Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: IRA

Freedom Fighters, Terrorists and Ordinary Decent Criminals

 

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 31 2015.

 

Colman's Column3

 

The world was horrified recently at the news that a co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had deliberately flown his plane into a mountain killing 150 people. Many have commented that this was the ultimate expression of modern narcissism, a trend for suicidal people to want to take others with them without their consent. I wrote last week about how Kieran Conway, in a book in which he calls himself a “freedom fighter”, admitted responsibility for killing 21 innocent young people in the cause of a united Ireland. No one asked those young people what they thought about it. Terrorism is another kind of narcissism.

There are fuzzy boundaries between war, terrorism, crime, politics and business. Politicians use terms like “war on terrorism”, “war on crime”, “war on drugs”. Some might believe that this is part of a plan to militarise civil society. “Freedom fighters” easily morph into criminals as they resort to bank robberies and drug dealing to raise funds for the cause. Many once considered as terrorists later take their place in government.  In Ireland, there was Eamon De Valera and more recently Martin McGuinness. In Kenya there was Jomo Kenyatta; today his son is president and has had his case dropped by the International Criminal Court.

MIA made it into the news again the other day. It was not for any recent achievement but merely about a gripe that she regurgitated concerning the way Oprah Winfrey had treated her some time ago. Suggestions that MIA was terrorist sympathiser led to some people dragging out that old chestnut: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Whenever this is said, no definition of “freedom fighter” is offered. No examples of bona fide freedom fighters are presented except for Nelson Mandela.

Ronald Reagan called the Nicaraguan Contra rebels freedom fighters. Reagan also frequently called the Afghan Mujahedeen freedom fighters during their war against the Soviet Union, yet twenty years later, when a new generation of Afghan men fought against what they perceived to be a regime installed by foreign powers, George W Bush labelled their attacks “terrorism”.

Professor Martin Rudner, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Ottawa’s Carleton University, says the phrase “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” “is grossly misleading.” It assesses the validity of the cause when it should be addressing terrorism is an act. “One can have a perfectly beautiful cause and yet if one commits terrorist acts, it is terrorism regardless.

Distinguished scholars have devoted their lives to defining terrorism and have admitted failure. In the first edition of Political Terrorism: a Research Guide, Alex Schmid spent a hundred pages examining more than a hundred different definitions of terrorism. Four years and a second edition later, Schmid conceded in the first sentence of the revised volume that the “search for an adequate definition is still on”. Walter Laqueur despaired of defining terrorism in both editions of his  work on the subject, maintaining that it is neither possible to do so nor worthwhile to make the attempt.

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” seems to mean that state authorities sometimes delegitimize opponents, and legitimize the state’s own use of armed force. Critics call this “state terrorism”.

The UN’s attempts to define terrorism failed because of differences of opinion about the use of violence in the context of conflicts over national liberation and self-determination. Since 1994, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly condemned terrorist acts using the following political description of terrorism: “Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable”.

Although, in the international community, terrorism has no legally binding, criminal-law definition, there are definitions of “terrorism”. A study on political terrorism examining over 100 definitions of “terrorism” found 22 separate definitional elements. These can be summarised thus: violent acts, which deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants, intended to create fear, perpetrated for a religious, political, or ideological goal.

Bruce Hoffman wrote: “By distinguishing terrorists from other types of criminals and terrorism from other forms of crime, we come to appreciate that terrorism is :

  • ineluctably political in aims and motives
  • violent – or, equally important, threatens violence
  • designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target
  • conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiratorial cell structure (whose members wear no uniform or identifying insignia) and
  • perpetrated by a subnational group or non-state entity.”

 

Everyone agrees that  terrorism is a pejorative term, with intrinsically negative connotations. Use of the term implies a moral judgment.  According to David Rodin, utilitarian philosophers can (in theory) conceive of cases in which the evil of terrorism is outweighed by the good that could not be achieved in a less morally costly way. Michael Walzer argued that terrorism can be morally justified in only one specific case: when “a nation or community faces the extreme threat of complete destruction and the only way it can preserve itself is by intentionally targeting non-combatants, then it is morally entitled to do so”.

Those dubbed “terrorists” by their opponents rarely identify themselves as such, preferring to use other terms such as separatist, freedom fighter, liberator, revolutionary, militant,  guerrilla, rebel,  or patriot.

The use of violent and brutal tactics by criminal organizations for protection rackets or to enforce a code of silence is usually not termed terrorism. However, “terrorists” or “freedom fighters” often use their capacity to intimidate to engage in similar activities to organised crime. While they were purportedly striving to reunite the six counties of Northern Ireland with the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland, the Provisional IRA were also building up a criminal empire. While this might have begun as a means of financing the republican struggle, crime seemed to become an end in itself. The profits of crime might have been a reason for prolonging the conflict.

Raids on illegal distilleries in Ireland uncovered bottling and capping machinery and high- quality copies of brand labels. Many of the products were designed for use in pub optics. The IRA took the production of counterfeit spirits so seriously that it even had a quality control unit.

Conway writes about his participation in bank raids and gun battles. The IRA’s “elite robbery team” unit organised armed robberies using a tactic known as “tiger kidnapping”, where the family of an employee was held hostage to ensure co-operation. The unit played a central role in the theft of £26.5 million from the Northern Bank just before Christmas 2004 and organized three other robberies which netted a further £3 million in that  year.

According to Customs Revenue officers, about half of Northern Ireland’s filling stations sold fuel smuggled from the Irish Republic, where duty was considerably lower, at a cost to the Treasury of about £200 million a year. Fuel smuggling, much of it organized by the notorious South Armagh brigade, was probably the IRA’s single largest source of income.

The paramilitaries were involved in pirating DVDs and software and the IRA’s links with America gave it access to new releases. The IRA’s counterfeiting operations extended to fake football strips, designer clothes, power tools and a well-known brand of washing powder. A bottle of counterfeit perfume seized at a market was found to contain urine as a stabilizer.

Often the IRA invested as a silent partner in legitimate businesses. The IRA’s finance unit contributed to Belfast’s property boom by investing in houses.

The IRA received up to $6 million (£3.1 million) for helping to train  rebels in Colombia. The payment was allegedly negotiated by a former IRA “chief of staff” who had worldwide contacts — including in Libya, where republicans deposited some of the proceeds from their vast criminal empire.

