Fifteen Years After 9/11 The Penny Finally Drops For New York Times


You can read it here.

Did Russia Really Hack The Democrats?

Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss takes a hard look at the evidence, widely accepted by the US and European media, that Russia hacked the Democratic party’s computer archives and finds that not even the US government is making that claim.

Despite media assertions Russia is behind DNC hack, US government does not say so

US Politics

on August 21, 2016

It is now an accomplished fact in the mainstream media that the Russian government perpetrated the hack of the Democratic National Committee emails that Wikileaks dropped in July to such fanfare ahead of the Democratic Convention.

Politico reflects this conventional wisdom:

Hackers linked to Russian intelligence services may have targeted some prominent Republican lawmakers, in addition to their well-publicized spying on Democrats

The Washington Post also says, the hack is “widely thought by U.S. intelligence officials to be the work of the Russian government.”

Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said that was the gospel truth on MSNBC’s Hardball Friday night: 

Chris Matthews: Do we know that the Russian intelligence forces hacked into DNC emails and dumped them on us?

McFaul: Yes. You know, Government officials have said as much on background. A public– a private firm has investigated it. I have talked to very senior officials at the

White House about it. I don’t think there’s any doubt that they have done that. And let’s remember Chris, that is their job. It’s called spying, it’s called intelligence.

Then covering his ass, McFaul said, “Let’s be precise about what we know and we don’t. Wikileaks dumped [the emails]…The part we don’t know precisely is did the Russians give it to Wikileaks, and I don’t think we’re ever going to know that.”

So gosh, we do know or we don’t know?

This story is glaring because despite all the certainty expressed in the mainstream media, the sources are all unnamed, and there’s a complete absence of hard evidence offered.

Also: the US government does not say what these experts are saying.

Secretary of state John Kerry gave the party line in Laos, July 26, the FBI is investigating:

Okay. Well, with respect to Foreign Minister Lavrov, I did raise the issue of the DNC. And as you know, the FBI is investigating the incident and it’s important for the FBI to do its work. And before we draw any conclusions in terms of what happened or who is behind it it’s very important that whatever public information is put out is based on fact.

So I raised the question and we will continue to work to see precisely what those facts are. And the FBI has responsibility for this investigation and we’ll let them speak as they proceed forward gathering those facts.

State’s John Kirby later specifically addressed the media claims:

Q. one of the major media outlet – the U.S. media – has said – quoted intelligence official that they believe that it’s Russia.  So will you be able to confirm or deny if you have anything on that?

MR KIRBY:  No.  As I said, this is a matter that the FBI is investigating, and I’m not going to get ahead of the work that investigators have to do.  And so I think that’s where we absolutely need to leave it.

The Russians have repeatedly denied responsibility for the hack (Sergei Lavrov dismissed the assertion out of hand). Meantime, the Clinton campaign has said that Russia did the hacks.

When a reporter asked deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz what the government knows, he was very careful. The Russians have done this kind of thing, but we don’t know who did this one. And: “There’s a host of usual suspects out there.”

 Russian officials said today that basically — that the accusations that they were involved in the hacking of the DNC or the DCC are basically just a cover or a way to distract from the fact that there’s actually been domestic tampering with the campaign, and basically accusing, I guess, the U.S. of trying to use them as a scapegoat.  I was wondering, did you have any response to that?  And then also, if the Russians or if a state actor is involved in these hacks — I know you kind of dealt with this before — but what is the administration considering as a way to respond?  What is the appropriate response to these types of hacks if they’re being carried out by other state actors?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Ayesha, I’ll address a couple points there.  First, the FBI is still investigating this matter, so it’s important that I not get ahead of that investigation.  So we’re going to wait for that investigation to conclude.  They will also make a determination if it’s appropriate to publicly implicate the culprit.  That’s a decision that will be made by the FBI and our national security officials to determine if that’s in the U.S.’s best interest, to make that public declaration.

