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Keir Starmer speaking at Institue for Government conference, April 2018. Institute for Government via flickr

Keir Starmer speaking at Institue for Government conference, April 2018. Institute for Government via flickr

Sir Keir Starmer is less critical of the Extradition Treaty than Boris Johnson, says John Cook

Just as Julian Assange fights extradition by the Trump administration in the court in Belmarsh, Sir Keir Starmer has weighed into the debate on the side of the US government.

Assange’s legal team have been arguing that the Extradition Treaty is being abused in the pursuit of Trump’s ‘war on investigative journalism’. Jeremy Corbyn questioned Boris Johnson on the case in a recent prime minister’s question time. Even Johnson had to admit that the Treaty is ‘unbalanced’.

In an astounding intervention in this debate Sir Keir Starmer has managed to repeat the arguments of the US prosecution and give a more resounding endorsement of the Treaty than the Tory Prime Minister.

Sir Keir told the Huffington Post that the extradition system was ‘very good’ and that judges, in a no jury court, should be left alone to do their job. 

Yet this is a Treaty in which 200 people have been extradited from the UK to America and only 11 people have been extradited from America to the UK, as even Tory MP David Davis has pointed out. 

The dramatic case of Harry Dunne, the young motorcyclist mowed down and killed by CIA agent Anne Sacoolas who then fled back to the US to avoid justice, underlines how broken this Treaty is: innocent journalists face extradition while guilty CIA agents are protected from extradition by the Trump security state.

This is the state of affairs with which Starmer can see no fault.

But Sir Keir does have plenty to say that is critical of the supporters of Julian Assange:

‘...all those in the Assange case or any other case, who say it’s all a big conspiracy are either missing the point that this is an independent judge-made decision or they are implying that our High Court judiciary is corrupt’

Actually no one in the Assange case alleges it’s a conspiracy. Not least because the evidence that the Trump administration is out to extradite Assange for publishing anti war material about Afghanistan and Iraq is part of the declared case of the US prosecution, stated in the open every day in the court at Belmarsh.

And better legal minds than Sir Keir Starmer, lawyers who have built international reputations on defending rather than prosecuting the poor, outcast, and powerless, are arguing Assange’s case.

Edward Fitzgerald QC said in court only this week that Assange is ‘anti-war and anti-imperialist’ and this is why the US is out to get him. Assange’s witnesses will include Noam Chomsky and Paul Rogers of the Bradford University Peace Studies Centre. 

This case is one of the great political cases of the century, as John McDonnell recently said. It’s a defining case for the left, and Sir Keir, even while he is pitching for left wing votes has taken the most conservative position imaginable. 

This is what Labour Party members can expect from a Starmer leadership: unquestioning loyalty to the establishment on both sides of the Atlantic. But they can also expect Sir Keir to be a dumb centrist who will be out manoeuvred by the Tories.

As Boris Johnson’s reply to Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary question showed, the Tories know the Extradition Treaty is in trouble. How they must be smirking as the gallant knight deploys all his supposed gravitas and authority to defend it.

Meanwhile the most high profile victim of that act, on the very day of Sir Keir’s cosy interview, is strip-searched twice, handcuffed 11 times, moved between 5 different cells and has his legal papers taken from him by the prison authorities.

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