What’s the Patriot Act Doing in Belfast?

Middlebury, Vermont

Like Solon returning to Rome, the U.S. government has developed a post – 9/11 penchant for making black lists. In American bureaucratic fashion, instead of Solon’s carved-in-stone list posted in the city plaza, there are multiple lists with multiple meanings. Juggling several lists, U. S. diplomats can claim on one day that they’ve recognized a group as “terrorists’, while being able to say with a straight face on another day that the same group has not been officially terrorist-designated. Following a centuries-old tradition of gamesmanship regarding the Irish cause, the Bush administration is juggling the names of Northern Irish paramilitary organizations between these lists, while professing full support for both Irish American interests and the desires of the British crown. The fate of the Northern Ireland peace process may depend on which balls stay in the air, and which hit the ground.

Under powers authorized by a series of economic statutes, President Bush has issued an Executive Order creating a “Terrorist Exclusion List” of “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” (TEL/SDGT). Entities and individuals on the TEL are precluded from engaging in economic transactions within the United States or through any institution under its jurisdiction; any of their assets within U.S. jurisdiction may be subject to Presidential seizure and forfeiture.

Bush placed the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) on the TEL as an SDGT on October 31st, 2001, at the moment the USA PATRIOT Act was winging through Congress and the ground war on Terrorism was being launched in Afghanistan.

On December 31st, 2001 — as British intelligence was streaming in supporting Bush’s propaganda regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — Bush added the Continuity IRA, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, the Orange Volunteers, the Red Hand Defenders, and the Ulster Defense Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters, to the TEL as SDGT’s. With the exception of the Nepalese Maoist Party and the Basques/ETA, these Northern Ireland listings stand out from the TEL like a spot of blood on a white dress: they are the only entities not identified with clearly Islamic nomenclature.

In those early days of the War on Terrorism, Bush was grasping at diplomatic straws for countries willing to justify calling his actions an ‘alliance’. He didn’t look far before tripping over Tony Blair, a man anxious to cuddle up to American power while simultaneous taking care of the little problem in his backyard. It does not take a large leap of faith to believe that the U.S. listing of Northern Ireland paramilitary groups was at least part of the price for UK support of Bush’s war.

Nor does it take much of another leap of faith to conclude that the new UK/US extradition treaty negotiations that began at the same time was the US concession in lieu of listing the IRA as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group. That extradition treaty would ultimately severely undermine the good faith of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday accord by allowing extradition back to Britain of American residents who had been pardoned and released from British custody under the Good Friday agreement’s terms.

But the TEL is not the only official terrorist list kept by the U.S. government. Under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, as amended by the USA PATRIOT Act, the U. S. State Department can also list Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This list and the Presidents TEL list are not been coterminus.

Designated FTOs are a radical departure from American legal tradition which Constitutionally protects freedom of association. With exceptions under past Sedition Acts and the 1950’s foray against the Communist Party, the U.S. has feverishly supported the proposition that we don’t outlaw organizations, we only legally address individual crimes done by individuals. Even our racketeering statutes don’t technically outlaw, say, the Gambino Family and Friends; they criminalize an individual’s participation in actual criminal behavior.

Designated FTOs, however, are outlawed organizations. Membership in such an organization, or the material support of such an organization through money, supplies, or even public advocacy, can result in an American citizen being charged with criminal terrorist acts.

In 2000, the U.S. State Department listed 29 Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations that included no Irish organizations whatsoever. But the State Department also launched a disconcerting practice of creating an appendix to the official Designated FTO list: yet another list, this one entitled ‘Other Terrorist Groups”. The State Department offers no explanation whatsoever as to what this ‘Other Terrorist Groups” list means or what its legal ramifications are.

The Center for Defense Information (CDI) states that ‘it is inferred that these groups are of lesser consequence than designated FTOs and thus considered ancillary. Such groups are also potentially noteworthy as an upsurge in their activities could lead to them being designated (and in some cases, re-designated) as FTOs.” (www.cdi.org). In 2000, this list of ‘Other Terrorist Organizations” included the Continuity IRA, Loyalist Volunteer Force, the Orange Volunteers, RIRA, and the Red Hand Defenders — and the IRA. A State Department memo at the time explains that the IRA is known to raise funds and arms in the U.S., train in Libya, and has suspected ties to the Basque group ETA.

In October 2001, the State Department shifted the Real IRA (RIRA) from the ‘other’ list to the official list of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. On July 13, 2004, the State Department added the Continuity IRA to the list of designated FTOs, and in their December 2004 report State lists the Red Hand Defenders and Loyalist Volunteer Force as ‘other terrorist organizations.” “Orange Volunteers’ was replaced by the Ulster Defense Association. But at that time, there was no mention of the IRA on either the Designated RTO list or the “other’ list.

By the April 24th, 2004 release of the Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003 State Department Report, the 37 listed FTO’s included RIRA, and the list of 40 ‘other terrorist groups” included the Irish National Liberation Army, Red Hand Defenders, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defense Force (UVF), the Ulster Defense Association and the Ulster Freedom Fighters (whom the U.S. State Department advises is one and the same organization). The Continuity IRA is also, inexplicably, shifted from the Designated FTO list to the ‘other terrorist organizations” list.

