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Analysis: A great day for Derry; not a bad day for the British army either

Banners bearing portraits of Bloody Sunday victims are carried to the Guildhall in Derry, where relatives were able to read the first copies of the Saville report, 15 June 2010

Banners bearing portraits of Bloody Sunday victims are carried to the Guildhall in Derry, where relatives were able to read the first copies of the Saville report, 15 June 2010

By Eammon McCann via Sunday Tribune

Derry is still dizzy from the eruption of joy which greeted the Saville report’s recognition on Tuesday that all of the Bloody Sunday wounded and dead were unarmed civilians gunned down by British paratroopers for no good or legitimate reason.

But the report is not flawless. When it comes to the allocation of blame to the soldiers, it follows a pattern of convicting the lower orders while exculpating the higher command, and dismissing the possibility of political leaders having been even passively complicit in the events.

The individual paras who fired the shots that killed or wounded civil rights marchers are damned for the roles they played.

Additionally, Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, commander of the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, is singled out for obloquy. It was his disobedience of orders, says Saville, which put the paras into position to carry out the killing. Had he followed orders, the massacre would never have happened. Thus, an undisciplined battalion commander and a small squad of kill-crazy foot-soldiers did it all.

The effect is to insulate the rest of the British army from blame. The report was brilliant for the Bloody Sunday families. It wasn’t a bad result for the British army either.

David Cameron might have found it more difficult to disown those involved in the atrocity so forthrightly had Saville included in his list of culprits, say, Major General Robert Ford, Commander of Land Forces, Northern Ireland, at the time, or General Sir Michael Jackson, second-in-command to Wilford on the day, later army chief of staff and Nato commander in Kosovo.

Ford, second in seniority in the North only to the General Officer Commanding, commissioned the Bloody Sunday battle plan, Operation Forecast, and ordered the paras to Derry to carry it out.

In the weeks before Bloody Sunday he had made plain his frustration at the failure of Derry-based regiments to bring the Bogside no-go area to heel.

In a document published by the inquiry dated 7 January 1972, Ford declared himself “disturbed” by the attitude of army and police chiefs in Derry, and added: “I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ringleaders amongst the DYH (Derry Young Hooligans).”

Ford took the decision to deploy the paras six days before Bloody Sunday, overruling a message the same day from Derry commander, Brigadier Pat MacLellan, indicating that he and local police chief Frank Lagan believed that any direct confrontation with the civil rights marchers should be avoided. Ford held to the plan in face of strongly-expressed opposition from other senior Derry-based officers.

On the day, although with no operational role, he travelled to Derry and took up position at the edge of the Bogside, shouting “Go on the paras!” as they ran past him through a barbed-wire barricade towards the Rossville Street killing ground.

Saville suggests that Wilford allowed his soldiers in the Bogside to exceed MacLellan’s orders “not to fight a running battle”.

But nowhere in the report is it considered whether Wilford and the paras might have believed or suspected that MacLellan’s orders need not be regarded in all the circumstances as binding. The possibility that Ford’s decisions in advance, and comportment on the day, played a part in the way matters developed is brusquely dismissed: Ford “neither knew nor had reason to know at any stage that his decision would or was likely to result in soldiers firing unjustifiably on that day,” Saville declares in chapter four of his report’s first volume.

In the same chapter, Saville insulates political and military leaders generally from blame: “It was also submitted that in dealing with the security situation in Northern Ireland generally, the authorities (the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland governments and the army) tolerated if not encouraged the use of unjustified lethal force; and that this was the cause or a contributory cause of what happened on Bloody Sunday. We found no evidence of such toleration or encouragement.”

This is remarkable. Numerous incidents over the previous year might have suggested toleration if not encouragement of unjustified force. The most egregious had happened six months before Bloody Sunday when the First Paras were involved in killing 11 unarmed civilians over three days in Ballymurphy in west Belfast.

Newspapers of the period, particularly nationalist newspapers, were carrying regular complaints, many of them plausible, of unjustified and sometimes lethal violence by soldiers against civilians.

Toleration of this behaviour might have been inferred from, for example, the fact that no inquiry had been held into the Ballymurphy massacre, nor any soldier disciplined, nor any statement issued expressing regret.

