19 March 2005


Sinn Féin supporters protest in Dublin

19/03/2005 - 15:53:13

An estimated 200 Sinn Féin supporters gathered in Dublin today to protest against what they describe as attempts to criminalise the republican movement.

They say they have been victims of trial by media and are fighting to defend the peace process.

Speaking at the rally, Sinn Féin TD Sean Crowe said they are fighting back against those who are tarnishing their name for political gains, and also that the republican struggle is stronger than at any time in recent history

He said: “People are waking up to the fact that the evidence hasn’t been produced to link republicans to the criminality, and we’ve already reiterated that if any republican, or member of my party, are involved in criminality they will be dismissed out of the party.”


**Edited due to website content

"The Two Corporals were pulled from their car and executed by the IRA"
Belfast March 19th 1988

Corporal Derek Wood, 24 - Royal Corps of Signals
Corporal David Howes,23 - Royal Corps of Signals

The episode is remembered by many as one of the most shocking fatal incidents of the troubles, largely because of the graphic television coverage which showed dozens of men attacking their car. After being taken from their car and beaten, the corporals were driven to waste ground and shot. The incident, which became known as 'the corporals' killings', was seen as both extraordinarily brutal.

The sequence of events was watched by an army surveillance helicopter on film which was later produced in evidence at a series of trials related to the incident. The film included harrowing footage of the actual deaths of the soldiers as they were shot by I.R.A. gunmen.

The soldiers were pulled from the car as they where blocked from getting out of the area by black taxis.
They where pulled out though the windows by republicans, beaten and stripped naked on waste ground before being executed.

Although the army version of events was that the soldiers were technicians who were engaged in routine communications and radio work at bases in West Belfast, local suspicions persist that they were instead involved in some form of undercover surveillance activity.

Neither explanation, however, is seen as clearing up the mystery of how they came to drive into an I.R.A. funeral attended by many hundreds of republican sympathisers. The incident had its origins in the shootings of three I.R.A. members, by the S.A.S. in Gibraltar.

Their funerals in Milltown Cemetery were disrupted by an attack mounted by U.D.A. gunman Michael Stone, who killed three people including I.R.A. member Caoimhin MacBradaigh.

The MacBradaigh funeral was making its way along the Andersonstown Road towards Milltown cemetery when the silver Volkswagen Passat car containing the two corporals appeared. The car headed straight towards the front of the funeral, which was headed by a number of black taxis. It drove past a Sinn Fein steward who signalled it to turn. The car then mounted a pavement, scattering mourners and turning into a small side road. On finding that this road was blocked, it then reversed at speed, ending up within the funeral cortege. When the driver attempted to extricate the car from the cortege his exit route was blocked by a black taxi. At this point most of the mourners and the accompanying republican stewards assumed the car contained loyalist gunmen intent on staging another Michael Stone style attack. Dozens of them rushed forward, kicking the car and attempting to open its doors.

The soldiers inside the car were both armed with Browning automatic pistols and Corporal Wood climbed part of the way out of a window, firing a shot in the air which briefly scattered the crowd. The television pictures showed the crowd surging back, however, some of them attacking the vehicle with a wheel-brace and a stepladder snatched from a photographer. The corporals were eventually pulled from the car and punched and kicked to the ground. They were then dragged into the nearby Casement Park sports ground where they were again beaten, stripped to their underpants and socks and searched. According to republicans, an identification card which read 'Herford', a location in Germany, was mistaken for 'Hereford', the headquarters of the S.A.S... It appears this was important in sealing the fate of the soldiers. With the I.R.A. by now involved the corporals were further beaten and thrown over a high wall to be put into a waiting black taxi. It was driven off at speed, camera crews capturing its driver waving his fist in the air.

The corporals were driven less than 200 yards to waste ground near Penny Lane, just off the main Andersonstown Road.

There they were shot several times. Corporal Wood was shot six times, twice in the head and four times in the chest.

He was also stabbed four times in the back of the neck and had multiple injuries to other parts of his body.
Redemptorist priest Father Alec Reid, who was later to play a significant part in the peace process leading to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, arrived on the scene. One of the most enduring pictures of the troubles shows him kneeling beside the almost naked bodies of the soldiers, his face distraught as he administered the last rites. The events of March 19, 1988, lasted only 15 minutes but, because of the nature of the deaths and because much of the sequence was televised within hours, they are regarded among the most shocking in Northern Ireland's recent history.

Later in the day the I.R.A. issued a statement.

It said 'The Belfast Brigade, IRA, claims responsibility for the execution in Andersonstown this afternoon of two SAS members, who launched an attack on the funeral cortege of our comrade volunteer Kevin Brady [Caoimhin MacBradaigh].

The SAS unit was initially apprehended by the people lining the route of the cortege in the belief that armed loyalists were attacking them, and they were removed from the immediate vicinity of the funeral procession by them. At this point our volunteers forcibly removed the two men from the crowd and, after clearly ascertaining their identities from equipment and documentation, we executed them.'

The bodies of the dead soldiers were flown to RAF Northolt by Hercules transport plane.
Their families watched as the coffins, draped in Union flags, were carried from the aeroplane by colleagues,
with the band of the Corps of Signals playing in the background. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was at the airfield.

The soldiers' deaths prompted one RUC officer, Constable Clive Graham, to consider emigrating but he was killed by the IRA just days later.

In November 1998,two Belfast men sentenced for their involvement in the killing of the two soldiers were released from the Maze prison as part of the early prisoner release scheme in the Good Friday Agreement

An Phoblacht

The South Dublin Union and Easter 1916

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The following is an extract from Down Dublin Streets by Eamon MacThomáis, which will be relaunched in McDowell's Pub, Inchicore, Dublin 8, on Wednesday 23 March by the Dublin Republican Commemoration Committee. Eamonn's involvement in the Republican Movement spanned four decades, and he also became well known as a writer and broadcaster. He was an endless fount of knowledge about Dublin

Queen Anne of England did not believe that Irishmen were born to be free but that they were born to be paupers. In the Poor Law Act, 1702, her Majesty set aside fields in James's Street, Dublin, where a house and home were to be built for her starving subjects.

The site chosen covered a vast area — almost 60 acres of land stretching from James's Street to Rialto Bridge. This was land where Brian Boru had rested on his way to the Battle of Clontarf on Good Friday, 1014. The same land where Cromwell rested and camped before he set forth to burn and butcher the people of Ireland.

In 1702 the first sod was turned and several years later the city arose — a city of grey grim buildings with iron bars on the windows, stone flags on the floors, crude tables and chairs, soup kitchens and hospitals, morgues and cells, rough whitewashed walls without pictures or trimmings. It was enclosed by high walls and strong gates and here thousands of men, women and children came to live and die.

Among those who died there were many who had fought for Ireland, including James Fitzharris ("Skin the Goat"), Fenian and Invincible, who suffered 15 years imprisonment in Kilmainham Jail rather than become an informer and betray his friends. Men and women could be taken from the streets and thrown into the South Dublin Union and there held as prisoners without charge or trial.

In the foundling home within the Union, thousands of infant babies were murdered because Queen Anne had not left enough money to buy food and cots for them. John Boyle O'Reilly often passed by the Union gates and pledged that one day he and his Fenian comrades would end the need for workhouses in Ireland. John was later arrested in a house 100 yards from the Union wall.

Oh, James Connolly, what was in your mind? Men have taken over the Mendicity Institution workhouse and now more men are marching by Rialto, by St James's Gate to take over another workhouse, the South Dublin Union.

The Fourth Battalion assembled at Emerald Square off Cork Street, Dublin. Éamonn Ceannt had expected 1,000 men but only 100 turned up. This failure was again due to MacNeill's countermanding orders.

Ceannt and his second in command, Cathal Brugha, after a short discussion decided to detail their forces.

Ceannt explained the position that the various areas were being held by Volunteers, Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBan and Na Fianna Éireann. "The Irish Republic has been proclaimed and here are your orders." The men listened carefully and moments later they were on the way to take up their posts.

A detail by James's Street to the South Dublin Union. A detail by Rialto Gate. A detail to Ardee Street. A detail to Marrowbone Lane. A detail to Roe's Distillery, Mount Brown.

The Angelus bells were ringing as Ceannt and Brugha led their men in by the Rialto Gate of South Dublin Union. The fight was on — telephone wires were cut, barricades erected. Thirty minutes later, the Volunteers were in command of Queen Anne Mansions.

About one mile away, above Kilmainham Hill, British soldiers in Richmond Barracks were being detailed for duty in Dublin city. The barrack gates opened and soldiers of the 3rd Irish Regiment, led by their advance guard, marched out onto the roadway. Left-right. Left-right-left. Within ten minutes they were approaching Mount Brown hill.

The riflemen in Roe's Distillery were waiting, fingers on the triggers as they brought the marching soldiers into their rifle sights. "FIRE-RAPID FIRE." The order given, British troops fell dead, others fled in panic. The men in the South Dublin Union at James's Street Gate picked off any soldiers who succeeded in getting to the top of the hill. Other British soldiers ran back to the Royal Hospital — the headquarters of the British military in Ireland, others went on the Richmond Barracks for reinforcements and machine guns.

The firing died down as the British withdrew. But the sudden quietness was broken by machine gun fire coming from the Royal Hospital and later supported by more troops from Richmond Barracks. The troops stormed the hill in armoured cars, Roe's Distillery became cut off and the men fell back to support the Union Garrison.

Across the road in McCaffrey's fields the Volunteers were raked by machine gun fire and many fell wounded. The Union walls were being taken on all sides by the British. Ceannt would have needed over 2,000 men to hold the walls and all that he had was 42 men. The Volunteers withdrew from the main gate to the inner buildings because they were now almost surrounded by British troops.