The Irish gangster Martin Cahill was the subject of two feature films. In The General, Brendan Gleeson played him. In Ordinary Decent Criminals, Kevin Spacey played him. Cahill was involved in petty crime from an early age and turned to armed robbery after stealing arms from a police station. O’Connor’s jewellers at Harold’s Cross, Dublin was forced to close, with the loss of more than one hundred jobs after Cahill stole €2.55 million worth of gold and diamonds from the store.

In 1994, a gunman, who was armed with a .357 Magnum , shot Cahill in the face and torso, jumped on a motorbike and disappeared from the scene. The IRA said that it was Cahill’s “involvement with and assistance to pro-British death squads which forced us to act”. One theory is that John Gilligan, who was convicted of the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin (also shot by a motorcyclist), had Cahill killed because he was trying to get a slice of Gilligan’s drug profits.

Gilligan effectively had the complicit support of the Dublin IRA and had members of the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army) in his pay. He was importing enough cannabis to make everybody rich. He was even importing small arms, which he passed on to republicans as sweeteners.

The IRA established links with organized crime in the same areas of the Costa del Sol where many of Dublin’s top “ordinary” criminals, the “Murphia”, lived. The Murphia became the wholesale middlemen and women who supplied parts of the UK drugs markets after developing links with their British counterparts.

The dissident republican group the Real IRA was responsible for murders, attempted murders and pipe bomb attacks in the Republic. The group is believed to be extorting millions of Euros from targeting drug dealers — as well as business people — in Dublin and Cork. The Real IRA have taken over many of the security and protection rackets once run by the Provos. The dissidents are also believed to be selling some of these bombs to gangs including criminal elements within the Travelling community.

The Provisional IRA funded its terrorist activities with bank robberies and protection rackets. Martin McGuinness was the IRA Commandant for Derry. He and Gerry Adams were prominent in the labyrinthine negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement and the IRA laying down its arms. As a minister in the government of the statelet of Northern Ireland, McGuinness   visited Sri Lanka to advise us on peace and reconciliation. Sinn Fein, which used to be seen by voters in the Republic as the proxy of the Provisional IRA, is a major Opposition force in the Dáil today and is often mentioned as a possible coalition member of the government. Fiachra Gibbons, in the New Statesman, described Sinn Fein as “a kind of cross between Fianna Fáil and the Catholic Church, but with extra guns, paedophiles and front businesses.”

In Sri Lanka, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) was mainly dependent for funding in its early days on robberies and extortion.  Trading in gold, laundering money and dealing in narcotics brought the LTTE substantial revenue to buy sophisticated weaponry. They also played a role in providing passports, other papers, and also engaged in human trafficking

Those who carried out the Easter Rising in 1916 are seen in a romantic light compared to the bombers of today. However, like the bombers of today, they  believed they were entitled, although they were but a small unelected group of conspirators in a democratic country, to stage a revolution in which many innocent people were killed. “Armed struggle” generally means fanatics killing innocents by remote control. The whole point of terrorism is to induce fear among non-combatants. It is a bit rich for those committing these acts of terror against civilians to call themselves freedom fighters. Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public for political purposes are abhorrent, whatever political or philosophical justifications are presented.

 

 

Britain Teaches the World to Torture

This article appeared on Page 10 of Ceylon Today on Wednesday January 28 2015

Colman's Column3

There was a time when the British army adopted a somewhat superior attitude to the US army’s conduct after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Much was made of Britain’s experience in conducting a war against insurgents in urban conditions in Northern Ireland. To boast about that suggests either supreme arrogance or selective memory. British tactics were not successful in Northern Ireland or Basra and certainly did not have the “moral authority” to which David Cameron referred in his statement about the US Senate report on torture.

 
Britain’s torture laboratory in Northern Ireland

In 1971, Operation Demetrius involved the mass arrest and imprisonment without trial of people suspected of connections with the Provisional IRA. Fourteen of those imprisoned were interrogated at a site formerly known as RAF Ballykelly, which was handed over to the British Army as Shackleton Barracks on 2 June 1971. On their way to the interrogation centre in 1971, the British army hooded the men and threw them to the ground from helicopters. The captors told the hooded men they were hundreds of feet in the air, but the helicopters were actually just a few feet from the ground. Granted, this was better behaviour than that of the Argentinian junta who threw prisoners to their death from helicopters at high altitude.

 
The British security forces during the Irish Troubles developed five techniques of “deep interrogation”: prolonged wall standing, hooding, subjection to noise, deprivation of sleep, and deprivation of food and drink. For seven days, when not being interrogated, the detainees were forced to wear hoods while handcuffed in a cold cell and were forced to stand in a stress position for many hours. There was a continuous loud hissing noise. They were repeatedly beaten, their heads banged against the wall. The interrogators kicked them in the genitals. The treatment caused long-term trauma.

 
In 1976, the European Commission of Human Rights ruled that the five techniques amounted to “torture”. However, in 1978, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the five techniques were “inhuman and degrading” and breached the European Convention on Human Rights, but did not amount to “torture”. The Court’s ruling, that the five techniques did not amount to torture, was later cited by the US and Israel to justify their own methods. Britain exported the techniques to the military dictators of Brazil.

 
Never again?

In 1972, prime minister Edward Heath promised to the House of Commons: “[The] Government, having reviewed the whole matter with great care and with reference to any future operations, have decided that the techniques … will not be used in future as an aid to interrogation… The statement that I have made covers all future circumstances.”

 
Despite Heath’s promise, the British Army used the five techniques in Iraq. As recently as December 2014, human rights lawyers sent a dossier of claims to the ICC (International Criminal Court) alleging that British soldiers abused and tortured Iraqi men, women and children, aged from 13 to 101. Defence secretary Geoff Hoon told MPs in 2005 that hooding had not been used in Iraq since May 2004. In reality, there were more than 70 cases of hooding between June 2004 and September 2008.

 
There were, the report alleges, dozens of mock executions; many described how dogs were used to attack or threaten detainees. There are also allegations of sexual assault or rape by British soldiers. One man who was “repeatedly beaten” and “electrocuted”, suffered “severe psychological injuries as a result of his treatment”. He set himself alight and killed himself a year after his release.
Phil Shiner, a solicitor with the law firm PIL (Public Interest Lawyers), which is handling the claims, said: “The UK mindset in Iraq appears to be one of savage brutality and a sadistic inhumanity, irrespective of whether it was women, children or old men being tortured, abused or callously subjected to lethal force. The systemic issues must now be dealt with in public.”

