14 November 2002 Edition
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry
BY FERN LANE
General Robert Ford concluded his evidence to the Saville inquiry on Tuesday this week after almost three weeks in the witness box. During that time his claims about what happened on Bloody Sunday have been comprehensively discredited by Arthur Harvey and Michael Mansfield, representing the families, and as a consequence the already glaring inconsistencies in the British Army's version of events have become ever more apparent.
During his evidence, Ford repeatedly insisted that British soldiers had come under fire from the IRA and that they had been engaged in an open gun battle, but he could not explain why highly trained British Army snipers had failed to find one single target during this battle.
He claimed that the IRA had opened fire first, but was subsequently forced to concede that an officer of the Parachute Regiment had fired "warning shots" over the heads of marchers and that it was these shots which may have been mistaken by some other members of the regiments as IRA sniper fire and which led them to open fire themselves.
He could not explain how, having gone to watch the operation as an observer, he had, in the words of Michael Mansfield apparently "missed the action" - the so-called gun battle between the British Army and the IRA - from his vantage point. The reason he had not paid attention, suggested Mansfield, was because he was there simply to "egg on" the Paras and because "once the Paras had gone through the barrier... you knew perfectly well they were going in to do a hard, fast job of teaching Bogsiders a lesson".
Ford insisted that there was no prior plan or intention to arrest marchers on the day, merely rioters, but could not explain why his written plans did not make any allowance for the separation of marches and rioters or why members of 1 Para launched what Lord Saville termed a "frontal assault" on marchers in Rossville Street, and arrested anybody who happened to cross their paths - including a priest, middle-aged women and very young boys.
Ford denied that there was a shoot-to-kill policy on the part of the British Army, despite the evidence of a memo in which he recommends just that and suggests that the army's weapons be modified to allow soldiers to carry out that function more effectively and despite the copious evidence that the army was considering the possibility of shooting unarmed protestors.
Last week, Ford told the tribunal that he was "saddened" about the deaths of innocent people, but on Tuesday this week went on to question their innocence, saying that Tony Blair's statement to the British Parliament that those killed were to be considered as such was "jumping the gun". The tribunal heard that at the time he was actually, in the words of another member of the British Army, "lapping it up".
On Tuesday, Michael Mansfield QC, for some of the families, suggested to General Ford that he was "not interested in the truth" about what had happened on Bloody Sunday and had "never taken the slightest interest in the victims".
Mansfield put it to General Ford whether what he had in mind for the operation on 30 January 1972 "necessarily entailed a serious risk that far more unarmed civilians than gunmen would be killed" or if it was not, then "it is astonishing throughout the time then and the 30 years since, that you have never managed to discover how such highly trained, disciplined and focused troops managed to hit so many targets that were unarmed."
He put it to General Ford that "the reason you have not discovered it is - that you have known all along that what you had in mind would entail unarmed civilians being killed".
Transcript of the taped telephone conversation between two British Army officers on the evening of Bloody Sunday, during which they discuss the day's events:
" Look, there has obviously been a hell of a sort out... the whole thing's in chaos... yeah, obviously I think it has gone badly wrong in the Rossville... the doctor's just been up the hospital and they are pulling stiffs out there as fast as they can get them out."
" There is nothing wrong with that."
" Well there is because they are the wrong people ... there is about 9 and 15 killed by the Parachute Regiment in the Rossville area they are all women, children, fuck knows what and they are still going up there... I mean their Pigs are just full of bodies... there is a 3 tonner up there with bodies in... Stiffs all over the place and [solider 028]."
"[Soldier 028] involved is he."
"The padre is a bit upset. He is going off to see the commander about all the ill treatment."
"He was lapping it up - he said it was the best thing he had seen for a long time - Well done, 1st Para, he said, look at them ... 24 ... million dollar... He said this is what should happen. He said we are far too passive ... and I will tell you later."
Fisk to deliver Bloody Sunday Memorial Lecture
Robert Fisk, currently Middle East correspondent for The Independent, is to deliver the Bloody Sunday 30th Anniversary Memorial Lecture.
This year's lecture, titled "Crimes without Punishment", will be delivered by the acclaimed author and journalist in the Calgach Centre, Derry, at 8pm on Monday 25 November and will be introduced and chaired by Christine Bell, Professor of Public International Law, University of Ulster.
The annual Memorial Lecture marks the close of a year of events to mark the 30th anniversary year of Bloody Sunday, under the theme 'One World Many Struggles' by reflecting both on the continuing campaign for justice for Bloody Sunday and the significance of the issue internationally.
For over 30 years Robert Fisk has been consistent in his commitment to truth and justice. His coverage of wars in Ireland, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and more recently Afghanistan as well as the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict have won him many of journalism's most prestigious awards. In the Middle East he has witnessed many of the murderous slaughters perpetrated against the peoples of this region or seen at first hand the aftermath. His is one of the few voices prepared to cut to the "Why?" offering us a context for the events played out there. He was living in Beirut during the Israeli siege, he entered the Sabra and Chatila camps in 1982 on the day the massacre ended, observed the destruction of the US marine headquarters in 1983 by a massive suicide car bomb. He also witnessed the carnage perpetrated by allied forces on Iraqi soldiers fleeing Kuwait City at the end of the Gulf war, the brutality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and more recently the aftermath of suicide bomb attacks within Israel itself.
Fisk will look back on Bloody Sunday and its aftermath as a journalist who directly witnessed what he describes as the 'Bloody Sunday of Lebanon', the massacre of 1700 Palestinian refugees in the camps of Sabra and Chatila, ten years after Bloody Sunday. As such 'Crimes without Punishment' will compare and contrast the peace processes in the North and the Middle East and examine the bias and wordplay with which mainstream journalism reports such war crimes. In particular it will explore the circumstances and forces at play that have dictated that while a second inquiry into Bloody Sunday was won, many of the victims of the crimes of Sabre and Chatila continue to lay in unmarked graves.
Six are remembered
Sinn Féin Assembly member for Upper Bann, Dara O'Hagan, was the main speaker at a wreathlaying ceremony organised to mark the 20th anniversary of the state killing of six unarmed North Armagh men by the RUC.
Up to 60 people attended the ceremony, on Monday 11 Novemebr, at Tullygally East Road outside Lurgan when family members of the men killed laid wreaths in their memory.
The six who died were shot dead by the RUC in three consecutive incidents between November and December 1982. Their deaths were planned. This was the intended outcome. Amnesty International referred to their deaths as extra-judicial execution. In Ireland, the policy was more commonly known as 'shoot to kill' - the summary execution by the British governemnt of political opponents.
Addressing the crowd, O'Hagan stated: "The killing machine that planned and carried out these killings involved the RUC Special Branch, RUC Headquarters Mobile Support Units (HMSUs), the British Army's 14th Intelligence Company and Military Intelligence, the SAS and MI5.
"Unarmed men were shot dead. Stories were fabricated. Murder and conspiracy to murder were compounded by a further conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The legacy of all this remains with us. The justice denied the families of those killed continues. There is no mechanism in place to address it; no commitment to resolve it.
"The human rights abusers, the assassins and conspirators, transferred from the RUC into the PSNI unvetted. This is one of the critical failures in achieving the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement which as yet has not been delivered."