RT interview re Snowden flying to Russia

As the news broke that NSA whis­tleblower, Edward Snowden, had fled Hong Kong for Rus­sia today, I was invited on RT to do an inter­view. At that point few people had any idea of his plans.  How­ever, it appears that the USA had charged Snowden under the Espi­on­age Act 1917 (no sur­prises) and then asked Hong Kong to arrest and hold him, pending extra­di­tion. Equally unsur­pris­ingly, Hong Kong found mis­takes in the paper­work and used the oppor­tun­ity to com­plain about US spy­ing activ­ity in its territory.

Any­way, this gave Snowden, with appar­ently the help of the whis­tleblow­ing pub­lish­ing site Wikileaks, the chance to leave the coun­try and fly to Rus­sia, with the repor­ted final des­tin­a­tion being Ecuador.

So here’s my ini­tial take on the situation:

Snowden case shows US is bully boy of world — RTTV inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The FISA/Echelon Panopticon

A recent inter­view with James Corbett of the Corbett Report on Global Research TV dis­cuss­ing issues such as FISA, Ech­elon, and our cul­tural “groom­ing” by the bur­geon­ing sur­veil­lance state:

The Keiser Report — my recent interview

My recent inter­view on Max Keiser’s excel­lent RT show, The Keiser Report, appar­ently now the most watched Eng­lish lan­guage news com­ment­ary show across the world.

We were dis­cuss­ing such happy sub­jects as the war on ter­ror, the war on drugs, but pre­dom­in­antly the war on the internet:

Asymmetric Extradition — the American Way

Pub­lished in the Huff­ing­ton Post UK, The Real News Net­work, and Inform­a­tion Clear­ing House

I blame my part­ner. There I was hav­ing a per­fectly nice day off, poot­ling my way through the Sunday news­pa­pers and find­ing such intriguing art­icles about the fact that Bri­tain has invaded all but 22 coun­tries around the world over the cen­tur­ies (France is the second most pro­lific invader but also has the dubi­ous dis­tinc­tion of being the coun­try most invaded by Bri­tain, apparently).

Then he has to go and say “well, if the US ignores other coun­tries’ laws, why should we be sub­ject to theirs?”. This post is the unavoid­able result.

I had made the tac­tical blun­der of shar­ing two art­icles with him.  The first was an excel­lent inter­view in today’s Inde­pend­ent with news supremo and fin­an­cial sub­vers­ive, Max Keiser; the second was an art­icle I found in my Twit­ter stream from the indefatig­able Julia O’Dwyer about her son’s ongo­ing legal fight in the UK.

The con­nec­tion?  Unfor­tu­nately and rather inev­it­ably these days — extradition.

Richard O’Dwyer is the Shef­field stu­dent who is cur­rently wanted by the USA on copy­right infringe­ment charges.  Using a bit of old-fashioned get-up-and-go, he set up a web­site called tvshack​.com, which appar­ently acted as a sign-posting ser­vice to web­sites where people could down­load media.  Put­ting aside the simple argu­ment that the ser­vice he provided was no dif­fer­ent from Google, he also had no copy­righted mater­ial hos­ted on his website.

Richard has lived all his life in the UK, and he set up his web­site there.  Under UK law he had com­mit­ted no crime.

How­ever, the Amer­ican author­it­ies thought dif­fer­ently.  O’Dwyer had registered his web­site as a .com and the US now claims that any web­site, any­where in the world, using a US-originated domain name (com/org/info/net etc) is sub­ject to US law, thus allow­ing the Amer­ican gov­ern­ment to glob­al­ise their legal hege­mony. The most notori­ous recent case was the illegal US intel­li­gence oper­a­tion to take down Megaup­load and arrest Kim Dot­com in New Zea­l­and earlier this year.

This has already res­ul­ted in for­eign web­sites that attract the wrath of the US author­it­ies being taken down, with no warn­ing and no due pro­cess. This is the cyber equi­val­ent of drone war­fare and the presidentially-approved CIA kill list.

As a res­ult, not only was O’Dwyer’s web­site sum­mar­ily taken down, he is now facing extra­di­tion to the US and a 10 year stretch in a max­imum secur­ity prison.  All for some­thing that is not even a crime under UK law.  His case echoes the ter­rible 10-year ordeal that Gary McKin­non went through, and high­lights the appalling prob­lems inher­ent in the invi­di­ous, one-sided UK/USA Extra­di­tion Act.