Con Colbert and his men, who were in Watkins Brewery, Ardee Street, moved up to help the Volunteers in the Marrowbone Lane area. The distillery in Marrowbone Lane was the main cover flank for the men in the Union as it overlooked the Union grounds. Here Volunteers, Cumann na mBan and Na Fianna Éireann made sure that the British did not attack the Union from the canal end.

The British troops were now in the Union grounds but they still had not taken Rialto Gate For over three hours they tried to break through but they were held back. It was not until the troops from the James's Street end had reached Rialto that the Volunteers holding the gate were completely outnumbered.

The divide and conquer method was put into effect by the British. They had sufficient soldiers to cover every nook and corner of the Unions grounds. As soon as they cut off one section of Volunteers, another had to be found. From building to building the Volunteers moved. Nurse Keogh, who went to the aid of a Volunteer who was wounded, was shot dead by a British soldier who thought she was one of the rebels.

Throughout the week the Volunteers could not be beaten or captured. The British had divided the Volunteer forces but yet each building, each doorway and each window seemed to produce another Volunteer.

Cathal Brugha, with 23 bullet wounds in his body, was taken to the Union Hospital, where he was captured by the British and taken to Dublin Castle on Friday 28 April. Mr Birrell, the Chief Secretary, ordered that Brugha was to be taken to hospital. "He's almost dead," said Birrell. "I don't think we'll have to worry about him." It is reported that right up to the very last bullet wound Cathal Brugha was fighting as hard as any man.

Back at the Union, the British had the Volunteers completely surrounded and cut off from one another The firing died down and the British now began to wait for the white flag or surrender. "We are not surrendering," said Ceannt. "We will fight to the last man." He also asked the Volunteers to say a prayer for Nurse Keogh who had been killed and always to remember her as being the first woman martyr in the Easter Rising.

Belfast Telegraph

Don't spoil them to death
Easter egg treats can be fatal for animals.

By Fiona McIlwaine Biggins
19 March 2005

Ulster pet owners are being warned to keep their pets away from chocolate this Easter as it contains ingredients that are highly toxic to dogs and cats and can even cause fatalities.

A leading animal health company is hoping to make pet lovers more aware of the potential dangers of sharing an Easter egg with their furry friends.

It highlights that not only is chocolate high in calories and sugar, which can contribute to the development of obesity and tooth decay but, more worryingly, chocolate is also highly toxic to dogs and cats and if a large quantity is consumed, can even be fatal.

Chocolate, and other products made from cocoa beans, contains a chemical called theobromine which dogs and cats are unable to clear from their bodies, unlike humans.

Theobromine is present in all chocolate, however the content is higher in plain varieties than in white and toxic doses vary according to the size of the animal and the cocoa solid content.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include excessive drinking, vomiting, diarrhoea, excitability, drooling, slow heart rate and in the later stages, convulsions.

If your pet is displaying any of these symptoms it is important to contact a vet, as if caught early enough it is possible to treat.

Although dogs being poisoned by chocolate are rare, the Veterinary Poisons Information Service reported 135 cases last year; with Christmas and Easter being the most common times.

Sabrina Stroud, product manager at Bayer Animal Health, commented: "Not many people are aware of the dangers of feeding their pet chocolate.

"It is vital that pet owners keep their Easter eggs well away from their beloved friend.

"Some companies make special chocolates which are safe to give to your dog or cat, but it is better for them if they have a healthy treat this Easter instead."

And if you can't resist giving your pet a treat this Easter - that isn't chocolate - then it is also important to make sure that you wash your hands and maintain high standards of hygiene when feeding them.

Many people are unaware that their pet could pass on nasty diseases to humans; including Human Toxocariasis (which can cause blindness) can be contracted by swallowing worm eggs inadvertently picked up from the environment or by letting your pet share food from your plate.

Belfast Telegraph

Belfast dad was victim of murder, says family

By Deborah McAleese
19 March 2005

The tormented family of a Belfast father-of-three killed in suspicious circumstances pleaded last night for an end to "a wall of silence" shrouding the case.

Stephen Montgomery's family do not believe he was killed in a simple hit-and-run accident.

They are convinced the 34-year-old was brutally murdered and left to die alone at the side of the road.

And the family last night vowed not to rest until they find out the truth behind Stephen's death.

Mr Montgomery's body was discovered at Jamaica Road in the Ardoyne area on February 13.

Police, who are currently treating the incident as a road traffic collision, have questioned several people but nobody has been charged, much to the distress of the family.

According to the family, several witnesses have told them that they saw Stephen being beaten outside a bar and his body left in the middle of the road.

A car then ran over him and sped off, they say.

The family are convinced that members of the community know who was responsible, and have now issued an appeal for anyone with information to contact them directly, or through Holy Cross priest, Father Gary Donegan.

"We are up against a wall of silence, someone is covering up for these people. We need more information, we need justice for Stephen and for his family," Stephen's brother Sean told the Belfast Telegraph last night.

He added: "We cannot come to terms with Stephen's death because there are people walking about who were involved in this.

"Our Stephen was the most happy-go-lucky bloke in the world, he was a real gentleman. He suffered horrendous injuries, the people who did that to him are animals.

"We have had the backing of a large section of the community but there is a small section of people in this community who know what happened, and I would ask them not to hide these individuals."

Stephen is survived by his children Tiarnan (3), Stephen (6) and Amy (15).

His fiancée, Julie Hughes, vowed that she will not stop in her pursuit of justice.

"It is a struggle to get up every morning when I remember Stephen is not here anymore," she said.

"We all just want to know the truth about what happened to him. Anyone with information, please come forward, stop hiding these people, for the sake of Stephen's children and his family."

A police spokeswoman said: "Police are still actively pursuing the death of Stephen Montgomery and would encourage anyone with information to get in contact."

Unison.ie / Irish Independent

Shock as rural cancer victims go for drastic surgery option

SOME cancer sufferers in Co Donegal have taken the drastic decision to have breast removal operations rather than face the gruelling journey to Dublin for vital radiation treatment.

In a shocking indictment of the health system, it has emerged that the absence of a radiation oncologist at Letterkenny General Hospital is resulting in unnecessary mastectomies in some cases, and lengthy delays in the treatment of certain cancers in others.

A group of medical professionals in the county has also maintained that many patients, particularly those receiving palliative care, are refusing radiation treatment because of the exhausting travel involved - anything up to six hours at a time to the capital.

Fears for the future of cancer services in Co Donegal have prompted consultants, GPs and other medical professionals to come together to lobby for their retention and development.

The group, led by Dr Kevin Moran, regional director of cancer services in the north west, is calling for the appointment of a radiation oncologist, a permanent breast surgeon and a second bowel surgeon at Letterkenny General Hospital.

If this does not happen, they fear that the existing services, which serve a population of 120,000 people, will diminish and ultimately disappear.

Explained Dr Moran: "Our fear is that cancer services at Letterkenny General will disappear by a process of natural attrition rather than by an act of commission.

"For example, if a permanent breast surgeon is not appointed, then breast cancer services will go.

"And as a consequence the medical oncologist would go leaving us with a very fragmented service," he said.

Dr Moran vehemently refutes the travel-or-die mindset which suggests that unless you receive cancer treatment in large centres such as Dublin or Galway, your chances of survival are lessened.

"I am not advocating that we should treat any cancer in Letterkenny unless we can get the same results as in Dublin or Boston or Baltimore but there are cancers such as breast, bowel and prostate cancer which can be treated.

"We urgently and desperately need to get a radiation oncologist, which is the essential third part of the equation, alongside surgery and medical oncology, in cancer treatment," he said.

In the country's most peripheral county there are 50 new breast cancer cases, 70 new bowel cancer cases and 80 new prostate cancer cases annually.

The group claims that the absence of a radiation oncologist is leading women to opt for mastectomies who do not require them, just to avoid travelling to Dublin for treatment.

It is also leading to delays in treatment for rectal and prostate cancers where men could have to wait up to six months, while many patients requiring palliative care, who would benefit from radiation treatment, are not availing of it because of the travel involved.

"When I came here four years ago, a consultant oncologist from St Luke's travelled here twice a month but this has not happened for the past five or six years," he said.

The group is urging the Department to consider a proposal for breast cancer services which would see Letterkenny and Sligo General Hospitals being considered as one breast cancer unit with medical expertise on both sites.

Anita Guidera


Family targeted in petrol bombing

A Protestant family has been targeted in a petrol bomb attack in north Belfast.

A device was thrown at their house at Gunnell Hill in the Whitewell area. It caused minor scorch damage.

Rival crowds gathered in the area after the attack but the police said they managed to contain the situation with help from community representatives.

Nicole Darragh, who was in the house, said she and her family had a lucky escape.

"We heard this bang and there was a woman who ran down the street who called for my mummy," she said.

"She told her to get out of the house quickly because they had thrown a petrol bomb.

"My mummy shouted for all my sisters to get out of the house. I had just come in five minutes before with the dog.

"If it had have been five minutes earlier, the petrol bomb would have hit me and the dog probably, and we would have been killed."

It is the second time the family has been targeted in the past month.


Demonstration marks Iraq invasion anniversary

19/03/2005 - 08:32:04

A major demonstration is taking place today to mark the second anniversary of the US led war in Iraq.

Anti-war activists are taking to the streets of Dublin at 2 pm on Parnell Square.

Thousands are expected to turn out.

Dublin is just one of many cities holding a demonstration as part of this global protest.


