From: Andrew Johnson
Date: 2009-08-09 23:03:41
Attachments : Mr McKinnons supporters say he ought to stand trial in Britain (if at all) because of his health, which would not stand up to an American trial and possible imprisonment. But the 2003 law does not allow the British courts such discretion. How times have changed: it was only ten years ago that the government decided to block the extradition of Augusto Pinochet, a former Chilean dictator, on the grounds of his supposed ill health. It is hard to escape the feeling that they let the wrong one go. www.economist.com/wo… Britain, America and extradition Trial of an alien Aug 6th 2009From The Economist print edition An eccentric computer hacker is the latest subject of fast-track extradition EPAMcKinnons last stand FOR a desperately wanted man, Gary McKinnon cuts an unassuming figure. According to American prosecutors, who appear to be on the verge of winning a seven-year legal battle to secure his extradition, Mr McKinnon carried out the biggest hack of military computers ever between 2001 and 2002 when, from his bedroom in London, he accessed 97 American military and NASA computers, allegedly causing $700,000 of damage. The 43-year-old, who was diagnosed last year with Aspergers syndrome, a type of autism, says he was looking for evidence of UFOs. Mr McKinnons impending removal has caused an outcry in Britain, which has always had a soft spot for eccentrics. But Britons are also upset at what they see as a lopsided extradition arrangement with America, whereby the bigger country can grab suspects from Britain more easily than vice versa. Post-Iraq, any hint of American bullying hits a nerve: Boris Johnson, the excitable mayor of London, spluttered that giving up Mr McKinnon would be one of the most protoplasmic acts of self-abasement since Suez. Extraditions between Britain and America certainly are lopsided in number (see chart). Since 2001 America has plucked 97 people from Britain and yielded only 38, though it is five times as populous as Britain. Some blame this on a change to the extradition law in 2003: whereas Britain must demonstrate probable cause before a suspect may be extradited from the United States, America need prove only reasonable suspicion before Britain will hand a suspect over. The Home Office says that these concepts are about as close as the two countries legal systems will allow. But they are not identical: Lady Scotland, the attorney-general, has admitted that probable cause is a higher threshold than we ask of the United States, and I make no secret of that. In truth the imbalance may in large part reflect the fact that there are more American fugitives in Britain than there are British gangsters in America. The Home Office could not substantiate its hints that most extraditions to America are of Americans, rather than of Britons such as Mr McKinnon. But it pointed out that in its legal dealings with Spain, a notorious hangout for British crooks, Britain receives four times as many extradited suspects as it sends. The imbalance may also suggest that British prosecutors are less tenacious than their American counterparts, something that has long been asserted in the field of corporate fraud and until recently was true of drug smuggling. Nonetheless, many worry that Britains extradition arrangements have become too free and easy, thanks to the legal changes in 2003 that lightened the burden of proof in seeking extradition for 51 countries, including a few rather dodgy ones such as Azerbaijan. Last month Andrew Symeou, a 20-year-old Briton, was extradited to Greece to face manslaughter charges over an assault in a Greek nightclub in 2007. The evidence is sketchy; the High Court said in a ruling that the absence of any sort of investigation before such extraditions may be a matter for legitimate debate and concern. Another change is that Britain may now extradite a suspect to a European Union country even if his alleged crime is not illegal in Britain. Last year Frederick Töben, an Australian citizen passing through Heathrow airport, was nearly extradited to Germany to stand trial for Holocaust denial, which is illegal in Germany but not in Britain. (The request fell through because the German warrant was faulty.) Others worry that Polands strict law on abortion could cause similar problems. Mr McKinnons supporters say he ought to stand trial in Britain (if at all) because of his health, which would not stand up to an American trial and possible imprisonment. But the 2003 law does not allow the British courts such discretion. How times have changed: it was only ten years ago that the government decided to block the extradition of Augusto Pinochet, a former Chilean dictator, on the grounds of his supposed ill health. It is hard to escape the feeling that they let the wrong one go.