So how does this link to the Max Keiser inter­view? Read­ing it reminded my of an invest­ig­a­tion Keiser did a few years ago into the extraordin­ary rendi­tion of a “ter­ror­ist sus­pect”, Abu Omar, from Italy to Egypt where he was inev­it­ably, hor­rific­ally tor­tured.  Since then, 23 CIA officers have now been tried under Italian law and found guilty of his kid­nap­ping (let’s not mince our words here).  The Milan Head of Sta­tion, Robert Lady is now wanted in Italy to serve his 9-year sen­tence, but the US gov­ern­ment has refused to extra­dite him.

So let’s just reit­er­ate this: on the one hand, the US demands EU cit­izens on sus­pi­cion that they may have com­mit­ted a cyber-crime accord­ing to the diktats of Amer­ican law, which we are all now sup­posed to agree has a glob­al­ised reach; on the other hand, US cit­izens who have already been con­victed by the due legal pro­cess of other West­ern demo­cra­cies are not handed over to serve their sen­tences for appalling crimes involving kid­nap­ping and torture.

I have writ­ten at length about America’s asym­met­ric extra­di­tion laws, but this is tak­ing the sys­tem to new heights of hypocrisy.

Just why, indeed, should European coun­tries reli­giously obey America’s self-styled global legal domin­ion and hand over its cit­izens, pre­sumed inno­cent until proven guilty, to the bru­tal and dis­pro­por­tion­ate US legal sys­tem?  Espe­cially when the US brushes aside the due legal pro­cesses of other demo­cra­cies and refuses to extra­dite con­victed felons?

It appears that the USA is in a hurry to reach and breach Britain’s record for for­eign inva­sions. But in addi­tion to old-fashioned mil­it­ary incur­sions, Amer­ica is also going for full-spectrum legal dominance.

The Assange Witch Hunt

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 17 August 2012

A storm of dip­lo­matic sound and fury has broken over Ecuador’s decision to grant polit­ical asylum to Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. The UK gov­ern­ment has threatened to breach all dip­lo­matic pro­tocol and inter­na­tional law and go into the embassy to arrest Assange.

The UK jus­ti­fies this by cit­ing the 1987 Dip­lo­matic and Con­su­lar Premises Act, a law appar­ently put in place fol­low­ing the 1984 shoot­ing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher from the Libyan Embassy in Lon­don.  The murder res­ul­ted in an 11-day siege, and the embassy staff even­tu­ally being expelled from the coun­try.  Nobody has yet been brought to justice for this murder.

It is hard to equate the grav­ity of the crime that brought about the 1987 legis­la­tion — the murder of a police­wo­man — with Assange’s situ­ation.  Des­pite the scream­ing head­lines, let us not for­get that he is merely wanted for ques­tion­ing in Sweden. Nev­er­the­less, the UK is pre­pared to over­turn all dip­lo­matic pro­tocol and cre­ate a dan­ger­ous inter­na­tional pre­ced­ent to “get their man”, des­pite there being a clear lack of jus­ti­fic­a­tion under the terms of the ’87 Act.

Many people in the west­ern media remain puzzled about Assange’s fear of being held cap­tive in the Swedish legal sys­tem. But can we really trust Swedish justice when it has been flag­rantly politi­cised and manip­u­lated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well doc­u­mented. Indeed, the Swedish justice sys­tem has the highest rate per cap­ita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flout­ing Art­icle 6 — the right to a fair trial.

If Assange were extra­dited merely for ques­tion­ing by police — he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden — there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the legal terms of a “tem­por­ary sur­render”. And in the US, a secret Grand Jury has been con­vened in Vir­ginia to find a law — any law — with which to pro­sec­ute Assange.  Hell, if the Yanks can’t find an exist­ing law, they will prob­ably write a new one just for him.

So why all the sound and fury? What is this really all about?

Wikileaks is a ground-breaking new form of high-tech, award-winning journ­al­ism that has exposed cor­rupt prac­tices across the world over the years.  And cru­cially, in this war-torn, weary and fin­an­cially broken world, it offers a secure con­duit to whis­tleblowers who want to expose insti­tu­tional crime and cor­rup­tion for the pub­lic good.

Whis­tleblowers want to get their inform­a­tion out there, they want to make a dif­fer­ence, they want a fair hear­ing, and they don’t want to pay too high a per­sonal price for doing so. Is that too much to ask?