 
A long history of torture

Britain has an extensive and unlovely record of brutality in the “war on terrorism” that goes back at least as far as the Tudors. Henry VIII tried to bring all Ireland under his control to prevent its use as a base for a Catholic invasion of England or a haven for pretenders trying to depose him. His daughter Elizabeth had similar fears and thought the Jesuits might try to overthrow her. Some versions of the story of Edmund Campion (now a Catholic saint) have it that the Queen was actually present when Campion was tortured on the rack.

 
Obama tortured by British

Neil Ascherson wrote: “The myth that British colonialism guaranteed a minimum standard of behavior toward ‘natives’ cannot—or should not—survive the evidence of twentieth-century Kenya. In the field, the security forces behaved like Germans on an antipartisan sweep in occupied France. In the detention and work camps, and the resettlement villages, the British created a world no better than the universe of the Soviet Gulag.”

 
Hussein Onyango Obama, Barack Obama’s paternal grandfather, was arrested in 1949 by the British during the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya and subjected to horrific violence, which left him permanently scarred and embittered against the British. “The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed,” Sarah Onyango, 87, Hussein Onyango’s third wife, the woman President Obama refers to as “Granny Sarah” said. “He said they would sometimes squeeze his testicles with metallic rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together with his head facing down.”

 
Mau-Mau militants killed 32 British civilians. The British killed 20,000 Mau-Mau fighters and persecuted large numbers of Kikuyu not directly involved in the rebellion. Lawyers acting for Kenyans suing for compensation documented 5,228 cases of abuses including fatal whippings, blindings, castrations and rapes.

 
In 2009, Kenyan victims filed a lawsuit, but the British government asked the judge to throw out the case, saying it had transferred all liability to Kenya when the country gained independence. The Kenya government denied responsibility and stood behind the victims. The three men, including one whom the British had castrated, who filed the original case made numerous trips to London to give their testimony. Britain could not deny the atrocities because there were immaculate records kept by the torturers themselves that revealed systemic human rights violations. The High Court ordered the Foreign Office to produce all relevant evidence, including hundreds of boxes of files, secretly smuggled out of Kenya ahead of independence in 1963. The British government’s defence until recently was that the statute of limitations had expired. Eventually, after four years of dogged resistance, Britain announced a £19.9 million settlement. Many of the beneficiaries, who are in their 80s, will not have long to enjoy the compensation.

 
Extraordinary rendition

In 1971, the British evicted all 2,000 inhabitants of the Chagos Islands from their homes in order to give Diego Garcia to the US as a military base. In his book Island of Shame, David Vine quotes military analyst John Pike telling him that the US military’s goal is “to run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia by 2015, even if the entire Eastern Hemisphere has drop-kicked us from every other base.”

 
Stephen Grey, author of Ghost Plane disclosed the journeys of a Gulfstream aircraft, registered N379P, as part of a list of more than 3,000 flight logs. The logs show the same aircraft flew from Washington via Athens to Diego Garcia. Though there have been persistent reports in the US that detainees have been secretly held in Diego Garcia, the British government has always dismissed the claims. The then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw denied that the Diego Garcia base was used for rendition and torture. “There simply is no truth that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition, full stop.”

 
David Miliband war criminal?

When David Miliband became foreign secretary in June 2007, there were already allegations about possible British involvement in overseas torture. Sami al-Saadi claimed that, in 2004, MI6 handed him and his family over to authorities in Libya who tortured him. Documents show that MI5 gave Tripoli reports on Libyan dissidents living in Britain.

 
Gareth Pierce is a human rights lawyer who had defended Giuseppe Conlon against the flawed prosecution led by Sir Michael Havers. She is dishonoured by the ridiculous caricature of her by Emma Thompson in the film In the Name of the Father. She wrote in the London Review of Books about Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian given leave to reside in the UK. “British intelligence and the Americans and Moroccans for 18 months slashed the most intimate parts of his body with razors, burned him with boiling liquids, stretched his limbs causing unimaginable agony, and bombarded him with ferocious sound.” Techniques seem to have become more brutal since the days of St Edmund Campion. As David Miliband was personal advisor to Tony Blair while Labour was in opposition and played a major role in the election victory of 1997, it seems unlikely that he was unaware of what was happening before he became foreign secretary.

 
As human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, who represented Binyam Mohammed, writes, Miliband cannot avoid charges of complicity demonstrated by his actions as foreign secretary. Miliband personally approved some interrogations involving countries with poor human rights records. He was a senior member of a government that later actively resisted calls for an inquiry. “He put considerable energy into defending a number of claims relating to torture in the English courts against his department.”

 
While campaigning for the Labour leadership Miliband was forced to confront claims that he allowed the interrogation of three terror suspects who allege they were tortured in Bangladesh and Egypt. Faisal Mostafa, a chemistry lecturer from Manchester, who was twice cleared of terrorism offences in court, was detained in Bangladesh. He claims he was hung upside down and electrocuted while interrogators interrogated him about two Islamist groups.

Britain and the US Senate report

There is no reference at all in the Senate’s 500-page summary report to UK intelligence agencies or the British territory of Diego Garcia. There is no reference to Binyam Mohamed, or to the abductions and extraditions to Libya of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami-al-Saadi. Heavy redactions to the executive summary encouraged speculation that references to US allies were deleted.

 
The British government commissioned an inquiry by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson to look at the UK’s treatment of detainees after 9/11. In his preliminary report, he raised 27 serious questions about the behaviour of the UK security services. The Gibson Inquiry was replaced by an investigation handled by the ISC (Intelligence and Security Committee). The ISC’s report will not, however, be completed before the 2015 general election, so it is unclear how many members of the nine-strong panel of MPs and peers will still be in parliament to complete the work. Release of the Chilcot Report into the Iraq war is also being delayed until after the election.

 
Gareth Pierce on the UK’s hypocrisy: “We inhabit the most secretive of democracies, which has developed the most comprehensive of structures for hiding its misdeeds, shielding them always from view behind the curtain of ‘national security’. From here on in we should be aware of the game of hide and seek in which the government hopes to ensure that we should never find out its true culpability.”

 

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/51-83338-news-detail-britains-torture-laboratory-in-northern-ireland-britain-teaches-the-world-to-torture.html

 

Reconciliation in Ireland Part 5

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday September 23 2012

Peace comes dropping slow

There were too many twists and turns in the road to the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement to be covered satisfactorily in 800 words. Readers wanting to follow the detail should read Great Hatred, Little Room by Jonathan Powell for an inside view by a British government participant. Deaglán de Bréadún, of the Irish Times, followed the negotiations on a daily basis and interviewed key people. In his book The Far Side of Revenge. My favorite quotation in the book is from a republican asked about the decommissioning of IRA arms. “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it”.

