Sunday 17 December 2017

Review: Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice by Gareth Peirce

Verso, €12.99, Hardback

Gareth Peirce calls the Irish "family", as well she might, having fought for and secured the release of the wrongfully jailed Guildford Four and Birmingham Six in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Though almost 20 years have passed, the British human rights lawyer is still fighting for their cause. Birmingham Six member Paddy Hill (64) recently won a long battle to get counselling for the trauma he suffered during his police interrogation and eventual jail time.

Hill told the press earlier this month that he would be staying with Peirce in London during his month of out-patient treatment.

"Maybe that's his way of telling me he's coming to stay," the softly-spoken Peirce told Weekend Review last week at the Frontline Club in London.

"Paddy and the others never had proper treatment for the trauma, and there's no doubt that over the years he's gotten worse. We'd heard of how hostages like Brian Keenan and Terry Waite coming back from Beirut had been taken straight to an RAF base with their families for in-house, residential treatment for weeks, if not months.

"When I read that at the time, I thought, 'This is just what we need: people who know what they're doing'. So I rang up and asked if the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six defendants could have the same. Eventually the answer came back that they couldn't because of "the IRA connection", even though the whole point had been there was no IRA connection."

The experiences of Hill, as well as the Conlon and Maguire families, was clearly on Peirce's mind during the writing of her new book, Dispatches from the Dark Side, about the growth of torture and other human rights abuses post-9/11.

In it, Peirce compares the experiences of Muslim people today, in Britain especially, to those of the Irish in the 1970s and 1980s. "It's that idea of a suspect community," she explained. "Once you've made a community suspect, almost anything goes. It affects the whole psyche of that community for generations.

"The big difference is that the Irish had allies, particularly in the United States. They were capable of getting other voices to support them. Without powerful voices that can articulate what is wrong, what is moral, and what is just, who is there for the Muslim world to turn to? Saudi Arabia? Algeria? Iran?"

Peirce found herself uncomfortably cast into the limelight in 1994 with the release of Jim Sheridan's movie In the Name of The Father, which dramatised the plight of the Guildford Four, and for which actress Emma Thompson was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Peirce.

However, the lawyer admitted that she's never watched the film. "I wasn't aware until it was too late that there was a dramatic device in the form of a lawyer," she said.

"Of course it was right that the terrible things that happened to that family be told, so that was fine. But I don't think it probably has much to do with me."

But even Peirce can't deny that the movie seemed to make an impact. In her book, she writes how she was told that President Bill Clinton watched the film the night before he decided to grant a US visa to Gerry Adams in 1994.

What's more, Peirce argues that the shadow of the Guildford Four even hangs over the case of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Libyan convicted (and later controversially released) of the 1988 Lockerbie plane bombing.

"The same discredited scientists from the Royal Armament Research and Development Laboratories, whose evidence led to the wrongful conviction of Giuseppe Conlon, also provided the forensic evidence for al-Megrahi's trial," she said. "The case was a disgrace from the start, affected by the West's shifting alliances during the Gulf War. That case was all about oil. [Libyan leader] Gaddafi handed over two innocent men to bring himself in from the diplomatic cold."

Peirce also has reservations about this year's Saville Report into the Bloody Sunday shootings, which prompted an unreserved apology in parliament from British prime minister David Cameron.

"It's wonderful that the families got that vindication, and I wouldn't ever want to lessen that," she said.

"But from what I've read and understood about the report, there was clear evidence that pointed to knowledge much further up the hierarchy of the army and the government."

Irish Independent

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