Saville’s dismissal of the suggestion of a “culture of tolerance” would be unremarkable if by “evidence” he meant testimony to the inquiry. He had at an early stage declined to examine prior events in the North on the reasonable ground that to subject the Ballymurphy incident, for example, to the same level of scrutiny as Bloody Sunday would have made the tribunal’s task impossible. But this makes the statement that, “We found no evidence…” puzzling: the tribunal had decided not to gather such evidence.

Many who read through the body of the report will be puzzled, too, by Saville’s acceptance of the explanation eventually offered by Jackson of his role in compiling the “shot-list” which formed the basis of the initial cover-up of the killings.

Jackson had provided the tribunal with a detailed account of his movements and involvement in the Bloody Sunday events and took the witness stand in London in April 2003.

Nowhere in his statement or his April evidence did he refer to compiling the shot-list or other documents giving a version of what had happened. His role emerged the following month during evidence from Major Ted Loden who described how, late in the afternoon of Bloody Sunday, he took statements from the shooters and plotted map references showing the trajectory of their shots.

However, when a number of documents including the original of the shot-list, were then produced, the list turned out to be not in Loden’s handwriting but in the handwriting of the now chief of staff of the British army.

Loden was asked how this could have come about. “Well, I cannot answer that question,” came the reply.

None of the shots described conformed to any of the shots which evidence indicated had actually been fired.

Some trajectories took bullets through buildings to hit their targets. All the targets were identified as gunmen or as nail or petrol bombers.

The other documents in the chief of staff’s hand were personal accounts of the day’s events by Wilford, the three para company commanders present and the battalion intelligence officer.

Recalled to the stand in October, Jackson explained that he had entirely forgotten these documents but had recovered a “vague memory” after they had been put to Loden.

It had earlier slipped his mind that he had produced, by his own hand, within hours of the massacre, a detailed version of Bloody Sunday in which no British soldier did anything wrong and their victims were all to blame for their own injuries or deaths.

Under questioning, Jackson was badly hampered by poor memory. More than 20 times he used phrases such as, “I cannot remember”, “do not recall”, “I have only a very vague memory”.

Saville resolves one contradiction by accepting both Loden’s original claim that he had written out the shot-list and Jackson’s subsequent explanation that he must have copied Loden’s script verbatim, although he could offer no explanation as to why he might have done this, nor could he recall who had asked or ordered him to do so. Loden’s own list has never been found.

In volume eight of the report, Saville rejects suggestions from the families’ lawyers that “the list played some part in a cover-up to conceal the emerging truth that some innocent civilians had been shot and killed by soldiers of 1 Para, although it is not explained exactly how this conspiracy is said to have worked”. He accepts Jackson’s claim that compiling the documents would simply have been standard operational procedure (which he’d forgotten about).

In their statements to the inquiry, none of the soldiers whose shots were included on the list recalled being interviewed by either Loden or Jackson about their firing.

Having suggested it was not clear how a cover-up based on the documents might have worked, Saville goes on to say that, “the list did play a role in the army’s explanations of what occurred on the day”.

He cites an interview on BBC radio at 1am the day after Bloody Sunday in which the army’s head of information policy in the North, Maurice Tugwell, used the list as his basis for explaining the “shooting engagements”.

Elsewhere, he finds that “information from the list was used by Lord Balniel, the Minister of State for Defence, in the House of Commons on 1 February 1972, when he defended the actions of the soldiers”.

Saville seems not to have considered the possibility that this was how a conspiracy might have worked.

Many in high positions in Britain will have been relieved to find that Jackson bore no blame for the Bloody Sunday events. The response of the families and their supporters to Saville’s report has been understandably and properly euphoric. Whether other finding of the tribunal will stand the test of time is less certain.

The Saville report is a victory for the Irish people, and one more small step on the road to a united Ireland

Issued by: CPGB-ML
Issued on: 18 June 2010

With the release, on 15 June 2010, of the report by the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry on 30 January 1972, the British state has finally been forced to admit what the Irish people, and people throughout the world, have known for the last 38 years, namely that all the dead and injured were completely innocent and that the killings by the British Army’s parachute regiment that day were “unjustified and unjustifiable”.