I would refer you to the Director of National Intelligence  — James Clapper actually spoke to this late last week.  He said that there’s “a host of usual suspects out there that engage in this sort of activity.”  But the FBI is still investigating, and if there’s a point where they determine who was responsible for this attack and that it’s in the United States’ best interest to make that conclusion public, that they’ll be the first to do so.

So I don’t have any updates on the investigation for you.  We do know — and the President has spoken to this — that Russia has a record of engaging in this activity.

To be clear, I have no idea who did the hacks. What I find concerning is that the media go around saying Russia did it without a lot of backup for the assertion. Again, here is Michael McFaul on MSNBC a month ago.

Let’s be clear what we know and what we have to guess about. I think Everybody agrees that it were Russian organizations tied to the Russian government that hacked the DNC. There’s no debate about that.

Many commenters are reflecting the New York Times story on the matter in July: “Spy Agency Consensus Grows That Russia Hacked D.N.C.” David Sanger and Eric Schmitt reported that high US intelligence officials believe Russia was behind the hack. Unnamed sources, and belief:

American intelligence agencies have told the White House they now have “high confidence” that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee, according to federal officials who have been briefed on the evidence.

When it came to actual names, The Times offered one, this essay at the Lawfare blog by a former NSA lawyer, Susan Hennessey, concluding, “Paired with the technical indicators, the sum total of evidence is about as close to a smoking gun as can be expected where a sophisticated nation state [Russia] is involved.”

But a lot of Hennessey’s evidence was conjectural. Like:

There are well-documented connections between Wikileaks—the chosen vehicle for the leak release—its founder Julian Assange, and the Russian state apparatus.

Or the fact that DNI director James Clapper said in May that foreign governments were targeting the campaigns.

And some of her recommendations had an argumentative cast: “The US government is uniquely positioned to make the case for Russian attribution.” Again, what are we dealing with, a claim or a proof?

As the New York Times did– and McFaul and Politico too– Hennessey cited the assertion in June by Dmitri Alperovitch of a private outfit called Crowdstrike “specifically naming Russian state actors as behind the DNC hack.”

Without assessing his ideology or background, it is obvious that Alperovitch is an entrepreneur. At his site, he describes himself as “a renowned computer security researcher and thought leader on cybersecurity policies and state tradecraft.”

And BTW, Lawfare has Israel lobby bona fides: it is edited by Benjamin Wittes, who happily sells the Israeli Defense Forces attack on Gaza two years ago as one that took supreme care to protect civilian life (though to her credit, Hennessey has called the civilian casualties in that slaughter “outrageous”).

I’m not going to get to the bottom of this. What is clear is that there is a lot of establishment consensus on this story: Clintonites want a new cold war, against Iran’s good friend. And D.C. security types who are auditioning for jobs know the tune. Even though the head of national intelligence has said, “There’s a host of usual suspects out there that engage in this sort of activity.”

This is a transparent case of leading public figures talking out of their hats when they don’t really have the goods but want to believe something. Leftwingers and outsiders could never get away with anything like this claim. Then the highest epistemological responsible Gradgrindian standards of fact and knowledge would be brought to bear. This story just shows, there’s a sliding scale for truth when access and position are at stake.

Thanks to an anonymous friend for pointing me to the substance of this post

Hillary Clinton, Elliot Abrams And The Peace Process

Back at the end of June this year, when the Democratic primary was underway in New York, I had cause to travel into midtown Manhattan, something I rarely do these days, to visit one of the many Irish bars that still flourish despite the preponderance of one percenters in that part of the city, many of whose taste in watering holes, I assume, are a good deal more upscale.

Anyhow, when I arrived who did I bump into but a couple of Sinn Feiners, including one character who way back in the early summer of 1994 had reacted with scorn bordering on derision when I opined that the impending IRA ceasefire would last a good deal longer than the three months he and the rest of the faithful had been told to expect.

Perhaps it was because there was no leadership spy in the vicinity to report their doings or just that they didn’t care if there was – one is now a prosperous businessman who would be foolish to alienate – but a friendly enough conversation followed.