**This is the 'justice' the McCartney sisters appealed to by running to Bush

'One huge US jail'

Afghanistan is the hub of a global network of detention centres, the frontline in America's 'war on terror', where arrest can be random and allegations of torture commonplace. Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark investigate on the ground and talk to former prisoners

Saturday March 19, 2005
The Guardian

Kabul was a grim, monastic place in the days of the Taliban; today it's a chaotic gathering point for every kind of prospector and carpetbagger. Foreign bidders vying for billions of dollars of telecoms, irrigation and construction contracts have sparked a property boom that has forced up rental prices in the Afghan capital to match those in London, Tokyo and Manhattan. Four years ago, the Ministry of Vice and Virtue in Kabul was a tool of the Taliban inquisition, a drab office building where heretics were locked up for such crimes as humming a popular love song. Now it's owned by an American entrepreneur who hopes its bitter associations won't scare away his new friends.

Outside Kabul, Afghanistan is bleaker, its provinces more inaccessible and lawless, than it was under the Taliban. If anyone leaves town, they do so in convoys. Afghanistan is a place where it is easy for people to disappear and perilous for anyone to investigate their fate. Even a seasoned aid agency such as Médécins Sans Frontières was forced to quit after five staff members were murdered last June. Only the 17,000-strong US forces, with their all-terrain Humvees and Apache attack helicopters, have the run of the land, and they have used the haze of fear and uncertainty that has engulfed the country to advance a draconian phase in the war against terror. Afghanistan has become the new Guantánamo Bay.

Washington likes to hold up Afghanistan as an exemplar of how a rogue regime can be replaced by democracy. Meanwhile, human-rights activists and Afghan politicians have accused the US military of placing Afghanistan at the hub of a global system of detention centres where prisoners are held incommunicado and allegedly subjected to torture. The secrecy surrounding them prevents any real independent investigation of the allegations. "The detention system in Afghanistan exists entirely outside international norms, but it is only part of a far larger and more sinister jail network that we are only now beginning to understand," Michael Posner, director of the US legal watchdog Human Rights First, told us.

When we landed in Kabul, Afghanistan was blue with a bruising cold. We were heading for the former al-Qaida strongholds in the south-east that were rumoured to be the focus of the new US network. How should we prepare, we asked local UN staff. "Don't go," they said. None the less, we were able to find a driver, a Pashtun translator and a boxful of clementines, and set off on a five-and-a-half-hour trip south through the snow to Gardez, a market town dominated by two rapidly expanding US military bases.

There we met Dr Rafiullah Bidar, regional director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, established in 2003 with funding from the US Congress to investigate abuses committed by local warlords and to ensure that women's and children's rights were protected. He was delighted to see foreigners in town. At his office in central Gardez, Bidar showed us a wall of files. "All I do nowadays is chart complaints against the US military," he said. "Many thousands of people have been rounded up and detained by them. Those who have been freed say that they were held alongside foreign detainees who've been brought to this country to be processed. No one is charged. No one is identified. No international monitors are allowed into the US jails." He pulled out a handful of files: "People who have been arrested say they've been brutalised - the tactics used are beyond belief." The jails are closed to outside observers, making it impossible to test the truth of the claims.

Last November, a man from Gardez died of hypothermia in a US military jail. When his family were called to collect the body, they were given a $100 note for the taxi ride and no explanation. In scores more cases, people have simply disappeared.

Prisoner transports crisscross the country between a proliferating network of detention facilities. In addition to the camps in Gardez, there are thought to be US holding facilities in the cities of Khost, Asadabad and Jalalabad, as well as an official US detention centre in Kandahar, where the tough regime has been nicknamed "Camp Slappy" by former prisoners. There are 20 more facilities in outlying US compounds and fire bases that complement a major "collection centre" at Bagram air force base. The CIA has one facility at Bagram and another, known as the "Salt Pit", in an abandoned brick factory north of Kabul. More than 1,500 prisoners from Afghanistan and many other countries are thought to be held in such jails, although no one knows for sure because the US military declines to comment.

Anyone who has got in the way of the prison transports has been met with brutal force. Bidar directed us to a small Shia neighbourhood on the edge of town where a multiple killing was still under investigation. Inside a frozen courtyard, a former policeman, Said Sardar, 25, was sat beside his crutches. On May 1 2004, he was manning a checkpoint when a car careened through. "Inside were men dressed like Arabs, but they were western men," he said. "They had prisoners in the car." Sardar fired a warning shot for the car to stop. "The western men returned fire and within minutes two US attack helicopters hovered above us. They fired three rockets at the police station. One screamed past me. I saw its fiery tail and blacked out."

He was taken to Bagram, where US military doctors had to amputate his leg. Afterwards, he said, "an American woman appeared. She said the US was sorry. It was a mistake. The men in the car were Special Forces or CIA on a mission. She gave me $500." Sardar showed us into another room in his compound where a circle of children stared glumly at us; their fathers, all policemen, were killed in the same incident. "Five dead. Four in hospital. To protect covert US prisoner transports," he says. Later, US helicopters were deployed in two similar incidents that left nine dead.

In his builders' merchant's shop, Mohammed Timouri describes how he lost his son. "Ismail was a part-time taxi driver, waiting to go to college," he says, handing us a photograph of a beardless, short-haired 19-year-old held aloft in a coffin at his funeral last March. "A convoy delivering prisoners from a facility in Jalalabad to one in Kabul became snarled up in traffic. A US soldier jumped down and lifted a woman out of the way. She screamed. Ismail stepped forward to explain she was a conservative person, wearing a burka. The soldier dropped the woman and shot Ismail in front of a crowd of 20 people."

Mohammed received a letter from the Afghan police: "We apologise to you," the police chief wrote. "An innocent was killed by Americans." The US army declined to comment on Ismail's death or on a second fatal shooting by another prison transport at the same crossroads later that month. It also refused to comment on an incident outside Kabul when a prison patrol reportedly cleared a crowd of children by throwing a grenade into their midst. However, we have since heard that the CIA's inspector general is investigating at least eight serious incidents, including two deaths in custody, following complaints by agents about the activities of their military colleagues.

There are insurgents active in the Gardez area, as there are throughout the south of Afghanistan, remnants of the old order and the newly disaffected. Every morning it takes Afghan police several hours to pick along the highway unearthing explosives concealed overnight. And so it was mid-morning before we were able to leave town, crawling over the Gardez-Khost pass, some 10,000ft high. No one saw us slipping on to the fertile Khost plain, where Osama bin Laden once had his training camps - the camps were destroyed by US cruise missiles in August 1998. Today a shrine to Taliban loyalists still greets travellers to the city, although no one here would say they preferred the old life.

US Camp Salerno, the largest base outside Kabul, dominates the area around Khost. Inside the city, Kamal Sadat, a local stringer for BBC World Service, told how he was detained last September and found himself locked up in a prison filled with suspects from many countries. "Even though I showed my press accreditation, I was hooded, driven to Salerno and then flown to another US base. I had no idea where I was or why I had been detained." He was held in a small wooden cell, and soldiers combed through his notebooks, copying down names and phone numbers. "Every time I was moved within the base, I was hooded again. Every prisoner has to maintain absolute silence. I could hear helicopters whirring above me. Prisoners were arriving and leaving all the time. There were also cells beneath me, under the ground." After three days, Sadat was flown back to Khost and freed without explanation. "It was only later I learned that I had been held in Bagram. If the BBC had not intervened, I fear I would not have got out." After his release, the US military said it had all been a misunderstanding, and apologised.

Camp Salerno, which houses the 1,200 troops of US Combined Taskforce Thunder, was being expanded when we arrived. Army tents were being replaced with concrete dormitories. The detention facility, concealed behind a perimeter of opaque green webbing, was being modernised and enlarged. Ensconced in a Soviet-era staff building was the camp's commanding officer, Colonel Gary Cheeks. He listened calmly as we asked about the allegations of torture, deaths and disappearances at US detention facilities including Salerno. We read to him from a complaint made by a UN official in Kabul that accused the US military of using "cowboy-like excessive force". He eased forward in his chair: "There have been some tragic accidents for which we have apologised. Some people have been paid compensation."

We put to him the specific case of Mohammed Khan, from a village near the Pakistan border, who died in custody at Camp Salerno: his relatives say his body showed signs of torture. "You could go on for ages with a 'he said, she said'. You have to take my word for it," said Cheeks. He remembered Khan's death: "He was bitten by a snake and died in his cell." He added, "We are building new holding cells here to make life better for detainees. We are systematising our prison programme across the country."

For what reason? "So all guards and interrogators behave by the same code of behaviour," the colonel said. Is it not the case that an ever-increasing number of prisoners have vanished, while others are being shuttled between jails to keep their families in the dark? Cheeks moved towards his office door: "There are many things that are distorted. No one has vanished here ... Look, the war against the Taliban is one small part. I want the Afghan people with us. They are the key to ending conflict. If they fear us or we do wrong by them, then we have lost."

However, many Afghans who celebrated the fall of the Taliban have long lost faith in the US military. In Kabul, Nader Nadery, of the Human Rights Commission, told us, "Afghanistan is being transformed into an enormous US jail. What we have here is a military strategy that has spawned serious human rights abuses, a system of which Afghanistan is but one part." In the past 18 months, the commission has logged more than 800 allegations of human rights abuses committed by US troops.

The Afghan government privately shares Nadery's fears. One minister, who asked not to be named, said, "Washington holds Afghanistan up to the world as a nascent democracy and yet the US military has deliberately kept us down, using our country to host a prison system that seems to be administered arbitrarily, indiscriminately and without accountability."

