Irish Echo Online


By Ray O'Hanlon

America's war against terrorism and Irish America's battle against a new U.S.-UK extradition treaty have crossed paths.

Few were thinking of matters Irish when it emerged last week that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft was seeking the extradition from Britain of Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. But the case against the cleric could collide with efforts by Irish-American groups to roll back a treaty that is intended to simplify and speed up extradition cases involving the U.S. and Britain.

Ashcroft, at a press conference in New York, announced an indictment that contained a range of charges against the cleric arising from a fatal attack on tourists in Yemen six years ago.

The New York Times reported that British law prohibited the extradition of suspects who potentially faced a death sentence, but that the cleric could still be extradited to this country provided U.S. authorities agreed not to impose the death penalty.

"David Blunkett, the home secretary, said Britain and the United States had reached such an agreement last year," the Times report stated.

This was an apparent reference to the revised U.S./UK extradition treaty which was signed by Blunkett and Ashcroft in Washington on March 31, 2003.

The Times also reported that under British law, extradition proceedings can take months, if not years, and can collapse if British courts are not convinced by the evidence offered by the country seeking a suspect's extradition.

What was absent from the report was the fact that the revised treaty has yet to be ratified by the United States Senate and that it faces strong opposition from not only Irish-American organizations, but also the American Civil Liberties Union.

A little over 100 miles to the west of John Ashcroft's Manhattan press conference, Ned McGinley, president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, caught part of the press conference on his TV.

The Hibernians and other groups, including the Irish American Unity Conference, recently formed an ad hoc coalition with the aim of blocking progress of the revised treaty through Congress. The group calls itself Irish Americans Against Extradition.

McGinley's priority is clearly not an apparent al-Qaeda supporter allegedly intent on waging jihad against the U.S. Rather, his concern focuses on the potential effects that the revised treaty, once ratified, could have on people in the U.S. who are politically active in respect to Northern Ireland.

Irish-American critics of the revised treaty argue that it not only does away with the concept of a political-exception clause, but also removes the possibility of judicial review in extradition cases while exposing individuals, including U.S. citizens, to the threat of extradition to the United Kingdom based on unfounded allegations.

McGinley said he took particular note of a reference by Ashcroft during the press conference to the revised treaty. The U.S. Attorney General, he said, had expressed the view that the British had already embraced the new treaty wholeheartedly.

"He wants this very badly. He would not have brought it up unless he was aware he's having problems with it," McGinley said in reference to Ashcroft.

The revised treaty was recently "walked" by the State Department to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which must approve it before passing it to the full Senate for a final vote.

But McGinley said he and other Hibernians had been told that the Foreign Relations Committee might not have time to consider the treaty this side of the November presidential and congressional elections.

McGinley said that he and other lobbyists had been informed by staff members in several Senate offices that the treaty was not on any committee member's calendar and was "dead for now."

But these assurances were given before the arrest of Abu Hamza al-Masri.

It remains to be seen if the Justice Department will now put pressure on the Foreign Relations Committee in an effort to speed up approval of the revised treaty and, in turn, the cleric's extradition from the United Kingdom.

Formal extradition hearings against al-Masri open in London on July 25.

"This treaty was not negotiated by the Department of State, but by the Department of Justice," McGinley said.

"It was all done in high secrecy and this is the first time that it has been exposed to the light," he said.

This story appeared in the issue of June 2-8, 2004

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