While most of the British public, including the British families of recently extradited US terror suspects, welcomed home secretary Theresa May’s decision to block Gary McKinnon’s extradition to the US, many will also argue that the decision smacks of double standards and politicians bending over backwards to keep pre-election promises to McKinnon.
And before anyone argues that McKinnon’s case is different in seriousness to the five US terror suspects who have only two weeks ago been extradited, consider that the US State Department considered McKinnon’s acts so grave they spent 10 years trying to extradite him because they said he undermined US national security in the aftermath of September 11. In one of the alleged 97 hacks into US military and NASA computers over a 12-month period, he is said to have left the following comment: ‘US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days … It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand down on September 11 last year… I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels.’ But then McKinnon was looking for UFOs.
And consider three other uncanny coincidences of McKinnon's case with others, particularly that of Syed Talha Ahsan’s recent extradition to the US.
Firstly, just like Syed Talha Ahsan and, for that matter, Babar Ahmad, McKinnon was engaged in computer-related activity based in the UK which formed the basis of the US extradition request. And while both were arrested by the UK police, neither Ahmad or Ahsan, like McKinnon, were ever tried in UK courts for alleged conduct that occurred on British soil.
Further, Theresa May argued in blocking the extradition of McKinnon to the US on the ‘exceptional’ basis that he suffers from Asperger Syndrome and thus was at risk of self-harm if extradited and left incarcerated in one of the US supermax prisons. But here again is the second coincidence, in that Ahsan also suffers from the same condition. Therefore, one would reasonably assume Ahsan would suffer similar self-harm and suicidal effects of being in confinement for 24 hours while awaiting trial in a supermax US prison. Risks similar to those identified by the medical evidence Theresa May was so eager to obtain, review and point to in deciding to block McKinnon's extradition to the US.
The third coincidence between McKinnon's case and that of those who have been extradited will now lead to a growing frustration and anger with ministerial decisions like this. It is well known that those who campaigned on behalf of Ahsan and others to stop their ultimately unsuccessful attempts to convince courts and successive home secretaries, did so on the same basis as McKinnon’s campaign to stop his extradition. Both campaigns referred to the Extradition Treaty as being lopsided, allowing for easier extradition requests from the US compared to UK requests from the US, and that British nationals should, where possible, be tried in UK courts to determine guilt or innocence.
What will really anger some communities is the timing of changes to the Extradition Treaty Theresa May will now bring forth to incorporate the changes long wanted by many, which was announced ‘after’ five US terror suspects have been extradited. These changes are to include the introduction of a forum bar which means judges can block extradition in cases where the alleged offence is deemed to have been committed in the UK. Ahsan and others like Ahmad were in effect prevented from relying on this change in the law because they have been extradited. How convenient.
And this point of convenience will echo around some communities who will ask why did the home secretary not indicate these changes earlier, months if not years ago, if it was not to ensure the extradition of these Muslims.
The conclusion will no doubt be reached by many communities in the UK, that terrorism laws and the officials who apply them will bend over backwards and conspire to make decisions they personally desire rather than what is fair and just. Within the same communities there is a growing belief that if you are Muslim you are treated differently, second class, less human, than if you are a non-Muslim citizen living in the UK. A government that is so keen on tackling parallel communities, should now consider paying close attention to ensuring we don’t slip further into a parallel justice system, where institutional discrimination against Muslims is quietly accepted.
It seems clear from Theresa May’s statement and from the cheers of approval when she made it about blocking McKinnon’s extradition, compared to other past statements accompanied with cheers of support for the extradition of British citizens who are Muslim, where her sympathies lies. It appears, to some commentators at least, looking at her record of who she has targeted for exclusion, deportation and citizenship deprivation, and now extradition, that her sympathies are not with protecting human rights which she has long criticised and seeks to restrict, but being swayed by the politics of public opinion.
And please don’t misunderstand this last comment. When government ministers make decisions on extradition or any other subject, it does not matter whether the person subject to a ministerial decision-making has the same supposed loyalties as a member of her majesty’s government, or how serious the allegation is. Every citizen and resident should be treated equally before the law. The alternative would be that ministers would be prone to misuse the law to carry out personal vendettas or personal favours depending on who you are and then dress them up as ‘considered’ ministerial decisions.
And further changes to the law should certainly not be made to prevent individuals the right to be protected by those legal changes as it appears to have happened here. This would undermine not just the justice system but also the integrity of the minister - a public servant - in question.
While I am very pleased for McKinnon and his family that he has not been extradited, one is left to wonder whether his fate would have been different if his name ended in ‘Ahmad’ or ‘Ahsan’.
Nasir Hafezi, solicitor