Opinion: Stop all extraditions to the USA

Nick Clegg is celebrating the UK decision not to extradite Gary McKinnon to the USA. The extradition of Abu Hamza then sparked controversy and discussion on LDV. But last week the Guardian reported on the case of Christopher Tappin, the Kent businessman extradited to the US on charges of selling batteries to Iran. Tappin has entered a plea bargain, pleading guilty in return for a 33 month sentence to be served in the UK.

The Guardian reports Tappin’s UK solicitor, Karen Todner, saying that 98% of people who enter the US justice system agree a plea deal. “The odds are so heavily stacked against a defendant who chooses to plead not guilty and then is subsequently found guilty that the vast majority of people facing trial in the US opt to take a plea agreement,” she said’. The documented experience of the NatWest Three bankers, extradited earlier to the USA, raises similar causes for concern.

Comments on extradition to the US regularly include the question as to where an alleged crime was committed, arguing that if the crime were committed in the UK then it should be subject to UK justice. Equally, the lack of total reciprocity between the UK and US over extraditions is questioned. These are powerful arguments.

But there are two overwhelming reasons for the UK now to stop all extraditions to the USA. One is the lack of justice in the plea bargaining threat held over defendants. This is not justice. It is a kind of judicial thuggery, where the defendant trades truth under threat. We should object to this perversion of justice strongly by refusing to extradite people to face it.

The second, in my view, is more important. It is that we should stop all extraditions to any country, including the USA, which practises capital punishment. Regardless of whether the alleged crime potentially carries the death sentence or not, we should make a strong objection to any system of ‘justice’ which includes the sentence of capital punishment. The US is forever lecturing the world on human rights. It is time for the US to put its own house in order and abolish capital punishment. We can nudge it in this direction by refusing all extraditions until it does.

* Geoff Crocker is a professional economist writing on technology at http://www.philosophyoftechnology.com and on basic income at www.ubi.org. His recent book ‘Basic Income and Sovereign Money – the alternative to economic crisis and austerity policy’ was recommended by Martin Wolf in the FT 2020 summer reading list.

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  • Benjamin Mathis 5th Nov '12 - 11:04am

    Absolutely right.

    Bypassing all the excuses and flattery, the United States is a country that runs concentration camps (we know about Guantanamo, what else DON’T we yet know), has and uses the death penalty including on children and is known to have rendered suspects to regimes such as Uzbekistan and Mubarak’s Egypt for them to be tortured.

    If we were dealing with any other nation doing this – especially to British citizens or residents, any one of these would result in a breaking-off of diplomatic relations and an FCO warning against any travel to the country. It seems only reasonable to expect our government to protect UK citizens from what passes for American “justice.”

  • Benjamin Mathis 5th Nov '12 - 11:31am

    I’m afraid, Tom, it comes down to a question of whether you would prefer to have a criminal go free or have the UK government and nation it represents have the blood of murdered people on our collective hands.

    My position is very clear. For a judicial system to award itself the right to premeditatedly kill a human being under its jurisdiction indicates such corruption at the heart of that system that no decision it makes can be relied upon. If a person can justify to him/herself something as unambiguously wrong as murder, one would not entrust that person with any other moral or ethical decision – such as takes place in a criminal trial. It seems totally logical to me to hold a judicial system to the same standard.

  • Whilst I tend to agree that the impression we get is that the system is asymmetric can anyone actually point to an instance where we have requested extradition from the US and it has been refused? A small number of cases make big news.

    Personally I’d be more worried about the EAW which seems to allow people to be “rendered” into custody elsewhere in Europe for minor, local infractions of things that would not even be crimes here, with even less oversight, unless you can get Jemima Khan on your side and make a big noise about it.

    In realist International Relations, where supra-national law is anarchic unless you have bilateral or multi-lateral agreements, such treaties are crucial and violated or abandoned at great risk to our relationships in other areas of co-operation.

  • Oh, I’m not sure. San Diego seems punishment a-plenty 🙂

  • @Jock Coats
    I suggest you read the text of the US-UK extradition treaty, the asymmetric nature of the arrangements are there in black and white …

  • Geoff Crocker 5th Nov '12 - 2:56pm

    Tom Papworth, I see you argument is summed up by and reduced to labelling mine as ‘crackers’. I think you twist Karen Todner’s meaning. She pointed out that massive sentences if found guilty are dangled in front of people to scare them into a plea bargain. If you think that’s justice then I disagree and will oppose any move to introduce it into the UK. If justice is expensive then so be it.

