BY CATHLEEN GUTEKANST
SAN FRANCISCO - The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the arguments of lawyers for Kevin Barry Artt, Pol Brennan, and Terence Kirby April 14. The three men are appealing the U.S. court's decision to extradite them to Northern Ireland.
Along with Jimmy Smyth, who has already been extradited and is currently imprisoned in Belfast, these activists are known as the "H-Block Four." They were among a group of Irish political prisoners who broke out of Long Kesh prison in 1983. They were arrested by the FBI in the early 1990s after living in California for many years, with the British government demanding their return to Northern Ireland.
On April 7, the week before the Appeals Court hearing, Judge Charles Legge again denied bail to Kirby, Artt, and Brennan, who have been held in custody since August 1997. Supporters of the H-Block Four were able to present letters from seventeen members of the U.S. Congress, as well as letters from representatives of the Republic of Ireland, asking that the three be allowed bail as they await their appeal.
Held on a Tuesday morning, the appeals courtroom was packed with around 85 supporters, many of whom had to stand. Andrew Sommers, the national president of the Irish American Unity Conference (IAUC), was in attendance, as well as a representative of the Irish Consulate. The government of the Republic of Ireland has stated that they do not support the extradition.
Attorneys for the three men argued that the terms of the U.S. extradition treaty clearly allow for political asylum and for non-extradition if the individuals had been subject to persecution because of their religion or political beliefs, or if would face probable retaliation by authorities if they were returned. Gil Eisenberg, attorney for Terry Kirby, argued that the facts of Kirby's case indicated this would apply to the three. "Mr. Kirby was subject to continued security harassment and brutalization from the age of 13 up until his final arrest. He was interned without trial several times. Doesn't this constitute harassment? Even Judge Legge, in his ruling, found that Terry Kirby's confession was coerced."
Supporters of the Irish activists point out that Smyth was badly beaten by prison guards at Long Kesh last year, after his extradition. Attorneys for Brennan also argued that the particular offense that Brennan was convicted of in Northern Ireland was not an extraditable offense under U.S. law.
Sara Cristeitelli, assistant director of the office of international affairs in the U.S. Justice Department, argued the government's case for extradition, citing the "fundamental fairness of Northern Ireland proceedings." All of the H-Block Four defendants were convicted by non-jury Diplock courts, set up by the British government in Northern Ireland to hear political trials. Confessions obtained by torture and coercion are legally admissible under British law.
Sommers, of the IAUC, commented after the hearing, "Today I wouldn't send a dog back to the UK. The prisoners have been used as pawns. Paddy Kelly was 35 years old when he was allowed to die of skin cancer, an easily curable cancer, because he was refused medical care in a British jail. I was at Drumcree last July, and I watched people get their heads clubbed, and civilians get shot with plastic bullets. The plastic bullets and the corrupt police and the occupying army are all still there."
A letter by 13 members of the Belfast city council was
presented. Many are representatives of Sinn Fein, the party
leading the struggle for Irish freedom. In the letter, they
explain that the "hopelessly corrupt legal and judicial
system which secured the incarcerations of Terry Kirby, Pol
Brennan and Kevin Artt remains unchanged." The letter
states, "It is our contention that as political refugees
these men should not be returned to political opponents from
whom they cannot expect justice, but in the interests of
fundamental human rights should be granted political asylum
in the United States."
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