March 22, 2012
The Honorable Eric Holder
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
The Honorable Hillary Clinton Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Attorney General Holder and Secretary Clinton:
I write to express my concern regarding the ongoing efforts on behalf of the United Kingdom to obtain documents and recordings from Boston College Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland pursuant to provisions of the US-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT). There are significant issues of journalistic confidentiality and academic freedom that are called into question as a result of this legal maneuver that make it dubious.
One issue that is implicated in this case is freedom of the press. I have always been a champion of protecting sensitive source material that is gathered by researchers – journalists and academics alike—and I am concerned that this action presents an infringement on that underpinning of the First Amendment.
But I am also deeply concerned at the implications this effort has with regard to the peace process. The ongoing success of the Good Friday peace process, facilitated and encouraged by the Clinton administration, has changed the course of history in Northern Ireland, and is laying the framework for a functioning civil society where mutual respect and equality is slowly-but-steadily replacing the polarization and violence of the past.
But this is a sensitive and delicate process that we should all be mindful to protect. As you are aware, the actions by the United Kingdom in their request to obtain documents have rightfully caused considerable trepidation among leaders in international affairs including my colleague, Senator Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, as well as among other members of Congress. There is concern that some former parties to the conflict may perceive the effort by the UK authorities to obtain this information as contravening the spirit of the Good Friday Accords. Many have taken enormous risk in the name of moving Northern Ireland away from war and towards peace, and requests like this can have the effect of undermining that effort. I am proud of the role the United States played to bring about that peace. It would be a terrible mistake if this process were to upset the sensitive balance that has kept the peace and allowed for so much progress in recent years.
During the ratification of this treaty we in the United States Senate made clear that provisions of this treaty, and other with the UK, should not be invoked pursuant to political goals related to Northern Ireland. In particular, the Senate resolution that accompanied the ratification of the extradition treaty in 2007 states that “The Senate understands that the purpose of the treaty is to strengthen law enforcement cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom by modernizing the extradition process for all serious offences and that the treaty is not intended to reopen issues addressed in the Belfast Agreement, or to impede any further efforts to resolve conflicts in Northern Ireland.”
Given the close relationship we have with the United Kingdom and our deep commitment to a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, I urge you to work with the British Authorities to have this MLAT request withdrawn. Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and if you are in need of any additional information please feel free to contact my Washington office at 202-224-6542.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator