**From Pittsburgh (U.S.), concerning Joseph Black

Time to correct a case of homeland absurdity

Saturday, July 17, 2004
By Dennis Roddy

Joseph Henry Black has a detention hearing Monday, meaning he has his first chance at freedom in 13 days and the United States government has an opportunity to do something morally right.

Prosecutors in Philadelphia can opt not to oppose bail for the former IRA gunman, who poses no threat to America and would happily prove it by hopping the next plane and shaking the dust of Pennsylvania from his shoes forever.

Black, 47, of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was stopped at Philadelphia International Airport July 6 en route to Pittsburgh for his niece's wedding. Before the plane landed, he signed an immigration card that he says his wife filled out for him and the others in his family.

When he got off the plane, a group from the Joint Terrorism Task Force awaited at the foot of the ramp, got his ID, and quickly charged him with a criminal offense: lying on an immigration form by ticking off two boxes, one saying he had not been convicted of a crime of "moral turpitude" and another saying he was not a member of a terrorist organization.

It's worth noting that the government, while not owning up to it, knew Black was coming here well before anyone handed out the immigration cards.

The major clue that the British government had forwarded the flight manifest, and drawn attention to Black's presence, is to be found in the federal government's own documents. They refer to Black as a former member of "PIRA" -- as in, Provisional Irish Republican Army. Nobody but the British call it that. Everyone else says, simply, IRA. Whatever alert the British government sent ahead of British Airways Flight 67 from London to Philadelphia used the PIRA terminology and nobody in Philadelphia thought to change it.

This raises the question of why nobody thought to simply tell Black either not to get on the plane or, once here, to walk him back up the ramp, put him in a seat and tell him to go home.

The federal government has vast powers of discretion in these matters. It could, for instance, have invited him to amend his erroneous immigration form. It could have told him to leave right away. It can, in many circumstances, deny admission to someone not convicted of crimes, as it did to Canadian writer Farley Mowat in the 1980s simply because the Reagan administration didn't like his leftist politics.

It could have done the same to Ian Paisley, a virulently anti-Catholic politician and clergyman from Belfast who has done more to encourage violence and paramilitary trouble there than any one man and has found himself on the inside of a jail cell but has been free to rove the fruited plains and accept a doctorate from the virulently anti-Catholic Bob Jones University of Greenville, S.C., and to visit the White House. Possibly they were unaware that Paisley once invited a cadre of reporters to a remote spot in Ulster to examine a newly assembled anti-Catholic paramilitary group.

There are a few unkind conclusions that can be made about the unnecessary detention of Black, whose IRA days ended when he left Long Kesh prison 25 years ago.

The first is that the federal government wants to send a strong message about its disapproval of terrorists. Unable to catch the ones that matter, they were content, on July 6, to recycle an old one for the purposes of putting a hide on the national barn door.

Readers of this column are by now reasonably familiar with my long-standing disapproval of the IRA, its tactics and ideology. But we are not at war with the IRA, nor is the IRA at war with America, or with the British anymore, for that matter.

If we choose not to let a 47-year-old home remodeler into the country because, as a 17-year-old living in a war zone of a city, he once cast his lot with one of the combatants, that is our prerogative. We control our borders. What we must also control is our urge to use the law as an excuse not to think.

Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?