Matthew Norman: Why do we let the US try our citizens?

In any other week, this column would be forced to begin with a personal appeal to Barack Obama, modelled on The Skibbereen Eagle's legendary warning to the Tsar of Russia, concerning American justice. This particular week, however, the President must be spared to focus on an arguably weightier legal matter than the hideously imbalanced Anglo-American extradition treaty of 2003. It's squeaky-bum time for the Prez, and we cannot chastise him for concentrating on more pressing legal concerns than the fate of Richard O'Dwyer.

On this basis, there is nothing for it but to turn to our own Government, and ask what the hell it thinks it is doing by maintaining the cringing, cringeworthy stance of New Labour, which signed the 2003 treaty of which Mr O'Dwyer is the latest victim. Now 24, he faces extradition to the US for running a website, TVShack, as a 19-year-old undergraduate. The site, which Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales identifies as no more than a search engine, provided links to others on which people could view movies without paying. He didn't upload any films, let alone sell pirated DVDs. Nonetheless, US customs authorities cite this as both criminal infringement of copyright and conspiracy to commit the same, each carrying a maximum five years in jug.

Although one could spend untold hours studying the legislation to determine whether any offence was committed under US and/or British law at all, the judgment, if you'll indulge the judicialese, reads as follows. It's cobblers.

Reacting in opposition to the campaign on behalf of the computer hacker Gary McKinnon, David Cameron, Theresa May and Nick Clegg all promised to address a treaty which, in making it incomparably easier for the US to extradite our citizens than vice versa, exquisitely distils the true nature of the "Special Relationship": our governments give them what they want, and they give us nothing.

Since the 2010 election, Mrs May has reinterpreted her pledge as cause to approve Mr O'Dwyer's extradition, while Mr Clegg, whose constituent Mr O'Dwyer was at the time, has kept heroically schtum. As for the PM, he prefers to direct whatever legally inspired outrage he can synthesize toward evil European human rights laws guaranteeing workers' rights and protecting suspects from torture.

The pursuit of Messrs O'Dwyer and McKinnon – the one a boy at the time; the other, desperately vulnerable – is a form of psychological torture itself. If Cameron wishes to pick a worthwhile fight, he might carve a few minutes from stigmatising the poor, unemployed and dispossessed to retrain his guns on this ridiculously one-sided treaty.

Having an extradition treaty with a country that has barely stopped executing juveniles, operates an institutionally racist justice system and boasts a higher per capita imprisonment rate than Stalin's Russia is dodgy enough. But cleaving to this one is a form of national self-abasement. If Cameron wants to show us what a tough muthah he is, what a golden chance this is. A brief statement that he will never allow a British citizen to be extradited without clear evidence that a crime was committed under British jurisdiction, and that he will unilaterally rip up that treaty if the Americans persist in demanding it, would suffice.