Stuart Jeffries interviews Gareth Peirce, author of Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice, as well as Gerry Conlon of the 'Guildford Four' and Moazzam Begg, whose wrongful convictions were overturned by Peirce.
Peirce's debut book presents a set of devastating yet elegant essays, each written as an "urgent SOS" from ‘the dark side'—"the shadows in the intelligence world"—so swiftly embraced by Dick Cheney, just days after 9/11. They lay out, eloquently, the legal principles that might provide a life raft "where the facts suggest that the ship of state is sailing towards moral and political catastrophe," and call for an accounting of the British government's activities in the torture, rendition and internment without trial of those suspected of involvement in terrorism.
In a remarkable legal career, Peirce has also appeared for the Birmingham Six and the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, amongst many others. For more than 20 years, Peirce represented many wrongly accused Irish men and women who stood trial in England with over 20 successful appeals, including the case of the Guildford Four, convicted of an IRA bomb attack in 1974. In her first book:
Peirce argues that these miscarriages catalysed conflict in Northern Ireland. "Central to the anger and despair that fuelled the conflict was the realisation that the British courts would offer neither protection nor justice," she writes. "This should be always in our minds as we analyse the experiences of our new suspect community..
Peirce, who represented many wrongfully jailed Irish men and women in the 1980s and has spent much of the last decade working for Muslim terror suspects, adds: "Muslim men and women here and across the world are registering the ill-treatment of their community, and recognising the analogies with the experiences of the Irish."
Dispatches from the Dark Side also presents Peirce's case for the innocence of the man convicted of responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi. In white-hot, trenchant prose, she discredits the manipulated investigation and trial as a "unique legal construct, engineered to achieve a political rapprochement." Jeffries writes:
Peirce argues that Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, threatening 10% of US oil supplies, drove the US and Britain to change geopolitical tack. She writes: "A sudden shift of alliances was essential: if Iraq were to be confronted, then Iran had to be treated differently and the Syrian regime needed to be brought on board." And one way of cosying up to Iran and Syria was to change the Lockerbie investigation's focus, so that these countries were no longer suspected of harbouring the terrorists or commissioning them. By this stage, the CIA rather than Scottish police led the Lockerbie investigation, and the finger of suspicion moved from the Iranian state's hired terrorists to Libya. The result? The wrong man wound up in a British jail, Peirce claims.
This is the great theme of her book and, arguably, her professional life too: that justice dies when the law is co-opted for political purposes."
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