Speaking in Derry as the report was released, Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams MP, said:

“Today is a day for the families of those killed and those injured on Bloody Sunday.

“They have campaigned for 38 years for the truth and for justice. They have campaigned for the British government to end their policy of cover-up and concealment.

“The facts of what happened on Bloody Sunday are clear – the British Paras came to Derry and murdered 14 civil-rights marchers and injured 13 others. They were unarmed, they posed no threat and they were completely innocent.

“Today, Saville has put the lies of Widgery [a whitewash enquiry into the events ordered by the British government in their immediate aftermath] into the dustbin of history, and with it the cover-up which was authorised at the highest levels within the British establishment and lasted for almost four decades.”

The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), which upholds the right of the Irish people to self-determination and stands for an end to partition and the unification of Ireland, joins with the families who lost their loved ones on that fateful day, with the working-class people of Derry, and with their republican leadership, in celebrating the momentous victory they have scored.

It is unprecedented for a British prime minister to have to stand up in the House of Commons and engage in a humiliating act of contrition for the bloody crimes of imperialism’s armed forces. We do not doubt that the words stuck in Cameron’s throat, but they brought joy to our hearts and to those of class-conscious British workers.

Writing in the Guardian, Comrade Gerry Adams poignantly described the atmosphere as the report was released:

Representatives of all the families spoke. One by one they declared their relative, their brother, their father, their uncle, ‘innocent!’

Their remarks were interrupted by loud applause. People cried and cheered. Clenched fists stabbed the air. Not the clenched fists of young radicals. These were elderly Derry grannies and granddads. Elderly widows. Middle-aged siblings.” (’Bloody Sunday is the defining story of the British army in Ireland’, 16 June 2010)

The above title of Adams’ article was a direct response to Prime Minister Cameron’s feeble attempt at face-saving, claiming that: “Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service the British Army gave in northern Ireland.”

All this is part of an attempt by the British state to cut its losses. Forced to admit blame, at the same time, it would have us believe that this was but one unfortunate incident, the responsibility of one regiment and of one conveniently dead commanding officer. In other words, the British state is continuing to lie through its teeth.

As Tony Doherty, whose father was one of those murdered on Bloody Sunday, told the 15 June crowd in Derry: “The Parachute Regiment are the frontline assassins for Britain’s political and military elite.” (Quoted in Adams, op cit)

Serving to underline the point, relatives of the Ballymurphy 11 joined the Bloody Sunday relatives at the head of the march. The Ballymurphy 11, ten men, including a local priest, and a mother of eight children, were murdered in that area of West Belfast by the same parachute regiment, in the 36 hours after the British state introduced internment without trial in August 1971, six months before Bloody Sunday. Their struggle for justice continues and we pledge it our full support.

Likewise, Sinn Fein Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, speaking in the Dáil (the Irish parliament), called on the Irish government to “press the British government to comply with the unanimous all-party motion adopted by the Dáil nearly two years ago, which called on the British government to release to an international investigation all facts it possesses on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 17 May 1974″.

Thirty-three people were killed and nearly 300 wounded in these car bombs, which were much later conveniently claimed by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) loyalist terror gang, but which are widely believed to have occurred with at least the connivance of British intelligence.

Comrade Ó Caoláin went on to rightly state: “The final act of justice will be when every remaining soldier of the British Army is at last withdrawn from the six counties.”

Far from being the exception that Cameron implied, Bloody Sunday is not merely the defining story of the British army in Ireland, but also its defining story throughout the world, be it of the Amritsar Massacre in 1919 (for which Shaheed Udham Singh finally took vengeance in 1940), or in countless places in the post-World War II period alone, from Korea, Cyprus, Malaya (where British soldiers posed grinning for photos holding the severed heads of captured suspected guerrillas), Kenya (where the British army retains a reputation for mass, systemic rape to this day) and Aden (where British soldiers awarded themselves ‘golliwog’ labels for killing innocent civilians), through the Malvinas and the Balkans, to the contemporary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We should entertain no illusions that the Saville Report somehow represents the British state turning over a new leaf. Just this month, former Labour defence minister Adam Ingram was forced to admit that he misled parliament (generally considered a far more heinous offence than butchering oppressed people!) over the hooding and ‘inhumane treatment’ of Iraqi detainees.