    Secondly, I did say in my article that all countries including the USA so I don’t understand your point here.

    Thirdly what incentive have countries who do practice the death penalty to keep UK criminals and not extradite them to UK? Would retaliation make them want to harbour such people ?

  • Christopher 5th Nov '12 - 3:55pm

    Mr. Crocker, perhaps you shouldn’t accept the claims of a defendant’s lawyer at face value. The actual conviction rate, according to official statistics, is 68%. Among those who are convicted, upwards of 95% have plead guilty rather than been found guilty at trial. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=23. The conviction rate in the Crown Court is 80.9%. http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/reports/2010/annex_b.html, Chart 7.

    The differences between the US and UK are more apparent than real. The US uses explicit plea bargains, whereas the UK threatens defendants with significantly higher sentences if they do not plead guilty “at the first opportunity.”

    Finally, keep in mind that the United States is a federation. Federal politicians have no control whatsoever over state decisions on this issue. Two-thirds of the states practice the death penalty. Do you propose to wait until every single state has abolished it before extraditing someone to Massachusetts for theft?

  • Stuart Wheatcroft 5th Nov '12 - 4:06pm

    Tom Papworth’s point – which is a valid one – is that if we go around tearing up extradition treaties then it reduces the number of extradition treaties we have. It’s not impossible to get someone extradited in the absence of one, but it’s a lot more difficult and a lot less likely to happen.

    So if we start tearing up extradition treaties we do run the risk that criminals will go free. The question is then whether we accomplish something else which makes it worthwhile nevertheless. Tom Papworth’s argument is that we do not: we already refuse to extradite people who would face the death penalty, so the only cases which we would decline to extradite under such new arrangements would be people facing non-capital sentences if convicted. I agree. That’s hardly a clear signal of opposition to the death penalty.

    A more interesting question is what other circumstances, beside the threat of capital punishment, justify a refusal to extradite. Leaving aside relatively clear-cut issues like torture (the definition may be disputed, but the response is at least clear). Should we refuse to extradite someone to face a sentence which is considered to be disproportionate? If the requesting justice system is insufficiently rapid? I would say that there are some circumstances where that should certainly be the case, and the USA may well trigger some of them.

    Perhaps we should look at how we assess jurisdiction? Cases of hacking, for example, cross jurisdictions. Perhaps in a case like that of Gary McKinnon, rather than having a long and drawn-out extradition process (which may ultimately go nowhere, but will have a significant emotional and financial toll) the requesting party should instead be invited to conduct a private prosecution, or if appropriate assist with a public prosecution, within the UK?

  • Geoff Crocker 5th Nov '12 - 4:17pm

    Stuart Wheatcroft

    I see your point, and Tom Papworth’s (apart from his ‘crackers’ jibe).

    However, neither of you say whether you oppose i) plea bargaining and ii) capital punishment in the USA, and if you do, what other ways you would suggest to effect that opposition?

    If we were to make it clear that a refusal to extradite were on the grounds of these objections, then the point would surely thereby be made?

  • Alex Macfie 5th Nov '12 - 4:49pm

    I don’t think we should stop all extraditions to the US, but we should bring back the requirement for the US to support any extradition request with prima facie evidence. I don’t see why this should be a problem: it is only giving the US authorities the same requirements as our own authorities have when bringing charges. The UK rule regarding extradition regarding extradition to any country should be simple: “If, given the state of the evidence and our laws and procedures, our own authorities would not prosecute, then we should not send the suspect to any other state for prosecution.”

    I agree with Jock that the EAW needs major reform (beginning with the UK implementation, which seems to have been drawn up in the best UK tradition of slavish implementation of EU law with none of the permitted easements), but perhaps not with the example he gives: as I understand the case, Assange would have a case to answer if equivalent charges were brought in the UK.

