against Hamza are for alleged
offences which did not take place on US territory or endanger the
lives of Americans. Indeed, Abu Hamza has never even set foot in America.
Some of the charges relate to his alleged involvement in the kidnapping
of four Western (but not American) tourists in Yemen. His stepson
was involved and it is alleged that Hamza spoke to the ringleaders
of the kidnap gang four times on the telephone. There is no suggestion
that he was behind, or directly involved in, the kidnap itself, but
nonetheless the Yemenis wish to talk to him and I suppose that one
can understand their desire to do so. Extraditing old Abu to Yemen
would at least have an element of logic about it, much though we Western
liberals may worry ourselves about the equity and impartiality of
the Yemeni justice system. But the Yemeni government has been repeatedly
Similarly, as British people were killed during the Yemeni government’s
raid upon the hostage takers, and Hamza’s phone calls, whatever their
relevance, were made from Britain, one could make a perfectly respectable
argument for trying the man here. And indeed we’ve been attempting
to cobble together a case against Abu Hamza for at least five years,
but the thing has foundered because there is no evidence whatsoever
against him. We are assured, by Mr Blunkett and others, that the Americans
have found new evidence — in which case, why can they not share it
with our own prosecuting authorities and as a result have the man
tried here? Also on the charge sheet is the suggestion that Hamza
attempted to set up a jihad training camp in Oregon, despite, again,
never having set foot in the US. Why on earth would he set up a jihad
training camp in a country where he has never been? And how would
he do so?
As you might imagine, Hamza’s lawyer, Mudassar Arani, finds the whole
business outrageous and, frankly, sinister — not least the fact that
we are deporting someone to a country where he could face the death
penalty, which is illegal. The bland assurances from the US that they
won’t actually kill him, in the end, do not inspire a great deal of
confidence either. ‘They can change the charges once he is extradited
and they can forget their assurances about the death penalty. Anything
can happen once he’s over there,’ says Arani. Her client, meanwhile,
sits in a cell in Belmarsh prison in his pyjamas because he has not
been allowed to wear his usual clothes (robes which make it easy for
him, with his disabilities, to move around). He cannot feed himself
because the prison staff have removed his hooks. Just think of it:
the tabloids will be exultant: Hooky has lost his hooks! How we laughed.
I trust that we’re all proud of this little bit of spite.
But I suspect it may be difficult to engage your sympathy for Abu
Hamza so, luckily, he will not be the last British subject to suffer
the iniquities of the one-sided and profoundly unfair Extradition
David Bermingham is a British businessman who may soon be standing
before a court in Texas (and good luck to him) for alleged crimes
which were committed against a British company (the National Westminster
Bank and its British subsidiary) while on British soil. The Americans
have a peripheral interest in the man and the Extradition Act has
been invoked. And, thanks to Mr Blunkett’s new Act, there is not a
soul over here who can prevent the process from continuing until he
is before some alien redneck jury in Houston.
Britain’s foremost expert on extradition (and the author of what I
assume is a deeply eminent tome, ‘Jones on Extradition’) is the QC
Alun Jones. He is plainly aghast at the ramifications of the new Act.
‘Previously,’ he told me, ‘everybody knew where they stood. The courts
knew what to do and there was a home secretary to take final responsibility
if a foreign state wished to extradite a British subject. Not any
longer. The Americans want somebody, and that’s it, they’re gone.
There is no legal mechanism to stop it happening. There is a small
checklist for the magistrates to consider and after that nothing at
all. It is ludicrous.’
Perhaps Mr Bermingham, an alleged fraudster, does not command your
sympathy either. And maybe the principle involved, as outlined by
Alun Jones — that British people should be tried by British courts
for crimes allegedly committed in this country, and that there should
be due process and political responsibility if they are to face extradition
to a country which, for example, regularly executes the mentally impaired
— leaves you cold, too. After all, there is no smoke without fire,
is there? They probably done it, these people, didn’t they?
Then you might at least find yourself disquieted by the profound lack
of a quid pro quo. The 2003 Extradition Act is strictly a one-way
street. From the Americans there is not the slightest interest or
inclination in returning to Britain people who really are fugitives
from justice; people who have allegedly committed serious crimes on
British soil against British interests and indeed continue to do so
in exquisite safety from their stateside havens. Yep, we’re back to
the IRA and Noraid again.
The Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson has fought a very long and
largely fruitless battle to persuade the Americans that IRA/Noraid
is a terrorist organisation, too, and that bomb attacks carried out
against British people — and the ubiquitous drugs-running and arms
smuggling — is an evil every bit as antithetical to Western democratic
values as the stuff perpetrated by the zealous nutters in al-Qa’eda.
Despite his efforts, this simple fact remains: the US has never extradited
to Britain for trial any alleged IRA member. Ever. The courts there
mull it over and decide that yer loveable Oirish nationalists are
not going to get a fair trial in despicable, colonialist Britain —
and so extradition is refused.
According to a United States Department of Justice edict from 1977,
Noraid is an agent of the Provisional IRA. There is copious evidence
to suggest that Noraid has been gun-running for the IRA — and indeed
its founding member, Michael Flannery, has said that he entirely approves
of such activities. But there are never convictions; there are never
extraditions. No action against Noraid is ever taken.
And get this — it is only six weeks since a United States court decided
that it would be unsafe to deport a certain Mr Kelly to Britain. He
was implicated in the brutal, unforgettable murder of two British
corporals at an IRA funeral. You remember the television pictures,
don’t you? Well, he’s still enjoying freedom in the US because they
don’t trust us to try the man fairly.
And perhaps they are right. It is hard for us to view the IRA objectively,
even in our courts. The countless years of the most bloody violence
have been corrupting for all of us, right to the soul of our criminal
justice system. Seen from abroad, we appear deranged by the mayhem
and incapable of rational judgment.
Exactly the way in which the United States is now perceived worldwide,
in fact, in the wake of 9/11. Do you think Abu Hamza would get a fair
trial in the USA? Do you think he will arrive in New York innocent
until proven guilty? Because you cannot have it both ways, as the
US — suffused with such a frenetic paranoia about al-Qa’eda — believes
it can. You either respect the judicial process and instincts of your
own countrymen and, by extension, those of your allies. Or you don’t.
At the moment, the United States wishes to have its cake and eat it.
© 2004 The Spectator.co.uk