If I commit a crime in one country, should another country have the right to try me for the crime? The answer is not as straightforward as it sounds. There are many crimes in many countries which are not recognised as crimes in other countries. In the United Kingdom or the United States I would be perfectly entitled to insult the leader of North Korea but to do so in North Korea would be a crime. In Pakistan I would be committing a crime if a burnt a copy of the Koran. I can burn as many copies as I like in Florida, with no possibility of a criminal sanction. In Afghanistan before the war I could advocate support for the Taliban and the overthrow of the United States by violent means – it would not be a crime so to do, but if I were to do the same in the United States, it might have been a crime, notwithstanding their constitutional right to freedom of speech.
It can get even more complicated; supposing in the United Kingdom I helped design a website supporting the Taliban, in say 1996. Such a website would have offered support to the Taliban; it might have offered comfort and an intellectual argument in favour of the aims of the Taliban. I doubt if that would have been a crime in the United Kingdom at the time, provided that I did not incite murder or recommend to others that they murder or threaten the lives and safety of others. I would be entitled to make my arguments in any way that I wanted to, within the law.
However, if the things I did were contrary to the laws of the United States, should the United States be allowed to try me for things I had done in England, which were perfectly legal there? The sensible answer to this question is that if I act lawfully within one jurisdiction then I should not be tried in another jurisdiction where such actions were unlawful. To arguye otherwise would mean having to extradite probably thousands of folk to places like North Korea where they would face imprisonment for crimes which were not crimes in England.
Of course, we have to make exceptions for crimes against international law – such as genocide, making wars of aggression, but such crimes have to be universally recognised under international law, not selectively recognised by some jurisdictions.
Now at the moment to law of England permit extradition from the United Kingdom to the United States for acts committed in the United Kingdom which may not be crimes in the United Kingdom but which may be crimes in the United States. That is very odd and it is also unjust. The United States may have a reasonably fair system of justice (all systems of justice are imperfect) but it is not entitled to impose its laws on other jurisdictions. In the United Kingdom we vote for governments that make our laws. We do not permit our government to sub-contract the rights of our governments to make laws to the United States, where we have no votes. Yet, for reasons which probably relate to fear, lack of courage and simple brown-nosing we do seem to have allowed the United States to extradite our citizens for acts committed entirely within our borders which may not be offences under our own laws.
The case of Babar Ahmad is a case in point. Mr Ahmad is accused by the United States of providing material support to the Taliban, which is an enemy of the United States. He is also accused of conspiracy to kill and money laundering, which I think is really a charge of fund raising for the jihadists. All these acts are alleged to have occurred between 1996 and 2002 in the United Kingdom. The United States want to extradite Mr Ahmad for trial in the United States. As a result of this desire Mr Ahmad, who does not want to face trial in the United States but has invited the courts of England to try him if he is accused of crime, has been imprisoned awaiting extradition and he is fighting extradition from prison.
Mr Ahmad has been in prison for eight years, an astonishing length of time for a nation like the United Kingdom with its history of justice and its tradition of habeas corpus, to hold a person without trial.
The American prosecutors, like all American prosecutors, are more than confident of Mr Ahmad’s guilt. They assure us that he is guilty in that depressing way what American law enforcement use to garner public opinion in favour of their own objectives. For the US authorities it is right to have someone who has violated US law in England stand trial for those “violations” in the United States because of transnational terrorism, or so they allege.
He would have all the rights afford by the American constitution, which one prosecutor has described as “a very very generous document to criminal defendants”. However, Mr Ahmad, as the Americans agree, did not commit any of his acts within the jurisdiction of the United States and it is plain wrong that he or anyone should be tried by a foreign nations for acts alleged to have been committed in this country, otherwise our sovereignty is meaningless.
Filed under: climate change Tagged: | Babar Ahmand, conflict of laws, criminal sanction, English Justice, English law, etxradition, human-rights, Jihadists, jurisdiction, sovereignty, Taliban, transnational terrorism, US justice, USA lw