By going pub­lic about ser­i­ous con­cerns they have about their work­place, they are jeop­ard­ising their whole way of life: not just their pro­fes­sional repu­ta­tion and career, but all that goes with it, such as the abil­ity to pay the mort­gage, their social circle, their fam­ily life, their rela­tion­ship…  Plus, the whis­tleblower can poten­tially risk prison or worse.

So, with these risks in mind, they are cer­tainly look­ing for an avenue to blow the whistle that will offer a degree of pro­tec­tion and allow them to retain a degree of con­trol over their own lives.  In the old days, this meant try­ing to identify an hon­our­able, cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist and a media organ­isa­tion that had the clout to pro­tect its source.  While not impossible, that could cer­tainly be dif­fi­cult, and becomes increas­ingly so in this era of endemic elec­tronic sur­veil­lance.

Today the other option is a secure, high-tech pub­lish­ing con­duit such as Wikileaks. This provides anonym­ity and a cer­tain degree of con­trol to the mod­ern whis­tleblower, plus it allows their inform­a­tion to reach a wide audi­ence without either being filtered by the media or blocked by gov­ern­ment or cor­por­ate injunctions.

As someone who has a nod­ding acquaint­ance with the reper­cus­sions of blow­ing the whistle on a secret gov­ern­ment agency, I have long seen the value of the Wikileaks model — and I also under­stand quite why gov­ern­ments feel so threatened by it. After all, no gov­ern­ment or mega-corporation wants free­dom of inform­a­tion and trans­par­ency forced upon it, nor an informed cit­izenry ques­tion­ing its actions.

Our gov­ern­ments like to spout the phrase “if you have done noth­ing wrong, you have noth­ing to hide” as they roll out yet another intrus­ive sur­veil­lance measure.

Wikileaks has turned that right back at them — hence this modern-day witch-hunt.

The Extradition Farce — why the delay in reform?

Out­rage con­tin­ues to swell about the per­emp­tory extra­di­tion of Brit­ish cit­izens to face trial on tenu­ous charges abroad.

Thanks to the tire­less cam­paign­ing of dis­traught fam­ily mem­bers, a grow­ing anger in the UK press, and indig­nant ques­tions and debates in Par­lia­ment — even our somn­am­bu­lant MPs have roused them­selves to state that Some­thing Must be Done - the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 is now centre stage, and reform of the law will no doubt occur at some point.

As there is a grow­ing con­sensus, why the delay?  I have a the­ory, but first let’s review some of the most troub­ling recent cases.

Janis_SharpThe case that really brought the issue to wide­spread pub­lic atten­tion  is the decade-long extra­di­tion battle of Gary McKin­non.  With this sword of Damocles hanging over his head for so long, poor Gary has already effect­ively served a 10-year sen­tence, uncer­tain of his future and unable to work in his chosen pro­fes­sion.  Thanks to the indefatig­able cam­paign­ing of his mother, Janis Sharp, his case has received wide­spread sup­port from the media and politi­cians alike.

Des­pite this the Home Sec­ret­ary, Theresa May (who has recently been work­ing so hard in Jordan to pro­tect the rights of Abu Qatada), has dragged her feet abom­in­ably over mak­ing a decision about whether Gary should be extra­dited to the US to face a pos­sible 70-year prison sen­tence — even though the UK invest­ig­a­tion into his alleged crime was aban­doned way back in 2002.

Julia_and Richard_OdwyerThen there is the more recent case of stu­dent Richard O’Dwyer, wanted in the US even though he lives in the UK and has broken no Brit­ish laws.  He is facing a 10 year max­imum secur­ity sen­tence if extra­dited.  Once again, his mother, Julia, is tire­lessly fight­ing and cam­paign­ing for her son.

Most recently, Chris Tap­pin, a retired busi­ness­man and golf club pres­id­ent, has been shipped off to a Texas high secur­ity pen­it­en­tiary fol­low­ing what sounds like a US entrap­ment oper­a­tion (a tech­nique not leg­ally admiss­able in UK courts), and faces a 35 year sen­tence if convicted.

Chris_and_Elaine_TappinDes­pite hav­ing turned him­self in, this eld­erly gent, who walks with the aid of a cane, is con­sidered such a flight risk that he was last week denied bail. Once again, his wife Elaine has come out fight­ing.

My heart goes out to all these women, and I salute their tenacity and bravery.  I remem­ber liv­ing through a sim­ilar, if mer­ci­fully briefer, four months back in 1998 when the UK gov­ern­ment tried and failed to extra­dite David Shayler from France to the UK to stand trial for a breach of the OSA. I remem­ber with crys­tal clar­ity the shock of the arrest, the fear when he dis­ap­peared into a for­eign legal sys­tem without trace, the anguish about his life in an alien prison.

