U.S. ambassador Louis Susman has made an extraordinary defence of the Extradition Act in two visits to MPs ahead of a crunch vote on the Act on Monday
MPs were last night urged to defy American ‘strong-arm’ tactics and demand a complete overhaul of the unjust Extradition Act.
The U.S. ambassador was accused of trying to railroad Britain into sticking with the Act – even though it is plainly skewed against the rights of British citizens such as Asperger’s sufferer Gary McKinnon.
Louis Susman’s unprecedented intervention came ahead of a crunch House of Commons vote on Monday in which MPs will be given a landmark opportunity to call for a change to the law.
He launched an extraordinary defence of the Act in the course of two visits to Westminster, attacking what he claimed were ‘myths and inaccuracies’ about the lopsided treaty.
But, even as he was fighting for the Act, figures emerged showing more than twice as many people have been sent to the U.S. from Britain as have gone the other way.
Mr Susman, who personally asked to appear before two parliamentary committees, used unusually blunt language to attack critics of the Act – which is being used to try to extradite Mr McKinnon.
It comes ahead of a crunch House of Commons vote on Monday in which MPs will be given a landmark opportunity to call for a change to the law.
David Cameron has decided not to impose a three-line whip on his MPs – with scores of backbenchers now expected to vote to renegotiate the 2003 U.S/UK treaty.
In a sign of how rattled the Americans have become, Mr Susman visited MPs on both Wednesday and yesterday afternoon.
He told the foreign affairs committee: ‘The constant use of skewed arguments and wilful distortion of the facts by some to advance their own agendas remains of great concern to the United States.’
In what was considered an attack on the Gary McKinnon campaign, he added: ‘It would be wrong to view the extradition treaty through the prism of individual cases where sentiment and emotion can cloud reality and lead to misrepresentation.’
Campaigners point to the mountains of evidence that the treaty is unfair.
Yesterday, Tory MP Dominic Raab uncovered figures showing that, between 2004 and July 2011, 123 people of all nationalities were extradited from Britain to the U.S. During the same period, only 54 travelled in the opposite direction.
But, in a statement which appeared to place huge pressure on MPs ahead of Monday’s vote, the ambassador warned: ‘I believe that having signed the treaty, and having had it tested both through the British justice system and by independent experts, it is now incumbent on the UK Government to stand in support of it.’
It is extremely unusual for a foreign ambassador to make an appeal to British MPs over how they should vote in Parliament.
Melanie Riley, of the campaign group Friends Extradited said: ‘Why would the U.S. ambassador look to strong-arm the UK government like this – to prevent Parliament improving safeguards for British citizens – unless the U.S./UK Treaty was so blatantly favourable towards U.S. interests?’
Mr Raab, who has secured Monday’s debate, said he had asked the U.S for its figures on extradition but these were not available.
He said: ‘It is regrettable that the U.S. ambassador is accusing British Parliamentarians of a “wilful distortion of the facts” without a few of his own.’
Mr Raab, the MP for Walton and Esher added: ‘Parliament must stand up and protect British citizens from arbitrary and abusive fast-track extradition.
‘It is vital to prevent a repeat of the kind of treatment we’ve seen Gary McKinnon subjected to.’
Keith Vaz, a joint sponsor of Monday’s debate, confirmed his home affairs select committee had also been visited by the ambassador.
He told the Mail: ‘Extradition is an issue about which many Members have strong feelings. It is essential that Members have the opportunity to air these in public. We need a new treaty, it’s as simple as that.’
Monday’s debate calls for MPs to bring forward urgent laws to change both the UK/U.S. Act and the hugely controversial European Arrest Warrant.
The Labour leadership – mindful of the fact the party signed the 2003 Act in the first place – is intending to vote against change.
However, Labour MPs will not be on a three-line whip, raising the prospect of a sizeable number of its MPs supporting the motion. Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems are long-standing opponents of the Act.
The debate is a major breakthrough for the Mail’s Affront to British Justice Campaign, which was triggered by the case of Mr McKinnon, 45.
He faces being put on a plane to the U.S. on charges of hacking into Pentagon and Nasa computers – even though experts say he could take his own life.
If MPs vote in favour of the demand for ‘urgent change’, Mr Cameron will find himself under huge pressure to renegotiate the deal with the Americans.
Mr Susman was appointed as the U.S. ambassador to Britain after raising more than £315,000 for Barack Obama. The 73-year-old ex-investment banker had no previous diplomatic experience.
Why America is so keen to save this skewed Act
The major criticism of the 2003 UK/U.S. Extradition Act is that it gives British citizens inferior rights compared to Americans.
The U.S. can demand a Briton’s extradition without having to provide any evidence – but Britain has to all but prove its case in a U.S. court.
Under the Act, if the U.S. government wants to extradite a UK citizen it needs only to outline the alleged offence, the punishment specified by statute and provide an accurate description of the suspect sought.
But to extradite an American from the States, Britain must prove ‘probable cause’ – which the U.S. Constitution’s fourth amendment defines as ‘ information sufficient to warrant a prudent person’s belief that the wanted individual has committed a crime’.
Of the ambassador, we would ask this simple question: if the treaty is meant to be fair, why not allow the wording to be changed so that British citizens have exactly the same ‘probable cause’ protection as their U.S. counterparts?
The fact that he is going to extreme lengths to oppose such a change suggests that — contrary to his protests — Britons are undeniably getting a very raw deal.
So it is over to our elected MPs.
MPs have an opportunity to send an unequivocal message to politicians on both sides of the Atlantic that our unjust extradition laws must change.
For Gary McKinnon’s sake, we urge each and every one of them to take it.
In essence, Americans are provided a protection by their own Constitution to which there is no equivalent in British law.
The U.S. insists that, in reality, there is no difference between the way U.S. and UK citizens are treated.
It is simply a different legal way of expressing the same point, in order to reflect the wording of the constitution, says America.
This view was shared by Sir Scott Baker’s inquiry, which has been dismissed as a whitewash.
The puzzle is that – if the U.S. is so adamant that its wording offers no greater protection than the British version – why not allow the treaty to be changed?
At a stroke, those facing extradition from the UK could be given the same ‘probable cause’ defence and much of the heat would be taken out of the debate.
The fact the U.S. is refusing to do so rather suggests that – contrary to the denials – its citizens do have the best deal.
It’s worth noting that the hugely respected American Civil Liberties Union entirely disagrees with the position of its own government. ACLU says: ‘We are also concerned about the threats to the rights of British people and the unfair lopsided aspect of the treaty that means that while Americans have basic constitutional protections requiring the establishment of probable cause before extradition can be granted, under the treaty, British residents can be subject to extradition to the US without equivalent evidentiary requirements being made out.’
Campaigners point out that, if a UK citizen is wanted by the U.S., he has no right to an evidential hearing in a UK court.
If a U.S. citizen is wanted by the UK, he has a constitutional right to an evidential hearing in a U.S. magistrate’s court.