One-way extradition to the USA

FRFI 174 August / September 2003

At the end of March David Blunkett paid a four-day visit to the US, during which time he signed a new extradition treaty, publicly described as having the purpose of ‘simplifying transatlantic extradition rules’.

In practice the new treaty means that a British citizen or resident wanted in the US can be extradited with no evidence needing to be produced of any case against him or her. The States can simply say ‘we want that person’, and he or she will be arrested and dispatched. To head off a possible outcry, Blunkett made clear that there would still be a block on sending British citizens to face the death penalty. What was not made clear, however, was that the new treaty is not two-way traffic. Due to constitutional protections, US citizens wanted in Britain will still have to have the case made out against them prior to extradition.

Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian commercial pilot resident in London, was arrested by the British authorities after 11 September 2001 on the basis that the US believed he helped train the pilots who flew the planes into the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. There was no evidence against Mr Raissi, and after seven months uncertainty, five of which were spent incarcerated in top security Belmarsh prison, the court released him. Following his court appearance, Mr Raissi demanded an apology from both the US and British governments and threatened legal action if they did not provide it.

Under the new rules, he would have been treated even worse, and instead of languishing in Belmarsh, would have been sent off to a similarly secure prison in the US, to await a show trial, possibly without access to legal representation or full knowledge of the charges against him. This fate might still await him, as the new treaty has the power to be implemented retrospectively.

There was virtually no publicity at the time this treaty was actually signed, in contrast to the public fanfare that greeted the signing of the US/EU Extradition Treaty in early July. Presumably the British government does not want to draw attention to the fact that, although most European countries have reciprocal arrangements with one another that allow extradition without prima facie evidence, no European country other than Britain was prepared to put its name to a one-sided deal whereby the US could spirit away its citizens and residents to face the legal lynching that is ‘US justice’.

Nicki Jameson