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George Washington portrait by Rembrandt Peale
Critics say a new anti-terrorism treaty between the U.S. and the United Kingdom could conceivably result in Great Britain seizing the assets of dead enemies – like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
The treaty, forwarded April 19, 2004, by President Bush to the U.S. Senate for ratification, has generated little media attention and little controversy – probably due to the fact that it is an agreement between coalition partners in the war on terrorism.
But some who have examined the small print see big problems with the new extradition treaty – saying it abrogates the constitutional rights of Americans accused of wrongdoing by Great Britain and threatens the estates of long-dead antagonists of the crown.
Drafted by Attorney General John Ashcroft, the treaty is designed for “combatting terrorism, organized crime, money laundering, and other offenses.” But William Hughes, author of “Saying ‘No’ to the War Party,” charges that under the treaty as written, the British could demand recompense from anyone in the U.S. who stood up to British law – living or dead.
Hughes contends the property of the descendants of the founding fathers could theoretically be seized.
“Such items and assets may be surrendered even if the extradition cannot be carried out due to the death … of the person sought,” states Article 16 of the treaty.
Another critic, Professor Francis A. Boyle, a professor of international law at the University of Illinois, claims the treaty will “eliminate the political offense exception to any offense allegedly involving violence or weapons; transfer responsibility for determining whether the extradition request is politically motivated from the courts to the executive branch; allow for extradition even if no U.S. federal law is violated; and allow for provisional arrest and detention for 60 days upon request by the UK.”
Hughes states: “If all of this sounds like the Brits could wake up one morning and just arbitrarily charge an American citizen with a so-called ‘extraditable offense,’ on the flimsiest kind of evidence, you’re right to think so. It also means that the accused, a citizen of this republic, would get no full judicial review of his extradition process by a federal judge, a federal appellant court, or the U.S. Supreme Court.”
He says once the treaty is approved by the Senate and signed by the president, “an American, will be at the mercy of an alien-based foreign government” with none of the usual constitutional protections.
The treaty is currently sitting before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind. Irish-American activists have expressed their concerns that the treaty might be designed to target activists working for Irish independence.
In a letter from a coalition of Irish-American organizations earlier this month, the critics wrote: “Under the new treaty, as drafted, an extradition request from the British government could be received on one day and a target, regardless of citizenship or the merits of the extradition request, could be forcibly placed on a plane and deposited with the British security forces the very next day. These are the same security forces that presently stand accused of orchestrating collusive murders of its citizens in Northern Ireland for many years and who have successfully stonewalled calls for independent investigations of such misdeeds.”
The current treaty governing extradition between the U.S. and Britain was signed in London on June 8, 1972. It was amended by the supplementary treaty signed in Washington on June 25, 1985.
”There’s no big Irish issue in the (presidential) campaign, but if this treaty goes through there will be,” says Boyle.
According to Boyle, the proposed treaty not only does away with the concept of a political-exception clause, it 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 “totally unfounded allegations.”
People, he told the Irish News, could be prosecuted for simply helping people involved in the situation in Northern Ireland.
Boyle has written Lugar instructing him that had the treaty been in force back in the 1770s, America’s founding fathers, including Washington and Jefferson, would have been “extradited to the British Crown for prosecution of their very revolutionary activities that founded the United States of America itself.”
But given that there is no statute of limitations and that asset forfeiture is a part of the treaty – even for dead targets – some have only half-jokingly suggested the estates of the founders could be endangered.
The Departments of Justice and State argue in their correspondence with Lugar that provisions of the treaty are similar to those with Spain, South Africa, Poland, France and Lithuania.