By Anne Cadwallader and Ray O’Hanlon
BELFAST — Sinn FTin President Gerry Adams has charged that two of the three Irishmen detained by Colombian authorities have already been “convicted” by the chairman of the House International Relations Committee.
Adams expressed his concern that the three men might face a “miscarriage of justice” in their upcoming trial in Colombia.
His concern had been heightened by a statement from committee chairman Rep. Henry Hyde, itself a response to the decision by Adams not to attend today’s hearing in Washington.
Adams outlined the reasons for his turning down the House committee invitation to testify at a press conference in Belfast Tuesday.
Today’s hearing will focus on alleged links between the IRA and anti-government FARC militia in Colombia.
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Speaking at the press conference in Belfast, Adams said he had written to Rep. Hyde declining his invitation and offering to meet him the next time he [Adams] was in Washington.
Hyde’s reaction to the Adams decision came in a terse statement issued by a spokesman.
The statement referred to the hearing as an “opportunity” for Adams “to offer some explanation about why two IRA explosives experts and a Sinn FTin political officer stationed in Cuba” had been arrested last August following a visit to a FARC controlled area.
The statement also referred to “the alleged IRA role” in helping groups like the FARC perpetuate violence, thus posing a “direct threat to U.S. national interests.”
Adams, in turn, was critical of the Hyde statement. He said he had not seen the statement but had been made aware of its content.
Speaking late Tuesday to the Echo by phone, Adams said that while his personal instinct had been to attend the one-day hearing, lawyers for the three Irishmen detained in Colombia had asked him not to go.
“After Henry Hyde’s response, I can see why,” Adams said. “He has two of these guys convicted.”
Adams said at his earlier press conference the Sinn Fein leadership was unaware of the visit of three Irish republicans to Colombia last year until their arrests.
“Had I known, I would have advised strongly against such a visit,” Adams said.
The three, Martin McCauley, James Monaghan, and Niall Connolly, were arrested were initially charged with passport violations. In March, they were indicted for aiding terrorists in Colombia.
Denying the party leadership could be responsible for the movements of every republican, Adams said: “I believe their visit to Colombia to have been ill-advised, even though, as they argue, well-intentioned.”
Adams said that though he is concerned about the men’s plight, his primary concern remains the Irish peace process.
“My priorities have been to defend the peace process, to defend Sinn FTin’s essential contribution to it, and to give proper consideration to the plight of the three men presently in detention in Colombia, their right to a fair trial and the anxieties of their families.
“I have received legal advice from lawyers representing the three men in Colombia. It argues that the congressional hearings, and my presence at them, may well be prejudicial to any possibility of a fair trial.
“It is also my view that the hearings are only coincidentally about Ireland. They are essentially about the relationship between the USA and Colombia. These matters are for the governments of these two countries.”
Adams also said he was satisfied with the IRA’s statement of last Sept. 19 when it said it had sent no one to Colombia to train or to engage in any military cooperation with any group.
“In my conversations with U.S. officials and with political representatives, I have made it clear that Irish republicans, whether as ordinary citizens or as activists, have no desire to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries,” Adams said.
“Anyone who observes our record and our role in the peace process will know our commitment to peace in our own country and throughout the world is steadfast.”
In his letter to Hyde, Adams said the changed name of the committee hearing to “International Global Terrorism: Its Links with Illicit Drugs As Illustrated by the IRA and Other Groups in Colombia” implied that republicans tolerated drug use.
“Irish republicans are resolutely opposed to the scourge of drugs,” Adams wrote. “We have no links to drugs or the drugs trade. Our stand against drugs and the misery they bring to all communities is a matter of public record.
“Sinn Fein is also implacably opposed to international terrorism,” Adams said, adding that the party poses no threat to U.S. security interests.
He said he is concerned that anti-peace process elements had seized on the issue to try to damage the peace process.
The arrest of the three Irish men in Columbia was a possible miscarriage of justice, he said, and is being used to undermine Sinn Fein’s contribution to the peace process.
“In all my dealings with the U.S. government, political leaders and Irish America, going back over many years, I have been open, honest and truthful,” Adams said. “I have honored every commitment I have ever made, publicly or privately.”