Why did it end?
The 30-year war had reached a stalemate. Peter Taylor, in his book Brits, provides convincing evidence to show that British intelligence had improved to such an extent that the IRA were well aware that they could not possibly win. On their side, the British were savvy enough to know that they could not achieve a definitive military defeat of the IRA. Behind a facade of British refusal to talk with terrorists and the IRA refusal to contemplate anything short of a united Ireland, both sides were for a long time edging towards compromise.

The actors
De Bréadún provides pithy pen portraits of key participants. Of Bill Clinton, he says: “A needy man met a needy people”. He quotes George Mitchell: “No-one can really have a chance in a society dominated by fear, hatred and violence…a deadly ritual in which most of the victims are innocent”.
PMs Blair and Ahern grew in stature because of their dogged efforts on Northern Ireland before, respectively, Iraq and corruption destroyed their reputations.
Three Catholic Northern Ireland citizens were essential to the peace process. John Hume, of the Social Democratic Liberal Party sacrificed his health throughout his adult life representing the nationalist community’s aspirations for an end to discrimination. Although Hume was a fervent upholder of non-violence, he was courageous enough to maintain dialogue with the men of violence, chiefly through Gerry Adams.
De Bréadún writes of Gerry Adams, “He failed to match the stereotype of the fire-breathing subversive, choosing instead to act as a conduit for the grievances of the grassroots”.

While Adams dealt with the broad strategic sweep, Martin McGuinness proved to be a canny negotiator. According to a senior Dublin civil servant: “The boy revolutionary developed into a mature and skilful politician”. De Bréadún writes: “Mc Guinness got respect in his own right, thanks to his formidable history as an activist and his direct and commanding personality. If Adams was the architect of the republican project, McGuinness was the engineer”.

On the Unionist side David Trimble had been involved with the right-wing, paramilitary-linked Vanguard in the early 1970s before he joined the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party. As the leader of the UUP he could not afford to be too “moderate”. The Reverend Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist party was constantly raising the “No surrender. No popery” ante and Trimble had to be seen to support triumphalist loyalist marches through Catholic areas.

 

Constructive ambiguity
Many regarded the peace process with scepticism concerned that it would bring men of violence into the heart of democracy. Symbolic issues like policing and decommissioning provided obstacles. To carry his party with him, Trimble had to insist that the IRA decommission its arms. McGuinness and Adams had great authority with the rank and file of the IRA but could not sell decommissioning as it would be seen as surrender without achieving the aim of a united Ireland.
To cut a convoluted story short, peace was achieved through a process of constructive ambiguity, which allowed all actors to say they had not surrendered. Talks resumed in 1993 after Clinton listened to Sinn Féin On April 10, 1998, the British and Irish governments formulated the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement. After the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, and 2007 elections, the DUP and Sinn Féin formed a government in May 2007. Paisley became First Minister and McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister.
The nationalists could say that their struggle had entered new non-violent phase in which progress would be made towards a united Ireland by developing cross-border All-Ireland institutions and co-operating within the EU. Loyalists could claim that they had preserved their membership of the UK. The constitution of the Irish Republic was amended to give up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland. Trimble lost the leadership of the UUP and mainstream parties like the UUP and Hume’s SDLP lost influence to Paisley’s DUP and Adams’s Sinn Fein. A bizarre aspect was that the indefatigable nay-sayer Paisley became a jovial buddy of McGuinness, who also learnt to smile a lot. They became known as the Chuckle Brothers.

 

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/focus/item/10734-peace#sthash.MLLs7DLt.dpuf

 

Reconciliation in Ireland – Part 4

At the time of the Easter Rising in 1916, the British government had more or less decided to grant Ireland Home Rule, but was hoping to get the little matter of the First World War out of the way first. The Ulster Volunteers, the first loyalist paramilitary group, was established under the leadership of Edward Carson. It evolved into the Ulster Volunteer Force in January 1913, receiving a large arms cache from Germany in April 1914. The unionists promised civil war if Home Rule became a reality: “Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right”.

Irish rebels did not win independence for the whole island. The boundaries of the north and east were gerrymandered so that the six counties which formed the statelet of Northern Ireland would have an inbuilt protestant loyalist majority. Since then, who ruled Northern Ireland saw to it that Protestant loyalists got the best education and the best jobs; the Catholic minority suffered severe discrimination. In Derry, Catholics were in a majority but Protestants ran the city council. The boundaries were drawn to ensure that 14,000 Catholic voters ended up with eight councillors, while 9,000 Protestants had twelve.

Ferocious rioting
By the 1960s, Northern Ireland Catholics were emulating the Civil Rights movement in the USA. The IRA was a spent force. That did not prevent unionists from regarding the NICRA (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement) as an IRA front. The IRA had given up arms and been taken over by Marxists under the leadership of Cathal Goulding, who admitted that he didn’t have the human resource to obtain a united Ireland by force.  The IRA did not drive the Civil Rights movement. Its members acted as stewards on many marches but to prevent rather than promote violence.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary and its notorious auxiliaries, the B Specials, were almost exclusively Protestant and Loyalist. Demands for civil rights were seen as sedition. In the summer of 1969, the powder keg was ignited in Derry, the conflagration spread to Belfast and engulfed the whole province. The ferocious rioting that lasted for three days in Derry became known as the Battle of the Bogside. One of the young men involved was Martin McGuinness. London’s attention was captured; troops were sent in.

The first RUC officer to be killed was Constable Victor Arbuckle, shot by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force that was ironically protesting the disarming of the RUC. The bizarre twists and turns of the 30-year conflict are captured in three books by Peter Taylor – Loyalists, Brits, and Provos.

Dissidents
The civil rights movement rejuvenated the IRA. After a so-called “pogrom” in Belfast in August 1969, the graffito “IRA – I Ran Away” began appearing on walls. The Catholic population believed that Goulding’s IRA had deserted them. A group of dissidents emerged which evolved into the Provisional IRA. Initially, the group’s primary objective was to make sure that they would be trained and equipped to defend the Catholic areas of Belfast if loyalists were to attack them. It is ironic now to remember that the British army regarded the IRA as allies rather than enemies. To the IRA, the loyalists were the enemy not the British.
The loyalists insisted on their civil right to stage frequent triumphalist marches through Catholic areas. Both sides became inflamed with sectarian hatreds which the British could not cope with. The Brits became the enemy for loyalists as well as nationalist, victims of the history of plantation and partition.
Even when Ireland became a republic, the IRA continued to “fight” for a united Ireland. Ireland remains divided, though, raising the question, were those deaths worthwhile?

