DUBLIN - Former Justice Minister Michael McDowell has criticised aspects of the US-led invasion of Iraq, claiming the Bush administration carefully selected Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to circumvent legal procedures and deny human rights to detainees.
The former PD leader, who warned governments not to confuse the fight against terror with counter-terrorism and described State terrorism by proxy as "pernicious", made his observations during an address at the World Bar Conference in Dublin at the weekend.
Mr McDowell, who said he was alarmed by how poorly international legal instruments had defined terror during his time as justice minister, described Guantanamo Bay as an "horrific Alice in Wonderland world".
The former tanaiste insisted there was no moral or ethical justification for the 9/11 attacks, but said he had huge problems with the term "War on Terror", a phrase coined in America in the aftermath of the destruction of the Twin Towers.
"The war on terror is at best counter-productive and at worst a fig leaf for using counter terrorism," Mr McDowell told delegates at the World Bar Conference, being held for the first time in Ireland and jointly hosted by the Bar Councils of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
"Where is that war happening now?" he asked the delegates, who included Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent for Independent Newspapers, Sir Brian Kerr, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, and Justice Kate O'Regan from the Constitutional Court of South Africa.
Mr McDowell said the war on terror was a political rallying call that could not be deployed to defend torture practices such as waterboarding or the rendition of prisoners as young as 16, who were transported to countries where torture practices were legal, to obtain their confessions. He added that if lawyers and judges were to have any role in the fight against terror, it should be to fight to maintain the rule of law.
During the conference, which was opened by President Mary McAleese and addressed by Dr Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman said he was "gravely concerned" about the climate in which the debate on criminal justice reform was taking place.
Judge Hardiman said encroachments on the traditional rule of law came not from concerns about terror but from over-reaction to perceived threats. "In times of terror, the law is shown at its best and worst," the judge said.
Today the World Bar Conference moves to Belfast where speakers include Dr Ian Paisley; US Senator George Mitchell and Chief Justice John Murray.
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