Thursday, April 01, 2004

Belfast and Fallujah

There is an odd strand connecting two seemingly unrelated news stories today. The Iraq coverage in the US is still dominated by the events in Fallujah yesterday, in which four private security guards working for the Pentagon were killed and then put on display by a mob. Now, our betters here in the US media outlets think that we can't handle direct footage of this event so the shock effect is not even as high as it might otherwise be. But watching what little glimpses of it that we have been allowed, along with the predictable denunications of the mob, has an unfortunate resonance for anyone with a memory of 1980s Northern Ireland.

For the first thing that sprang to mind was the convulsive events of March 1988. The world became aware of how bad things were at the tail end of a sequence of events, for which TV cameras were present. A huge crowd was attending the funeral of IRA member Kevin Brady, who was killed a few days previously when a Loyalist psychopath* had opened fire at another funeral in nationalist Belfast.

On the TV cameras we see a car with two panicked occupants lurch into view, a crowd approaches the car, one of the occupants pulls a gun, the crowd now tackles the people inside the car, there are glimpses of them being dragged away and put in another car, and a few hours later they are found dead. The two occupants turned out to be plain clothes, and apparently off-duty, British soldiers.

It was extremely disturbing footage, and one of those moments where you remember where you were when you saw it. Now of course the mob was denounced and the world was shocked. It was difficult to defend their actions, but it was one of these situations where blanket Dubya-style denunciations were of little help in understanding what had happened; three days previously, three people had died at another funeral, and now two unfamiliar men suddenly approached this one. And things escalated from there. So for instance, when alleged Irish-American and Fox News thug Bill O'Reilly makes a statement like:

O'REILLY: The colonel [talk show guest] and I are disagreeing on the tactics [retaliation for the Fallujah killings], but we know what the final solution should be. Why hasn't the U.S. command done this [attack the whole town]? And why do they continue to absorb the level of terror that is coming out of -- this isn't a big town. We're not talking about Cincinnati here. Right? It's not a big town?

So Bill's advice to the British Army in 1988 would have been: flatten Belfast (or at least the nationalist bits)'s not a big town?

There is a connection to another of today's news items. After the 1988 killings, a man named Patrick McGeown was charged with "organising" the killings of the two soldiers. The whole notion of an "organised" mob killing that clearly sprang from bizarre and unplanned circumstances was a stretch, and McGeown had a good lawyer to make this and related points. That lawyer was Patrick Finucane. Finucane was killed by Loyalist paramilitaries in 1989, and his murder has dogged the British government, if not the conscience thereof, ever since.

Credible allegations have been made that the security forces set up Finucane as a target by telling Loyalist extremists that he was in the IRA, and then failed to act to prevent his killing even with advance information on it. As part of the peace process, a Canadian judge has investigated this and three other mysterious murders. Today, the British government published the judge's report, and while they will proceed with public inquiries into the other three murders, the Finucane family will have to wait.

This is claimed to be because of an ongoing criminal case, but goes against the judge's recommendation that the truth needs to come out as soon as possible. Incidentally, David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader and consultant to the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy on mobile phone bomb detonators, took the opportunity today to yet again insinuate that Finucane was in the IRA. The US forces in Iraq should be getting advice from their British counterparts on how not to run their War on Terror.

UPDATE: We mentioned above the legal followup to the incident in which the two British soldiers who were killed in unclear circumstances at an IRA funeral. The lawyer Pat Finucane represented one of the accused, who was cleared, and Finucane was murdered not long afterwards (The Shamrockshire Eagle e-mailed us, noting the intriguing timeline of this events, suggesting a specific revenge motive for Finucane's murder). But wait, there's more.

There were three convictions. The men were eligible to be freed under the Good Friday Agreement. One of them, Sean O Ceallaigh [Kelly] emigrated to California. But now the US authorities are trying to deport him (subs. req'd), citing the conviction as evidence of "moral turpitude" -- one of the broad exclusionary criteria that the US applies to potential immigrants. Two separate investigative journalist teams, and the Irish government, doubt the safety of the convictions. It looks like the original trial will essentially be re-aired in California.

*UPDATE 22 JUNE: We should have updated ages ago but it looks like O'Ceallaigh was allowed to stay in California. Meanwhile, the loyalist who attacked the funeral, Michael Stone, now living in London, is newly entangled with the police, for reasons as yet unclear.

FINAL UPDATE 9 SEPTEMBER 2006: Sean O'Ceallaigh's case continues to rumble through the system; the US Board of Immigration Appeals has ruled that he can be extradited, but have left open a final determination as to whether his offence was "political" in which case he would not be extradited, even under the new US-UK extradition treaty which moved a little closer to Senate ratification this week. O'Ceallaigh has in fact now been deported [not extradited, since apparently he does not face any criminal proceedings in Northern Ireland]