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Attorney Steve Doncaster, an ardent cyclist, was pedaling home from work the other day. He was heading west on Washington Street from his office at Salt River Project when a car pulled out of a side street, crashing into Doncaster and his bike head-on.
The driver fled. A Good Samaritan who witnessed the incident gave chase and convinced him to return to the scene.
At first, the paramedics thought Doncaster's neck was broken. They transported him to the hospital, where x-rays proved negative. But Doncaster's entire body was covered with deep, painful bruises. He was unable to move his right shoulder. His newly purchased bike, which he was riding for only the second time, was turned into a metal pretzel.
"You've got a great lawsuit," a man told Doncaster.
"No," Doncaster said. "The driver doesn't even have insurance. No point in going to court. Why make life harder for the poor guy?"
Steve Doncaster does not possess your typical lawyer's mentality. He is an altruistic sort who would rather leap in on the side of the underdog than explore clever ways to avoid the law.
Doncaster is an exception to the current breed of barrister. At 41, he has been a member of the bar for ten years, and there is no evidence that Doncaster has ever given a thought to making himself wealthy. He does not even own a car. He travels by bus and bicycle.
Instead of taking skiing vacations to Aspen or jaunts to Las Vegas, Doncaster uses his own funds to take international trips to study human rights violations in terrorist hot spots like Nicaragua, El Salvador and Belfast in Northern Ireland.
Doncaster and nine other Arizona lawyers, including former congressman Jim McNulty, traveled to Belfast to survey the situation and to sit in as observers on a hearing for three suspected IRA terrorists.
Their weeklong visit was prompted by Father Des Wilson, a Belfast priest, who spoke here in Phoenix at an Arizona Bar Association event this past January.
Father Wilson's speech here was sponsored by a Bar Association group to which Doncaster belongs: the "World Peace Through Law" section.
Father Wilson told the Arizona lawyers about the plight of seven Irish Catholic teenagers who had been arrested on suspicion of bombing a British Army vehicle in August 1991.
According to Father Wilson, four of the young men were beaten so badly in prison that a judge ruled they were no longer competent to defend themselves, and set them free.
This incident was not surprising to those familiar with police policies of the Royal Ulster Constabulary during the 25 years of fighting in Northern Ireland.
During the period Doncaster and his group were in Belfast, they learned about the classic torture techniques casually employed to obtain confessions from anyone picked up as a suspect.
An Amnesty International study of the R.U.C. found that it consistently used any or all of the following techniques during interrogation:
"Beating and kicking; bending the wrist backwards; forcing suspects to run in place or stand for hours; pulling the hairs on a prisoner's chest or lifting him by his mustache; pouring cola drinks into his ears; banging his head against the wall; holding his head underwater; kicking and squeezing the testicles; placing a plastic bag or hood, or a pair of soiled underpants, over the suspect's head; making the prisoner behave in a bizarre manner (one man was ridden like a horse by an interrogator and then forced to eat mucus from a policeman's nose)."
It was not uncommon for prisoners to attempt suicide during detention. Many were placed under psychiatric care or showed signs of organic brain damage following their releases.
Doncaster is used to threatening situations. He traveled to Nicaragua in 1986 and to El Salvador in 1988.
"In El Salvador," Doncaster recalls, "a huge segment of the population had no voice. The military was extremely harsh in its repression. We were there to offer our support, because people were being murdered in the streets. We even accompanied them on their demonstrations. I was scared all the time."
Doncaster says he went to these places because he had read a lot about the situations and wanted to see for himself.
"Truthfully, I never felt as much fear in Belfast as I did in Nicaragua," Doncaster says. The trip to Northern Ireland did come after both the IRA and the Protestant leadership had agreed to seek peace.
The Arizona group of lawyers was given an itinerary by Father Wilson; the lawyers spoke to Catholics and Protestants alike.
Doncaster explained, "Father Wilson thought that if we went to the hearing for the three members of the Ballymurphy Seven still in prison that our presence in the courtroom might have an impact."
The Belfast Crown court on Crumlin Road is directly across the street from a prison. It has been described as a bleak and inhospitable place. It has a pastel-wedding-cake exterior surrounded by high fences and heavy security.
Inside, the halls are perpetually filled with men wearing flak jackets and revolvers with polished handles. The atmosphere is always highly charged, as stone-faced policemen stare down the accused and their sullen supporters. It is an atmosphere of controlled hatred.