They Have Stopped Singing This Song, Or Have They?

Heather Horn at The Atlantic:

On Tuesday, the results of the long, $300 million investigation into the Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland were published. The inquiry, led by Lord Saville of Newdigate, found that thirteen demonstrators–and a fourteenth, who later died of wounds–were unlawfully killed by British paratroopers on January 30, 1972. In short, Saville found that the shootings were neither provoked by the marchers nor, as had previously been alleged, provoked by shootings from armed nationalists. Saville also discounts the theory that the attacks were “premeditated.”

William Underhill at Newsweek:

Today, there is hope—but only that—for closure at last. A 12-year official inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday released Tuesday yielded a 5,000-page report. The questions that fed the bitterness are finally answered. In particular, the allegation that the troops were responding to attacks by paramilitary gunmen from the republican IRA is formally rejected. Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons the conclusions were “shocking” and that he was “deeply sorry.” The Army’s actions were “unjustified and unjustifiable.” Still, the report is hardly ideal.

If the deserved apology satisfies the victims, the report brings its own risks. When Tony Blair agreed to establish the inquiry back in 1998, it was intended as a gesture to keep suspicious republicans in the peace process that culminated in the Good Friday peace accord of that spring, ending 30 years of bloodshed. Today’s politicians may consider it one concession too many, threatening to aggravate the tensions that the commission sought to dispel. Few seriously fear a return to open strife, but a sour mood may hinder political progress. Already there are grumblings of discontent from hardline loyalists: Says Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice: “Today’s jamboree over the … report throws into very sharp relief the unacceptable and perverse hierarchy of victims which the preferential treatment of Bloody Sunday has created.”

What’s beyond dispute is significance of Bloody Sunday: for the IRA, the Army’s brutality helped to sanction its own use of violence and to boost recruitment. There’s no doubt, too, that the perfunctory inquiry held in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday failed utterly to uncover the truth. Condemned as a whitewash at the time, it described the paratroopers’ actions as no more than “bordering on the reckless,” rather than the slaughter described by today’s report.

But the inquiry has also raised issues of its own that go beyond its $300 million bill or its unnecessary length. With almost 1,000 witnesses heard, this turned out to be the longest inquiry in British history. Is it safe, for example, to depend on witnesses’ recollections of events 38 years ago that might anyhow be colored by political attitudes?

Andrew Sullivan:

This panicked murder of unarmed civilians was the Brits’ Gaza moment (along with their Cheney moment in instigating the torture of terror suspects in prison). And this long-delayed report helps show how war crimes take time for democracies to process and take responsibility for. The entire history of the last forty years suggests something else as well: that Irish terrorism was not defeated by force of arms, or brutality, or collective punishment. It took negotiations with the worst parties, a stoic acceptance of some terrorist violence because the attempt to stamp it all out only made it worse, economic growth, and insistence on the most logical partition.

Harry Mount at Telegraph:

David Cameron was right to say the Bloody Sunday shootings were unjustified and unjustifiable. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Saville Inquiry, with its ludicrous cost and length, was either justified or justifiable. The same conclusion could have been reached after several months; and Tony Blair would, presumably, have been happy to give the same full apology as Cameron did today.

Prosecutions are a different matter. To establish the criminal intent of a serving soldier, firing under orders to fire, alongside colleagues doing the same, and all with the passage of 38 years, would be very tricky indeed.

Here’s hoping that the completeness of Cameron’s apology and the directness of Saville’s conclusions will remove any possibility of further violence. I have been a regular visitor to Ulster for more than 20 years, and the change in the place is extraordinary. I first went to Belfast as a 17-year-old, and remember bicycling up the Falls Road behind an Army armoured car with two soldiers in the back, fingers poised on the trigger. You wouldn’t see that nowadays – in fact, last time I was in Belfast, I went up the Falls Road again, and the Shankill Road, this time in a tourist bus, on a tour of republican and loyalist murals.

David Blackburn at The Spectator:

With the greatest respect to Lord Saville, who is a distinguished lawyer, this report cannot dispense justice. Establishing the facts is impossible 30 years after the tragedy, and the punishment can only be collective. Yet the political dictates of peace mean that the British army must be blackened. The soldiers who beat both sets of paramilitaries to the negotiating table will be branded as criminals.

Whatever their impulse, British officers took a disastrous decision to disobey orders and open fire. Thereafter, the IRA heightened its already intensive terrorism and recruitment. That the IRA deliberately provoked violence against a peace march for its own gain is as plausible as the insistence that the British opened fire first.

General Sir Michael Rose at The Daily Mail:

But what I find perhaps most distasteful about this 12-year-long inquiry is that the role of British soldiers in Northern Ireland has been brushed aside for the sake of political expediency.

The truth is that peace was brought to the Province not by Prime Minister Blair, kowtowing to former terrorists such as Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

It came to Northern Ireland as a result of the courage of the British Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the intelligence services.

By the time Blair offered this inquiry as a sop to Republicans, the IRA had already been militarily defeated by the very soldiers whose reputation he knew it would undermine.

The events of Bloody Sunday were terrifying, fast-moving and chaotic. But as I told the inquiry when called as a witness, there is one thing of which I am absolutely certain.

It was the IRA who started the firing with the Thompson machine gun  –  and, inflammatory though it may sound, I believe they started firing with the express intention of causing civilian deaths.

Laurence White at The Belfast Telegraph:

There is no point in saying that the IRA or the UDA or any other terrorist organisation killed far more people and that atrocities such as happened at Omagh, Dublin, Droppin’ Well, La Mon, Enniskillen etc etc were as bad or worse and why was there not an inquiry into them.

Firstly every right thinking person accepts that those atrocities were vile and that anyone involved in causing those outrages should be brought to justice and jailed for a very, very long time. There is no need for inquiries into those events because everyone accepts that terrorists engage in terrorism.

Failure to bring those involved in mass terrorist killings to justice is a failure of the investigating agencies such as the RUC or Gardai. It wasn’t that no-one wanted the perpetrators jailed, they just failed to get the evidence to do it.

Bloody Sunday was completely different. Those who opened fire were legitimately in possession of weapons. They also had to follow rules. They were helping to impose law and order. And they were subject to the law.

The Army know who fired the fatal shots. If people were killed unlawfully then those who committed the crime should be amenable to the law. It is not a terribly complex equation or great moral dilemma.

I was thirteen at the time of Bloody Sunday, so I can remember it just about. It is hard to know what to think about today’s report. On the one hand, it is a kind of justice, however inadequate, for the relatives; on the other, it has taken nearly forty years. And the British government has spent £200 million to tell us what we all knew anyway: that British paratroopers murdered fourteen civilians in cold blood and that a subsequent “inquiry” (Widgery) was a whitewash. Still, it is one thing knowing the truth (as we already did) and it is another to have it publicly acknowledged. Will there be prosecutions? Doubtful.

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Filed under Foreign Affairs, History, UK

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