What has been glimpsed in Afghanistan is a radical plan to replace Guantánamo Bay. When that detention centre was set up in January 2002, it was essentially an offshore gulag - beyond the reach of the US constitution and even the Geneva conventions. That all changed in July 2004. The US supreme court ruled that the federal court in Washington had jurisdiction to hear a case that would decide if the Cuban detentions were in violation of the US constitution, its laws or treaties. The military commissions, which had been intended to dispense justice to the prisoners, were in disarray, too. No prosecution cases had been prepared and no defence cases would be readily offered as the US National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers had described the commissions as unethical, a decision backed by a federal judge who ruled in January that they were "illegal". Guantánamo was suddenly bogged down in domestic lawsuits. It had lost its practicality. So a global prison network built up over the previous three years, beyond the reach of American and European judicial process, immediately began to pick up the slack. The process became explicit last week when the Pentagon announced that half of the 540 or so inmates at Guantánamo are to be transferred to prisons in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

Since September 11 2001, one of the US's chief strategies in its "war on terror" has been to imprison anyone considered a suspect on whatever grounds. To that end it commandeered foreign jails, built cellblocks at US military bases and established covert CIA facilities that can be located almost anywhere, from an apartment block to a shipping container. The network has no visible infrastructure - no prison rolls, visitor rosters, staff lists or complaints procedures. Terror suspects are being processed in Afghanistan and in dozens of facilities in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the British island of Diego Garcia in the southern Indian Ocean. Those detained are held incommunicado, without charge or trial, and frequently shuttled between jails in covert air transports, giving rise to the recently coined US military expression "ghost detainees".

Most of the countries hosting these invisible prisons are already partners in the US coalition. Others, notably Syria, are pragmatic associates, which work privately alongside the CIA and US Special Forces, despite bellicose public statements from President Bush (he has condemned Syria for harbouring terrorism, for aiding the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime, and most recently has demanded that Syrian troops quit Lebanon).

All the host countries are renowned for their poor human rights records, enabling interrogators (US soldiers, contractors and their local partners) to operate. We have obtained prisoner letters, declassified FBI files, legal depositions, witness statements and testimony from US and UK officials, which document the alleged methods deployed in Afghanistan - shackles, hoods, electrocution, whips, mock executions, sexual humiliation and starvation - and suggest they are practised across the network. Sir Nigel Rodley, a former UN special rapporteur on torture, said, "The more hidden detention practices there are, the more likely that all legal and moral constraints on official behaviour will be removed."

The only "ghost detainees" to have been identified by Washington are a handful of high-profile al-Qaida operatives such as Abu Zubayda, Bin Laden's lieutenant, who vanished after being picked up by Pakistani authorities in Faisalabad in March 2002. In June of that year, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Zubayda was "under US control". He did not say where, although sources in the Pakistani government said Zubayda was being held at a CIA facility in their country.

In May 2003, Bush clarified the fate of Waleed Muhammad bin Attash, an alleged conspirator in the USS Cole bombing, who disappeared after being arrested by police in Pakistan in April 2003. Bush described Attash as "a killer ... one less person that people who love freedom have to worry about"; he is also one more person who has never appeared on a US prison roll.

In June 2004, a senior counterterrorism official in Britain confirmed that Hambali (a nom de guerre) - accused of organising the October 2002 Bali bombings and unseen since Thai police seized him in August 2003 - was "singing like a bird", apparently at the US base on Diego Garcia.

Evidence we have collected, however, shows that many more of those swept up in the network have few provable connections to any outlawed organisation; experts in the field describe their value in the war against terror as "negligible". Former prisoners claim they were released only after naming names, coerced into making false confessions that led to the arrests of more people unconnected to terrorism, in a system of justice that owes more to Stanley Milgram's Six Degrees Of Separation - where anyone can be linked to everyone else in the world in as many stages - than to analytical jurisprudence.

The floating population of "ghost detainees", according to US and UK military officials, now exceeds 10,000.

The roots of the prison network can be traced to the legal wrangles that began as soon as the first terror suspects were rounded up just weeks after the September 11 attacks. As CIA agents and US forces began to capture suspected al-Qaida fighters in the war in Afghanistan, Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel, looked for ways to "dispense justice swiftly, close to where our forces may be fighting, without years of pre-trial proceedings or post-trial appeals".

On November 13 2001, George Bush signed an order to establish military commissions to try "enemy belligerents" who commit war crimes. At such a commission, a foreign war criminal would have no choice over his defence counsel, no right to know the evidence against him, no way of obtaining any evidence in his favour and no right of attorney-client confidentiality. Defending the commissions, Gonzales (now promoted to US attorney general) insisted, "The suggestion that [they] will afford only sham justice like that dispensed in dictatorial nations is an insult to our military justice system."

When the first prisoners arrived at Guantánamo Bay in January 2002, Donald Rumsfeld announced that they were all Taliban or al-Qaida fighters, and as such were designated "unlawful combatants". The US administration argued that al-Qaida and the Taliban were not the official army of Afghanistan, but a criminal force that did not wear uniforms, could not be distinguished from civilians and practised war crimes; on this basis, the administration claimed, it was entitled to sidestep the Geneva conventions and normal legal constraints.

From there, it was only a small moral step for the Bush administration to overlook the use of torture by regimes previously condemned by the US state department, so long as they, too, signed up to the war against terror. "Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and even Syria were all asked to make their detention facilities and expert interrogators available to the US," one former counterterrorism agent told us.

In the UK, a similar process began unfolding. In December 2001, the then home secretary David Blunkett withdrew Britain from its obligation under the European human rights treaty not to detain anyone without trial; on December 18, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act was passed, extending the government's powers of arrest and detention. Within 24 hours, 10 men were seized in dawn raids on their homes and taken to Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons (some of them will have been among those released in the past week).

Subsequently the Foreign Office subtly modified internal guidance to diplomats, enabling them to use intelligence obtained through torture. A letter from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office directorate sent to Sir Michael Jay, head of the diplomatic service, and Mathew Kidd of Whitehall liaison, a euphemism for MI6, suggested in March 2003 that although such intelligence was inadmissible as evidence in a UK court, it could still be received and acted upon by the British government. The government's attitude was spelt out to the Intelligence and Security Committee of MPs and peers by foreign secretary Jack Straw who, while acknowledging that torture was "completely unacceptable" and that information obtained under torture is more likely to be embellished, concluded, "you cannot ignore it if the price of ignoring it is 3,000 people dead" [a reference to the September 11 attacks].

One former ambassador told us, "This was new ground for the FCO. As long as we didn't do it, we're OK. But by taking advantage of this intelligence, we're encouraging the use of torture and, in my opinion, are in contravention of the UN Convention Against Torture. What worried me most was that information obtained under torture, given credence by some gung-ho Whitehall warrior, could be used to keep another poor soul locked up without trial or charge."

Although the true extent of the US extra-legal network is only now becoming apparent, people began to disappear as early as 2001 when the US asked its allies in Europe and the Middle East to examine their refugee communities in search of possible terror cells, such as that run by Mohammed Atta in Hamburg which had planned and executed the September 11 attacks. Among the first to vanish was Ahmed Agiza, an Egyptian asylum seeker who had been living in Sweden with his wife and children for three years. Hanan, Agiza's wife, told us how on December 18 2001 her husband failed to return home from his language class.

"The phone rang at 5pm. It was Ahmed. He said he'd been arrested and then the line went dead. The next day our lawyer told me that Ahmed was being sent back to Egypt. It would be better if he was dead." Agiza and his family had fled Egypt in 1991, after years of persecution, and in absentia he had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a military court. Hanan said, "I called my mother-in-law in Egypt. Finally, in April, she was allowed to see Ahmed in Mazrah Torah prison, in Cairo, when he revealed what had happened."

On December 18 2001, Agiza and a second Egyptian refugee, Mohammed Al-Zery, had been arrested by Swedish intelligence acting upon a request from the US. They were driven, shackled and blindfolded, to Stockholm's Bromma airport, where they were cuffed and cut from their clothes. Suppositories were inserted into both men's anuses, they were wrapped in plastic nappies, dressed in jumpsuits and handed over to an American aircrew who flew them out of Sweden on a private executive jet.

Agiza and Al-Zery landed in Cairo at 3am the next morning and were taken to the state security investigation office, where they were held in solitary confinement in underground cells. Mohammed Zarai, former director of the Cairo-based Human Rights Centre for the Assistance of Prisoners, told us that Agiza was repeatedly electrocuted, hung upside down, whipped with an electrical flex and hospitalised after being made to lick his cell floor clean. Hanan, who was granted asylum in Sweden in 2004, said, "I can't sleep at night without expecting someone to knock on the door and send us away on a plane to a place that scares me more than anything else. What can Ahmed do?" Her husband is still incarcerated in Cairo, while Al-Zery is under house arrest there. There have been calls for an international independent investigation into the roles of the Swedish, US and Egyptian authorities.

We were able to chart the toing and froing of the private executive jet used at Bromma partly through the observations of plane-spotters posted on the web and partly through a senior source in the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI). It was a Gulfstream V Turbo, tailfin number N379P; its flight plans always began at an airstrip in Smithfield, North Carolina, and ended in some of the world's hot spots. It was owned by Premier Executive Transport Services, incorporated in Delaware, a brass plaque company with nonexistent directors, hired by American agents to revive an old CIA tactic from the 1970s, when agency men had kidnapped South American criminals and flown them back to their own countries to face trial so that justice could be rendered. Now "rendering" was being used by the Bush administration to evade justice.

Robert Baer, a CIA case officer in the Middle East until 1997, told us how it works. "We pick up a suspect or we arrange for one of our partner countries to do it. Then the suspect is placed on civilian transport to a third country where, let's make no bones about it, they use torture. If you want a good interrogation, you send someone to Jordan. If you want them to be killed, you send them to Egypt or Syria. Either way, the US cannot be blamed as it is not doing the heavy work."