Sunday_Times_Paris_98And I remem­ber the fright­en­ing moment when I real­ised I had to step up and fight for him — the legal case, deal­ing with MPs and the end­less media work, includ­ing the ter­ror of live TV inter­views.  And all this when you are wor­ried sick about the fate of a loved one.  Shall I just say it was a steep learn­ing curve?

In the wake of the recent extra­di­tion cases, there have been ques­tions in Par­lia­ment, motions, debates, reviews (Down­load Review), and there is an ongo­ing push for an urgent need for reform.  And no doubt this will come, in time.

So why the delay?  Why not change the law now, and pre­vent McKin­non, O’Dywer and many oth­ers being sac­ri­ficed on the Amer­ican legal altar — the concept of “judi­cial rendi­tion”, as I have men­tioned before.

Well, I have a the­ory, one derived from per­sonal exper­i­ence.  The Brit­ish media — most not­ably the Daily Mail - inveigh against the uni­lat­eral extra­di­tion of UK cit­izens to the USA’s bru­tal prison régime.  There is also some con­cern about extra­di­tion to other European jur­is­dic­tions — usu­ally on the fringes to the south and east of the con­tin­ent, regions where the Brit­ish seem to have a vis­ceral fear of cor­rupt offi­cials and kangaroo courts.

But what many com­ment­at­ors seem to miss is the cru­cial legal con­nec­tion — the extra­di­tion arrange­ments that ensure Brits can be shipped off to the US and many other legal banana repub­lics com­par­able legal sys­tems to face out­rageous sen­tences are, in fact, embed­ded within the Extra­di­tion Act 2003.  This is the act that enshrined the power of the European Arrest War­rant, the the act that was rushed through Par­lia­ment in the midst of the post-9/11 ter­ror­ism flap.

And, of course, this is the very act that is cur­rently being used and abused to extra­dite Julian Assange to Sweden merely for police ques­tion­ing (he has not even been charged with any crime), whence he can be “tem­por­ar­ily sur­rendered” to the delights of the US judi­cial pro­cess. Hmm, could this pos­sibly be the reason for the delay in reform­ing the Act?

Assange_Supreme_CourtLet me guess, you think this is begin­ning to sound a bit tin-foil hat? Surely it is incon­ceiv­able that the Brit­ish politi­cians and judges would delay right­ing a flag­rant legal wrong that mani­festly res­ults in inno­cent people being unjustly extra­dited and pro­sec­uted? Surely our gov­ern­ment would move swiftly to pro­tect its citizens?

As I men­tioned, my the­ory stems from per­sonal exper­i­ence. Once again delving into the mists of time, in 1997 David Shayler blew the whistle on the wrong­ful con­vic­tion on ter­ror­ist charges of two inno­cent Palestinian stu­dents, Samar Alami and Jawad Bot­meh. Their law­yer, the excel­lent Gareth Peirce, was imme­di­ately on the case, but the UK gov­ern­ment dragged its heels for a year. Why?

Dur­ing that time, the UK gov­ern­ment tried to have Shayler extra­dited from France to the UK to stand trial. Gov­ern­ment law­yers were con­fid­ent of vic­tory and delayed a decision on the stu­dents’ appeal against their con­vic­tions until the whis­tleblower was safely incar­cer­ated in HMP Bel­marsh, await­ing trial.

Except it all went wrong, and the French freed Shayler for being mani­festly a polit­ical whis­tleblower, which in their legal opin­ion was not an extra­dict­able offence. Only at that point did the UK gov­ern­ment law­yers begin to work with Peirce on the Palestinian case, details of which can be found here.

Christine_AssangeSo my the­ory is that the UK is drag­ging its feet about reform­ing the pre­pos­ter­ous Extra­di­tion Act until it has Assange safely over in Sweden. How­ever, they may be count­ing their chick­ens pre­ma­turely — and they should never, ever over­look the determ­in­a­tion of the cam­paign­ing mother, in this case Christine Assange.

But in the mean­time, while the UK con­tin­ues to pros­ti­tute itself to the USA, how many more inno­cent people will have to suf­fer unjust and unjus­ti­fi­able extradition?

