By Eamonn McCann (for the Belfast Telegraph)
One of the reasons for hostility to the Bloody Sunday Inquiry is to be found in a judgement delivered in the High Court in London last Friday in the case of Khunder al-Sweady.
The judges’ comments on the approach to the case of the Ministry of Defence helps explain why powerful interests might be determined to discredit Saville in advance.
The judges asserted that the MoD had sought to thwart their investigation of a claim that British soldiers had tortured detainees and committed murder in Iraq. They found that the MoD had tried to conceal evidence by arguing dishonestly that its exposure would endanger national security.
They added: “Until such time as the Ministry had demonstrated that it had taken steps to ensure that false assertions were never again made in a [Public Interest Immunity] certificate and schedule, it would, in the court’s view, be incumbent on the courts to approach the content of any such documents from the Ministry with very considerable caution.”
Far from resigning in face of this indictment, Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth has not, at the time of writing, felt compelled to offer a comment.
There have been no calls for his sacking from parliamentarians or in the editorial columns of any but fringe, radical journals.
The al-Sweady case demonstrates that there are few lengths to which establishment interests won’t go to hide evidence of British Army criminality.
This is what they are at when they seek to pollute the atmosphere in which Saville’s conclusions are made public.
It is true that the Tribunal has taken too long to report and cost too much but that complaint, given the quarters it is coming from, is a smokescreen for a settled unwillingness to admit the truth, a fear that Saville might force them to face the truth.
It shouldn’t need repeating, but it does, that Bloody Sunday differs from the other atrocities which litter our recent history in this crucial respect - that this wasn’t an outrage perpetrated by people purporting to represent one community against people from another community - much as that is the perspective in which Orange and Green as well as British politicians either pretend or tend instinctively to see it.
When the State kills its citizens it is in the interests of all that the truth be uncovered and those responsible held to account.
The armed group responsible for Bloody Sunday hasn’t called a ceasefire or decommissioned its arms but has moved on to other theatres of war, where, as in the case of Mr al-Sweady, allegations of similar outrageous behaviour continue to be made.
Mr al-Sweady, Hussein Fadel Abass, Atiyah Sayid Abdelreza, Hussein Jabbari Ali, Mahdi Jassim Abdullah and Ahmad Jabbar Ahmood claim that, following a gun-battle in southern Iraq on May 14/15 known as “the Battle of Danny Boy”, around 20 Iraqis, including farmers caught in crossfire who had sought cover in adjacent fields, were taken at gunpoint by soldiers to the nearby Camp Abu Naji where they were hooded and had their hands tied, were kicked and jumped on until bones broke, in some cases had their eyes gouged out or their genitals crushed. A number were then allegedly shot or hanged. The six say they are the survivors.
They say that a previous investigation by Royal Military Police fell short of the requirements of Articles Two, Three and Five of the European Convention on Human Rights. On this basis, they are seeking an order for a new and more rigorous investigation.
Their case has been taken up by British lawyer Phil Shiner. The High Court proceedings six days ago arose from a PII application last May by the MoD to have evidence which “related to the permissible limits of the techniques of tactical questioning of captured individuals by military interrogators” ruled out on national security grounds.
The court accepted the integrity of the Minister in issuing the PII certificates and granted orders excluding the material.
On Friday, the court pronounced: “The Secretary of State had relied on what transpired to be a partly false public interest immunity certificate and schedule ... The court had been persuaded that the balance of public interest required that the material should not be disclosed. It was a matter of deep regret that the court ... as a result had made a number of rulings which had subsequently been shown to have been wholly wrong. The court should not have been misled.”
The judges also held that officials of the Treasury Solicitors (the Government’s lawyers) had lied on a number of occasions in claiming that they knew of no undisclosed documents which might help establish the truth of the Iraqis’ allegations.
Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward proposes that officials of the Treasury Solicitors be tasked to examine the Saville Report after it has been delivered to the NIO but before it is published in order to check that nothing in it breaches Article Two (guaranteeing the right to life) of the European Convention.
The determination of senior politicians and commentators in predictable newspapers to damage Saville’s credibility is similar in intent to the political and civil service behaviour in the al-Sweady case which the High Court found disgraceful.
The purpose in both instances is to conceal or obscure the truth.
We - Catholic, Protestant, atheist, whatever - should have none of it.