The Agiza and Al-Zery cases were not the first in which the Gulfstream was used. On October 23 2001, at 2.40am at Karachi airport, it picked up Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, a Yemeni microbiologist who had been arrested by Pakistan's ISI and was wanted in connection with the USS Cole attack. On January 10 2002, the jet was used again, taking off from Halim airport in Jakarta with a hooded and shackled Mohammed Saeed Iqbal Madni on board, an Egyptian accused of being an accomplice of British shoe bomber Richard Reid. Madni was flown to Cairo where, according to the Human Rights Centre for the Assistance of Prisoners, he died during interrogation.

Since then, the jet has been used at least 72 times, including a flight in June 2002 when it landed in Morocco to pick up German national Mohammed Zamar, who was "rendered" to Syria, his country of origin, before disappearing.

It was in December 2001 that the US began to commandeer foreign jails so that its own interrogators could work on prisoners within them. Among the first were Haripur and Kohat, no-frills prisons in the lawless North West Frontier Province of Pakistan which now hold nearly as many detainees as Guantánamo. In January, we attempted to visit Kohat jail, but as we drove towards the security perimeter our vehicle was turned back by ISI agents and we were escorted back to the nearby city of Peshawar. We eventually located several former detainees, including Mohammed, a university student who described how he was arrested and then initially interrogated in one of many covert ISI holding centres that are being jointly run with the CIA. Mohammed said, "I was questioned for four weeks in a windowless room by plain-clothed US agents. I didn't know if it was day or night. They said they could make me disappear." One day he was bundled into a vehicle. "I arrived in Kohat jail. There were 100 prisoners from all over the Middle East. Later I was moved to Haripur where there were even more."

Adil, another detainee who was held for three years in Haripur after illegally crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan, where he had escaped from the Taliban, says, "US interrogators came and went as they pleased." Both Mohammed and Adil said they were often taken from the hot cell and doused with ice-cold water. Adil says, "American women ordered us to get undressed. They'd touch us and taunt us. They made us lie naked on top of each other and simulate acts."

Mohammed and Adil were released without charge in November 2004 but, according to legal depositions, there are still 400 prisoners detained in the jails at the request of the US. Among them are many who it is extremely unlikely took part in the Afghan war: they are too young or too old to have been combatants. Some have taken legal action against the Pakistani authorities for breach of human rights.

A military intelligence official in Washington told us that no one in the US administration seemed concerned about the impact of the coercive tactics practised by the growing global network on the quality of intelligence obtained, although there was plenty of evidence it was unreliable. On September 26 2002, Maher Arar, a 34-year-old Canadian computer scientist, was arrested at New York's JFK airport as a result of a paper-thin evidential chain. Syrian-born Arar told us, "I was pulled aside by US immigration at 2pm. I told them I had a connecting flight to Montreal where I had a job interview." However, Arar was "rendered" in a private jet, via Washington, Portland and Rome, landing in Amman, Jordan, where he was held at what a Jordanian source described as a US-run interrogation centre. From there, he was handed over to Syria, the country he had left as a 17-year-old boy. He says he spent the next 12 months being tortured and in solitary confinement, unaware that someone he barely knew had named him as a terrorist.

The chain of events that led to Arar's arrest, or kidnapping, began in November 2001, when another Canadian, Ahmad Abou El-Maati, from Montreal, was arrested at Damascus airport. He was accused of being a terrorist and asked to identify his al-Qaida connections. By the time he'd endured two years of torture, El-Maati had reeled off the names of everyone he knew in Montreal, including Abdullah Almalki, an electrical engineer. Almalki was arrested as he flew into Damascus airport to join his parents on holiday in May 2002, and would spend the next two years being tortured in a Syrian detention facility.

Almalki knew Arward Al-Bousha, also from Ottawa, who in July 2002, upon arriving in Damascus to visit his dying father, was also arrested. El-Maati, Almalki and Al-Bousha all knew Maher Arar by sight through Muslim community events in Ottawa. After his release from jail in Syria, uncharged, in January 2004, El-Maati admitted that he had erroneously named Maher Arar as a terrorist to "stop the vicious torture". Arar, who was eventually released in October 2003 after a Syrian court threw out a coerced confession in which he said he had been trained by al-Qaida, told us, "I am not a terrorist. I don't know anyone who is. But the tolerant Muslim community I come from here in Canada has become vitriolic and demoralised." Arar's case is now the subject of a judicial inquiry in Canada, but since his release and that of Al-Bousha and Almalki, another five men from Ottawa have been detained in Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Five days after the US supreme court ruled in July 2004 that federal courts had jurisdiction over Guantánamo, Naeem Noor Khan, a 25-year-old computer programmer from Karachi, disappeared during a business trip to Lahore. He was not taken to Guantánamo. His father Hayat told us that he learned of his son's fate after a neighbour called on August 2 to say that US newspapers were running a story about "the capture of a figure from al-Qaida in Pakistan" who had led "the CIA to a rich lode of information". An unnamed US intelligence official claimed Naeem Noor Khan operated websites and email addresses for al-Qaida. The following day Pakistan's information minister trumpeted the ISI's seizure of Naeem Noor Khan on behalf of the US on July 13. The prisoner had "confessed to receiving 25 days of military training from an al-Qaida camp in June 1998". No corroborative evidence was offered.

Babar Awan, one of Pakistan's leading advocates, representing the family, said he had learned from a contact in the Pakistani government that Naeem Noor Khan was wanted by the US, having been named by one of a group of Malaysian students who had been detained incommunicado and threatened with torture in Pakistan in September 2003. Awan said, "The student was subsequently freed uncharged and described how he was threatened until he offered the names of anyone he had met in Pakistan. There is no evidence against Naeem Noor Khan except for this coerced statement, and even worse he has now vanished and so there is no prison to petition for his release."

Khan had been swallowed up by a catch-all system that gathers up anyone connected by even a thread to terror. Unable to distinguish its friends from its enemies, the US suspects both.

Dawn broke on the festival of Eid and four US army vehicles gunned their engines in preparation for a "hearts and minds" operation in Khost city, Afghanistan. A roll call of marines, each with their blood group scrawled on their boots, was ticked off and we were added to the muster. The convoy hurtled towards the city. Men and boys began to run alongside. First a handful and then a dozen. The crowd was heading for a vast prayer ground, and soon there were thousands of devotees in brand newEid caps and starched shalwas marching out to pray. The US Humvees pulled over. The armoured personnel carriers, too. A dozen US marines stepped down, eyes obscured by goggles, faces by balaclavas.

They fell into formation and stomped into the crowd while a group of Afghan police looked on incredulously. "Keep tight. Keep tight. Keep looking all around us," a US marines captain shouted. More than 10,000 Pashtun men were now on their knees praying as a line of khaki pushed between them.

An egg flew. Then another. "One more, sir, and the guy who did it is going down," a young sergeant mumbled, as the disturbed crowd rose to its feet. Bearded men with Kalashnikovs emerged from behind a stone wall and edged towards us, cutting off our path. The line of khaki began to panic, and jostled the children. "Back away, back away now," shouted the sergeant. Suddenly an armoured personnel carrier roared to meet us. "Jump up, people," the captain shouted, and the convoy sped back to Camp Salerno.

And perhaps this event above all others - of a nervous phalanx of US marines forcing its way across a prayer ground on one of the holiest, most joyous days in the Islamic calendar, an itching trigger away from a Somalian-style dogfight of their own making - is the one that encapsulates everything that has gone wrong with the global war against terror. The US army came to Afghanistan as liberators and now are feared as governors, judges and jailers. How many US marines know what James Madison, an architect of the US constitution, wrote in 1788? Reflecting on the War of Independence in which Americans were arbitrarily arrested and detained without trial by British forces, Madison concluded that the "accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny"

18 March 2005



03/18/05 14:26 EST

Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator, Martin Mc Guinness has strongly refuted the accusation by US Senator John Mc Cain that comments he made in a BBC interview were a veiled threat to the Mc Cartney sisters.

Mr Mc Guinness said: "Senator John Mc Cain’s accusation that I made a ‘veiled threat’ to the sisters of Belfast murder victim Robert Mc Cartney are as uninformed as the original report carried by the Press Association Wire Service was malicious and inaccurate."

"Perhaps the Senator should have made the effort to listen to a transcript of the interview before making such baseless accusations informed only by a lurid PA misrepresentation of my comments. For those that are interested in what I actually said I will repeat it. I cautioned against alienating large sections of the nationalist community throughout Ireland who supports 100% the quest for truth and justice by politicising the campaign. I explained that the campaign was in danger of being used for ulterior motives by politicians and others with their own agendas."

"The revelation this week around the PSNI manipulation of the case by refusing to interview witnesses is an example of this. I reiterate my total and unqualified support for the Mc Cartney family in their search for truth and justice and I will do everything I can to help," Mr. McGuinness said.


We Say

No justice for Francis

We report today that the PSNI’s Serious Crime Review Team will not hold an investigation into the death of 11-year-old Divis boy Francis Rowntree, killed by a British army rubber bullet in April 1972.

That will come as good news for the British government as it’s widely believed that the local schoolboy was killed with a rubber bullet that had a battery inserted to ensure that it caused maximum devastation. Indeed, the local MP, Paddy Devlin, provided the RUC with the doctored rubber bullet that is said to have caused the death of Francis.

Unsurprisingly, that rubber bullet has now disappeared. Also, the RUC didn’t interview the British soldier who fired the bullet or any of his colleagues – something that was the rule rather than the exception when it came to the killing of Catholics. And because this evidence does not exist, the PSNI say they cannot review the case.

There’s a bitter irony here in that the incompetence or indifference of the RUC – call it what you will – has reached out across the years to let their present-day comrades off the hook. In other words, the RUC/PSNI has been rewarded for doing an appalling job.

The likelihood is, of course, that this is a story that will be repeated with depressing regularity, because not only were RUC investigations often deeply unsatisfactory, in many cases none took place. And, as we saw with the British army rifles used on Bloody Sunday that were ‘inadvertently’ destroyed, crucial evidence has a funny habit of disappearing when it’s in the hands of the British.