  • Geoff Crocker 5th Nov '12 - 5:19pm


    I may be ‘absolutely crackers’ but you are utterly vague, woolly and inconsistent, which I think is a lot worse than being crackers. You don’t oppose plea bargaining. Then you want to safeguard against the main reason for objecting to plea bargaining. But you don’t say how. The only consistent ‘how’ is to reject plea bargaining. Then you oppose the death penalty but you only have ‘diplomatic channels’ to suggest as a means to exert this objection. This has clearly failed to have any impact over the very very long period it has been tried. Then you compare objection to taking someone’s life to tariffs on food and goods. It’s time for strong muscular objection to US plea bargaining and capital punishment. If you don’t like my proposal, please propose something stronger and less wishy washy yourself.

  • Tariffs and protectionism kill many millions more than does the death penalty around the world 🙂 And are recklessly unjust to millions more.

    Alex, I used Assange as an example merely of someone who has had his day(s) in court over extradition compared with some who will simply be shipped out to face parking tickets in Poland or whatever without a by your leave.

    Roland, perhaps if you gave a link. Or summarised it if it is so obvious and simple. I can’t be bothered to go find it and read what no doubt comes to many hundreds of pages more than necessary. But whether the treaty is asymmetric or not doesn’t actually answer my question. I asked if people can provide examples of egregious behaviour where we have requested extradition and not had it granted, for whatever reason. For example, can we not even request extradition of one of their citizens but they can one of ours?

  • As liberals there are many things about the punitive nature of much of the U.S. Justice system we don’t like. However the fact that when they decide to go after white colour criminals they do so robustly and successfully compared to the feeble efforts of the SFO is surely something that they get write. Or do we think we should only be going after criminals who can’t afford expensive lawyers and PR firms (like the ENRON bankers who got a lot of sympathy in the British Press and Political class despite pleading guilty when they finally got to America).

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Nov '12 - 7:24pm

    “like the ENRON bankers who got a lot of sympathy in the British Press and Political class despite pleading guilty when they finally got to America”

    This was another plea bargain – pleading guilty to one charge only in exchange for a short sentence. What might you do if you were facing the prospect of spending more than 30 years in a US jail but could get away with 37 months by pleading guilty to one charge?

  • “Perhaps in a case like that of Gary McKinnon” It’s not a great example to use, whilst the offence was committed by someone one UK soil it was targetted at computers in the US and owned by organisations in the US. On that basis it’s a reasonable offence to be tried in the US

  • Alex Macfie 5th Nov '12 - 7:42pm

    @Simon: The “crime” to which the Natwest Three (they were not “ENRON” bankers, they worked for Natwest) pleaded guilty appears to have been a technical breach of their employment contract (not even illegal in this country), all of the real charges being dropped. As explained by others, the US legal system is stacked against people who plead their innocence. A guilty plea obtained effectively under blackmail is meaningless in indicating actual guilt of anything.

  • Alex Macfie 5th Nov '12 - 11:33pm

    @Jock: All that publicity and big-name support were not able to stop the highest court in this land from ordering Assange’s extradition. The only reason he hasn’t been extradited to Sweden is that he is hiding in the Ecuadorean embassy. So, actually, getting Jemima Khan et al on your side doesn’t help you win against an EAW. On the other hand, there have been a few cases where rather more low-key campaigning or political manoeuvring (e.g. from Fair Trials International) have prevented an unjust extradition.

  • I did not mean that it had prevented it, just that it had got very public oversight compared with no doubt many others who have been pretty swiftly and silently rendered abroad for much more minor infractions.

  • Geoff Crocker 6th Nov '12 - 7:02am


    Your 95% figure is very close to Karen Todner’s 98%? And yes, I would be prepared to stop all extradition of all UK citizens to all US states until a federal ruling abolished capital punishment there. It’s time to put some pressure on the Americans over this in the same way as they pressurise/bully other countries to follow the American approach to human rights.

  • @ Geoff Crocker

    Tom’s comment of ‘absolutely crackers’ appeared to be related to your argument, not you. Perhaps you should not take it personally? If someone disagrees with your argument, it is not an attack on you personally it is the nature of normal discussion people will disagree.

  • Geoff Crocker 6th Nov '12 - 8:41am


    Tom is perfectly entitled to disagree with my argument. He is also able to frame this disagreement politely as required by LDV protocol and not to resort to mere (in this case mild) insult. Actually he doesn’t say whether he means I or my argument are crackers. But that’s not the point. I can respond that his argument is crackers too, but where does that get mature intelligent debate? Nowhere.

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