Gary Mulgrew, Giles Darby and David Bermingham; three businessmen who have never been pursued by UK authorities, are to be extradited to the United States as a result of an alleged fraud marginally related to the collapse of US energy giant Enron. Incredibly, while the US authorities accuse them of colluding with Enron executives to defraud NatWest, the British company has backed the trio and is satisfied that they have done nothing wrong. Due to new extradition arrangements made between the US and the UK in 2003, even though the alleged crime took place in the UK, and no charges have been pressed here, the process for US prosecutors has been eased considerably.
The new arrangements that the UK government accepted were intended to ease the process of extradition, in view of the need to pursue cases against terror suspects. As part of the treaty, the UK accepted its citizens could be arrested on the US grounds of ‘probable cause’, an easier standard to meet than the UK ‘prima facie’ requirement. By definition therefore, the British authorities have accepted that its citizens can face trial abroad after the presentation of evidence insufficient for charges here.
To add insult to injustice, Congress has refused to ratify the treaty from the US side. So while the UK has taken these steps, which could have a devastating effect on the British citizens in American crosshairs, British authorities have had no response to requests regarding Americans suspected of offences. This has particularly created problems with cases of alleged sex offenders who UK authorities want to pursue for involvement in child pornography.
These one-sided arrangements are just another example of the extraordinary reach of the security measures, which have been established post-9/11. As with other legislation enacted thus far, many of the victims of such measures have been people with no connection to terrorism in any shape or form. As the British government takes steps which will criminalise legitimate dissent in the name of fighting terror, these particular measures open people to the risk of being split from their families for actions which break no laws in their own country.
At the same time, this case also highlights the hollowness of the US-UK special relationship, which the Blair government has been so keen to emphasise. While the US Congress refuses to ratify the extradition treaty, it has seen fit to accept agreements with the Marshall Islands, Peru and Micronesia. The main reason for this reluctance is that Congressmen, who need the Irish-American vote to secure their seats, want to protect IRA activists based in the US who have had direct and indirect links to murders in the UK. This is despite the numerous steps taken by the Blair government, which ensure that such people will never face trial as part of the Northern Ireland peace process.
It is an incredible paradox. On one side, innocent citizens are exposed to risk of arrest for non-crimes. On the other, elected politicians act to ensure that people with known links to acts of terror remain at liberty.
Perhaps the best explanation is an outbreak of ‘liberties fatigue’. We hear so frequently about the sacred status of liberty in the West, but in reality it seems the majority of people are quite willing to sacrifice these rights if it makes them feel safe. As Napoleon – a leader who knew a thing or two about tough security measures – said, “a man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights.” As Blair and Bush like to remind us, after 9/11, everything changed.