One can appreciate why intelligent young men like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness joined the IRA in 1969 in order to defend the Catholic population. Although initially welcomed by Catholics, the British Army soon alienated them by their actions. The IRA moved from defending Catholics to fighting for a united Ireland, but “fighting” meant setting off bombs that killed babies and other innocent parties.

United Ireland
When Bobby Sands died on hunger strike in 1981, the situation in Northern Ireland was that Catholics had suffered severe discrimination. This was being addressed in the face of recalcitrance from loyalists. However, Bobby Sands was not fighting for an end to discrimination but for a united Ireland. What peace has been achieved in Northern Ireland has come because both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are both members of the EU and much of the Good Friday Agreement was about setting up institutions which covered all Ireland. Although most Irish people are grateful for peace, Bobby Sands’s sister and her husband feel they have the right to interpret his ‘legacy’ by leading the Real IRA in killing innocent people. Some freedom fighters!

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/international/item/10177-provos.html#sthash.eqKeP499.dpuf

 

The Arrest of Gerry Adams

This article was published in Ceylon Today on May 14 2014.

 

Colman's Column3

 

The police force of part of the UK arrested a member of parliament of a separate nation in connection with a crime committed 40 years ago. The PSNI (Police Services of Northern Ireland) arrested Gerry Adams, MP for Louth in the Republic of Ireland, under the Terrorism Act 2000, and questioned him for four days at Antrim police station. Adams leads the party that jointly governs Northern Ireland. He was one of the key brokers of the accord that ended what had been a brutal 30-year war.

 

They were investigating his alleged involvement in the murder of Jean McConville in 1972. The IRA dragged Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten, from her west Belfast home and executed her, claiming that she was an informer. Her body was found in August 2003 buried on a beach in County Louth. Forensic tests showed she had been badly beaten and shot in the back of the head.

 

Adams said: “I believe that the killing of Jean McConville and the secret burial of her body was wrong and a grievous injustice to her and her family”. The PSNI released him without charge.

 

Boston College

 

Boston College interviewed several former paramilitaries about the Troubles on the understanding that they would not publish transcripts until the interviewees were dead. PSNI subpoenaed Boston College in 2011. A provision of US law forced them to hand over the evidence, which they did after two years of legal battles. A court last year ordered the project to hand over the tapes to PSNI.

 

Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre ran the project. McIntyre is a former IRA life sentence prisoner. Moloney is a Belfast journalist who published A Secret History of the IRA, twelve years ago. Moloney revealed that in the early 70s Adams had established a unit in the Belfast IRA called the “unknowns”, which conducted several “disappearances”, including that of McConville.

 

Adams and the IRA

 

In interviews for the project, two former IRA operatives, Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price, confessed to involvement in Jean McConville’s murder. When former IRA commander Brendan Hughes, died in 2008 it emerged that on the tapes he alleged that Adams was a senior IRA leader during the Troubles and had ordered Mrs McConville’s killing.

 

Adams said: “Both Moloney and McIntyre are opponents of the Sinn Féin leadership and our peace strategy and have interviewed former republicans who are also hostile to me and other Sinn Féin leaders.”

 

Moloney says: “…the Sinn Féin leader chose to lie about his past, saying he was never in the IRA. That claim is so absurd, and to many of his former comrades so hurtful, that some were bound to protest.” Brendan Hughes in his Boston interview: “[When Adams denies IRA membership] it means that people like myself … have to carry the responsibility for all those deaths, for sending men out to die and sending women out to die, and Gerry was sitting there … trying to stop us from doing it? I’m disgusted by it because it’s so untrue and everybody knows it.”

 

 

Isn’t Northern Ireland ‘Sorted’?

 

 

Someone asked me: “Isn’t Northern Ireland sorted?” This is not a surprising reaction. When people outside the island of Ireland think about Northern Ireland at all, which is probably rarely, they are comfortable in thinking that the old problem has been “sorted” by the hard-won Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Tony Blair and New Labour and Bill Clinton presented the Northern Ireland peace process as a resounding success in bringing centuries of ‘ancient hatred’ to a close and providing a model for the rest of the world’s ethnic trouble spots to follow.

 

 

I suspect that many in Sri Lanka would see Northern Ireland as a model, like South Africa, for the reconciliation process in this country. The Adams case shows that Northern Ireland is not “sorted”. Why have the hopes invested in the Good Friday Agreement not been fully met, sixteen years after it was signed?

 

 

Ongoing Strife

 

 

There is likely to be a further plunge in turnout at this month’s municipal and European elections, reflecting growing disillusionment with the dysfunctional administration at Stormont. A recent newspaper survey of young people in Northern Ireland found that two thirds did not believe they enjoyed peace and the same proportion wanted to leave to pursue their aspirations.

 

 

Adams and Mandela

 

 

Adams cynically exploited the global wave of emotion surrounding the death of Nelson Mandela to create the impression that he was Ireland’s Mandela. Mandela openly acknowledged his role in orchestrating the campaign of violence against the repressive apartheid regime. His admissions, and similar acknowledgments of culpability from leaders on both sides of the South African conflict to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, were fundamental to helping the country move from the horrors of the past.

 

 

Adams has actively concealed the truth of his past and sought to discredit those who have sought to bring light to the subject. Adams told members of the McConville family “Thank God I was in prison when she disappeared.” In fact, Adams was free at the time of the killing.

 

 

Justice or Peace?

 

There are lessons in this affair for other post-conflict situations. Who can argue with victims’ commissioner Kathryn Stone, when she says, “There can be no sustainable peace in Northern Ireland until every victim has true peace of mind”?

 

Ruth Dudley Edwards recently wrote: “The reluctance to dig into the past that has enabled both sides to continue their habit of what in Northern Ireland is called ‘whataboutery’ – in which any allegation by a member of one tribe is answered by a counter -allegation from the other.”

 

Others argue that those who did not live through the horrors of the Troubles do not appreciate the hard bargains that had to be struck to bring the relative peace enjoyed today. Official amnesia allowed fringe figures on the Loyalist side, such as firebrand bigot Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson, to acquire legitimacy in order to achieve an ostensibly democratic administration in Belfast. Robinson was convicted in a court in the Republic of Ireland of unlawful assembly, having led an incursion across the border during frequently violent Protestant protests against an intergovernmental agreement between London and Dublin in 1985.

 

Impunity or Therapeutic Amnesia.

