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U.S. judge puts Britain on trial.

In mid-October, Irish fugitive Jimmy Smyth became the center of a landmark case testing a crucial amendment to the extradition treaty between the United States and Britain. The case also, in essence, places the British government on trial.

Smyth was nabbed by FBI agents in San Francisco in 1992 as he was leaving for work. He had been living in San Francisco and working as a house painter since he escaped in 1983 from Northern Ireland's Maze prison, where he was serving twenty years for attempted murder of an off-duty prison official - a crime he says he did not commit.

The British government wants Smyth extradited and returned to its custody in Northern Ireland. To avoid extradition, Smyth has to show that his life would be in danger if he were returned. But a dramatic order by the court shifted part of the burden of proof onto Britain. When the British government refused to comply with Smyth's lawyers' request for documents showing that Catholics are persecuted in Northern Ireland, U.S. District Judge Barbara Caulfield introduced two "rebuttable presumptions" in the case. That is, she ordered Britain to disprove two claims: that British security forces are in collusion with Protestant death squads, and that Catholics suspected or charged with offenses against Protestant officials in Northern Ireland are systematically persecuted and often killed.

Key witnesses for the defense, including the Irish activist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, gave testimony that covered not only recent military abuses, but the history of Britain's involvement in Northern Ireland.

During cross-examination, the prosecution tried to discredit the defense witnesses by showing that they advocated violence and supported the Irish Republican Army.

"I don't support violence, but I understand it," McAliskey testified. "When you take away the mechanisms of democracy for people, you are likely to create more violence."

A decision in the case, which could be months away, will have a significant impact on future cases of Irish refugees fighting extradition, according to University of California law professor Patti Blum. "This case could likely set the tone for how U.S. courts will apply the treaty to Irish Catholics from Northern Ireland."
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Title Annotation:extradition of Jimmy Smyth
Author:Udesky, Laurie
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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