Black Diaries debate will go on
The Ghost of Roger Casement
Thursday 7 and 14 March
The recent two-part documentary on RTÉ, The Ghost of Roger Casement, made the claim, based on the analysis of a handwriting expert, that the Black Diaries, used by the British government to secure the death sentence for the 1916 patriot, were genuine and not, as many have asserted, British Intelligence forgeries. JACK MOYLETT, Secretary of the Roger Casement Foundation, watched the programmes and takes issue with the evidence provided.
The Ghost of Roger Casement, we were told, would incorporate "a complete forensic examination", of the so-called Black Diaries, independently set up by Bill McCormack, and I for one, hoped it would be conclusive. But this was not to be. The powers that be in Whitehall are not yet ready to concede the forgery and decommission the Black Diaries.
The first episode, aired on Thursday 7 March, traced Casement's life and times up to his arrival in Germany in late 1914. It focused mainly on his humanitarian work in the Congo and Amazon basin and was made by Alan Gilsenan, who wrote, directed and narrated the film. He used the usual documentary format, talking heads interspaced with photos and archival material, plus shots taken on location, nevertheless it was beautifully filmed and edited.
Casement went to those far off places to investigate the appalling crimes against humanity, carried out during the rubber boom, in the early part of the last century. His reports are really an indictment of European Christian expansionism. The indigenous people were murdered, raped and plundered, their way of life destroyed, just to make a few rich people, richer. The film began with the RIA symposium (May 2000) set up at the instigation of An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. The shots of Murlough Bay and the Glens of Antrim, Casement's ancestral home and where he wished to be buried, were exquisite. Photos of Casement, of Africans with their hands and feet chopped off (one of the minor punishments for not bringing in one's quota of rubber), of rubber barons, clips of slaves carrying ivory, shots of modern Iquitos, of Africa, and of river life made it impossible for the viewer's interest to waver. We saw Hitoma Safiama, a Huitoto Tribal chief, who told us: "The investigations of the conflicts led to our eventual salvation. That is how we were saved." What a truly great man Casement was.
When Christopher Andrew (British Intelligence historian) told us that Adler Christensen was Casement's man servant and homosexual lover, who betrayed Casement when they arrived in Oslo on their way to Germany, it did not ring true, and it isn't. The truth is that Christensen was Casement's bodyguard and guide, and was approached and offered £5,000 and immunity from the law in writing, by the British Ambassador, Mansfeldt Findlay, if he would betray his employer. He didn't. Andrew Weale, who is an ex-British intelligence officer, who specialised in interrogation techniques, told us that the Irish soldiers in prisoner of war camps in Germany were not nationalists. Did he ever hear of Home Rule, one wonders? The episode ended with a beautifully gentle rendition of Banna Strand sung by Gemma Hayes.
Episode two began with shots of Banna Strand and a sepia coloured clip of four men in a boat rowing ashore, with the railings of a conning-tower in the foreground. Could this have been taken from the U19, the submarine that brought Casement from Germany? If so, it is a record of the smallest invasion force our country has ever seen. The film rolled on much like the first episode; talking heads interspaced with photos, clips and modern shots of key places in Casement's life. Dick Spring at McKenna's fort told us Casement hid out there for some days. Sorry Dick, he was captured within hours of landing. Christopher Andrew admitted that they needed to discredit Casement in America for propaganda purposes and told us his interrogation in Scotland Yard was a very polite affair. Christopher should inquire of Andrew Weale about the interrogation and treatment of republican prisoners. We heard what was alleged to be a taped interview with a Corporal Ryan, who said that Casement had tried to commit suicide by eating nails, when Ryan was one of his jailers in the Tower of London. This is ridiculous. Roger Sawyer quotes it in his biography of Casement and gives this source for it. "Tape-recorded interview with RMS, 1972", whoever that is. When in the Tower Casement, had two soldiers with him at all times, the light always on, and another looking in. On the one occasion a young Welsh soldier was kind to him and whispered news of the Rising to him, the soldier was removed and Casement never saw him again. This documentary was taking a humorous turn. Owen Dudley Edwards said rather wittily: "They (The Diaries) arrived extraordinarily conveniently." That is one of the most suspicious things about them. They are there when they are absolutely, urgently needed. You could almost see the recruiting poster, famously Kitchener, pointing at the Black Diaries saying, 'Your Country needs you'. Then the long awaited footage of the forensic examination began to roll.
During the week that interspaced the episodes, our media was full of it, with our more jingoistic hacks giving it loads about how the Black Diaries were genuine.
Audrey Giles, the forensic examiner who worked for the London Metropolitan Police for 12 years, had the material in her possession for only a few weeks. We saw her scan a page each of the 1910 White and Black diaries, as she told us she only did handwriting comparison and continued: "Handwriting examinations are necessarily to some extent subjective. It relies on my judgement to determine whether features are the same or different. That being said, there is a huge body of knowledge which shows that this sort of analysis works, that handwriting examinations are reproducible and handwriting experts, forensic documents examiners, get the right answers when they are asked to identify handwriting." Has she ever heard of Alfred Dreyfus?
Textual analysis was not considered; No ink, paper, fingerprint or pollen tests were done. But it gets funnier. She went on to say: "We could go ahead and carry out analysis of the inks, there are some problems there. There has to be a recognition that if indeed the Diaries are substantial forgeries, then they would have been produced at about the same time as the documents are dated or not long afterwards. So they are going to be produced using materials of the age, so I doubt whether in the end any close analysis of the ink is going to tell us a great deal about them."
The refusal to do the tests speaks for itself.