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Seven-minute argument enters extradition debate

(Ray O'Hanlon, Irish News)

A good athlete can easily cover a mile in seven minutes, indeed the better part of two.

But if you are arguing against an extradition treaty between nations that consider themselves the closest of friends you would need to talk a mile-a-minute to make your case in a mere seven.

But that is the task that Professor Francis Boyle of the University of Illinois is facing on Friday in a Senate hearing room on Capitol Hill.

The Senate foreign relations committee is holding a hearing aimed at finally ratifying a three-year-old revised extradition treaty between Washington and London.

Boyle is the sole among a long line of Irish-American objectors being permitted to speak.

He is not happy.

Boyle is disgruntled by the fact that he alone is being given a chance to air Irish-American concerns. And he thinks seven minutes falls way short of the time needed to convey those concerns to the members of a committee chaired by Indiana Republican Senator Richard Lugar, a man who has established his solid political reputation on a career firmly focused on America's relations with other nations.

Irish-America is not a nation. But it has its interests both national and trans-national.

And Irish-America is keenly interested in anything involving deportation and extradition where the British government enters the picture.

The treaty was signed in March 2003 by then US 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.

An extradition treaty is the purview of the US Senate. Ordinarily it must pass under the eyes of the foreign relations committee before coming up for a vote in the full

100-member chamber. This looked like it was going to happen last November.

But against a backdrop of mounting criticism from Irish-American organisations, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), the foreign relations committee declined to vote on the revised treaty at the end of a hearing.

The delay was welcomed by the AOH as well as Boyle and other Irish-American groups. The revised treaty, said then AOH national president Ned McGinley was "loaded up with Patriot Act-type of language" that was "being used to frighten people".

The US and UK had no problem extraditing people under the existing treaty, McGinley asserted.

Among concerns voiced by the Hibernians and others have been that the revised treaty eliminates the existing political offence exception; transfers responsibility for determining whether the extradition request is politically motivated from the US Courts to the executive branch; allows for extradition even if there is no violation of US federal law and applies retroactively for offences allegedly committed even before the ratification of the treaty.

The Hibernians are of the view that no Irish-American activist is safe if the treaty passes into law.

But of course the treaty's reach would extend well beyond Irish-America and indeed the most vociferous criticism of its provisions has been prompted in recent days by the extradition cases of Britons, most especially the 'NatWest Three' and accused computer hacker Gary McKinnon.

And rather ironically, the measure has attracted political criticism in London for its provisions as much as the fact that the US Senate has, thus far, failed to ratify it.

Irish-Americans are not so much focused on these cases although Boyle and others viewed the maiden visit to Washington last week of freshly minted foreign secretary Margaret Beckett in the context of British efforts to finally seal the treaty deal.

Beckett was asked about the treaty and the Senate's laggardness, during a joint press conference with secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

Beckett replied that she could "understand and accept" that it wasn't an American priority.

This of course flies in the face of the importance once attached to the treaty by John Ashcroft.

It is into this convoluted mix that Francis Boyle will deliver his seven-minute argument on Friday.

He will be competing for attention with another law professor who turns out to be currently seconded to Rice's State Department.

Two other testimonies will be taken from representatives of the US Justice Department and again the State Department.

Boyle and other Irish-Americans are furious at this set-up. They point to a promise made by Senator Lugar last November for a hearing devoted entirely to Irish-American concern.

"We're not getting a hearing. We're getting set-up for a railroading," Boyle said.

July 20, 2006

This article appeared first in the July 19, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

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