A Tale of Two Cases

Abu_QatadaThe first case, the one hit­ting the head­lines this week, is that of Jordanian-born alleged ter­ror­ist supremo Abu Qatada, who arrived in the UK using a forged pass­port almost 20 years ago and claimed asylum, and has already been found guilty twice in absen­tia of ter­ror­ist attacks in Jordan. He is reportedly also wanted in seven other coun­tries for terrorist-related offences.  He has been labeled Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, and over the last few years in the UK has been vari­ously interned, placed under con­trol order, and held in max­imum secur­ity prisons.  

The UK courts ruled that he should be depor­ted to stand trial in his nat­ive coun­try, but these rul­ings were recently over­turned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as it had con­cerns that Jord­anian dip­lo­matic assur­ances that he would not be tor­tured could not be relied on, and that evid­ence against him in any retrial there might have been obtained using torture. 

MATT_CartoonAs a res­ult, Mr Justice Mit­ting of the Spe­cial Immig­ra­tion Appeals Com­mis­sion (Siac) has ruled that he should be released under a strict T-PIM (the new con­trol order).  This decision has pre­dict­ably roused the froth­ing wrath of the Home Office and the read­er­ship of the Daily Mail.  Politi­cians of all fla­vours have rushed out their sound bites con­demning the ECtHR decision.  

But can they not see that it is the com­pla­cency and the very dis­dain for law that the Brit­ish polit­ical and intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture has dis­played for the last dec­ade that has cre­ated this mess in the first place?  If, instead of kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, assas­sin­a­tion, and indeed intern­ment without trial within the UK, the rule of law had been fol­lowed, the coun­try would not cur­rently find itself in this legal quagmire.  

There used to be a notion that you used due pro­cess to invest­ig­ate a ter­ror­ist sus­pect as you would any other sus­pec­ted crim­inal: gather the evid­ence, present the case to the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice, hold a trial in front of a jury, and work towards a conviction. 

How quaintly old-fashioned that all seems today.  Instead, since 9/11 and the incep­tion of the hys­ter­ic­ally bru­tal “war on ter­ror” led by the USA, we have seen people in the UK thrown into prison for years on the secret word of anonym­ous intel­li­gence officers, where even the sus­pects’ law­yers are not allowed to see the inform­a­tion against their cli­ents.  The Brit­ish legal sys­tem has become truly Kafkaesque.

Which leads me to the second case.  This was a quote in yesterday’s Guard­ian about the Abu Qatada ruling:

The Con­ser­vat­ive back­bencher Dominic Raab echoed Blunkett’s anger: “This res­ult is a dir­ect res­ult of the per­verse rul­ing by the Stras­bourg court. It makes a mock­ery of human rights law that a ter­ror­ist sus­pect deemed ‘dan­ger­ous’ by our courts can’t be returned home, not for fear that he might be tor­tured, but because European judges don’t trust the Jord­anian justice sys­tem.”

Julian_assangeIn the case of Julian Assange, can we really trust the Swedish justice sys­tem? While the Swedish judi­cial sys­tem may have an ostens­ibly more fra­grant repu­ta­tion than that of Jordan, it has been flag­rantly politi­cised and manip­u­lated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well doc­u­mented. Indeed, the Swedish justice sys­tem has the highest rate per cap­ita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flout­ing Art­icle 6 — the right to a fair trial.

If Assange were extra­dited merely for ques­tion­ing by police — he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden — there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the legal terms of a “tem­por­ary sur­render”.  And, to bas­tard­ise the above quote, who now really trusts the Amer­ican justice system?

A secret Grand Jury has been con­vened in Vir­ginia to find a law — any law — with which to pro­sec­ute Assange.  Hell, if the Yanks can’t find an exist­ing law, they will prob­ably write a new one just for him.

For­get about the fact that Wikileaks is a ground-breaking new form of high-tech journ­al­ism that has exposed cor­rupt prac­tices across the world over the years.  The US just wants to make an example of Assange in retali­ation for the embar­rass­ment he has caused by expos­ing US double deal­ing and war crimes over the last dec­ade, and no doubt as a dread­ful example to deter others.  

Bradley_Manning_2The alleged Wikileaks source, US sol­dier Private Brad­ley Man­ning, has been kept in inhu­mane and degrad­ing con­di­tions for well over a year and will now be court-martialed.  The gen­eral assump­tion is that this pro­cess was designed to break him, so that he would implic­ate Assange and pos­sibly other Wikileaks asso­ci­ates.  

In my view, that means that any US trial of Assange could essen­tially be rely­ing on evid­ence obtained under tor­ture.  And if Assange is extra­dited and and judi­cially rendered to the US, he too will face tor­tur­ous con­di­tions.

