Free Derry’s Bloody Sunday and Gaza’s Flotilla
Today marks an important day for the people of Derry in the north of Ireland. In January 1972 the Royal Paratroop Regiment opened fire on a civil rights rally shooting 27 and killing 14 unarmed civilians(one of whom died sometime later), nearly half of whom were teenagers. The world over, at least as far as I could see, has taken it for granted that the Army and the British state were entirely at fault. But London has spent the last 12 years and £200 million on the Saville Inquiry just to make sure.
PM David Cameron, told the House of Commons:
Mr Speaker, I am deeply patriotic.
I never want to believe anything bad about our country.
I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our Army who I believe to be the finest in the world.
And I have seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve.
But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear.
There is no doubt. There is nothing equivocal. There are no ambiguities.
What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable.
It was wrong.
I had all kinds of strange responses to this, but someone on twitter put it quite nicely: “ Whoah, there’s a Tory PM apologising for Bloody Sunday and admitting the army commited an atrocity. Never thought I’d see this.”
The initial Widgery Inquiry into Bloody Sunday was a farce, reducing its victims to “hooligans”. I imagine that whatever investigation we get from Israel on the Flotilla will not be altogether different from Widgery’s conclusions. Widgery found in his conclusions:
- 1. There would have been no deaths in Londonderry on 30 January if those who organised the illegal march had not thereby created a highly dangerous situation in which a clash between demonstrators and the security forces was almost inevitable.
- 2. The decision to contain the march within the Bogside and Creggan had been opposed by the Chief Superintendent of Police in Londonderry but was fully justified by events and was successfully carried out.
- 3. If the Army had persisted in its “low key” attitude and had not launched a large scale operation to arrest hooligans the day might have passed off without serious incident.
- 7. When the vehicles and soldiers of Support Company appeared in Rossville Street they came under fire. Arrests were made; but in a very short time the arrest operation took second place and the soldiers turned to engage their assailants. There is no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired upon first.
- 10. None of the deceased or wounded is proved to have been shot whilst handling a firearm or bomb. Some are wholly acquitted of complicity in such action; but there is a strong suspicion that some others had been firing weapons or handling bombs in the course of the afternoon and that yet others had been closely supporting them.
- 11. There was no general breakdown in discipline. For the most part the soldiers acted as they did because they thought their orders required it. No order and no training can ensure that a soldier will always act wisely, as well as bravely and with initiative. The individual soldier ought not to have to bear the burden of deciding whether to open fire in confusion such as prevailed on 30 January. In the conditions prevailing in Northern Ireland, however, this is often inescapable.
These findings were deeply traumatic for the families of those killed, and was felt to this day to be just another piece of state propaganda justifying collective punishment. It completely decontextualised the nature of the protest, and until today, the official line has been that these people were terrorists and the army lads were just doing their job. Much of the violence that occurred during The Troubles was inter- and intra- conflict between paramilitary forces – but Bloody Sunday was something different. Bloody Sunday confirmed for republicans that the British state had no qualms in killing civilians – terrorists and rock throwers alike.
The Saville Inquiry has debunked much of the lies and subterfuge. Here are some of it’s conclusions:
- 4.1 The immediate responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday lies with those members of Support Company whose unjustifiable firing was the cause of those deaths and injuries. The question remains, however, as to whether others also bear direct or indirect responsibility for what happened.
- 4.33 In our view the organisers of the civil rights march bear no responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday. Although those who organised the march must have realised that there was probably going to be trouble from rioters, they had no reason to believe and did not believe that this was likely to result in death or injury from unjustified firing by soldiers.
- 47.43 In our view the weight of the evidence of the soldiers of Mortar Platoon, coupled with the evidence of civilians to which we have referred above, establishes that no nail or blast bombs exploded in Sector 2. We should record at this point that in our view no nail or blast bombs were thrown or exploded in any other sector.
- 196.21 In the light of this evidence it appears doubtful, either as a matter of common law or on the basis of the retrospective validation of the regulations relating to soldiers under the Special Powers Act, that the arrests made on Bloody Sunday were lawfully made. We consider elsewhere in this report1the question whether arrests were made in good faith.
Significantly, the report makes another conclusion:
- 5.5 The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury. What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.
Perhaps Britain is now in a more comfortable position in its relationship to Ireland and that the peace process has allowed Britain to become humble enough to take a knock to its pride – perhaps also realising that the world may look to such actions as “reconciliation”, or whatever, as an example of resolution conflict.
I certainly think Israel could be looking at Britain’s example – and I don’t think it is necessarily an unfair example.
Here’s the film I’m going home to watch, to complete my unproductive though decidedly long day:
Meanwhile, on home soil, the CFMEU has enlisted Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four (wrongly convicted for an IRA bombing in 1975 and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, made famous in the film In the Name of the Father) to protest the the possible six month prison sentence Ark Tribe is facing for refusing to rock up to an examination by the Australian Building and Construction Commission