One of the two had spent much of that day at Fitzpatrick’s Hotel, off 57th Street, where it seems the Clinton’s, Bill and Hill, had set up base camp for the primary contest. From the direction taken by our exchange it was evident that Sinn Fein was throwing its weight behind Hillary, notwithstanding the fact that not so long ago Bernie Sanders’ politics would have been their preference.

At that point in the Democratic primary contest, Sanders was giving Hillary a real scare and this was not going down well in the Sinn Fein camp. “Why is he doing it?”, complained one.

As the threat from Trump has diminished, Hillary Clinton has moved to the right

As the threat from Trump has diminished, Hillary Clinton has moved to the right

You don’t have to be a genius to work out why the Shinners are backing Hill. It’s the peace process, stupid! With Hillary in the White House, Gerry Adams & Co expect to have a friend in the highest place on the globe or at least someone who will ensure that Mr Adams is not again left outside the White House waiting in the cold while lesser mortals enjoy the St Patrick’s Day revelries inside.

Since then the threat from Sanders has dissolved and that from Donald Trump has greatly diminished. And as Hillary Clinton’s confidence has swelled two things have happened: her need to indulge Sander’s supporters has all but evaporated and this has allowed her to move to the right, to cosy up especially to anti-Trump Republicans.

It has also allowed her to welcome support from neoconservative Republicans, including not a few who worked in George W Bush’s White House. Hillary has a well-deserved reputation as a foreign policy hawk, and is expected to take a more robust line than Obama with Russia’s Putin and against Israel’s perceived foes, primarily Iran. Look at how she revelled in the Libyan misadventure! So entertaining neocons’ hopes makes a certain sense.

It remains to be seen how much influence these neocons have over her various policies and/or whether she gives any of them jobs on her foreign policy staff. If she does then Sinn Fein may have cause to start worrying, because the peace process in Northern Ireland is not something they admire or would like to foster.

Take for example the most prominent of the Bush neocons to have thrown his hat into Hillary’s ring. He’s called Elliot Abrams and there’s an article from Counter Punch below which gives you a flavour of his career and an idea of what the man is like.

Elliot Abrams and a friend

Elliot Abrams and a soul mate

Abrams was working in the Bush White House during the second phase of the peace process and on it should give SF cause to shiver.

The peace process as far as US involvement is concerned went through two distinct stages. The first, during Bill Clinton’s years, was aimed at getting Sinn Fein and the IRA to the Good Friday Agreement; the second, during George W Bush’s time, was directed at mollifying the Unionists and persuading them, in the eventual shape of Ian Paisley’s DUP, to go into government with the Shinners.

That meant kicking Provo ass, specifically finishing off the IRA decommissioning process and getting the republicans to accept the new policing arrangements. Once that was accomplished, and the IRA’s war could be seen to be over, the way was opened for the power-sharing Executive that has functioned more or less successfully since 2006, a full decade.

The American diplomat charged with overseeing this phase of US policy towards the North, was Mitchell Reiss, a former academic turned senior State Department official who Bush made ambassador to the peace process.

Now Reiss was not at all liked by the Provos; he demanded they decommission fully, believed that Tony Blair (along with Bertie Ahern) was coddling the IRA and when the Northern Bank was robbed and Robert McCartney stabbed to death, he withdrew Gerry Adams’ permission to raise money for Sinn Fein in the United States.

Now, you would think that a toughness like this would have gone down well with the White House’s necons. But not a bit of it.

Dealing with terrorists, even when they are prepared to do your bidding, is forbidden in the neocon playbook and so Elliot Abrams conspired to get Mitchell Reiss sacked from his peace process job. Thereafter a virtual empty hole replaced him in the White House bureaucracy, as the peace process was downgraded and it stayed that way when Obama replaced George W Bush.

So, if the Provos have any sense they will still their celebrations this November if Hillary beats Donald Trump and wait to see the shape and colour of her foreign policy staff before they pop the corks. They may not be to their liking.


Too Close for Comfort: Ben Linder, Elliott Abrams and Hillary Clinton

You cannot stress the point too much. When (not if) Hillary Clinton becomes President of the United States of America, U.S. foreign relations will take a step back thirty years to the dark ages of Ronald Reagan.

