The Blair war on our civil rights: Henry Porter and the US-UK extradition treaty
In a recent item in Ephems , I reported as a recent news item from the asylum that —
A man called Steve Jago has been arrested in Whitehall for carrying a banner bearing a quotation from George Orwell ("In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act") and three copies of an article from Vanity Fair headed "Blair's Big Brother Britain". He has been charged under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. At the police station a police officer stated for the record that he was showing the defendant the Vanity Fair articles which appeared to be 'politically motivated material'.
The politically motivated article (shock, horror!) in question turns out to be a superb and scrupulously documented analysis of Blair's frontal assault on a wide range of our historic civil rights and freedoms by the Observer columnist (and London editor of Vanity Fair), Henry Porter. It is in the July 2006 edition of the magazine, and fortunately the full text is on the Vanity Fair website. It makes for compulsive and riveting reading, and is strongly recommended to anyone who doubts that New Labour has subverted the English tradition of individual rights, probably beyond repair. Just don't print it out and carry a copy down Whitehall while the cops are looking.
A bonus in Porter's article is a link to the remarkable exchange of e-mails between himself and none other than Tony Blair, published in the Observer in April 2006, and also available in full on the Web. This too is obligatory reading. It can't be often that a busy prime minister is so incensed by a newspaper column attacking his human rights record that he starts banging out e-mails to the offending columnist. He begins his counter-attack in uncompromising language:
Frankly it's difficult to know where to start, given the mishmash of misunderstanding, gross exaggeration and things that are just plain wrong.
Needless to say, Porter returns to the charge with redoubled vigour. A terrific read, if in many ways a deeply depressing one.
One scandal not mentioned by Henry Porter in Vanity Fair or in his e-mails is the agreement with the Americans under which they may demand the extradition to the US of British citizens whom they wish to try in the American courts even if the offences of which they are accused were committed outside the US, and without any obligation laid on the US authorities to provide even prima facie evidence against the person sought in support of their request for his extradition. The imminent extradition of three British businessmen to stand trial in the US under this outrageous agreement, and the Act of the UK Parliament which brought it into operation despite the fact that even now the US Senate has not ratified it, has belatedly ignited controversy and protests in the UK media and even on the streets. There's no need for me to go into detail about it here (a full account is available on the Web here) . I and others tried to draw it to public attention, e.g. in my letter published in the Sunday Times on 6 June 2004, on this blog in the following February, and in other ways.
The three men are expected to be flown to the US next week. Despite a reckless promise in parliament by Blair to see if he could do anything to ensure that the men are granted bail while they await their trials (perhaps for anything from one to three years), nothing seems to have been done and even if bail is granted, it is likely to be on such huge sureties that the men are unlikely to be able to raise it. If and when they come to trial, they are almost certain to have to consider a plea bargain to avoid the risk of being sentenced to imprisonment effectively for the rest of their lives if convicted: under such a bargain they will be forced to plead guilty, perhaps to slightly lesser charges than those originally brought, in exchange for a promise of shorter sentences, perhaps five or ten years rather than the 30 or 40 years to which they might well be condemned if they refuse the offer of a bargain. So we have here three UK citizens, charged with offences committed in Britain against a British company, for which they have never been charged in Britain: the Americans claiming extra-territorial jurisdiction as if Washington were the seat of a world government and a world court; an Act of Parliament under which all this is allowed to happen (thus effectively preventing the UK courts from offering protection to the victims); the cowardly refusal of the British law officers or the home secretary to exercise their discretion to prevent extradition from going ahead; a deeply flawed and one-sided agreement with the US, for which David Blunkett is unsurprisingly responsible from his days as home secretary; and three Britons about to be the victims of the deeply unjust American systems of plea bargaining, over-charging (remember Louise Woodward?), and grossly over-long prison sentences. Other Brits have already been extradited under these monstrous arrangements: it's only when prosperous middle-class British bankers face the same fate that the media become seriously agitated. All this on top of the catalogue of attacks on the rule of law compiled by Henry Porter.
Truly, you couldn't make it up.