 

In the years after the IRA ceasefire, the Irish government had an unofficial policy of playing down IRA violence. Just two years after the 1994 ceasefire an IRA unit shot dead Jerry McCabe, a police officer, in Co Limerick during a botched robbery. The attempt to cover up the IRA’s role in the McCabe murder caused outrage among the Garda Síochána.

 

In March 2014, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly stated that 187 people had received letters assuring them that they did not face arrest and prosecution for IRA crimes.

 

Only a day before Adams’s arrest, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers ruled out inquiries into the British Army Parachute Regiment’s killing of ten mourners at a funeral in Ballymurphy, in August 1971, and the IRA’s killing of 12 people in the La Mon House firebomb massacre, in February 1978.

 

There is little doubt that Adams, whatever the truth of his connections with the IRA, played a large role in ending the conflict. If he was not in the IRA, how did Adams have the authority to persuade the IRA hardliners to agree to peace? Today, people of violence on both sides sit down and discuss sewage plans, pension problems and how to invest in infrastructure. As Peter Hain, the former Northern Ireland secretary, said: “Adams and [Martin McGuinness] have been indispensable in moving Northern Ireland from the evil and horror of the past to the relative tranquillity and stability of today.”

 

In the Good Friday Agreement, approved in 1998 in referenda north and south of the border, there was no amnesty – only a concession to the perpetrators of Troubles-related crimes that if found guilty, they would serve only two years in jail.

 

How does Northern Ireland confront its past without undermining peace? Should politicians from all parties in Stormont, Dublin and Westminster to talk seriously about whether they can establish South African-style truth and reconciliation hearings, in which individuals can publicly declare their crimes and express contrition, in exchange for freedom from prosecution?

 

 

Irish Elect Poet as President

This article was published in the Sri Lankan newspaper, The Nation, on October 30 2011

It has just been announced that Michael D Higgins, a beaming little leprechaun, endorsed by Martin Sheen, is the new President of the Republic of Ireland. Higgins is a poet who has been minister of culture.

 
The Uachtarán na hÉireann is not an executive presidency. Although it is mainly a ceremonial office strong, personalities have been able to use it cannily. Eamon de Valera used his freedom fighter status (and his newspaper empire) to maintain the totalitarian rule of the Catholic Church. Mary Robinson used her international reputation, mighty intellect and even mightier charm to nudge Ireland into the modern world.

 
Contenders have come and gone and come back again. At one time, there was speculation that Bob Geldof would put himself forward. In one of his more printable comments, the ex-Boomtown Rat spoke of boom and bust. “The overwhelming feeling I have is one of sadness for the country, and of anger for the incompetence beyond measure, the sheer stupidity and the clear venality which has Ireland where it is now”. Saint Bob early decided it was not worth running.

 

There was pressure on Martin Sheen to use his experience of pretending to be a president on The West Wing to have a go at running a real country. He has Irish citizenship as well as a Master’s in philosophy from the University of Galway.

 

Fianna Fáil, the party that has dominated Irish politics for decades, did not run an official candidate. But Sean Gallagher, although rejecting accusations that he embraced his Fianna Fáil past but denied the Fianna Fáil present, said on his own website: “Seán has been a sporadic member of Fianna Fáil over many years”. Gallagher was front-runner at the end of the campaign. Businessman Hugh Morgan alleged Mr Gallagher personally collected a “5,000 cheque from him on behalf of Fianna Fáil.

 

Rosemary Scallon (born Rosemary Brown in 1951 in Derry) achieved international fame as Dana, when she won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1970 with the song All Kinds of Everything. Squabbles over money from her US earnings peddling religious music have escalated into nastier accusations. Dana’s brother, John Brown, was a member of her election team. Dana’s sister, Susan, has accused Brown of sexually molesting her, Susan’s, daughter and is repeating the allegations now. Dana concealed the fact that she was a US citizen and therefore constitutionally barred from contesting for the presidency of Ireland.

 

The contest is open to natives of Northern Ireland even though they are UK citizens. Like Dana, Martin McGuinness is a native of Derry. (I once had dinner with Chris Patten and he told me he had got into hot water with the Reverend Ian Paisley for saying “Derry” instead of “Londonderry”). McGuinness has given up his job in the Stormont government in Belfast to run in the Republic’s presidential election. He is having to field a lot of criticism about his terrorist past as Commandant of the Derry brigade of the Provisional IRA. He claims that he left the IRA in 1974 but others dispute this. Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe snarked at McGuinness’s commitment to draw the average industrial wage if elected. “Why would you need your salary when you have the proceeds of the Northern Bank at your disposal,” Kehoe said. The IRA stole £26.5 million from the Northern Bank in 2004.

 

My friend, the Reverend Harold Good, is not naive about the horrors of terrorism, but counts McGuinness as a friend following their partnership in the Northern Ireland peace process. Harold told me: “If elected he would be a circumspect, respectful and statesmanlike President… he would leave a gap in our Stormont administration where he is doing a very good job. The media and his opponents are indeed focussing on his past rather than his present. However, as I understand it … he and Sinn Fein see this as an opportunity to ask the Irish electorate to give a strong endorsement to the road they have taken … as distinct from the ‘dissidents’ . They feel a strong vote, whatever the outcome, will send this message.”

 

McGuinness made a less than helpful intervention in Sri Lankan affairs when he came here in 2006 and talked with LTTE leaders. He may have meant well but was over-optimistic in seeing parallels with the Irish situation. In Ireland, most parties were exhausted enough to give up conflict and to talk. “The reality is that, just as in Ireland, there can be no military victory and that the only alternative to endless conflict is dialogue, negotiations and accommodation”.

 

He was clearly mistaken.

 

McGuinness criticised the European Union for banning the Tamil Tigers as a Terrorist Organisation. He said that “it was a huge mistake for EU leaders to demonise the LTTE and the political leaders of the Tamil people.”

 

We knew well enough that some were demons.

 

Although it is possible to learn lessons from history, the road to hell is paved with false analogies.

 

The Milo Minderbinder School of Foreign Policy

No tongues please. I’m British!

I wrote this in April 2011. Things have moved on since.

 

“In a democracy, the government is the people,” Milo explained. “We’re people, aren’t we? So we might just as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I’d like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry.”

Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer  in Catch-22 is the personification of capitalism. He has no allegiance to any country, person or principle unless it pays him. Milo doesn’t see himself as corrupt or evil. He claims to live by a strict moral code. The one country he will not deal with is the Soviet Union (although they are supposed to be allies in the war)  out of respect for private property and disdain for socialism.

