A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The House of Lords and Gary McKinnon

The House of Lords convened today to discuss the case of Gary McKinnon. And the discussion was over in the blink of an eye. And guess what? Absolutely nothing was furthered. There was a lot of polite doublespeak back and forth in a very feeble attempt to show that the case had not been dropped entirely and the case was not any closer to being resolved than it was a year ago.

It was very apparent to me that the House of Lords simply wish this was the case that would just "go away". While there is support with the Lords, there is also the very fragile relationship with the USA to maintain. And for this, they tread carefully. Too carefully in my opinion.

Watching the House of Lords discuss an issue is the exact opposite of watching the House of Commons. They address each other deferentially. They sit in rich burgundy buttoned leather benches while the "Commoners" have hard wooden seating. And while the House of Commons often deteriorates into a "free-for-all" spirited (and often loud) debate. The House of Lords is restrained. They address each other as "noble" and "my noble friend". Lords are...after all...well, Lords. And all this kow-towing is lost on me, an American. All I could think as I watched was: "How on earth does anything get done?" Oh, and as the session wore on, I realized, it doesn't.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Liberal Democratic Whip when questioned Lord Wallace of Saltaire stated:
My Lords, we regularly discuss a range of extradition matters with the United States authorities, who are anxious to see a conclusion to Mr McKinnon's case. However, further consideration has been delayed because my right honourable friend the Home Secretary wishes, before deciding the case, to obtain an up-to-date assessment by medical experts recommended to her by the Chief Medical Officer, and Mr McKinnon has not yet granted medical consent for this to take place.


Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (the Crossbench) responded:

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer, but it tells me little more than I already know. Is it not ironic that a Parliament which has voted against the lengthy detention of criminals should keep a young man suffering from the condition known as Asperger's syndrome in psychological torture for more than 3,300 days? Is it not time for the Home Office to liaise with those who have expertise in autism? Perhaps the department should go to the National Autistic Society and ask for a list of people with expertise in the area rather than relying on the normal line of, "Let's see what the Chief Medical Officer says".


But it was up to Lord Tebbit, a Conservative who dealt the one swift gentlemanly kick by stating simply:

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we are all sympathetic to him personally, for he is the victim of a very unfair, unbalanced extradition treaty? If he has any trouble with the American authorities, will he tell them that he has no more confidence that Mr McKinnon would get a fair trial there than some Americans had that IRA suspects would get a fair trial here when the extradition of IRA terrorists was refused by the United States on the basis that they could not get a fair trial in this country?


Match point to the Conservative noble friend.

The full hearing is below on video (the first few minutes are McKinnon, before it goes into other issues.)