By comparison, the age of Obama’s drone wars will appear delicate.

The danger of a Hillary Clinton presidency will rear its ugly head from day one, when she officially huddles with the Council on Foreign Relations and its Middle East policy “educator,” Elliott Abrams.

Because neocons like Hillary Clinton more than they do the unpredictable villain Donald Trump, this setup is not a secret and Abrams is but one of Clinton’s many neoconservative champions.

Elliott Abrams is a dangerous man, and everything he scribbles proves it. Read at your leisure.

One of the most infuriating and shameful acts of U.S. foreign policy in my time, excluding the Vietnam War, which amounted to a genocide beyond the pale, was the Reagan Administration’s support of the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s. The Sandinista rebel, Daniel Ortega, had come to power on the promise of economic reform in the Central American nation after the overthrow of the U.S. backed dictator, Anastasio Somoza.

Somoza, a U.S.-educated elite from a family of dictators, initially fled, his suitcases stuffed with cash, to Miami in 1979. President Jimmy Carter threw him out and he alit in Paraguay, where Sandinista hitmen finished him off in 1980.

Along came the Reagan Revolution after Carter’s perfunctory humanism—recall he was as anti-Soviet Union as the next American politician.

Ortega’s promise to attack poverty and illiteracy in Nicaragua had swept him into power via free elections and threatened U.S. influence in the region. Reagan and his underlings fought back with all the poison the CIA could muster, including the illegal arms-for-hostages deal with Iran and the arming of anti-Ortega rebels—the so-called Contras, mainly the malingerers of Somoza’s security forces.

Reagan used the long-dead horse of falling dominoes to justify his policy, while later claiming ignorance of the deal. A mostly complacent America went along with the ruse, one of the last incongruities of Cold War containment philosophy.

Into the Nicaraguan conflagration walked a Portland, Oregon kid named Ben Linder, an idealistic and committed activist with a recently-earned engineering degree from the University of Washington. Ben was working on a small hydroelectric project in a rural area north of Managua, April, 1987, when the Contras found him and two local co-workers, tossed grenades at them, and finished the trio off with bullets to the head. Ben and his friends were assassinated by a U.S. sponsored death squad. Our nation was, in the very least, morally culpable.

But you couldn’t tell that to Rep. Connie Mack III, grandson of the baseball legend, and State Department functionary Elliott Abrams after the brutal act. They blamed Ben Linder.

Going before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, Ben’s parents sought answers about why their son had to die, and blamed U.S. policy-makers for his death. What transpired at those hearings is one of the most despicable and disgraceful abuses of power in the U.S.’s long history of despicable and disgraceful abuses.

Abrams and Mack seemed to relish their roles as protectors of the CIA-sponsored right-wing death squads controlling the Nicaraguan countryside.

Ben’s mother, Elizabeth, pleaded that the U.S. government should go after the killers. Abrams and Mack angrily told her to mind her own business.

They were heartless, and the entire fiasco was on television for all to see.

That Elliott Abrams could resurface on George W. Bush’s team, after being convicted in 1991 of obstruction charges related to his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, is all you need to know about the deep corruption of the power-elite lineage in America.

Now Abrams, who has grown up to become the senior fellow for Middle East studies at the CFR is counting Hillary Clinton among his friends. The courting and first kiss is about happen.

Wait for it.

’66 Days’ – Some Thoughts On The New Bobby Sands Movie

I went to see the new Bobby Sands’ movie, ’66 Days’ the other night and this is my review.


This is a film full of unanswered questions, or to be precise, unasked questions.

’66 Days’, which I intend here to examine only for its politics rather than its style (which some might also find controversial), is a very thinly disguised attempt to approvingly link Sands’ sacrifice with the entry of Sinn Fein into electoral politics, thus setting in motion the political physics which led to the peace process.

So Bobby Sands equals peace is the essential message of the movie, reinforced by a frankly monochromatic procession of interviews with mostly loyal disciples of the Sinn Fein gospel. No dissenting voices of significance aired here! It is a simple message which, as one colleague observed the other day, would strike a chord outside Ireland where the subtleties are less understood.

But, of course, Sands and his nine comrades did not die so Sinn Fein could grace the corridors of Stormont or Leinster House. They chose painful, slow deaths for a very different reason. They wanted to be recognised as political prisoners, or as prisoners of war, not common criminals, because they regarded themselves as warriors in an ancient struggle against Britain’s occupation of Ireland. And they belonged to a politico-military movement forged in anti-electoralism, which split from its parent in 1969 partly in protest at the embrace of the parliamentary politics that now characterises Sinn Fein.

So the big question that is never asked much less answered in ’66 Days’ is this: would Bobby Sands have so readily endured an agonising two month-long dance with death had he been able to see two of the most striking pieces of archive that were shown near the end of this movie: one of a greying Gerry Adams smirking (triumphantly?) as marchers in a hunger strike memorial trooped past him; the other of Martin McGuinness, the one-time hard man of the Provos, who ‘did the business’ when Gerry wouldn’t, as so many Provos would tell you in 1993, shuffling into a stately room at Hillsborough Castle to do his duty and exchange meaningless pleasantries with Queen Elizabeth (what on earth goes through her/his head during such encounters?)

Or if he had heard Ireland’s savant de jour, Fintan O’Toole – who would scarcely have allowed himself to been seen within spitting distance of the Provos in 1981 – approvingly proclaim that Sands’ achievement was to end the IRA’s armed struggle not legitimise it, his role that of the midwife to a peace process that has stabilised the constitutional status quo, not weakened it.

Or that the making of a film about his life would be shunned by his family, by his son, would be licensed by a Trust that excludes those nearest and dearest to him, whose finances are kept secret, whose beneficiaries are unknown, whose income over thirty-five intervening years can only be guessed at. And not a mention made of this in the entire movie?

Or that it would show former comrades sliming Brendan Hughes for ‘fucking up’ the 1980 fast, while excluding the most sensational and believable claim made since 1981, that an opportunity to end the second fast and save more than half of those who died was sabotaged by the same leadership that blackens Hughes, and that the author of that claim was ostentatiously interviewed for the film about everything except that?

None of these issues were raised or the relevant quesions asked. They should have been. The central assertion is true, Bobby Sands’ death set the stage for the end of the IRA and for Sinn Fein’s entry into electoral politics, power, respectability and, recently, money. But that’s only part of the story.

Bobby Sands set out to win the IRA legitimacy but only secured the conditions for its eclipse. But the most interesting question, which will long outlive this film, is never put: what the man himself might have thought about all this? Would he have traveled the same road had he known where it would end? It would have been a better movie if it had balanced the narrative thus. And that is the failing of ’66 Days’.

Boston College Subpoenas Will Set Precedent For U.S. Army Court-Martial

When the US Department of Justice (DoJ) served subpoenas on Boston College seeking multiple IRA oral history interviews on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, we – that is campaigners against the subpoenas – warned that failure to defeat the government action, or to resist it as strenuously as possible, would open the way for other, similar actions and that the consequence of failure would be disastrous for oral historians – or for anyone wishing to report complex situations honestly.

That would especially be the case, we said, when the history being collected dealt with conflict situations. We had in mind, for an American audience, the difficulties that would surround the collection of candid interviews from American fighters – or their enemies – in Iraq, Afghanistan of other post-911 conflicts.

Five years later The Washington Post is today reporting on precisely such a scenario.

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl went missing from his base in Afghanistan in June 2009, and was captured shortly afterwards by the Taliban who held him captive until May 2014 when he was returned to the US as part of an exchange deal with the insurgents.

Bergdahl’s story was that he left the base to report ‘misconduct in his unit’ but that is disputed by the military. Following his disappearance the US Army mounted several searches for him with no success; but in the course of this effort six American soldiers were killed by the Taliban.

After he was released by the Taliban, Bergdahl gave a series of interviews to a public radio journalist called Mark Boal. He was interviewed on tape for 25 hours in all, mostly about his experience in the hands of the Taliban. Not dissimilar to the sort of in-depth interviews carried out by Boston College researchers, Anthony McIntyre and Wilson McArthur.