Milo organizes the bombing of his own base because he has a contract with the Germans. The Germans may be the enemy but they are good payers.

Milo was a neo-liberal avant la lettre. When markets fail to deliver, the capitalist is quick to turn to the government for help. Milo depends on governments for his riches.

His moral code allows for price inflation and betraying one’s country for the sake of profit. Everyone has a “share” in the Syndicate, a fact which Minderbinder uses to defend his actions- what is good for the company is good for all. He secretly replaces the CO2 cartridges in the emergency life vests with certificates for shares in M & M, on the assumption that the future person who may need that vest will be instantly compensated for its absence. He steals the silk out of parachutes, the morphine out of  first aid kits, all in the name of making a few bucks, honest or otherwise.  His most interesting attributes are his complete immorality without self-awareness, and his circular logicality in running his Syndicate. Minderbinder decides that he can trust Yossarian  because “anyone who would not steal from the country he loved would not steal from anyone.”

This fellow is a bit more cautious on a first date.

Libya and the IRA

During the period 1969–1971, the Provisional IRA was very poorly armed. By 1972, the IRA had large quantities of modern small arms, particularly Armalites, made and bought in the USA. The IRA’s main gun runner in the USA was George Harrison (no relation) an IRA veteran, who had lived in New York since 1938. Harrison bought guns for the IRA from a Corsican arms dealer named George de Meo who had connections with organized crime. Harrison was funded by NORAID -“Irish Northern Aid Committee”.

The IRA used the QE2 to smuggle arms from the USA.

Joe Cahill

Quadaffi first donated arms  to the IRA in 1972–1973, following visits by veteran IRA man Joe Cahill to Libya. In early 1973, the Irish navy seized an arms shipment on the Claudia. Five tonnes of Libyan arms and ammunition were found on board. The weapons seized included 250 Soviet-made small arms, 240 rifles, anti-tank mines and other explosives. Cahill was arrested on board. It is believed  that three shipments of weapons of similar size did get through to the IRA around  the same time. The early Libyan arms shipments provided  the IRA with its first RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers.  Qaddafi also donated three to five million US dollars to the IRA at this time.

IRA contact with Libya was broken off in 1976 but was restored after the 1981 IRA  hunger strikes. In this period, Libya provided enough arms to equip at least two infantry battalions. Qaddafi is thought to have decided to support the IRA to get back at the British government for its support for Reagan’s bombing of Benghazi and Tripoli in 1986. US planes had been allowed to take off  from British bases. Sixty Libyans died in the attacks, including Qaddafi’s adopted baby daughter Hanna. This second major Libyan contribution to the IRA came in 1986–1987. In 1987, the French navy intercepted the  Eksund in the Bay of Biscay. She was carrying 120 tonnes of weapons, including HMGs, 36 RPGs, 1000 detonators, 20 SAMs, Semtex and 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition from Libya. There were four shipments before the Eksund incident which were not intercepted. There had been a huge intelligence failure of both Irish and British agencies  author Brendan O’Brien described as ‘calamitous’. O’Brien claims that, thanks to Libya, there was an “oversupply” of arms in the hands of the IRA by 1992. It is also estimated that the Libyan government gave the IRA the equivalent of £2 million cash along with the 1980s shipments.

On 31 October 2009, a cross-party delegation of Northern Irish politicians travelled to the Tripoli for the first face-to-face meeting with Libyan government ministers to discuss compensation claims for victims of IRA violence.

Shootout at the Libyan Embassy

On 17 April 1984, there was a demonstration by anti-Quadaffi dissidents outside the Libya embassy in St James’s Square, London . Thirty police officers were sent to control the situation. Shots were fired and eleven people were hit. WPC Yvonne Fletcher died from her wounds. An inquest ruled that she died as a result of a stomach wound caused by bullets from two Sterling sub-machine guns fired from the embassy. Following the shooting, the embassy was surrounded by armed police for eleven days, after which the staff were allowed to leave and then deported. The UK broke off diplomatic relations with Libya.

Joe Vialls, conspiracy theorist or  self-proclaimed private investigator dedicated to “exposing media disinformation,”,  concluded that the fatal shots had come not from within the embassy but from a penthouse flat next-door-but-one to the Libyan embassy, and were fired by CIA/Mossad agents. Vialls may have been a crank but more respectable people were also sceptical about the official line on the shooting. These included George Styles, a top army ballistics expert, Hugh Thomas, expert on bullet wounds from his experiences as consultant surgeon of the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast, and veteran Home Office pathologist, Professor Bernard Knight.

A report from April 2007 concluded that two men, who were later senior members of the Libyan regime, played an “instrumental role” in the killing. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph in 2009, the Crown Prosecution Service had been told  by an independent prosecutor that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute two Libyans.

The Foreign Office eventually  bowed to Libyan pressure and agreed that Britain would abandon any attempt to try the murderer of WPC  Fletcher. Anthony Layden, Britain’s former ambassador to Libya, said he had signed an agreement with the Libyan government when Jack Straw was foreign secretary. At the time Britain was negotiating trade deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds with Libya. The deal followed a visit by Tony Blair, then prime minister, to meet Colonel Qaddafi in March 2004 after Libya announced that it was ending its nuclear weapons programme. The Foreign Office said the deal had been sealed in an exchange of ambassadors’ letters in 2006: “The Fletcher family know all this and have not considered it to be a big issue.” Queenie Fletcher’s  MP questioned this interpretation.

On Friday, 25 March 2011, Kim Sengupta wrote in The Independent  about a meeting with Omar Ahmed Sodani, the chief suspect in the killing of WPC Fletcher.  Sodani, now 59, was  head of the Al Ejanalghoria, Muammar Qaddafi’s militia in Benghazi. He has been questioned by his captors in the rebel movement, not only about the shooting, but for allegedly providing reports on Libyan students in London which led to their persecution back home, as well as complicity in human rights abuses. “They have interrogated me about the shooting all those years ago,” he said. “I have explained to them that I did not do it.”

Sengupta wrote: “After talking for a little more than an hour, Mr Sodani was led away. As he departed, he made one final pronouncement: ‘I have full confidence in the fairness of the revolution and the revolution’s judges. This country would be a far better place in the future than it was in the past.’ There was no mistaking the fear in his voice.”

Lockerbie

On Wednesday 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members. Eleven people in Lockerbie, a town in southern Scotland, were killed as large sections of the plane destroyed several houses. Total fatalities were 270. Libya did not formally admit responsibility until 16 August 2003. In a letter to the UN Security Council it “accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials” but expressed no remorse.