So, to sum­mar­ise, on the one hand we have a man who is wanted in eight coun­tries for ter­ror­ist offences, has already been con­victed twice in his home coun­try, but who can­not be extradited.

And on the other hand we have a man who has not been charged, tried or con­victed of any­thing, but is merely wanted for ques­tion­ing on minor and appar­ently trumped up charges in another coun­try, yet who has also been imprisoned in sol­it­ary con­fine­ment and held under house arrest.  And it looks like the Brit­ish author­it­ies are happy to col­lude in his extradition.

Both these men poten­tially face a mis­trial and both may poten­tially exper­i­ence what is now euphemist­ic­ally known as “degrad­ing and inhu­mane treatment”.

But because one faces being sent back to his home coun­try — now seen for the pur­poses of his case as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under tor­ture — he shall prob­ably not be extra­dited.  How­ever, the other faces being sent to an alien coun­try well known as a beacon of civil rights and fair judi­cial sys­tem oops, sorry, as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under torture.

A_Tale_of_Two_CitiesThe UK has become a legal laugh­ing stock around the world and our judi­cial frame­work has been bent com­pletely out of shape by the require­ments of the “war on ter­ror” and the rap­idly devel­op­ing cor­por­ate fas­cism of our government.  

The UK is cur­rently cel­eb­rat­ing the bicen­ten­ary of the birth of Charles Dick­ens.  Per­haps the time has come to pause and think about some of the issues he dis­cussed in one of his best-known nov­els, “A Tale of Two Cit­ies”.  Do we want our coun­try to slide fur­ther down the path of state ter­ror­ism — a phrase adop­ted from the ori­ginal Grande Ter­reur of the French Revolution? 

We need to seize back our basic rights, the due pro­cess of law, and justice.

Judicial rendition — the UK-US extradition treaty is a farce

Some­times I sit here read­ing the news -  on sub­jects in which I take a deep interest such as the recent police invest­ig­a­tion into UK spy com­pli­city in tor­ture, where the police decided not to pro­sec­ute — and feel that I should com­ment.  But really, what would be the point?  Of course the police would not find enough con­crete evid­ence, of course no indi­vidual spies would be held to account, des­pite the fact that the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment has already paid massive set­tle­ments to the victims.

BelhadjNow there are reports that the police will be invest­ig­at­ing MI6 involve­ment in the extraordin­ary rendi­tion and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  The case appears bang to rights, with doc­u­ment­ary evid­ence that high-ranking MI6 officers and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters were involved in and approved the oper­a­tion.  Yet I’m will­ing to bet that the plods at Scot­land Yard will still not be able to find the requis­ite evid­ence to pro­sec­ute anybody. 

The inev­it­able (and prob­ably wished-for out­come on the part of the author­it­ies) is that people become so weary and cyn­ical about the lack of justice that they stop fight­ing for it.  And they can tem­por­ar­ily suc­ceed, when we suc­cumb to cyn­ical burnout.

But the case repor­ted in today’s Daily Mail, that of a young Brit­ish stu­dent facing extra­di­tion to the US des­pite hav­ing broken no laws in the UK, suc­ceeded in rous­ing my wrath. 

Richard_ODwyerThe hap­less 23-year old Richard O’Dwyer faces 10 years in a max­imum secur­ity Amer­ican prison.  His crime, accord­ing to the US, is that he set up a UK-based web­site that provided links to other inter­na­tional web­sites that allegedly hos­ted copy­right material.

This case is so troub­ling on so many levels it is dif­fi­cult to know where to begin.  There are issues around the crack­down of US cor­por­ate copy­right law, issues around the inequal­ity of the uni­lat­eral Extra­di­tion Act 2003, and his­toric ques­tions of US hypo­crisy about extradition.

So let’s start with the unsup­por­ted alleg­a­tions against poor Richard O’Dwyer.  He is a stu­dent who built a web­site that col­lated a list of sites in other coun­tries that host films, books and music for free down­load.  O’Dwyer did not him­self down­load any copy­righted mater­ial, and the web­sites he linked to were appar­ently within jur­is­dic­tions where such down­loads are not illegal.  Provid­ing a sign­post to other legal inter­na­tional sites is mani­festly not a crime in the UK and he has never been charged.

