By Jack Holland
On Sept. 6, 2001, a month after three Irishmen with alleged IRA and Sinn Fein links were arrested in Colombia, accused of helping the Armed Revolutionary Forces, which is deeply involved in the country’s drugs trade as well as fighting a bloody war against the U.S.-backed government there, Rep. Bill Delahunt requested that the House Committee on International Relations conduct an investigation, with a view to holding a hearing into the allegations. The Massachusetts Democrat then headed up a six-month-long investigation, which led to a report and a hearing on April 24.
But at the hearing, Delahunt controversially dissociated himself from the committee’s report, stating it was “short on facts and replete with speculation and surmise and opinion, much of which I would note I disagree with.” Further, he claimed that the three witnesses who were testifying at the hearing “will not be giving us the facts. You can peruse their testimony, and that becomes obvious.”
Delahunt’s statement was seized on by those who allege that the whole exercise was an attempt by sinister forces to discredit Sinn Fein and use accusations that the IRA was involved in Colombia to justify a change in U.S. policy, which currently restricts aid to the Colombian authorities in their war against the drug dealers, barring aid to the anti-terrorist struggle.
After Delahunt had made his disavowal before the committee, a leading Colombian general, appearing as one of the three witnesses, testified “there are at least seven Irishmen that have been identified in Colombia who are linked to the IRA. They are training members of FARC. They are providing know-how and technical assistance in the productions of nonconventional arms. . . . We have their names; we have their registry numbers, and we know the activities in which they have been engaged.”
General Fernando Tapias, chairman of the Colombian Joint Chiefs of Staff, then testified for another hour, giving details.
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In March, Delahunt had said during a wide-ranging interview that he respected the general’s “integrity,” though he disagreed with him on some matters.
Last week, the congressman was asked about General Tapias’s testimony before the hearing.
“Very damning,” he replied. However, the congressman insisted that the investigation and the report failed to establish that there was any communication between the three Irishmen and “their superiors” in the IRA leadership.
“My main complaint was the process with which the committee’s report was drafted,” he said. “There was no consultation, and facts were omitted which would have made it more balanced.” According to Delahunt, this includes evidence from an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that the results of the forensic tests conducted on the three Irishman showing that they had handled explosives could have been caused by Colombian soldiers handling the three after their arrest.
Delahunt acknowledges that there are serious questions surrounding the allegations about IRA’s presence in Colombia.
“I don’t think they were there assisting in the peace process,” he said. “But we have a high obligation to be meticulous and lay out all the facts.”
Meanwhile, reports which cite as their sources Colombian and British intelligence have identified one of the two IRA men who was photographed in Colombia but escaped arrest as Padraig Wilson, ex-officer commanding of the Belfast Brigade and a leader of the IRA in the Maze Prison. He is known as a close confidant of Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams.