The Prosecution of Irish Republicans in the United States
Gerry's audience was angry with President Clinton.
All of them voted for
What is it about this "special relationship" between the United States and the British governments that imposes such heartache on American and Irish citizens? Many Americans are still bitter over Clinton's broken promise. We have regrettably learned a hard lesson.
Of the original H-Block 4, only three continue their battle for political asylum: Kevin Barry Artt, Pol Brennan and Terry Kirby. The fourth prisoner, Jimmy Smyth, was extradited early in 1996. The British are winning the extradition battles - two out of five so far.
Irish-American supporters are not alone in their anger and frustration over these extradition cases. The legal community is also outraged. Hal Bliss, a member of the Lawyers Alliance for Justice in Ireland and a member of the defense team told me that "When I pleaded for Jimmy Smyth it was like going up against a political brick wall. The decision of the US Federal 9th Circuit Court has made a monstrosity of this extradition treaty and eliminated any possible plea for political asylum."
An investigator for the state of California who has asked to remain anonymous said "The Brits have a hand-shake deal on this. These boys are going back." No small wonder that Irish America has lost faith in its own government.
Ratified in 1986 by a Republican majority Senate, the extradition treaty in effect rules out political asylum for anyone wanted by the United Kingdom. The treaty is unique to American legislation and law in two ways.
First, it is a one-way extradition treaty. The
British government has no legal responsibility to reciprocate in such manner
at the request of the US government. This type of an agreement does not
exist between the United States and any other country. The treaty triggered
hot debate during hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
in 1985. A report from the Committee on Foreign Relations
"Creates a precedent profoundly altering the
U.S. treatment of
"Reciprocity under the current treaty would
be impossible under the
In stating their legal position, the lawyers' group cites as evidence the Emergency Provisions Act of Northern Ireland and the Prevention of Terrorism Act of Great Britain. Under this legislation standards set forth by international agreement inclusive of the United States are violated:
The history of collusion between British security forces and loyalist paramilitary groups. (at present the murders of ten catholics resulting from collusion is under investigation by the United Nations.)
The position of the Lawyers Alliance for Justice in Ireland is strongly supported by evidence brought forward by five international human rights organizations: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, British-Irish Rights Watch, Lawyers Committee for Justice and Committee for the Administration of Justice.
Between June and October 1997 representatives from all five organizations testified before the United States Congressional SubCommittee on International Operations and Human Rights.
During the hearings on October 9, 1997, Committee Chairman, Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ) in his opening remarks blasted the British government for failing to "guarantee the equal protection of rights to both the Protestant and Catholic communities, especially the Catholic minority." Smith pointed out that "When a government or its officials resort to methods that are illegal, unjust, or inhumane" then "the effect is not to preserve law and order but to undermine it."
Expert testimonies from the five human rights representatives stressed the need for a full-scale and independent investigation into the human rights abuses within the Six-Counties, and the failure of the British government to address the problems. The witnesses submitted lists of major issues which undermine the confidence of the nationalist community in the peace process:
The United Nations ranks Great Britain's record for human rights violations the highest of all European countries. This month an investigative team from the United Nations is in the north of Ireland. Their ten-day visit is a direct result of the overwhelming evidence of human rights abuses.
The fate of Kevin, Pol and Terry is yet to be determined. In August 1997, the judge revoked bail for the three men and they were forced to surrender themselves. On October 25, 1997 the court rejected their appeal for bail citing failure by the attorneys to prove '"special circumstances." Despite exhibiting no evidence of running from the authorities while previously released on bail, this unjust and cruel separation from their families continues with no end in sight.
Another alarming aspect of this case is that the
same judge responsible for Jimmy Smyth's extradition will decide the future
of these three men. Judge Legg, an appointee of Ronald Reagan during the
infamous Reagan-Thatcher relationship, is generally perceived by the Irish-American
community to have a history of unfairness when deciding the fate of Irish
prisoners seeking political asylum.
Defense teams including members of the Lawyers
Alliance are making every
Together with the support of Irish Americans, pressure is building upon the Clinton Administration and Prime Minister Tony Blair to recognise the danger in sending out such a negative message to all defenders of human rights, peace and justice during the Irish Peace Negotiations.
For the American people, there is a much greater
issue at stake than
"The United States prides itself on the civil
What kind of message, do we, the American people, want to send out to all victims of human rights abuses?
What are our values as a society?
Was not our fight for independence from the British government founded on our demand for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Statements from the Senate Report warn us not to forget our own struggle:
"There is no question that the British authorities
in 1776 would have
If we are truly committed to the principles of our American heritage, we need to "just say no" to the British government's tradition to prosecute, imprison, deport or extradite Irish men and women.
In 1919, at the dawn of the Irish War for Independence, Liam Mellows, visiting the United States said: "Let America speak now on behalf of Ireland, or let it stop talking about freedom. The time to do it is now." The suffering has gone on long enough.
If we, the American people sincerely want to see peace finally come to the island of Ireland, we must demand that our government stop these extradition proceedings as an example of their sincere willingness to contribute to the confidence building measures vital to the success of the peace talks. Our relationship with Great Britain should not impose violations of international legal principles.
No foreign government has the right to expect us to reject our American heritage.
We demand that the British government cease this
vindictive policy of needlessly hunting down Irish men and women. It is
in direct conflict with our American values. It jeopardizes the integrity
and reputation of our government within the international community. It
is an impediment and direct barrier to peace in Ireland.
Congress, House, International Relations Committee,
Hearings On Human Rights In Nothern Ireland, (Washington, DC: GPO,
October 1997); Opening Remarks by Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ),
Chairman House SubCommittee On Operations and Human Rights.
Questions should be directed to Ireland32 at: Ireland32@gmu.edu
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