Current Affairs Military Politics

Britain At War – Terror In Ireland

British Troops pose for a photo in front of a wall mural celebrating the British terror gangs in the north-east of Ireland, 1990s
British Troops pose for a photo in front of a wall mural celebrating the British terror gangs in the north-east of Ireland, 1990s

Veteran Irish journalist and writer Ed Moloney in CounterPunch on President Obama’s continued adherence to the strategy and tactics of the United States’ so-called War on Terror, notably torture and extra-judicial killings, and some Irish related matters:

“March 2011 was a busy month at the Department of Justice’s International Affairs Office (IAO) in Washington D.C. The British Home Office had just started the process of serving subpoenas on Boston College’s Belfast Project archive and its officials had begun liaising with the IAO’s staff. The subpoenas were seemingly routine matters covered by the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the US and the UK and it is unlikely that at this point they were causing the office’s director, Mary Ellen Warlow any grounds for anxiety or concern.

The British had requested the subpoenas be kept sealed, i.e. secret, the US had agreed and if Boston College co-operated and agreed not to resist them then the requested material – interviews with the late Belfast IRA leader Brendan Hughes and former leading IRA activist Dolours Price – could be on the desks of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) within weeks, before anyone knew the subpoenas even existed.

The UK was one of the few enthusiastic allies of the US in its never-ending war against militant Islam and as a sign of his readiness to work with the Americans, British prime minister Tony Blair had agreed changes in the extradition treaty with America that enormously eased the process of transferring suspects from Britain to the US. The changes, which meant UK citizens could be extradited on the minimum of evidence, had outraged liberal opinion in Britain so the request from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) offered a chance for an American quid pro quo, an opportunity to demonstrate gratitude for Blair and Britain’s generous co-operation.

Not only that but the alleged offense at the heart of the British request was regarded in some circles as a dreadful war crime. Jean McConville, a widowed mother-of-ten had been abducted, taken across the Irish border and killed by the Irish Republican Army in 1972, at the outset of its lengthy war to eject Britain from Northern Ireland, her body buried in an unknown grave and her death kept a closely guarded secret, even from her family. She had been caught spying for the British Army in a public housing project in Belfast regarded as an IRA redoubt. Let off once with a warning, her British handlers had encouraged her to resume her surveillance of IRA activists and when she was again caught, this time there was no mercy.

The ‘disappearing’ of some of its victims during the Troubles was a dark stain on the IRA’s reputation and the source of considerable internal dissension. McConville had been ‘disappeared’ so as to avoid the bad publicity that would be attached to her death but some senior IRA figures objected, saying that doing this in secret negated the only valid reason for killing her, which was to deter others from becoming informers. ‘Disappearing’ people also evoked unwelcome and unsavoury comparisons with the likes of Pinochet or the Argentinean junta. This chapter in the IRA’s history has, unsurprisingly, haunted its then leaders ever since.

So, when Mary Ellen Warlow reviewed the subpoena request it would have been surprising had she not concluded that no-one would take up cudgels for the IRA over the killing of Jean McConville. It would be an open and shut case: bringing a terrorist group involved in a heinous crime to justice.

It was very possibly because of these considerations that Mary Ellen Warlow appears not to have conducted the due diligence such requests normally warrant. Had she done so, she would have discovered that the PSNI had ample opportunity to collect the evidence they allegedly needed in Belfast and had no reason to seek it on the campus of Boston College. Fifteen months before the subpoenas were served on Boston College, Dolours Price had given a taped interview to a Belfast newspaper allegedly admitting her role in the ‘disappearing’ of McConville but the PSNI had let it pass. The law on such matters says that subpoena-like actions are justified only if no other routes to evidence exist. Clearly that was not the case here.

Had Ms Warlow dug a little deeper, or perhaps been a little less trusting in her dealings with PSNI detectives, she would also have discovered that Dolours Price – who lives in Dublin, outside the jurisdiction of the PSNI – had actually been in the custody of a court in Northern Ireland in May 2010, three months after reports of her alleged role in the McConville disappearance had appeared in the Belfast press and could easily have been arrested by the PSNI and questioned about her role in the McConville affair. But the PSNI had let this opportunity pass by. Again the PSNI had failed to follow up a local lead, again undermining the basis for the Boston College subpoenas.

A little more effort and Ms Warlow would also have discovered that the PSNI had made no effort at all to establish the truth of a key justification for the subpoenas – a claim by a reporter for a Belfast tabloid that he had listened to Price’s interview with Boston College and that in it she had admitted to abducting McConville. In fact this was just not possible. Only one copy of each IRA interview was made and they are kept in a secure vault at Boston College, with access limited to only one person, the university’s librarian. The idea that the college would release such a sensitive and confidential record to a junior reporter at a tawdry tabloid newspaper 3,000 miles away was patently nonsense but nonetheless the claim figured prominently in the DoJ grounds for serving the subpoenas.

And she would also have discovered that the same police force seeking to bring former IRA members before the courts in Belfast is, along with its political masters in London, determinedly refusing to pursue policemen, soldiers and intelligence officials who committed, authorised, connived at and turned a blind eye to multiple murders in Ireland.

