Oh dear. Last Wednesday (15th) there was a debate in the Commons on the 2003 Extradition Treaty. It sounds dry but it affects the case of Gary McKinnon and is stirring public sentiment. Many MPs have spoken out in favour of McKinnon, yet many of these didn’t turn up to debate his case. The Daily Mail, who are running a slightly sophomoric campaign for McKinnon, haven’t treated these MPs kindly. Denis MacShane has now set himself against the Mail by giving his informed opinions on the topic. Unfortunately (for him), he also allowed his uninformed opinion on Mr McKinnon’s Aspergers Syndrome to slip out, and opened himself up to attack.
Guardian columnist Marina Hyde has written that ‘lowlights of the afternoon, they would include Rotherham MP Denis MacShane intimating that McKinnon’s late diagnosis of Asperger’s was a ruse.’ She goes on to vehemently attack Mr MacShane for his comment. Take a look at this from Hansard:
Mr MacShane later continues
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): … Regrettably, those who do not fit in with the system—those who are vulnerable or mentally ill, or who have special needs—often cannot get justice, although they deserve it as much as anyone else.The Home Secretary talked about safeguards. Those safeguards are plainly not in place. Whether we are dealing with one case or a number of cases, and whether we call them high profile or low profile, there needs to be justice and appropriate safeguards for all. That was not the case for Gary McKinnon, who was diagnosed late with Asperger’s syndrome, and it is not the case for anyone else like him who has symptoms of compulsive behaviour, not communicating well, and not seeking to make the case for themselves.
Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman is making a moving plea on his constituent’s behalf. He says that his constituent was diagnosed late; when was that diagnosis made?Mr. Burrowes: It was made in August 2008 …
Mr. MacShane: One paradox of the debate is that many of those who have spoken are convinced pro-Europeans, and part of the debate is about the application of international rule of law. Mr Burrowes made for his constituent a very moving and compelling plea that does him and the cause honour. The hon. Gentleman said that he spent many years as a solicitor practising in criminal law, and were I ever to find myself in trouble I should be delighted, after that excellent speech, to have him defend me.
However, I was slightly alarmed when I heard that the gentleman—who is not mentioned in the motion but about whom we are talking and the Daily Mail is campaigning—was diagnosed with his distressing condition only last year. One gets a slight hint of the famous Ernest Saunders defence: he said that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s to get off a criminal prosecution, but the moment that he was out of court, he somehow skipped off and his memory came back with marvellous vigour.
I can’t help think that this was a spectacular misjudgement by Mr MacShane. He made strong arguments in favour of the extradition treaty and for further international co-operation in criminal prosecutions:
1) the treaty allowed two British citizens to be extradited to the UK to face prosecution recently
2) the same is true in Europe thanks to greater co-operation
3) these treaties have been used to see terrorists face prosecution
4) it is unlikely Mr McKinnon will spend 60 years in jail
5) opposition sends an insulting and arrogant message to America.These will now be ignored. The debate on the treaty is shaped in terms of the hapless Mr McKinnon fighting an ‘imperial’ US (in the words of Chris Huhne) and the hopeless Home Secretary – who noted a little too freely that he is ‘not a lawyer’ but ‘a hack politician, I go by the advice I get’.
MacShane entered the fray and thus the court of public opinion. As he noted, if he was facing trial he would want to be defended by the moving reasoning of David Burrowes. He’s facing a trial by media now and emotional intelligence is important. Burrowes and the Conservatives are campaigning on a popular issue. If Mr MacShane wants to argue against them, he should steer clear of speculation.