By Jack Holland
The 32-County Sovereignty Committee, which has been described as the political wing of the Real IRA, is challenging its designation in the U.S. as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in a Washington court, it has been learned. The committee, along with the Real IRA and the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association, were designated in May 2001 by the secretary of state, Colin Powell.
The designation, made under the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (1996), has the effect of blocking the organization’s funds in the United States, excludes its alien representatives from entering the country, and prohibits the “knowing” provision of “material support or resources” by persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
The case went before the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals May 14 after the State Department rejected a plea by lawyers acting for the 32-County committee for a hearing on its decision.
The case represents only the third time that an organization designated as an FTO has challenged the designation, according to Lynne Bernabei, one of the lawyers representing the sovereignty committee. Previously, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (MEK) and the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) brought cases challenging the then secretary of state’s designations. Both were rejected. The vast majority of designated organizations have no presence in the U.S. and so have no basis on which to fight their inclusion on the FTO list.
Lawyers for the Irish group are also arguing that neither the 32-County Sovereignty Committee nor the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association are the same as the Real IRA, the splinter group from the Provisional IRA that claimed responsibility for the Omagh bombing, which left 29 dead in August 1998. They point out that the two organizations are not banned in the Irish Republic and Britain.
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“The British government said it did not think the 32-County is the same as the RIRA, so it did not ban it,” Bernabei said.
Bernabei said that she believes that the only evidence that the two are linked comes from the informer Dave Rupert. Rupert, a U.S. citizen based in Chicago, allegedly infiltrated Irish-American activists groups and the RIRA on behalf of the FBI and British intelligence. He is currently appearing as the chief witness against Mickey McKevitt, the alleged chief of staff of the RIRA, in a case due to come before the Irish courts next month. It has caused considerable controversy both here and in Ireland, where a newspaper reported last week that the witness was seeking over $3 million to appear in court. It was revealed last year that Rupert owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes in the U.S.
Bernabei said that she is confident she could rebut what she thinks is in the classified record, which she believes is mostly Rupert’s evidence. However, the State Department has denied access to it.
She said she believes that the statute under which the FTO is set up is “basically unconstitutional” since it denies citizens due process.
“It’s a good way to kill dissent,” she said.
The court adjourned to consider its jurisdiction in the matter.