There is a huge incentive for the agents of the state to disappear any hard evidence or compelling witness statements that might actually put somebody in uniform in the frame for a killing.

Not that Francis’ mother Theresa wants to see anybody go to jail. All she wants, as she tells us today, is an acknowledgement that the murder of her son was wrong and should never have happened. That might not seem like much to ask, but clearly it is too much for the state to countenance.


Victims of Plastic and Rubber Bullets

Francis Rowntree

Frank Rowntree 11 years, Lower Clonard Street, Falls Road, west Belfast, shot with a (doctored) rubber bullet on 20 April 1972, at the Divis Flats, by members of the British Army’s Royal Anglian Regiment. He died in the Royal Victoria Hospital three days later on 23 April.

Frank was the second youngest in a family with six children. He was a pupil of St Finian’s Primary School on the Falls Road.

In the mid 1990s, Frank’s mother spoke to the Relatives for Justice about her young son and about the day he was fatally injured. Frank had one leg slightly shorter than the other after a series of operations to correct a bone deficiency when he was four, but despite this she said her son was mad about soccer.

She recalled the afternoon of 8 August 1971. Frank had gone to play a football match and not long after he left a man passing the Springfield Road joint British army/RUC Barracks was shot dead by soldiers. Serious rioting broke out in the streets surrounding the barracks. When she heard about the trouble, and worried that Frank might get caught up in it, she went out to look for him. She found him standing on his own at the corner of the Springfield Road and Falls Road dressed in his football kit, his ball under his arm and waiting for his football team’s minibus. All the area around him was in an uproar with rioting, shooting and vehicles burning, but he ‘wouldn’t believe me the man who usually collected him and his friends wasn’t coming.’ She said it took a quite sometime to convince him there would be no football that evening and to come home.

Five days before Frank was fatally injured Joe McCann, a senior member of the Official IRA, was shot dead by British paratroopers in a shoot-to-kill operation in the Markets area of Belfast. Serious violence followed in several areas in Belfast and other parts of the North. The violence following the McCann killing had mostly abated by 20 April, with only sporadic and minor stone throwing incidents continuing in the Falls Road area.

On the afternoon of Thursday, 20 April 1972, Mrs Rowntree said her son came home from school as usual and went out to play in the street with a friend. The area was quiet, and Frank and his friend were still playing in the street when she went to do some shopping. Not long after she left the street Frank and his friend made their way down the Falls Road to the Divis Flats complex. When the two boys arrived at the flats complex there was some minor stone-throwing going on involving small groups of children flinging stones at passing British army armoured vehicles. The two friends were in the flats complex for only a short time before they decided to return home. As they were making their way out of the complex Frank was struck by a doctored rubber bullet fired by a soldier from inside a parked British army armoured vehicle.

The young boy with Frank later described what happened. He said as ‘we approached the corner of Whitehall Pall’ and as we ‘rounded the corner we could see the back end of a British Army Saracen (armoured vehicle) sitting out from the corner. Frank walked straight out and down the wee path to reach the Falls Road. The next thing I heard was a bang, and Frank fell backwards, his feet sticking out from the corner. As the bang came I noticed splinters. This object, what ever it was, disintegrated. I think it was a battery because the stuff looked like the black carbon that is inside a battery. There was no rubber bullet that I could see.’

Immediately after the shooting the army Saracen drove off and Frank was carried unconscious into a nearby flat. The woman who lived there described his injuries. ‘There was a big dent across his forehead, as if the bone was broken at the side of his temple; it appeared to me as if his forehead had collapsed. There was a deep dent at the side of his eye leading to his ear. His ear was enlarged and very discoloured, almost black. His hair was scalped from his hairline at the back of his right ear right round to the back of his head. There was not much blood from the wounds on his head, he was not cut very much—more crushed.’ An ambulance eventually arrived and he was taken to the hospital.

Other residents and eyewitnesses to the shooting were also definite the rubber bullet fired at Frank had been doctored. This involved cutting off the pointed end of the rubber bullet near to the cartridge casing, the bullet was then hollowed out while still in the casing. A battery was then inserted in the cavity. The pointed end was also slightly hollowed out before being forced over the top of the battery, effectively encasing the battery inside the rubber bullet. When the bullet was fired the pointed end dropped off exposing the battery. During the early 1970s it was not unusual for British soldiers to make their rubber bullets more deadly using a variety of items including inserting coins as well as batteries. Several local politicians supported the claims that the rubber bullet used was doctored.

Mrs Rowntree said when she returned home from the shops at 4.30pm she found two teenagers waiting at her front door who told her son had been shot. After contacting her husband they rushed to the near by Royal Victoria Hospital where they found their son in a coma. She said the hospital staff told them there was no hope for him, and if he survived would be blind and seriously brain-damaged.

His death a few days later was the first reported death from the use of rubber and plastic bullet guns by British forces in the North. These weapons, first deployed in August 1970 (ironically on the same streets Frank spent his young life) are still used today, over 31 years later.

An inquest into the death of Frank Rowntree was held in October 1972. None of the British soldiers involved attended the hearing. A representative of the British army read out their statements, identifying each by a letter of the alphabet. The army representative denied the rubber bullet that killed the child was doctored. He also claimed the soldiers inside the Saracen had come under heavy attack by a crowd. One soldier claimed the crowd surrounded their vehicle and he fired the rubber bullet that struck the boy.

A civilian witness said he was walking pass Divis Flats when he saw a boy being struck by a rubber bullet. He also the child was not with a crowd when the soldiers fired their weapon.

Questioned by representatives for the Rowntree family, the British army representative admitted he did not know at what distance it was permissible to fire a rubber bullet gun, or at what part of the body it should be aimed.

A state pathologist rejected eyewitness accounts that a doctored rubber bullet had been used.

Mrs Rowntree said the inquest lasted about an hour before the jury returned an open verdict.

No British soldier was ever charged in connection with the killing of Frank Rowntree.

Daily Ireland

US backs Finucane inquiry campaign

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Senior officials in the Irish and US governments are planning to “strategise” opposition to the British government’s refusal to establish an independent public judicial inquiry into the 1989 murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane, Daily Ireland has learned.
An informed source said that the US administration had indicated that it would support the Irish government’s calls for an independent inquiry to be held.
The news emerged last night after Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told United States President George Bush of his concerns about the controversial new Inquiries Bill during a meeting in Washington.
Mr Finucane’s family had a meeting in Dublin last week with Mr Ahern, during which he said he accepted that the British government’s current proposals were “not compliant” with recommendations made by Canadian judge Peter Cory.
At the request of the Irish and British governments in 2001, Judge Cory conducted an independent review of state collusion in the assassination of Mr Finucane.
The review reported last April.
Pressure has been mounting on the British government since the start of this week after a US Congressional subcommittee heard scathing criticism from Judge Cory about the role of the Inquiries Bill in relation to the Finucane case. Under the bill, a minister would essentially be given the power to run any inquiry.
In a letter to the subcommittee chairman, Congressman Chris Smith, Judge Cory wrote, “It seems to me that the proposed new Act would make a meaningful inquiry impossible.
“For example, the minister — the actions of whose ministry was to be reviewed by the public inquiry — would have the authority to thwart the efforts of the inquiry at every step.
“It really creates an intolerable Alice in Wonderland situation.”
Judge Cory also strongly advised the Canadian judiciary to steer clear of becoming involved in such a process.
“If the new Act were to become law, I would advise all Canadian judges to decline an appointment in light of the impossible situation they would be facing,” he wrote.
Speaking from Washington after meeting Senator Hillary Clinton yesterday, Mr Finucane’s son John said he welcomed Judge Cory’s intervention.
“We entirely welcome it. It carries weight to our argument,” he told Daily Ireland.
“Judge Cory was due to testify in person and then by video link but neither materialised, so it’s very significant that this letter has been placed on record, particularly given the language of his position.”
Mr Finucane also welcomed the “very receptive” attitude of Senator Clinton and other political heavyweights on Capitol Hill, such as the US special envoy Mitchell Reiss.
“Senator Clinton has been on board for a long time and my mother has met her on numerous times, both in America and in Derry last year, as well as during the time she and Bill were in the White House.
“Basically she asked us, ‘What can I do?’, so the widespread support for the family’s position from people like her and Mitchell Reiss and many others is very apparent,” Mr Finucane said.
The judge’s remarks criticising the Inquiries Bill were also backed by the SDLP justice spokesman Alban Maginness.
“Judge Cory is absolutely right when he says that the British government is creating ‘an intolerable Alice in Wonderland situation’ on the Finucane case,” Mr Maginness said yesterday.
“Its legislation would make a meaningful inquiry impossible and should be withdrawn. Judge Cory is advising that no member of the Canadian judiciary should serve on such a spurious inquiry.
“The British government is not only flying in the face of the express commitments it made at Weston Park.
“It is acting against the wishes of the Finucane family, the Taoiseach, Judge Cory and the representative of the US administration. It should withdraw this outrageous bill immediately.”