One of the most notorious of these was the killing of Pat Finucane, the Belfast attorney shot dead by Loyalist gunmen in 1989. It is now known that British military intelligence provided a photo to the Loyalist agent who set up the killing and briefed him on the lawyer’s movements to make the killer squad’s job easier. In the midst of the controversy over the Boston College subpoenas, British prime minister David Cameron announced that he was withdrawing a promise made by his predecessor, Tony Blair to hold a full public inquiry into the Finucane killing, a probe that would likely have uncovered the role played by Britain’s internal intelligence agency, MI5. Finucane’s killing is one of dozens of police, intelligence and army-linked deaths that the PSNI will not probe.

And finally, if she and her staffers had dug a little deeper, Ms Warlow would have discovered that the PSNI had another possible motive in seeking the subpoenas that helped to explain why, after some forty years failing to investigate the McConville ‘disappearance’, police detectives in Belfast had suddenly become energized.

The man who was widely suspected of ordering McConville’s disappearance was none other than Gerry Adams, the IRA’s leading force during the Troubles and the chief architect of the peace process which, inter alia, had led to the effective disbandment of the PSNI’s predecessor, the overwhelmingly Unionist and Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary.

There was reason to believe, in the form of public statements by former senior RUC detectives, that revenge against Adams for destroying the police force they loved and cherished – and which they saw as their bulwark against Irish unity – was a major factor in the legal move…”

The alphabet soup of British-state militias in Ireland in the 1970s, '80s and '90s - the UDR (now the RIR) and the RUC (now the PSNI)
The alphabet soup of British-state militias in Ireland in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s – the UDR (now the RIR) and the RUC (now the PSNI)

In a related note, the Guardian newspaper carries the latest revelations from Britain’s historic Dirty War in Ireland, including more evidence of the close relationship between the British state and British terrorist organisations operating in the North of Ireland, in this case the Ulster Defence Association (UDA):

“A secret memo that urged the army to shed its inhibitions in the “war” against the IRA and be “suitably indemnified” could prompt a fresh wave of legal action, lawyers in Northern Ireland have said.

The expression of enthusiasm for military action with apparent disregard for any legal consequences, at the height of the Troubles in July 1972, has surprised human rights groups, who are still pursuing justice for victims.

Released through the public records office in Belfast, the minutes record a meeting at Stormont Castle chaired by Willie Whitelaw, then Northern Ireland secretary. Also in attendance were the GOC (the most senior army officer in the province), Paul Channon MP, the deputy chief constable and senior civil servants.

The document, marked “secret”, has only recently come to the attention of campaign groups and lawyers who, in the wake of the inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, have focused on re-examining killings by the security forces.

It notes… “…the government’s intention to carry on the war with the IRA with the utmost vigour”.

It added: “The GOC would see UDA [the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association] leaders and impress upon them that while their efforts as vigilantes in their own areas were acceptable, their presence in any riot or shooting situation could not be tolerated.”

In terms of military response, it ordered that: “The army should not be inhibited in its campaign by the threat of court proceedings and should therefore be suitably indemnified.”

Mark Thompson, director of Relatives for Justice, which campaigns on behalf of victims, said: “The discovery of this document indemnifying British soldiers from the threat of court proceedings whilst they took their ‘war’ to nationalist communities with the ‘utmost vigour’ is the first official documented evidence of a policy amounting to impunity.

“Despite their involvement in sectarian murders, the UDA was not [at that time] a proscribed organisation. They were permitted to patrol areas and exist alongside the RUC and British army at a time when intelligence would have clearly shown the UDA to be involved in sectarian murders.”

That Sunday in July 1972, in fact, five people had been shot dead by republican paramilitaries, and six Catholics, including a priest, were killed by the British army.

Paul O’Connor, of the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry, which also examines files from the period, said: “This document tells us something about the culture [at the time]. We deal with cases of people who were being kidnapped at UDA checkpoints and who were tortured and murdered. That ties in with allowing UDA members to join the Ulster Defence Regiment. It was the worst months of the Troubles.””

The revelation that the head of the British Army in the North of Ireland, the General Officer Commanding or GOC, was holding face-to-face meetings with British terrorist leaders to elicit their co-operation in the counter-insurgency campaign against the Irish Republican Army is shocking in its apparent casual nature. Here is one of the most senior officers in the British Armed Forces, the director of military operations in Ireland, sitting down with the murderers of Irish civilians, of men, women and children, to discuss their operations – albeit with the intent of focusing them. It is the equivalent of the meetings held during the Bosnian War of the 1990s between the generals of the Yugoslavian Federal Army in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the leaders of the Serbian militias – as the campaign of ethnic-cleansing was taking place throughout the towns and villages of the former Yugoslavian state.

More proof, if proof needed, of Britain’s state-sponsored terrorism in Ireland and its terrible repercussions.

British soldiers in Afghanistan display their racist and sectarian Orange Order emblems and British Unionist flags
British soldiers in Afghanistan display their racist and sectarian Orange Order emblems and British Unionist flags
%d bloggers like this: