The threatened extradition of Julian Assange reminded me of the trial of escaped H-Block prisoner Jimmy Smyth in a San Francisco courtroom in the 1990s.
Wikileaks and the IRA in SF: Extradition Then and Now
Michael Steinberg Black Rain Press
San Francisco, March 17-On March 8 whistleblower Chelsea Manning got sent back to federal prison. In the last days of his presidency Barack Obama had commuted her 7 year sentence, in part because she had tried to take her life while locked up. Her purported illegal activity: exposing US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq for all the world to see. Manning's return to the joint resulted from her refusal to talk to a grand jury looking for ways to criminalize fellow whistleblower Julian Assange for similar journalistic activities.
A little over a month later, on April 11, British "security forces" in London raided the Ecuadorian embassy there, and literally dragged out the Wikileaks founder, who had been granted asylum for 7 years, dragged him to a courtroom, and then dragged him off to the notorious Belmarsh prison, where he was thrown into its dungeon, where he will languish while facing extradition to the US to face undoubtedly Trumped up charges. All in the same day.All this took me back to the early 1990s, where "a hearing brought the conflict in Northern Ireland into a San Francisco courtroom," the September 10, 2010 San Francisco Chronicle reported.
That courtroom was presided over by Judge Barbara Caulfield, a Bush I appointee to the federal District court of Northern California. The extradition hearing concerned the fate of Jimmy Smyth, formerly of Belfast.
Smyth was one of 38 political prisoners who escaped en mass from the H-Block prison outside Belfast in 1983, only two years after 10 Irish Republicans had died on hunger strike there while fighting for their human rights.
Smyth and three of his comrades eventually made their way to the Golden State, where they lived peaceful lives for a decade. In 1992, simultaneous FBI raids resulted in the arrest of Jimmy Smyth in the Sunset District of SF, where he had been working as a house painter, Kevin Artt in San Diego, who had been employed as a car salesman, along with Pol Brennan and Terence Kirby elsewhere in Cali. They became known as the H-Block 4. Smyth was locked up in the San Francisco county jail, which he called "worse than the H-Blocks" in an interview I read at the time.
For the first 200 years of this nation's history, due to its revolutionary origins, there was no extradition treaty with Britain. Things changed in the 20th century, particularly in the Reagan-Thatcher "anti-terrorist" era. But a provision allowed a defense if persecution for political or religious reasons could be proved. This is the defense Jimmy Smyth used in Caulfield courtroom in 1994. The Chronicle article reported that hearing "produced emotional testimony about the treatment of IRA sympathizers in British controlled Northern Ireland."
I was in the courtroom a number of times during the four week hearing . The prosecution brought forward a series of high level British government and military officials, supposedly to give testimony. But in each case, when crossexamined by Smyth's lawyer, Karen Snell, the response was exactly the same, blandly evasive and concluding in an upper class English accent, "I am very sorry, but in keeping with regulation blah-blah-blah, I cannot comment further."
In stark contrast, witnesses giving evidence on Smyth's behalf riveted the courtroom of Smyth supporters with a catalogue of horrors systematically inflicted on them by the British occupation war machine in the North of Ireland.
I knew one of those witnesses. He was my tour guide when I went on a Republican sponsored visit to the North in 1988. While on the stand he told of the murder of his brother by the Brits. While doing so the prosecutor referred to a document my tour guide had been trying to obtain for his investigation of his brother's death. Protocol was interrupted by a heated exchange until the judge abruptly closed the courtroom. When it convened the next day, the prosecutor said the document in question was another one not in his possession. The courtroom, filled with incredulous, angry spectators perhaps felt they were back in Belfast.
In the end Judge Caulfield ruled in Jimmy Smyth's favor. As the Chronicle put it," In a September 1994 ruling, on of her last as a judge, (Caulfield) denied extradition, saying Smyth had shown he was likely to be persecuted as a Catholic and an Irish national if returned to custody."
But the US government appealed Caufield's decision, claiming that just because there was proof Jimmy Smith had been persecuted before, that didn't mean there was proof he would be again if back in the H-Blocks. Keep in mind this was when Bubba Clinton was in power.
So Smyth was sent back. He received no reduction in his sentence for the time he'd been locked up in the San Francisco jail. He remained locked up until after the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement went into effect and the H Blocks were emptied out. The 2010 Chronicle story reported that he then was living in Ireland with his wife and two children. In the wake of Jimmy Smyth's outrageous hearing, his fellow H Block 4 comrades were not extardited.
The Chronicle article was actually reporting Caufield's death a 62 from cancer. Not long after Jimmy Smyth's case had been before her, she resigned her post and went into private practice. The Chronicle said it was to make more money to support her autistic daughter. But I've always wondered if what she learned from Jimmy Smyth's case had anything to do with her decision.