Accusations fly as revised treaty gets D.C. hearing
By Ray O'Hanlonmailto:O
More than just controversy over its precise provisions is swirling around the revised U.S./U.K. Extradition Treaty, set for another hearing in Washington this week.
Irish-American activists were up in arms at the outset of the week claiming betrayal of a promise made by top members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last November.
Leading the charge of accusers was Professor Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois who, as of Monday, was being allotted all of seven minutes to voice collective Irish-American fears over the treaty at a Capitol Hill hearing set for Wednesday.
The latest hearing is part of what has been a drawn-out process of ratification for a document signed almost three years and four months ago.
Boyle's was the sole voice from among a long line of Irish American objectors being permitted to speak and he reacted angrily to what he saw as a diminution of Irish-American critical input.
By Tuesday, however, the Foreign Relations Committee had apparently relented. The hearing was moved to Friday with Boyle's testimony to be accompanied by additional, supportive statements from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Irish-American Unity Conference
The revised treaty was signed in March 2003 by then U.S. attorney general, John Ashcroft, and the British home secretary at the time, David Blunkett.
In his remarks at the signing ceremony, Ashcroft made no specific reference to any conflict, group or country. However, Irish-American activist groups immediately saw Northern Ireland between the treaty's lines.
Objections were immediately made, most notably in a letter from the AOH to Foreign Relations chairman, Sen. Richard Lugar, and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Joe Biden.
The letter urged both to examine "and then oppose" ratification of the treaty.
"Not only do Irish Americans feel threatened, but also this law threatens both due process and judicial review as it pertains to all United States citizens," the letter to Lugar and Biden stated.
"This document recalls the extradition treaty signed in London on June 8, 1972, which was subsequently amended by the Supplementary Treaty signed in Washington on June 25, 1985," the letter continued.
The letter argued that those treaties were sufficient and there was no reason to feel they were inadequate "with the exception that the present Department of Justice wishes to curry favor with the United Kingdom."
The AOH letter said that the latest treaty would remove the right of U.S. citizens to protest against the government of the United Kingdom without fear of frivolous charges.
"There is no need for this treaty to be ratified," the letter argued.
Objections by the AOH, Professor Boyle, the Irish American Unity Conference, the American Civil Liberties Union and others seemed to have an effect.
Against a backdrop of such mounting criticism the Foreign Relations Committee declined to vote on the revised treaty at the end of its November hearing, this at a point where ratification had already been delayed by more than two-and-a-half years.
Since that time it has become clear that the treaty's scope, if ratified, would extend well beyond Irish America as evidenced in recent days by the extradition cases in Britain surrounding the so-called "NatWest Three" and accused computer hacker Gary McKinnon.
Irish-American critics of the revised treaty have not been particularly focused on these cases although Boyle viewed the first visit to Washington last week of current British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, in the context of British government efforts to finally seal the treaty deal.
Beckett was asked about the treaty, and the Senate's laggardness, during a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Beckett replied that she could "understand and accept" that it wasn't an American priority.
This, on the surface at least, seemed to play down the importance once attached to the treaty by John Ashcroft.
However, a reports in the Financial Times indicated that Beckett, together with a second British government visitor to Washington last week, Baroness Scotland, was working to see the treaty advance to a full Senate vote.
"Baroness Scotland and Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, used meetings last week with senators and administration officials to push for quick ratification of the pact," the paper reported.
It is into this convoluted mix that Francis Boyle will deliver his argument on Friday.
Boyle, together with the AOH and IAUC representatives, will be arguing against a trio of treaty supporters. One of the three is a Duke University Law professor, Madeline Morris, who, according to Boyle, is currently seconded to the State Department.
"According to her own CV posted on the Duke University Law School's website ...Professor Morris currently works for the United States Department of State, which is already on record as supporting the extradition treaty," Boyle wrote the Foreign Relations Committee in advance of the hearing.
Before the Foreign Relations panel changed the hearing date, and its composition, Boyle had complained to the committee claiming that the presence of Morris on a panel alongside him had violated the "solemn and public promises" given to Irish Americans "by both Senator Lugar and Senator [Chris] Dodd on Nov. 15, 2005 that we Irish Americans would have a hearing all unto ourselves in order to present the case against the treaty."
"She [Morris] is a ringer for the State Department. We are not getting a hearing but are being set-up for a railroading," Boyle told the Echo Monday.
Boyle was furious not just because he would share the panel alone with Morris, but because the Hibernians, IAUC and ACLU were to be excluded from the hearing.
In an email to the Foreign Relations Committee confirming his attendance, Boyle highlighted the fact that he was the sole voice representing Irish America.
He said he had never heard of Prof. Morris and that Morris was not involved in any Irish-American activities and causes that he was aware of.
"I can only conclude that since she is not involved in Irish America's campaign against this treaty, that she is appearing on the panel with me in order to support the treaty and to disagree with me," Boyle stated.
"I have no problems with Professor Morris being on the panel in order to disagree with me. But this panel does not represent the public promises made by Senators Lugar and Dodd that it would be devoted to, and include, those Irish Americans who oppose the treaty."
He requested that opponents of the treaty have a second panel at a later time.
"That way, there would be two panels against the treaty and two panels in favor of the treaty. Fair is fair," Boyle concluded.
His plea apparently fell on receptive ears.
In addition to evidence from Boyle and Morris, meanwhile, testimonies will also be taken at Friday's hearing from legal representatives of the U.S. Justice Department and again the State Department sitting on a second, separate, panel.
Against the backdrop of the hearing, the AOH Political Education Committee issued a "legislative alert" urging Hibernians to contact senators to express opposition to the treaty.
The British government, the alert charged, was putting "a lot of pressure" on the U.S. Senate.
"The British want that treaty ratified now over the objections of so many American citizens. Should we as Americans bow to them or stand up to them?
"This is a non-partisan issue, this is an American issue. It is neither conservative nor liberal. We need you to stand up for our country and be counted," the alert concluded.
This story appeared in the issue of August 16-22, 2006