How­ever, over the last couple of dec­ades the US enter­tain­ment lobby has been fight­ing a vicious rear­guard action against copy­right infringe­ment, start­ing with the music, then the film, and now the pub­lish­ing industry.  The lob­by­ists have proved vic­tori­ous and the invi­di­ous SOPA and PIPA laws are soon to be passed by the US Con­gress.  All well and good you might think — it’s one of those mad US issues.  But oh no, these laws have global reach.  What might be legal within the UK might still mean that you fall foul of US legislation.

Gary_McKinnon2Which is where the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 becomes par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing.  This law means that any UK cit­izen can be deman­ded by and handed over to the US with no prima facie evid­ence.  As we have seen in the appalling case of alleged hacker Gary McKin­non, it mat­ters not if the “crime” were com­mit­ted on UK soil (as you can see here, McKinnon’s case was not pro­sec­uted by the UK author­it­ies in 2002.  If it had been, he would have received a max­imum sen­tence of 6 months’ com­munity ser­vice: if extra­dited he is facing up to 70 years in a US max­imum secur­ity prison).

The UK gov­ern­ment has tried to spin the egre­gious Libyan cases as “judi­cial rendi­tion” rather than “extraordin­ary kid­nap­ping” or whatever it’s sup­posed to be.  So I think it would be accur­ate to call Gary McKinnon’s case “judi­cial rendi­tion” too, rather than bor­ing old extradition.

Richard O’Dwyer appar­ently didn’t com­mit any­thing that could be deemed to be a crime in the UK, and yet he is still facing extra­di­tion to the US and a 10 year stretch.  The new US laws like SOPA threaten all of us, and not just with judi­cial rendition. 

As I have men­tioned before, digital rights act­iv­ist Cory Doc­torow summed it up best: “you can’t make a sys­tem that pre­vents spy­ing by secret police and allows spy­ing by media giants”.  These cor­por­ate inter­net laws are a Tro­jan horse that will threaten our basic civil liber­ties across the board.

So now to my third point.  The hypo­crisy around the Amer­ican stance on extra­di­tion with the UK is breath­tak­ing.   The UK has been dis­patch­ing its own cit­izens off at an alarm­ing rate to the “tender” mer­cies of the US judi­cial sys­tem since 2004, with no prima facie evid­ence required.  In fact, the legal proof required to get a UK cit­izen extra­dited to the US is less than that required for someone to be extra­dited from one US state to another. 

The US, on the other hand, delayed rat­i­fy­ing the law until 2006, and the bur­den of proof required to extra­dite someone to the UK remains high, so it is unbal­anced not only in concept but also in prac­tice.  And this des­pite the fact that the law was seen as cru­cial to facil­it­ate the trans­fer of highly dan­ger­ous ter­ror­ist sus­pects in the end­less “war on terror”.

Why has this happened?  One can but spec­u­late about the power of the Irish lobby in the US gov­ern­ment, as Sir Men­zies Camp­bell did dur­ing a par­lia­ment­ary debate about the Act in 2006.   How­ever, it is well known that the US was remark­ably coy about extra­dit­ing IRA sus­pects back to the UK to stand trial dur­ing the 30-year “Troubles” in North­ern Ire­land.  We even have well-known apo­lo­gists such as Con­gress­man Peter King, the Chair­man of the Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee attempt­ing to demon­ise organ­isa­tions like Wikileaks as ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions, while at the same being a life-long sup­porter of Sinn Féin, the polit­ical wing of the Pro­vi­sional IRA.

UK_poodleThe double stand­ards are breath-taking.  The US dic­tates an extra­di­tion treaty with the UK to stop ter­ror­ism, but then uses this law to tar­get those who might poten­tially, tan­gen­tially, minutely threaten the profits of the US enter­tain­ment mega-corps; and then it delays rat­i­fy­ing and imple­ment­ing its own law for poten­tially dubi­ous polit­ical reasons.

And the UK gov­ern­ment yet again rolls over and takes it, while inno­cent stu­dents such as Richard O’Dwyer must pay the price.  As his mother is quoted as say­ing: “if they can come for Richard, they can come for anyone”.

The Case of Gary McKinnon

Gary_McKinnon_Bow_Street_Magistrates_24_Nov_2005_600-thumbI’ve been fol­low­ing the extraordin­ary case of Gary McKin­non for years now in a long range kind of way, but we are now in the final throes of his pro­longed fight against extra­di­tion to the USA, and he needs all the sup­port we can give him.  The Daily Mail recently star­ted a cam­paign against his extra­di­tion:  it’s not often I agree with the Wail, but I’m whole­heartedly in favour of this initiative. 

