McDowell blasted for signing US agreement

by Democrat reporter

TWENTY SIX county justice minister Michael McDowell has been heavily criticized after signing an agreement allowing US investigators to secretly interrogate Irish citizens in Ireland.

The 'Instruments of Agreement' document was signed by the minister last month. It has been designed to assist America's self-proclaimed 'war on terror'and facilitates what it describes as mutual co-operation in the investigation of criminal activity.

Irish Counsel for Civil Liberties director, Aisling Reidy, said:

"An extraordinary aspect to this treaty is, despite its scope and its potential to violate basic constitutional and human rights, that all this happened without debate or transparency."

She added: "To agree to give such powers to a government which has allowed detention of its own citizens without access to a lawyer for over a year, which has legitimised Guantanamo Bay and the interrogation techniques there, without public debate, is an appalling signal of how highly or not the rights of Irish citizens are considered by the minister when engaging in international relations."

Department of Justice officials have denied the treaty happened without prior debate, arguing the agreements update and supplement existing Mutual Legal Assistance and Extradition agreements between the US and Europe, signed in June 2003.

This agreement has been scrutinised by the Oireachtas four times since December 2002, they said. However, the agreement signed goes much further than previous agreements.

The US may ask Irish authorities to carry out searches and seize evidence on behalf of the US government, access Irish citizen's bank accounts, track down people in Ireland and transfer prisoners into US custody.

The agreement forces Irish authorities to keep these activities secret if asked to do so by the US.

Requests for assistance will be sent directly to minister McDowell by US attorney general Alberto Gonzales. Mr Gonzales, when acting as White House counsel, sent a 'torture memo' to US president George W Bush advising how far CIA agents could go in torturing prisoners.

At present 20,000 immigrants are held in US prisons without charge. Unknown numbers of other prisoners are being held in secret locations throughout the world, while many on release have described the torture they were subjected to when in custody at the behest of US agents.

Meanwhile, a hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay by prisoners protesting against their detention continues to highlight the international illegality of US internment and human rights abuses.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2005-08-20 16:03:32.
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