This emerged from the inquiry into the death of Iraqi hotel receptionist, Baha Mousa, tortured and beaten to death by the British army in Basra in September 2003. Documents disclosed by the inquiry set up into his death show that Ingram was copied on a memo revealing that Baha Mousa was hooded for a total of nearly 24 hours during 36 hours in British military custody before he died. Nine months later, Ingram claimed that hooding was only used while detainees were being transported for security reasons.

A report in the Morning Star noted:

The former minister also told the inquiry that he was not aware of three-decade-old prohibitions on the hooding of prisoners until 2004.

The ban on hooding, the use of stress positions and other degrading treatment was issued in 1972 by then prime minister Edward Heath after abuses of detainees in Northern Ireland.

But all these measures were routinely used by British forces in Basra and elsewhere in Iraq, even after specific instructions not to do so.

“Mr Ingram, a former Northern Ireland security minister, said that he was not aware of the ‘Heath ruling’ until it was referred to in a May 2004 document.” (’Ex-minister Ingram misled us on Iraq abuse’, 2 June 2010)

How correct Karl Marx was when he observed that, “English reaction has its roots in Ireland“.

Our party proudly calls for victory to the Iraqi and Afghan resistance, precisely so that the countless Baha Mousas do not, like the brave people of Derry, have to wait 38 years for justice and vindication.

What the British state has reluctantly conceded after nearly four decades was always as clear as daylight. As the Communist Party of China wrote at the time:
Why don’t you show any respect … for the just wishes of the Northern Irish people to have their democratic rights, since you always talk about respecting ‘the wishes of the people’? You have made a hullabaloo about a ‘civilised solution’, but why have you acted so barbarously in slaughtering the Northern Irish demonstrators and why are you continually sending troops and police to carry out armed suppression on a larger scale? … The bloody suppression of the Northern Irish people by the British government once again reveals its so-called ‘civilisation’.” (’Firmly support the Northern Irish people’s just struggle’, People’s Daily, 8 February 1972)

British imperialism’s belated acknowledgement of the dreadful crime it committed in Derry on 30 January 1972 may be attributed to two factors above all:
• To the courage, dignity, strength and resilience of the bereaved families; and
• To the tenacious struggle waged by the republican movement and the nationalist community, principally the armed struggle waged by the IRA, that finally opened the door to a political process that is slowly but surely going in the direction of a united Ireland.

British imperialism, like all reactionary forces, despises the weak and fears the strong. Its preferred modus operandi when oppressed people rise up is to drown them in blood, ride out the ensuing political storm, if there is one, and continue raking in the loot.

The risen Irish people denied them that option. As an ITN journalist observed, the IRA made the British army pay a high price for Bloody Sunday in the ensuing years, with more than 600 dead and many more wounded.

The victory of the Bloody Sunday relatives comes at a difficult time for British imperialism, with, as we have noted above, imperialist wars being fought in Iraq and, especially at the present time, Afghanistan, as well as with the savage economic crisis raising the spectre of possible unrest at home.

With the mawkish ‘welcome’ afforded the steady stream of coffins as they pass through the town of Wootton Bassett, military parades in such working class towns as Barking, and the attempts to criminalise militant protests by sections of the muslim community to such displays, we need to hammer home the point that participation in an imperialist war does not make you a hero. It makes you a criminal.

The real heroes are those like the Bloody Sunday families, the Afghan resistance, Military Families Against the War, and soldiers like Joe Glenton, who would rather serve time than fight in an unjust war.

In saluting and paying tribute to the Bloody Sunday families, the people of Derry, the republican movement, and the risen Irish people on their significant victory, the CPGB-ML commits itself to playing its part in the ongoing struggle to realise a free, sovereign and united Ireland and to see the day when British troops are no longer able to rampage in Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan or any other country.

In the words of Bobby Sands: “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.