For those of you who have been liv­ing in a bunker for the last 7 years, Gary McKin­non is the self-confessed geek who went look­ing for evid­ence of UFOs and ETs on some of America’s most secret com­puter sys­tems at the Pentagon and NASA

And, when I say secret, obvi­ously I don’t mean in the sense of encryp­ted or pro­tec­ted.  The Yanks obvi­ously didn’t feel that their national defence war­rants even curs­ory pro­tec­tion, as Gary didn’t have to hack his way in past mul­tiple lay­ers of pro­tec­tion.  Appar­ently the sys­tems didn’t even have passwords.

Gary, who suf­fers from Asperger’s Syn­drome, is no super hacker.  Using a basic PC and a dial-up con­nec­tion in his bed­room, he man­aged to sneak a peek at the Pentagon com­puters, before kindly leav­ing a mes­sage that the US mil­it­ary might like to have a think about a little bit of basic inter­net secur­ity.   Hardly the work of a malig­nant, inter­na­tional cyber-terrorist.

UK police invest­ig­ated Gary soon after this epis­ode, way back in 2002.  All he faced, under the UK’s 1990 Com­puter Mis­use Act, would have been a bit of com­munity ser­vice if he’d been con­victed.  Even that was moot, as the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice decided not to prosecute.

And that, as they say, should have been that. 

How­ever, in 2003 the UK gov­ern­ment passed yet another dra­conian piece of law in response to the “war on ter­ror” — the Extra­di­tion Act.  Under this invi­di­ous, one-sided law, the US author­it­ies can demand the extra­di­tion to Amer­ica of any Brit­ish cit­izen, without present­ing any evid­ence of the crime for which they are wanted.  Need­less to say, this arrange­ment only works one way: if the Brits want to extra­dite a sus­pect from the US they still have to present prima facie evid­ence of a crime to an Amer­ican court.  The Act also enshrines the ques­tion­able European arrest war­rant sys­tem in Brit­ish law.

So how on earth did the half-wits in Par­lia­ment come to pass such an awful law?  Were they too busy tot­ting up their expense fiddles to notice that they were sign­ing away Brit­ish sov­er­eignty?  This law means that it is easier for a US court to get a Brit in the dock than it is for them to get a US cit­izen from another state.  In the lat­ter case, evid­ence is still also required.

Let’s get this straight.  The UK author­it­ies decided not to pro­sec­ute in this coun­try.  Even if they had, Gary would prob­ably have been sen­tenced to com­munity ser­vice.  How­ever, if he is extra­dited, he will get up to 70 years in a max­imum secur­ity prison in the US.

So a year after Gary’s bed­room hack, and after the CPS had decided there was no case to answer, the US author­it­ies deman­ded Gary’s extra­di­tion ret­ro­act­ively.   The UK gov­ern­ment, rather than pro­tect­ing a Brit­ish cit­izen, basic­ally said “Yes, have him!”.  Gary has been fight­ing the case ever since.

Janis_SharpHe has not been alone.  Many people from across the polit­ical spec­trum see this uni­lat­eral law as invi­di­ous.  And the gov­ern­ment reckoned without his mum.  Janis Sharp has fought vali­antly and indefatig­ably to pro­tect her son from this unjust extra­di­tion. She has lob­bied MPs, talked to news­pa­pers, gained the sup­port of many pub­lic and celebrity fig­ures.  She even recently met the PM’s wife, Sarah Brown, who was reportedly in tears for Gary.  Yet still the major­ity of the par­lia­ment­ary half-wits refuse to do anything. 

In fact, it gets worse.  Over the last few years many MPs have signed Early Day Motions sup­port­ing Gary’s fight against extra­di­tion.  But in a recent debate in the House of Com­mons about the need to revise the pro­vi­sions of the Extra­di­tion Act, 74 of these MPs betrayed him and voted for the gov­ern­ment to keep the Act in place.  Only 10 Labour MPs stuck to their guns and defied the party Whip.  One Labour MP, Andrew MacKin­ley, will stand down at the next elec­tion in protest at this hypocrisy.

This week is crunch time: on Fri­day a final judi­cial rul­ing will be made about the case.  It was the last throw of the legal dice for Gary.  If this fails, he will have to rely on polit­ical inter­ven­tion, which is pos­sible, to pre­vent his harm­ful, unjust and unne­ces­sary extra­di­tion to the USA.  Please visit the Free Gary web­site and do all you can in support.