latin america

32 news

us studies

irish sturies - ireland





human rights

peace process

where do i find

The Prosecution of Irish Republicans in the United States

"That there are Irish political prisoners in America facing extradition because of their political beliefs, confirms that Ireland's right to self-determination and lasting peace is directly related to American political internal and external foreign policy. Clearly, the British Government still has allies within the responsible United States
government agencies. Britain's determination to pursue these cases is linked directly to its negative attitude toward the Irish Peace Process. The suffering of these victims of British injustice, and the suffering of their families, is our own suffering."
Gerry Adams MP, President of Sinn Féin (speech 1995)

At the time Gerry Adams gave this speech to his audience of Irish American supporters, four Irish Republicans fighting for political asylum were imprisoned by the United States judiciary. Commonly referred to as the "H-Block 4", the men were part of a heroic escape in 1983 by thirty-eight prisoners from Long Kesh, a British prison in the north of Ireland.

Gerry's audience was angry with President Clinton. All of them voted for
candidate-Clinton in the 1992 election in exchange for his promise of "No more Joe Dohertys." Many had tears in their eyes remembering Joe's plight. After languishing in a US prison for nine years, Joe Doherty lost his battle for political asylum and was extradited to Long Kesh at the request of the British government where he remains to this day. Support for Joe reached far beyond the loyal and tightly close-knited Irish- American groups. The city of New York even named a street named after him.

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
dated July 6, 1986 states that ratification of the Supplementary Extradition Treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States:

"Creates a precedent profoundly altering the U.S. treatment of
fugitives who escape tyranny while fighting for freedom.....For the
first time in history, a person fighting against extradition would not
be able to present the political defense in a U.S. court. For over 200
years, our tradition has been that a court may rule against extradition
based on the consideration that the accused was engaged in military
operations in an effort to win freedom for his or her country. Indeed,
this tradition has become a basic legal principle.....The history of
Great Britain is a history of different groups and classes struggling to
be free. The United States is a product of that history.....If this
language had been effect in 1776, or even after the Treaty of Paris in
1783, this language would have labeled the boys who fought at Lexington and Concord as terrorists."

Another problem with this treaty is the clear violation of international legal standards in its application. On October 23, 1997 the Lawyers Alliance for Justice in Ireland issued a statement criticizing this treaty:

"Reciprocity under the current treaty would be impossible under the
legal regimes in place in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.....This
raises serious questions under the international legal principle
of reciprocity.....the extradition of Pol Brennan, Kevin Artt and
Terry Kirby would undermine the integrity of the United States
judicial system, both domestically and within the international
community..... In acceding to the United Kingdom's request, the
United States will, by implication, set a precedent contrary to
reciprocity and further legitimize the obdurate practices and
policies of the United Kingdom."

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:

  • Denial of a trial by jury in jury-less"Diplock" courts.
  • The negative judicial implications of a defendant choosing to remain silent.
  • The use of torture by the security forces.

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:

  • A lack of accountability for gross RUC misconduct and police abuse.
  • Justice systems "badly distorted by emergency laws which contribute to the conflict rather than assisting in its resolution and the need for an immediate repeal.
  • The need for a Bill of Rights and implementation of 156 recommendations made by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights.
  • The British government's failure to conform to international standards set down by the UN Human Rights Committee and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • The need for an immediate closure of Castlereigh detention centre.
  • Evidence of collusion between security forces and Loyalist paramilitary groups and withholding of information.
  • The British forces "shoot-to-kill" policy.
  • The need for protection of defense attorneys and rights of detainees.
  • The need for new independent investigations into Bloody Sunday and the murder of Pat Finucane.
  • Discriminatory use of police force.
  • The need for an immediate ban on Plastic bullets.

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.
No improvement in Legg's sense of justice, or his awareness of how his decision will effect the Irish Peace Negotiations is anticipated.

Defense teams including members of the Lawyers Alliance are making every
effort to stop the extraditions. The attorneys' argument emphasizes the violations of international legal standards these cases represent. They also stress that these men are not charged with any crimes in the United States. They are legally entitled to bail.

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 right to political asylum of three Irish men. From a legal and humanitarian standpoint the statement from the Lawyers Alliance reminds us that:

"The United States prides itself on the civil and political
liberties accorded to all citizens and residents of this country.....The
rights of those facing trial and the integrity of the judicial system
are often cited as models for other states to follow.....All of this
will take place at a time when the people of Northern Ireland are
struggling to embrace a path to peace and justice."

On trial here is the integrity of our values as a society:

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
considered the guerrilla operations of the Americans to be murder and
assault.....Yes, there is no doubt whatsoever that such a treaty would
have required us to extradite the patriots who fired the shot heard
'round' the world to swing on a British gallows.....For this reason,
the infant United States was properly wary of extradition treaties.....
And remembering our revolutionary origin, American courts developed the doctrine of the political offense exception: No extradition if the accused was sought for violent actions relating to a battle for his country's freedom."

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.

Works Cited

Adams, Gerry, Text of Speech, Irish Northern Aid Testimonial, 08 April 1995 (Sinn Féin, April 1995).

Broderick, Francie and Jack Kilroy, Where is Liberty?, 1995.

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.

Congress, House, International Relations Committee, Hearings On Human Rights In Northern Ireland, (Washington, DC: GPO, October 1997); Testimony from Amnesty International.

Congress, Senate, Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Report on Supplemental Extradition with the United Kingdom, (Washington, DC: GPO, July 1985-86).

Questions should be directed to Ireland32 at: Ireland32@gmu.edu

© International Coalition of Irish American Student Organization

Provided by George Mason University's Masonlink