Rep. Peter King, one of the biggest national security blowhards in Congress, who was widely criticized for holding controversial anti-Muslim hearings, knows a thing or two about supporting terrorists. Yes, he was a huge booster for the IRA.
Long before he became an outspoken voice in Congress about the threat from terrorism, he was a fervent supporter of a terrorist group, the Irish Republican Army. “We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry,” Mr. King told a pro-I.R.A. rally on Long Island, where he was serving as Nassau County comptroller, in 1982. Three years later he declared, “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”
So it was a bit surprising that the British asked him to testify in front of their Parliament:
British Parliament will hold a hearing on the “roots of violent radicalisation” in the Muslim community in that country. The first witness before the committee will be Rep. Peter King (R-NY). King will reportedly be the first member of Congress to ever address a committee of Parliament.
While there is nothing wrong with hosting a hearing examining violent radicalization among British Muslims — just as the British government is probing radicalization among the far-right in Britain — it is a serious error in judgment to invite King. The congressman has been both a vocal supporter of anti-British terrorism in the past and conducted one-sided terror hearings in the U.S. more intended to paint all Muslims with a broad brush than delve into the roots of radicalization.
Peter King was questioned by Labour MP David Winnick about his past support and love for the IRA and was characterized as a terror apologist. He responded by saying he was just trying to put the IRA in its proper context. Huh? That's what he said and that's not what he's been saying in the U.S.
Justin Elliott has more:
It was the longtime Labour MP David Winnick, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1966, who confronted King.
"There's been some surprise in the United States but also in Britain that you have a job looking into and investigating into terrorism," said Winnick. King, the MP added, "seems to be an apologist for terrorism."
Winnick cited a King quote from 1982:
We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry.
And another from 1985:
If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.
"Do you stand by that?" Winnick asked King.
"I stand by it in the context of when it was said," King responded, without hesitation.
He later added that those quotes were designed to "put [the conflict] in a perspective" for an American audience that was too often exposed to anti-I.R.A. points of view.
He then offered this lengthy defense of the role he played during the conflict in Ireland. Conspicuously missing from it is any denunciation of, or expression of regret for, I.R.A. terrorism.
I stand by it in the context of when it was said. ... I can cite you Tony Blair, as recently as March of this year, put out a long statement defending my record both in the 1980s and throughout the Irish peace process. I was just out in the hallway and Baroness Kennedy came up to me to thank me for the work I did in the Irish peace process. Paul Murphy came by last evening.
What I was saying -- and I stand by it -- is that the situation in northern Ireland -- there were loyalist paramilitaries and obviously Republican paramilitaries -- and I believe that, I had gotten to know Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. And I was very confident that if the Republican movement could get to the table, you would see a peace process. And I believe the United States had a very significant role to play as an honest mediator, as an honest broker. And I worked very closely with Bill Clinton, I was very much involved in the Good Friday agreements, I was very involved in getting Gerry Adams' visa, but also involved in getting loyalists into the United States. I felt that when it was on the table, that Adams and McGuinness would be able to, if you will, control the republican movement. And it's worked. Tony Blair said I made invaluable contribution to peace, Bill Clinton has cited me in his memoirs as a person who was very much involved.
It was never my position as an Irish-American, whether or not Ireland was united, to me there were injustices in the north. There were good people on both sides. I spent a lot of time meeting with the loyalist community, the unionist community, at the same time, and I came away from that convinced that there was a role for the U.S. to play. What I was saying with those quotes, I was also trying to put in perspective. All of the quotes were anti-I.R.A. in the United States, no mention [ever] made of the UVF or the UDA or the Red Hand Commandos or whatever. I was trying to put it in a perspective to show that there were people -- that this is not just the terrorist mayhem it was made out to be -- that there were significant leaders on the Republican side.
It's also worth noting here that this year King defended his support for the I.R.A. to the New York Times by claiming that the group had "never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States." He did not repeat that explanation to the parliamentary committee.
Winnick followed up on the exchange by asking about British use of torture against the I.R.A. being used as a recruiting tool, and whether there is a parallel to post-9/11 U.S. torture policies. King said he did not believe there was.
He was also called out about our use of torture and waterboarding under Bush which I will have up at another time.