Crime and Political Persecution

September 27, 1994

The visit of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to the United States makes perfectly clear that this political leader, supported by 10 percent of the voters in Northern Ireland and perhaps 5 percent in all Ireland, is free to make his case in this country. He will return to the United Kingdom and not be persecuted there for what he will have said here.

That destroys the rationale offered by Judge Barbara Caulfield of U.S. District Court in San Francisco for rejecting the extradition of Jimmy Smyth to Britain. That preposterous precedent could lead to asylum in the U.S. for any convicted terrorist from anywhere claiming political motive, and cries out for appeal.

Smyth was convicted in Northern Ireland of attempted murder of a prison guard and the guard's wife. He denied doing it. He escaped from the Maze prison in 1983 and was arrested by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1992, in San Francisco, where he was living quietly.

If Smyth could convince the judge that his trial had been unfair, she should indeed deny the extradition that Britain and INS seek. Instead, she ruled that because he is a member of Sinn Fein, the legal political party allied with the illegal Irish Republican Army, he would be persecuted for his political opinions. "The punishment, detention and restrictions on his personal liberties that James Smyth would face upon his return to prison in Northern Ireland are adequate reasons to deny certification of extradition," she ruled.

That's nonsense. Sinn Fein members move and speak freely, enjoy state benefits, win elections and serve on town councils. None of the British government's anti-terrorism measures is persecution within the meaning of the extradition treaty, which protects a fugitive who faces harm because of religion, nationality or political opinions.

Smyth faces harm because of the attempted murder he was convicted of committing. It is a crime in any country. At a time when the Irish and British governments are softening their stance against the IRA, a judicial ruling here of political persecution there is spurious.

Still it's worth a try by anyone facing prison in this country for the New York World Trade Center bombing. Just convince some judge it's really persecution for a political opinion.

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