Daily Ireland

Carnival of craic

Belfast city centre was transformed into a carnival of craic yesterday as thousands took to the streets to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.
Floats and bands from all parts of the city led the carnival to City Hall, where a huge crowd had gathered to join in the fun.
Foreign tourists mingled with face-painted locals as music blasted out from loudspeakers, and performers took to the stage.
The organisers said it had been one of the best-attended St Patrick’s Day parades, despite Belfast City Council refusing funding for the eighth year in a row.
“People have came out in their thousands and have really bought into the idea of fun, which is what it is all about,” said festival organiser Conor Maskey.
“The atmosphere has been brilliant and we have shown that St Patrick’s Day in Belfast really is a day for all the community.
“We are delighted with the turnout and how the day went. This carnival is the result of a lot of hard work put in by a lot of people over the past few months. It is events like this that can make Belfast proud.”
Former Boyzone singer Keith Duffy was the star guest chosen to compere the day’s fun. The Dublin-born singer proved a hit with the revellers.
The streets around City Hall were sealed off to traffic as stallholders set up along the length of Royal Avenue.
Bars in the side streets thronged with drinkers as traditional musicians took to the stage to entertain the crowds.
Leaflets calling for St Patrick’s Day to be made an official holiday in the North of Ireland and in Britain were handed out.
Campaigners have also organised a web petition and they urged the public to sign it.
Top Irish bands such as Snow Patrol have already lent their support to the cause.
In Downpatrick in Co Down, the week-long celebrations culminated in a parade through the town centre.
Spectators thronged the streets as the parade wound its way through the crowds with a huge “rock ’n’ roll rainbow” as the central banner.
A cavalcade of vintage cars entertained the revellers earlier in the day.
The Downpatrick festival ended last night with a concert in aid of the tsunami appeal.


Court rejects bid to see files on lawyer's murder

18/03/2005 - 17:29:42

A human rights group today lost a High Court bid to gain access to files on the murder of lawyer Rosemary Nelson.

The Belfast-based Committee for the Administration of Justice was seeking papers from Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan’s probe into claims the RUC ignored threats against Mrs Nelson.

Although Mrs O’Loan had briefed the CAJ on her inquiry, the organisation applied for a judicial review after other confidential documents were refused by her team and police.

In his ruling the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Kerr, stressed the applicants should only be given access if they could show the Ombudsman had not been thorough enough.

He said: “I am satisfied that they have not done so.

“As I have said the Ombudsman’s office was prepared to go to significant lengths to involve the applicants at all material stages of the investigation.

“They have been open to suggestion and comment and have met representatives of CAJ on a number of occasions.

“This approach betokens a willingness to listen and to reassure.

“Judged objectively, I consider that it constitutes proper procedures for ensuring the accountability of agents of the state.”

Mrs Nelson, a high-profile lawyer who represented nationalist residents during the Drumcree marching crisis, was killed by loyalist terrorists in a booby-trap car bomb attack at her home in Lurgan, Co Armagh in March 1999.

It emerged at an earlier court hearing that the ferocity of the intimidation she faced included a letter sent to her with the chilling message: “We have you in our sights you republican bastard, we will teach you a lesson RIP.

Allegations that police failed to investigate the threats prompted Mrs O’Loan to launch an inquiry which is due to be completed later this year.

A public inquiry into the killing is also due to begin next month following recommendations by Canadian Judge Peter Cory.

The CAJ, where Mrs Nelson sat on the executive committee, had insisted it should be allowed to see papers including relevant correspondence between the RUC and Northern Ireland Office.

The organisation declined to make any comment after today’s ruling.

A spokesman for the Police Ombudsman said the decision would be studied as she prepared to reveal her findings.

He said: “We will look at what the judge has said with a view to establishing when we can publish the main findings from our report into the circumstances surrounding the death of Rosemary Nelson.”


DUP and UUP fail to reach agreement on anti-SF pact

18/03/2005 - 14:30:28

The Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party have failed to reach agreement on an anti-Sinn Féin electoral pact ahead of the upcoming British general election.

Representatives of the two parties attended talks arranged by the Orange Order today to discuss the possible pact, which would mainly be aimed at preventing Sinn Féin from becoming the largest Northern party at Westminster, which is a possibility in the May election.

Although the UUP and DUP are currently bitter enemies, united unionist candidates could defeat SDLP and Sinn Féin candidates in two constituencies - Fermanagh/South Tyrone and South Belfast.

Despite failing to reach a deal today, the DUP did agree to study UUP proposals for a joint unionist campaign in the May ballot.


PSNI raid victims may try to block Sproule retirement

18/03/2005 - 14:43:00

A number of people whose homes were raided by police investigating the pre-Christmas Northern Bank raid may try to delay the retirement of the officer heading the investigation.

Detective Superintendent Andy Sproule is due to take early retirement in June.

Mr Sproule was in charge of the Northern Bank investigation when raids were carried out on a number of republican homes in north and west Belfast.

Nothing connected to the robbery was discovered and complaints were later lodged with the Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan, who has the right to block Mr Sproule's retirement pending the outcome of her inquiries.

Belfast Telegraph

SF and Orde in war of words
Row over PSNI's response over McCartney suspect.

By Chris Thornton
18 March 2005

PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde was "defensive, confused and, indeed, unbelievable" in explaining why a Robert McCartney murder suspect was not interviewed, Sinn Fein said today.

As Gerry Adams claimed that "there is sufficient evidence there to bring charges", Mr Orde said the PSNI knows how to run a murder inquiry better than Sinn Fein.

"We are the professionals. Not Sinn Fein. Not Provisional IRA," he said.

Throughout this week, Sinn Fein have attacked the PSNI for failing to interview a suspect who presented himself at a Belfast police station, accusing the police of using the case to attack the party.

"It has now been established that an individual believed to be a suspect in the murder of Robert McCartney offered to make himself available for interview.

"His solicitor was told that nobody from the PSNI was available to interview this man," said Sinn Fein vice president Pat Doherty.

"It has also been established that a number of eyewitnesses have made statements naming people. Again none of these people have been charged with any offence and no identity parade has been arranged," he said.

"There is a real belief that the PSNI are deliberately failing to arrest and charge those responsible for this murder in a bid to cause political damage to Sinn Fein."

Mr Orde, who has been visiting Washington and New York for Saint Patrick's Day, responded by saying that his officers are aware of who the suspects are and need to build a case against them.

He indicated there was no point in interviewing a suspect who does not answer questions.

"I think the public understand the difference between intelligence and evidence," he said.

"I think the public are ahead of us on this. They know very well that we need a case to put to people.

"There is no point bringing someone in who then, quite properly, if a suspect exercises their right to silence and says nothing. That does not develop the case.

"We know. We are the professionals. Not Sinn Fein. Not Provisional IRA. We know how to investigate crime and we are doing it very well."

But Mr Doherty claimed that nationalists saw that response "as defensive, confused and, indeed, unbelievable."



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**from Bobby Sands Trust - Brendan McFarlane, OC H-Blocks

Brendan McFarlane, the leader of the H-Block prisoners during the hunger strikes of 1981, has rejected any suggestion that a deal was rejected before the death of Joe McDonnell.

The North Belfast man said the claims in Richard O’Rawe’s book entitled Blanketmen: The Untold Story of the H-Block Hunger Strike had caused distress among the families of the hunger strikers.
In his book O’Rawe claims the final six men to die were sacrificed for political reasons and to help the election of Owen Carron to Bobby Sands’ Westminster seat.
"All of us, particularly the families of the men who died, carry the tragedy and trauma of the hunger strikes with us every day of our lives.
“It was an emotional and deeply distressing time for those of us who were in the H-Blocks and close to the hunger strikers,” said Brendan McFarlane.
“However, as the Officer Commanding in the prison at the time, I can say categorically that there was no outside intervention to prevent a deal.
“The only outside intervention was to try to prevent the hunger strike.
“Once the strike was underway, the only people in a position to agree a deal or call off the hunger strike were the prisoners – particularly the hunger strikers themselves.
"The political responsibility for the hunger strike, and the deaths that resulted from it, both inside and outside the prison, lies with Margaret Thatcher, who reneged on the deal which ended the first hunger strike.
“This bad faith and duplicity lead directly to the deaths of our friends and comrades in 1981".
Raymond McCartney, a former hunger striker and now Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle, also said O’Rawe’s claims lacked credibility.
“Richard's recollection of events is not accurate or credible.
“The hunger strike was a response to Thatcher's criminalisation campaign.
“The move to hunger strike resulted from the prisoners' decision to escalate the protest after five years of beatings, starvation and deprivation.
“The leadership of the IRA and of Sinn Féin tried to persuade us not to embark on this course of action.
“At all times we, the prisoners, took the decisions."

Journalist:: Staff Reporter


Venezuela celebrates Irish liberation hero

18/03/2005 - 07:05:28

Flower wreaths adorned the tomb of an Irishman who fought alongside South American independence hero Simon Bolivar as Irish descendants and admirers held a ceremony yesterday to remember the foreigner who helped Venezuela win independence from Spain.

Daniel Florence O’Leary became Bolivar’s aide-de-camp and rose to the rank of general before Venezuela became independent in 1821. O’Leary lived out much of the rest of his life in present-day Colombia, and his tomb lies near Bolivar’s remains in Venezuela’s National Pantheon.

“There are not many descendants, if any, left in Venezuela,” said Peter O’Leary, a 79-year-old great-great-grandson who lives in the general’s home city of Cork.

He and another descendant, 82-year-old Michael O’Leary, were treated as guests-of-honour by top officials including Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez.

Any such links to “The Liberator” are held in high regard in Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez, a history buff, frequently praises Bolivar and his vision of a united South America, and in 1999 a national assembly formally changed the country’s name from Venezuela to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The Irish delegation invited Chavez and Rodriguez to visit Cork, where they aim to erect a bust in honour of O’Leary.

He belonged to the British Legion, battalions of mostly Irish volunteers sent by Britain to South America in the early 1800s to support rebel troops fighting against the Spanish.

O’Leary was among thousands of Irish who joined Bolivar in his decades-long fight to free several South American colonies from Spanish rule. Those colonies became the independent republics of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Panama.

In 1821, at the Battle of Carabobo on the outskirts of Caracas, the British Legion played a key role in routing royalists who had pinned down Bolivar’s calvary. Hundreds of English, Irish and Welsh soldiers were killed in that decisive battle.

