ACLU Opposes British-American Extradition Treaty; Says Measure Removes Crucial Due Process Protections

December 19, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today weighed in against the ratification of a new extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States, saying that the measure contains a number of ill-considered erosions of judicial review and would threaten the due process rights of Americans and others accused of crimes by the British government.

Most troubling, the ACLU said, is the treaty’s evisceration of the judiciary’s role in reviewing whether a defendant would receive a fair trial in the UK and whether an extradition request was prompted by political, rather than criminal, reasons.

“As a beacon of freedom in the world, our courts must retain the ability to deny requests for the extradition of political figures targeted because of dissent against their home government,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Unfortunately, this extradition treaty vests that authority in the Justice Department, not an objective judiciary that can ensure the United States renders up terrorists and criminals, not dissidents”

The new treaty was signed by Attorney General John Ashcroft and British Home Secretary David Blunkett on March 31, 2003 and now must be considered by the U.S. Senate before it could take effect. Attorney General Ashcroft announced at the signing ceremony that the new treaty “should serve as a model to the world” and could lead to revising other extradition treaties. The ACLU contends that Senate ratification of this treaty would encourage the administration to pursue extradition treaties with other nations that diminish due process and meaningful judicial review, and urged the Senate to reject ratification.

Specifically, the new treaty eliminates the American judiciary’s role in determining whether an extradition request should be denied on the basis of the political offense exception. This centuries-old exception protects Americans and others from political, religious or other impermissible persecution, and prevents the extradition of individuals who would become political prisoners in their home countries. The exception also safeguards American interests by maintaining neutrality in the political affairs of other countries.

The current extradition treaty with the UK was adopted in 1972, and was amended in 1986. The new change narrows the political offense exception to exclude serious violent crimes, but ensures that the accused will receive a fair trial in the UK. Notably, the original version of the 1986 amended treaty contained the same provision as the measure pending in the Senate 2003, but because of it was unable to initially pass Congressional muster.

If the new treaty were ratified, an American who opposed British policy – for example, an investigative journalist who wrote of police abuses in Northern Ireland for an Irish American newspaper – could face arrest and extradition without having any ability to challenge, in an American court, whether the criminal charges are really a pretext for the punishment on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinion.

The treaty contains other contentious measures. These include provisions that eliminate the statute of limitations as a defense against extradition, allow for “provisional arrests” and detentions, which can last for as long as sixty days with no formal extradition request providing supporting details — and for the treaty to be applied retroactively.

“America is not a haven for terrorists and those who use violence against innocent civilians,” Edgar said. “But the elimination of judicial review for these political offense exceptions is unnecessary to ensure that suspected terrorists face extradition, and would unfairly erode due process protections in America.”

The ACLU’s letter on the extradition treaty can be found at:

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