The motive that is generally attributed to Libya can be traced back to a series of military confrontations with the US Navy that took place in the 1980s. Libyan planes were shot down and ships sunk. Libya was accused of retaliating by ordering the bombing of the La Belle nightclub in West Berlin in 1986.

Even in February 2004, Libya did  not accept guilt. Prime Minister  Shukri Ghanem told the BBC that his country had paid  compensation as the “price for peace” and to secure the lifting of sanctions. He also denied that Libya was responsible for killing Yvonne Fletcher. Qaddafi later retracted Ghanem’s comments, under pressure from Washington and London.

There are  many conspiracy theories about the Lockerbie case. I will not go into them in detail here but those interested in following this up will be guided by:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan_Am_Flight_103_conspiracy_theories

Campaigning journalists, John Pilger and the late  Paul Foot have written extensively about Lockerbie.

Iran was initially the prime suspect for the Lockerbie bombing and had the most obvious motive. Five months earlier, an Iranian civilian aircraft had been  shot down by the US warship USS Vincennes and Ayatollah Khomeini had called for revenge. The theory is that Iran paid the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) to carry out the attack on its behalf. Ahmad Behbahani, a former Iranian intelligence official, later claimed that he personally conveyed the message to the PFLP-GC.

A recurring theory is that the CIA, or rogue elements within it,  it had cleared a drugs smuggling route from Europe to America involving Pan Am flights in return for intelligence about militant groups.

Saif al-Qaddafi said that Libya had admitted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing simply to get trade sanctions removed. He went on to describe the families of the Lockerbie victims as very greedy: “They were asking for more money and more money and more money”. Several of the victims’ families refused to accept compensation because they did not believe that Libya was responsible. On 23 February 2011,  Mustafa Mohamed Abud Al Jeleil, former Justice Secretary of Libya, claimed to have evidence that Qaddafi personally ordered the bombing.

Indictments for murder were issued on 13 November 1991 against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and  Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, Libyan airlines station manager in Malta. (Don’t forget that Milo was Mayor of Valetta). UN sanctions against Libya and protracted negotiations with the Libyan leader secured the handover of the accused on 5 April 1999 to Scottish police. Both accused chose not to give evidence in court. On 31 January 2001, Megrahi was convicted of murder by a panel of three Scottish judges in a courtroom in “neutral” Holland. There was no jury. Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment but Fhimah was acquitted.

Megrahi served eight and a half  years of his sentence, throughout which time he maintained that he was innocent. Some argue that the governments in England and Scotland in effect blackmailed Megrahi into dropping his appeal as a condition of his immediate release.

He was released from prison on compassionate grounds on 20 August 2009 as he was suffering from cancer. Allegations have been made that the UK government and British Petroleum sought Al-Megrahi’s release as part of a trade deal with Libya. In 2008, the British government “decided to do all it could to help the Libyans get Al-Megrahi home … and explained the legal procedure for compassionate release to the Libyans”.

Some argue that key evidence presented at the trial (for example, timer fragment, parts from a specific radio cassette model, clothing bought in Malta, a suitcase originating at Luqua, could have been fabricated by the U.S. and Britain for the “political” purpose of incriminating Libya. Paul Foot wrote that when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Bush Sr needed Iran’s support as he built a “coalition” to expel his wayward client from an American oil colony. The only country that defied Bush and backed Iraq was Libya. “Like lazy and overfed fish,” wrote Foot, “the British media jumped to the bait. In almost unanimous chorus, they engaged in furious vilification and open warmongering against Libya.”

Former CIA officer Robert Baer, who took part in the original investigation, said ” the evidence amassed by [Megrahi’s] appeal is explosive and extremely damning to the system of justice.” A “key secret witness” at the original trial, who claimed to have seen Megrahi, loading the bomb on to the plane at Frankfurt, was bribed by the US authorities holding him as a “protected witness”. The defense exposed him as a CIA informer who stood to collect, on the Libyans’ conviction, up to $4m as a reward. New evidence would have shown that a fragment of a circuit board and bomb timer, “discovered” in the Scottish countryside and said to have been in Megrahi’s suitcase, was probably planted.

Paul Foot, wrote that  the Scottish judges, while admitting a “mass of conflicting evidence” and rejecting the fantasies of the CIA informer, found Megrahi guilty on hearsay. Their 90-page “opinion”, wrote Foot, “is a remarkable document that claims an honored  place in the history of British miscarriages of justice”. (His report, Lockerbie – the Flight from Justice, can be downloaded from http://www.private-eye.co.uk for £5.) Foot reported that most of the staff of the US embassy in Moscow who had reserved seats on Pan Am flights from Frankfurt cancelled their bookings when they were alerted by US intelligence that a terrorist attack was planned.

Britain’s strange constitutional arrangements allowed Gordon Brown, who, although a Scotsman representing a Scottish constituency,  was PM of the UK, to express ersatz outrage at the decision by the Scottish government to allow the release. Not only was this hypocritical because  a release was being negotiated for a long time by the Blair and Brown administrations because of oil and arms sales, but there were doubts about Megrahi’s guilt and the fairness of his trial.

John Pilger was incensed at the hypocrisy of the reaction to Megrahi’s release. “No one in authority has had the guts to state the truth about the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103”.

Tony  Minderbinder Blair

Whether Libya was guilty over Lockerbie or not,  there have, no doubt, been dirty deals. Tony Blair first announced a “new relationship” with Libya in 2004. The Duke of York visited Libya several times, meeting Qaddafi and his son Saif. Minderbinder Blair, now peace envoy in the Middle East, recognized that peace and friendship with  Libya was good for UK plc. British Aerospace could provide employment for British workers by selling arms to Libya. Blair stopped the Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE bribery charges.

And, of course, there is the oil.

David Cameron is the new Minderbinder in Downing Street. Having sold arms to Quadaffi,  the UK  is now entertaining  the Libyan rats deserting the ship. Speaking at a Downing Street press conference about the defector, Moussa Koussa,  Cameron said: “The decision by the former Libyan minister to come to London to resign his position is a decision by someone at the very top. It tells a compelling story of the desperation and the fear right at the very top of the crumbling and rotten Qaddafi regime.”

However, Lockerbie won’t go away. It was made clear that Koussa’s defection will raise uncomfortable questions about atrocities which happened when he was a senior figure in Libya’s foreign intelligence service. Scottish prosecutors told the Foreign Office they want to interview Koussa about  Pan Am flight 103. He could also face questioning about the murder of Yvonne Fletcher.

Julie MacLusky

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