Most notably, the IRA was back on the ‘other terrorist organizations” list as well, after having been absent from 2001 to 2003. This list was released at the same moment that the US/UK Extradition Treaty, ratified in England by an expedited non-parliamentary process, was sent by President Bush to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for approval.

As we sit surveying the smoking wreckage of the Good Friday accord it becomes increasingly obvious that the United States is putting aside its charade of the appearance of playing guarantor for Irish Republicans. In late April 2005, the U.S. State Department will issue its Patterns of Global Terrorism 2004 report, and the burning question is, Which list will the IRA find itself on?

In the late 1990’s, the United States, fulfilling its role as global watchdog of human rights while at the same time recognizing the important position of Irish American citizens in the United States culture, government, and electorate, brokered the Good Friday agreement. Applying Middle East terminology, Good Friday is the Blueprint for creation of a system of governance in Northern Ireland that will secure civil rights, human rights, and democracy to all Northern Ireland residents. It is ironic that the U.S. refers to this as a formula for ‘lasting peace” when they have never acknowledged that acts of violent protest over England’s continued occupation of Northern Ireland constitutes a war. In other words, even at the pinnacle of America’s good faith positioning as a guarantor of progress in Northern Ireland, they did not recognize the “belligerent status’ of Irish Republicans, though they used terms that implied that they were sympathetic to the cause.

Unfortunately, after exercising her muscle in the stance of peace-broker in time for the 1998 Congressional elections and 2000 Presidential election, the U.S. folded her flag and went home. The list of reasons to do otherwise has diminished greatly from the antebellum days of Tammany Hall and Irish immigration. Today, the U.S. public no longer despises Great Britain; in fact, most Americans express surprise and disbelief at the idea that England was not considered our friend until World War I. And most importantly, Irish Americans are no longer a strongly identifiable, or politically necessary, voting block in American elections. While it is true that urban Irish Americans still tend to run in Democratic Party packs, this characterization is no longer universal, and outside of the big eastern cities, can’t be assumed at all.

When British troops and police raided Sinn Fein offices in 2002 and made sweeping unspecific claims about a “spying ring’ vaguely reminiscent of Watergate, the U.S. government did not sound a peep. Nor did it lodge protest when England shut down the Stormont parliament, a key institution under the Good Friday blueprint, and returned governance of Northern Ireland to London. In fact, by that point the U.S. was already well on its way towards officially declaring a whole host of entities in Northern Ireland to be terrorist organizations — although, continuing to exercise gamesmanship, the U.S. still dangled the IRA and Sinn Fein around, sparkling in the light of potential for terrorism designation and dazzling the eye with sleight of hand as to just who is considered a terrorist.

When Britain blamed the December 2004 Belfast Northern Bank robbery not only on the IRA, but on Sinn Fein and more specifically Gerry Adams, Bush didn’t merely keep silent, he leapt to join in the bashing. Ten years after the St. Patrick’s day celebration at the White House when Bill Clinton shook Gerry Adams hand and pledged to bring peace to Northern Ireland, Bush disinvited Adams, shunned Sinn Fein, and made it clear that no Belfast hoodlums –whether they call themselves freedom fighters or not — should consider themselves worthy of U.S. friendship. If you stand up for freedom, Bush had said in his recent State of the Union, the U.S. stands with you. He didn’t clarify that he meant only if you were in, say, Iraq, Iran, or Syria; in Tyrone, forget it. With each Bush admonition against Sinn Fein and IRA “criminality’, it becomes increasingly likely that the IRA will find itself added to the TEL.

With the IRA presently on the “other terrorist organizations’ list — or even if they are added to the TEL — Bush can tell Tony Blair that the U.S. officially considers the IRA to be terrorists, while at the same time telling Irish Americans that the U.S. is a friend of the Irish Cause, because they are not on the State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. But given Bush’s electoral mandate in 2004 — a mandate that didn’t require or even acknowledge a role for an Irish American voting block — the need to be extending the illusion of friendship to the Irish Cause is nearly extinguished.

If the IRA is placed on President Bush’s Terrorist Exclusion List, charitable organizations whose activities include support of families experiencing trauma or economic difficulty due to a family member’s involvement in IRA activity run the risk of being shut down and having their assets seized, much as has occurred with several large Islamic charities. If the IRA is placed on the State Department list of Designated Terrorist Organizations, any American who “materially supports’ the IRA — again, including public advocacy, or humanitarian aid to those who have been disadvantaged by the troubles — will be prosecuted as a terrorist. The devil will then meet the deep blue sea on the question of what position the U.S. will take regarding Sinn Fein’s relationship with the IRA.

The fate of Northern Ireland stands on the edge of a knife, and Irish Americans have much on the line. The question remains whether the Bush administration betrayal of the cause of peace in Northern Ireland is enough to reawaken the Irish American community as a political block to be reckoned with, and whether that Irish American community can compel the U.S. Government to once again stand as guarantors of the cause of Irish freedom.

CINDY ELLEN HILL is a criminal defense lawyer in Vermont. She can be reached at: wordwomanvt@yahoo.com