Ghosn Helpers Can Stay in U.S. While Judge Weighs Torture Claim
(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge in Boston further delayed the extradition of the two Americans accused of engineering Carlos Ghosn’s escape from prosecution in Japan.
U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani said at a hearing Thursday she needed more time to review claims by Michael Taylor and his son Peter that Japanese authorities would subject them to torture. Talwani asked federal prosecutors to produce a declaration from the U.S. State Department confirming it complied with legal obligations under an anti-torture statute when it authorized the Taylors’ extradition late last month.
The judge said she will almost certainly reject the Taylors’ last-ditch request to block the extradition once she receives the State Department certification. That would likely trigger an appeal to a higher court.
“If you have your certificate there, I don’t think I have something here that would disagree with you,” Talwani said. “But I don’t have that certificate.”
Last week, Talwani issued an initial delay after the Taylors’ lawyers expressed fear the U.S. could be preparing to hand the father-son duo over to the Japanese authorities within hours of its decision to authorize extradition. Prosecutors later said the U.S. never planned to act so quickly. But in court papers, they asked Talwani to move promptly, noting that the Japanese government has made travel arrangements to retrieve the Taylors in “the coming days.”
The hearing on Thursday centered on the type of treatment the Taylors would face if the U.S. ships them to Japan to face prosecution. Lawyers for the Taylors argued that extradition would violate U.S. law and State Department regulations, citing reports by media outlets and human rights groups including Amnesty International documenting conditions in Japanese prisons.
“The situation is called hostage justice,” said Tillman Finley, a lawyer for the Taylors. “It is rife with quite common practices of placing folks who are under arrest in solitary confinement all day or nearly all day” in a “tiny” cell. The Taylors would also be interrogated without their lawyers present and face “yelling and denial of medical treatment,” Finley said.
Those claims mark a shift in tone and strategy for the Taylors, who have argued for months that their alleged role in Ghosn’s escape doesn’t actually constitute a crime in Japan. In calling on Talwani to release them, the Taylors are now casting their impending extradition as a human rights issue, comparing Japan’s criminal justice system to “that of an authoritarian regime.”
At the hearing, U.S. prosecutor Stephen Hassink said the Taylors lacked “strong specific evidence” for those claims. “We’re using the word torture, and it’s being thrown around quite loosely,” he said.
Japanese and American officials say the Taylors orchestrated Ghosn’s escape by putting him inside a large box and smuggling him onto a private plane. At the time, Ghosn was out on bail awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct. He remains a fugitive in Lebanon.
The Taylors have never denied that they were involved in Ghosn’s escape. Indeed, Michael Taylor, a former Green Beret, gave an extensive interview to Vanity Fair magazine describing how he planned the operation. But after the Taylors were arrested in Massachusetts, they argued in federal court that helping someone jump bail is not illegal in Japan.
In September, U.S. Magistrate Donald Cabell in Boston authorized the Japanese extradition request, ruling that it was not the role of an American court to parse the nuances of a foreign penal code. “The prevailing view is that the extradition court should defer to the foreign country’s interpretation of its own laws,” Cabell said.
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