“Our motivation is to maintain the rich heritage and culture that the legacy of O’Leary has given us,” said Gearoid O’Mannan, another member of the delegation and a co-founder of the General Daniel Florence O’Leary Society. He said the group is planning to make a documentary film on O’Leary.

Rodriguez called the Irishman “one of Bolivar’s most loyal companions” and said “the visit by family so close to the general is an honour.”

Maria Lucia Jimenez, a descendant of O’Leary’s oldest daughter, who lives in Colombia, said he was a skilled diplomat, naturalist and historian in addition to being a decorated officer in Bolivar’s army.

The 32-volume “Memories of General O’Leary” are considered one of the most accurate and complete accounts of Bolivar’s independence campaigns.

Before his death in 1854, O’Leary wrote the first three volumes. The remaining 29 volumes were compiled by his eldest son, Simon, who referred to notes and correspondence between his father and “The Liberator”.

17 March 2005

Today in Irish History

18 March

Sheelah's Day

In the old Celtic calendar, today is Sheelah's Day. In ancient Ireland, it was an annual festival to honor the fertility Goddess known as Sheela-na-gig. Naked Sheela-na-gig figures appeared in Irish churches constructed before the 16th century, but most were defaced or destroyed during the prudish Victorian age.
According to some sources, the origins of "drowning the shamrock" have also been traced to this date. In the eighteenth century, William Hone reported on the celebrations surrounding Sheelah, who has been variously identified as the wife, mother, or other relative of St. Patrick - noting that, the people of the day "are not so anxious to determine who 'Sheelah' was, as they are earnest in her celebration. All agree that her immortal memory is to be maintained by potations of whisky." At the end of the day, the faithful would then take their shamrocks and drop them into their respective glasses before downing the contents.

Photo Credit: British Museum
Statue is 11th-13th century AD and from Chloran, Co. Meath, Ireland


**Ahhhhh, someone with guts and a conscience

Anti-Blair jibe leads to Commons expulsion

Staff and agencies
Thursday March 17, 2005

Adam Price leaves the Commons after refusing to withdraw his remarks

Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price, who is leading the campaign to impeach Tony Blair, was today ordered out of the Commons chamber after refusing to withdraw comments that the prime minister had "misled" the house over the war in Iraq.

Mr Price said tomorrow was the second anniversary of the vote on going to war with Iraq and the "motion of impeachment [of Mr Blair] is before us".

"There is compelling evidence that the prime minister misled this house in taking us to war," he said. "Isn't it high time we held him to account?"

Article continues
Commons Speaker Michael Martin order Mr Price to leave the chamber after he refused his request to withdraw the remark.

Adam Price said afterwards: "Most people now believe that the prime minister deliberately deceived parliament and the people. He even deceived members of his own cabinet in taking us to war two years ago. But the rules of the game in Westminster mean we cannot say what most of us think. The prime minister misled us and MPs must be able to debate the issue.

"We will not let Tony Blair's lies and deceit be forgotten. 100,000 people have died in the course of this conflict. We must take a stand. I will not be gagged and parliament should not allow itself to be silenced."

As well as campaigning for Mr Blair to be impeached for his conduct in the Commons, Mr Price is working with the musician Brian Eno to find a "white suit" candidate to take on the prime minister in his Sedgefield constituency at the general election.



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'The Fenian movement later to be called the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which was to be the revolutionary force behind events in Ireland for more than half a century afterwards was founded in Dublin on St. Patrick's Day, 1858. The day was chosen to be appropriate for an Irish Republican movement. James Stephens was the chief organizer and 'head centre' of the organisation. Its stated aim was the establishment of an independent republic based on universal suffrage and peasant proprietorship of the land. An American organisation was founded at the same time by John O'Mahoney. Stephens, was typical of the men who founded the organisation. He was born in Kilkenny, and too part in the abortive Young Ireland rising of 1848. After that, he fled to Paris, where, with fellow exiles he set about re-organising the movement which would wait for "a favorable opportunity to strike." The Fenian rising of 1865 proved not to be it, but the movement, being of nature secret, survived to be the force behind that other 'favourable opportunity' of 1916, its members subverting the Defensive Irish Volunteers into an Offensive revolutionary army. Only with the rise of the Irish Republican Army from 1917 onwards, and America's participation in the war, which left American Irish in a less certain position, did its influence decline.'

An Phoblacht

New British 'house arrest' law akin to Apartheid South Africa


The British government's plans to place those they suspect of 'terrorist' activities or sympathies under house arrest through the use of so-called control orders was finally passed by the House of Lords last Friday afternoon, but not before it had been forced to engage in an epic, week long battle. This culminated in a 32-hour single-sitting confrontation with British peers in the House of Lords, who refused to approve the legislation until concessions had been made.

However, they ultimately failed to reign in the government; opposition in the Lords finally collapsed when Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced a minor concession. The legislation concerning control orders, he said, will now be reviewed, with the possibility of amendment or even repeal, early next year, when yet another terrorism bill will be made available for scrutiny before being made law.

The new terrorism bill, which follows directly on from the Terrorism Act 2000 — which itself strengthened and made permanent the already draconian 20-year-old 'emergency' legislation, the PTA — and the Anti-Terrorism Act 2001, has been met with vocal opposition from human rights organisations across the board at every stage of its tortuous progress through the Houses of Parliament.

It was heavily criticised by Parliament's own joint committee on human rights, which declared there was "no justification" for the powers of house arrest. Amnesty International called it "just plain wrong" and Human Rights Watch condemned the control orders as "a form of human rights abuse more often associated with apartheid South Africa and the military dictatorship in Burma than liberal democracies".

At the heart of the controversy was the government's desire to be able to place individuals under house arrest at the discretion of the Home Secretary alone. There was to be no judicial involvement in this process and no requirement for evidence to support the decision to be provided.

In the face of mounting opposition, including from its own back benches, the government agreed to the involvement of a judge. Control orders would be referred for approval to a judge a maximum of seven days after being issued by the Home Secretary.

The saga of the current terrorism bill really began on 16 December last year, when the Law Lords ruled that the detention of foreign nationals on suspicion of terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Act 2001 was unlawful because it was discriminatory. Specifically, this meant that ten men being held without charge or prospect of trial by the British government in Belmarsh Prison and Broadmoor secure psychiatric hospital were being detained illegally.

Whilst not binding on the government, the Law Lords' strongly worded ruling caused such deep embarrassment to the government that it could not simply ignore it: "The real threat to the life of the nation comes not from terrorism, but from laws such as these," said the ruling. "It calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country has, until now, been very proud - freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention."

A further complication was that part of the Anti-Terrorism Act under which the ten men had been originally imprisoned — the clause which expressly permitted detention without trial — was in any case up for renewal in March 2005 and, with it being declared illegal by the Law Lords, the government would be virtually obliged to release them, causing even more embarrassment.

Despite the Law Lords' warning to the contrary, the government responded with new, even harsher legislation — the current bill — which actually widened the existing law to include British citizens (meaning it was no longer discriminatory) and to introduce the now notorious Control Orders.

Thus the scene was set for the unseemly game of legislative ping-pong last week, when the bill went back and forth between the House of Commons and the Lords, all for what many believe is a grossly exaggerated threat. Writing in The Observer, Jason Burke, an al-Qaeda expert, said: "There are no '200 Osama bin Laden trained volunteers' stalking our streets as is claimed by our government. Nor are there al-Qaeda networks 'spawning and festering' across the country. Nor are Islamic militants cooking up biological or chemical weapons... We are yet to have an intelligent debate about the terror threat and about what sacrifices of civil liberties and quality of life we in the UK are prepared to make to counter it."

Late on Friday, the remaining eight of the ten men being held — two had been bailed earlier — were released under conditions which in practice amount to house arrest, prior to the issuing of Control Orders by the Home Secretary when the bill becomes law. They are under night-time curfew, are tagged and will not be allowed to meet anyone without obtaining prior permission from the Home Secretary.

Meanwhile, in the north of Ireland, those who have been subjected to the vicissitudes of the British judicial system could be forgiven for viewing the controversy in a state of bemusement, including the Law Lords comment that, prior to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001, individuals had been protected under British law from "arbitrary arrest and detention".

Arrest and detention without trial was a feature of the legal landscape in the Six Counties from almost the beginning of the conflict — when it was referred to by the more familiar name of internment — right up until the late 1990s when Roisín McAliskey was held in prison for a year without charge.

Britain routinely flouted European human rights law through its use of seven-day detention orders for anyone arrested on suspicion of 'terrorist' activity in relation to the north of Ireland. These orders meant that suspects could be interrogated for seven days without legal representation and the orders themselves could simply be renewed by the police as the previous one lapsed — as was the case with Roisín McAliskey.

Indeed, successive British governments were unable to sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights until 2000 because of the continued existence of the PTA. The introduction of the Terrorism Act 2000 merely circumnavigated the difficulties caused by the PTA by making the legislation permanent and by requiring a magistrate or judge to authorise further detention orders.

Special secure units, prisons within prisons condemned by Amnesty as degrading and inhumane treatment and called 'concrete coffins' were used as an extra-judicial punishment for those accused — not convicted — of scheduled offences, often with desperate physical and mental health consequences for those held within them.

Individuals in the Six Counties could be, and actually still can be, arrested for membership of a 'terrorist' organisation on the say so of a senior police officer, without any supporting evidence being required. Only the very credulous would believe that politicians and NIO securocrats have never been involved in that process somewhere along the line.

Few British politicians and even fewer Law Lords or peers intervened to question the legality of these practices under human rights law. But it was in this culture of turning a blind eye to shoddy adherence to human rights and due process in the Six Counties which allowed collusion to flourish.

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