By Gerry Adams (for the Guardian)
In June I stood in the Guildhall Square in Derry and watched as the relatives of the 14 innocent victims of the British Parachute Regiment expressed their delight at the Saville report’s conclusion that the 14 were innocent victims. After Bloody Sunday, the British system and, to its shame, much of the British media, accused those who had been shot of being “gunmen” and “bombers”. Lies were told and a cover-up concocted and the British establishment closed ranks to defend the actions of its army. That lie persisted for decades.
In countless actions over decades of war, the British army and RUC strategy employed shoot-to-kill operations, plastic bullets, mass raids on homes, torture, curfews and intimidation, and collusion between state forces and unionist death squads to kill many hundreds of citizens. And they tried to intimidate a whole community.
The full resources of the British state - including legal, judicial, and propaganda - were brought to bear. It was frequently claimed that victims were gunmen or women whose weapons were spirited away by hostile crowds; or who made actions which gave soldiers cause to believe they were armed or a threat; or who ran away from patrols justifying their being shot. The truth is still denied to relatives in many of these cases.
It was also often said that the north was the British state’s training ground for its military and intelligence system. The truth of that is evident in the revelations contained in some of the 90,000 US military files that have been posted on the WikiLeaks website and carried in detail in a number of newspapers, including the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegal. The files reveal a depth of failure in the military strategy of Nato than has heretofore been evident in the media coverage of the war.
The Afghanistan experience and the techniques and strategies and propaganda employed in that war are not exceptional. They fit a pattern which will be familiar to people who watched or reported on the war in Ireland. For example: the WikiLeaks files provide a list of actions involving the British army. These are some.
* 15 November 2006: In Helmand, the British army’s Marine commandos fired warning shots at a vehicle, killing two civilians and wounding two others, including a child.
* 12 March 2008: Helmand. British troops call in helicopter gunships and claim three enemy dead. The bodies of two women and two children are later found.
* 19 November 2008: Marine commandos fire “warning shots” at a vehicle. They kill a child.
* 19 May 2009: Gurkhas call in air strike and kill eight civilians and destroy a family compound.
* 30 September 2009: Helmand. The Rifles Regiment calls in an air strike on a compound housing two families. Seven killed.
When asked to respond to these, the British Ministry of Defence said: “We are currently examining our records to establish the facts in the alleged casualty incidents raised.” Human Rights Watch which reported on the war in the north of Ireland and is now doing similar work in Afghanistan said: “These files bring to light what’s been a consistent trend by US and Nato forces: the concealment of civilian deaths.”
Also revealed is the existence of Task Force 373 - a covert operations unit whose task is to “remove” the enemy. Remember shoot-to-kill actions in Belfast and Lurgan and other parts of the north by clandestine special forces? All of this just scratches the surface of another dirty war that is being fought using modern versions of old strategies and techniques, and is failing.
Will the publication of the battlefield and intelligence documents by WikiLeaks make a difference? “None,” according to the British foreign secretary, William Hague. His retort could just as easily have come from the mouth of Reginald Maudling or William Whitelaw or Roy Mason or Tom King or any of the previous British ministers who had responsibility for prosecuting the British war in Ireland, and whose policies sustained a conflict that could have ended much earlier.
But then should we be surprised? Should those of us who survived Britain’s war in Ireland be taken aback by the stupidity of the British military and political mind? A former commander of the British army in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, recently claimed that the British army won the war in Ireland. If Kemp, who presumably was the British army’s key strategist in Afghanistan, could get it so wrong in our country, why should anyone expect him to get it right in Afghanistan? And if he and William Hague are reflective of British thinking today, then the British are destined to make the same mistakes in that part of the world they made here.