British government waives need for death penalty exemption guarantee

Image: (Reuters) The two suspects accused of being in the Beatle Cell.

The UK government caused shock and confusion after a letter leaked to the Telegraph revealed that the new Home Secretary – Sajid Javid – has assured Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General of the US that the UK would not seek assurances that two alleged Islamic State members would be safe from the death penalty if extradited to the United States.

The two men are accused of being the last two from a cell of four British IS fighters nicknamed the Beatles due to their distinctive British accents, they were captured by Syrian Democratic Forces in January as they tried to slip into Turkey. The four IS fighters became of high interest to international intelligence agencies after it is believed they appeared in multiple videos which would feature them torturing and in some instances beheading citizens of foreign Western countries. The British government stripped the duo of their British citizenship in March. The two men are currently being held in Northern Syria with the Home Office wishing them to be extradited to the United States where there is a better chance of a conviction due to differing laws on terrorism.

The UK has always had a longstanding position of not providing intelligence that could lead to the extradition of people to countries with the death penalty unless assurances were given that the individuals would be safe from such sentencing. The fact that this information was not voluntarily made public raises concerns that not seeking assurances over the death penalty may be more common place than the wider public know.  Critics of the move say that it undermines the UK’s longstanding opposition to the death penalty in all situations as a matter of principle. May’s new “Global Britain” risks looking hypocritical from the offset given that in July of last year when responding to claims that the UK should urge Saudi Arabia not to carry out fourteen executions: Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said “the UK government opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country.” So the question is, what’s changed? The move also raises questions over how the decision of whether to seek assurances over the death penalty when providing intelligence to assist with extraditions is taken, is it by the Home Secretary on a case by case basis, by the Prime Minister or should this be debated in Parliament?

After days of increasing political and legal pressure the Home Office reported that it was temporarily suspending its cooperation with the United States on this individual case. But questions still remain now over exactly what Britain’s position on the death penalty is and how steadfast that position stands?