Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

“Dispatches from the Dark Side – On Torture and the Death of Justice” – Gareth Peirce Talk at the Law Society of Ireland

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Gareth Peirce is a dedicated lawyer who, for the last 30 years, has defended “suspect communities” against state attacks.  In the 1970’s successive British governments targeted Irish people living in Britain and many individuals were framed, tortured, and forced to spend several years in jail for IRA bombings they did not commit.

Peirce came to public attention for tirelessly defending individuals in cases such as the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, Judith Ward and Danny McNamee.  She delivered the Law Society of Ireland 2011 Human Rights Lecture on May 10 in Dublin.

John Meehan reports.

On March 14 1991 the free man Paddy Hill grabbed a microphone outside the London Old Bailey Court where the Birmingham Six were finally released, and told the world that the Judges inside the building behind him “did not even understand” the word Justice.

Gareth Pierce marked the 20th anniversary of the release with a Guardian article pointing out lessons from that era had been ignored, and today the British state is trying to create another “suspect community” : Muslims.

The Law Society Meeting Room was packed – Scattered among the large crowd were many activists from the Miscarriage of Justice Campaign  in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. One was Michael Farrell, who texted me and many other people about the meeting.

Some are no longer with us – notably Thom McGinty (the Diceman) who starred as “British Justice” in a huge Dublin “Parade of Innocence” protest march against the Birmingham Six frame-up in 1989 :

Peirce’s dispatch from the dark side began with an assessment of the May Day 2011 execution of Osama Bin Laden. High-level supporters of the USA Navy Seal Abottabad helicopter swoop on Bin Laden’s home in Pakistan quickly drowned the airwaves with claims that accurate information about Bin Laden’s movements had been extracted from suspects in the Guantanamo dungeons through the use of the water boarding torture technique.

Some parts of the United States establishment in the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) have argued against this on purely practical grounds – they say information extracted through torture is not reliable, and have argued instead for traditional police detective work, good quality forensic science, and so on.

The leader of the Washington elite, Barack Obama the President who is also a law professor, claims Bin Laden was brought to “Justice” – this politician living in the White House knows better. Justice is the result of a trial, not a shoot-to-kill execution. Leaders of the German Nazi régime were put on trial at Nuremberg, and sentenced in accordance with the verdict. Ironically the British Military first wanted to execute the surviving fascist leaders, but the United States insisted a trial was preferable.

Since the New York 9/11 atrocity in 2002, the USA has systematically attacked the rights of suspects, and degraded everyday language by describing killing sprees as “collateral damage”.

In Britain – the United Kingdom (UK) – the state has followed a similar agenda. Actions in one country affect and infect others. Most people interned under “anti terrorist” legislation face torture in their own countries if they are deported. Others, Palestinians, as stateless.

We must remind ourselves of the definition of torture :

Inflicting Extreme Pain on Human Beings In Order To Extract Information

In the mid 19th Century Civilised Standards were greatly advanced through the outlawing of torture – the French Novelist Victor Hugo advised fellow members of the 1848 elected Constituent Assembly with these words :

“I have examined torture under each of its 2 aspects: as a direct action, and as an indirect one. What does it come down to? Nothing but something horrible and useless, nothing but a way torturing another person of flesh and blood–that is called a crime when an individual commits it–but is (sadly) allowed as “justice” against “terrorism” when society brings it about”

Experience shows that information extracted via torture is extremely unreliable, and that it degrades and dehumanises the people who inflict the pain on their victims.

Since the early 20th Century powerful state agencies have promoted torture.

The concept of “exceptional crimes” is used to justify UK and USA torture policies – States have amassed vast strength and power, yet operate this policy based on a perception of extreme vulnerability.

We have a methodology to eradicate and eliminate torture.

The first half of the equation is :

Establishing the 5 W’s (Who, Where, What, Why, and When).

The second half is :

Bringing the People Responsible to Book.

The 1970’s Irish Government Case at the European Court of Human Rights over the British State’s use of Internment in Northern Ireland – which was kicked off in August 1971 – proved that techniques such as hooding, forcing people into stressful physical positions for many hours were used systematically. These methods are designed to so that torture can be implemented without leaving tell-tale physical marks. Secrecy on the grounds of “national security” is invoked so that all the people complicit in the practice of torture can be protected.

In opposition, the British Conservative Party leaders David Cameron and William Hague promised an enquiry into allegations of British complicity in the torture of people at the American Guantanamo dungeon. These fine words were hypocritically endorsed by Labour Party deputy-leader Harriet Harman. Her colleagues Jack Straw and David Blunkett are complicit in the USA Guantanamo war crimes. The British Government is now anxious to settle several Guantanamo cases.

British Government conduct of its foreign policy is full of duplicity – for example, the UK Government consistently claimed that there was no torture in Hosni Mubarak’s Egyptian régime.

There is plentiful evidence of British Agents being present in Guantanamo while individuals ere being tortured. Unless we end complicity, torture will go on.


Some issues raised by members of the audience :

John Meehan linked his comments to Gareth Peirce’s  observation that “Actions in one country affect and infect others”.  On March 17 Deputy Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, visited the USA, rubbing shoulders in Washington DC with powerful politicians, among them Congress Representative Peter King who has strong Irish connections.  This politician is currently chairing controversial hearings into Muslims living in the USA  – he is helping to create a new “suspect community”.

For More on this see  :

“Peter King – Irish-American CongressPerson – Fomenting “Campaign of Hate Against American Muslims”

On March 31 Joe Higgins TD questioned Taoiseach Kenny on this matter in Dáil Éireann – the Mayo man’s complacent answer tells us everything we need to know about the Irish government’s complicity with reactionary American policies :

  Joe Higgins :

During his meeting with Representative Peter King, did the Taoiseach raise the concerns of those interested in human rights about his hearings into the so-called radicalisation of the American Muslim community? This has been compared to a McCarthyite witch hunt against Muslim Americans and it has been led by a representative who, ironically, dragged his political career from obscurity to national prominence among certain Irish Americans 25 years ago by declaring his support for the disastrous paramilitary campaign of the Provisional IRA. I would like to know if the Taoiseach discussed this issue and whether he pronounced that it was deplorable to be stirring up hatred against American Muslims who have no connection with al-Qaeda or any such organisation.

Enda Kenny :

I did not have an opportunity to speak to Representative Peter King at any great length. These meetings do not lend themselves to long discussions, but the issue of his comments about American Muslims were a matter of discourse in the New York area.

The full shameful exchange is here :

In her reply Gareth Peirce suggested that perhaps people in Ireland who are still in contact with Peter King – an apparent reference to Gerry Adams and other Sinn Féin leaders – could speak up on this matter.  She stressed her respect for Peter King’s work in the past – an apparent reference to his work on unpopular Irish causes during the 1980’s and 1990s.

Ed Horgan highlighted the Irish government policy of allowing Shannon Airport to be used by the American military.

Another speaker pointed out that the Irish police record on frame-ups and brutality was no better than their British colleagues.  The recent scandals exposed in Donegal indicated that the entire irish judicial system needs a radical reform.

Afterwards many people queued to buy signed copies of Gareth Peirce’s book published by Verso, imprint of the New Left Review :

An Irish Times Report of Gareth Peirce’s lecture is here :

Written by tomasoflatharta

May 17, 2011 at 12:31 am

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