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Vol.63/No.37       October 25, 1999 
 
 
Extradition hearing held for Irish prisoners  
 
 
BY BARBARA BOWMAN 
SAN FRANCISCO Lawyers representing Irish political prisoners Terence Kirby, Kevin Barry Artt, and Pol Brennan told a panel of judges from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals September 28 that the three men should not be extradited to Northern Ireland because their original convictions were tainted by anti-Catholic bias in the British courts.

Kirby, Artt, and Brennan were among 38 nationalist political prisoners who escaped from the notorious H-Block of the Maze (Long Kesh) prison near Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1983. Along with a fourth prisoner, Jimmy Smyth, they made their way to the Bay Area.

They were arrested and jailed by the U.S. government in the early 1990s, and proceedings were opened to send them back to the United Kingdom. Supporters in the United States of the Irish freedom struggle launched a campaign to block the extradition of the men, who became known as the H-Block Four.

Smyth was extradited to Northern Ireland in 1996. He was later released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. In October 1998, the remaining H-Block Three won an appeal of their extradition order and a second trial. At that time, the appellate court judges ruled that federal judge Charles Legge may not have allowed a thorough enough investigation into the possibility that British courts may have a political or religious bias against Catholics.

The U.S. Justice Department, representing the British government, asked for and received a hearing on that decision, which was held here September 28.

More than 100 supporters of the H-Block Three attended the hearing. Lawyers for Kirby, Artt, and Brennen answered a number of questions and presented numerous examples of anti-Catholic abuse the men had received during their arrests, trials, and incarcerations. Artt's attorney, James Brosnahan, cited the use by a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) of Catholic rosary beads to taunt his client during an interrogation. Artt was then struck by the RUC cop. The RUC is the pro-British police force in Northern Ireland.

Justice Department attorney, Sarah Criscitelli, argued the interrogator might have been appealing to Artt on a moral plane when the offer of the rosary beads was made. She attempted to answer the defendants' argument that the British judicial system may be anti-Catholic. "The U.S. government does not enter into treaties with governments that torture their own citizens," she asserted.

The H-Block Three remain free on bail until a decision is made by the court to uphold the appeal and move forward with a second trial, or to overturn it and order their immediate extradition.

James Altenberg, a member of United Transportation Union Local 1732, contributed to this article.  
 
 
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