Some of the Bergdahl interview was used by public radio in a podcast; again somewhat similar to using Brendan Hughes’ and David Ervine’s interviews for the book and documentary film, ‘Voices From The Grave’.

Eighteen months after Bergdahl was safely returned to his family and unit, the US Army decided to refer his case to a ‘general court-martial’; if found guilty he could be sentenced to a life term in jail.

The US military’s prosecuting lawyer has served a subpoena on Boal and his partner Sarah Koenig demanding that the 25 hours of taped interview be handed over to be used, if necessary, against Bergdahl at his trial. Again, just as happened to ourselves.

Boal and his legal team are resisting the subpoena on grounds similar to those initially argued by Boston College, that the request offends a journalist’s First Amendment rights. That argument was rejected at the Federal District Court level in our case but was not appealed by Boston College, which effectively retired from the substantive case at that point, handing victory over to the government.

Mark Boal has an impressive list of media supporters backing his case, and that is an important difference from our situation. Boston College discouraged any sort of public campaign against the PSNI/DoJ subpoenas with the result that very few academics expressed support. We did however get good backing from the media, including the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press who are also backing Boal.

We wish them the best of luck and apologise that in our case Boston College put up such a weak fight. Had the college fought as hard as they should have perhaps Mark Boal and Sarah Koenig would not now be facing this ordeal. And believe me, it is an ordeal.

Here is The Washington Post piece:

Why Bowe Bergdahl’s ‘Serial’ interviews should be off limits in his court martial

Media Columnist August 14 at 3:52 PM

When Mark Boal spent 25 hours interviewing accused U.S. Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl, he didn’t plan on those hours of recorded interviews becoming part of a hugely popular podcast. He was just reporting, as he had many times before — whether for his magazine articles or his filmmaking.

But in collaboration with the producers of “Serial,” he and journalist Sarah Koenig teamed up. As a result, the story of the Army sergeant, who left his Afghanistan base in 2009 and was held captive by the Taliban for five years, became the basis of Season 2 of the spinoff of public radio’s “This American Life.”

Nor did Boal plan on his interviews becoming part of the prosecution’s case in Bergdahl’s court-martial at Fort Bragg in North Carolina next February.

That’s what a military prosecutor has in mind, according to court papers. The former soldier faces life in prison if he is found guilty of the charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Bergdahl was freed in 2014 in exchange for five Taliban fighters being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Boal is trying to prevent the subpoena by asking a civilian federal court in Los Angeles to intervene on First Amendment grounds. After all, unaired recordings are not unlike a reporter’s notes, which news organizations have long objected to being used in court. The prosecutor, Army Maj. Justin Oshana, in a court filing, called Boal’s interviews “relevant and necessary” to the case; he said he shared a draft subpoena with Boal’s attorney. (The Justice Department, which is objecting to Boal’s request and backing the military prosecutor, would not comment for this column.)

The good news for journalists and citizens is that Boal has his own army behind him: a long list of news organizations, including National Public Radio, the Associated Press, The Washington Post, Fox and the other major network news companies.

“This is a dream team of media — from across the political spectrum,” Boal said when the friend-of-the-court brief was filed late last month. Boal’s films include “The Hurt Locker” (for which he won the screenwriting Oscar) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (which he also wrote).

It wasn’t hard to find supporters, according to Katie Townsend, the litigation director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who wrote the brief.

“People were eager to jump to Boal’s aid,” Townsend told me. The reason is clear: News organizations don’t want their newsgathering efforts to be drawn into legal battles. And in a new era, in which a podcast can be every bit as much of a news outlet as a TV broadcast, it’s important to make sure that the newer breed of journalists gets the same protection as more traditional media.

The news organizations fear the effect on other journalists if Boal’s material is successfully brought into the case.

This should all sound familiar for those aware of New York Times reporter James Risen’s fight against testifying in a government leak prosecution in the past few years. For a time, it looked as though Risen’s fierce resistance to giving up his confidential source would land him in jail.

After many years of Risen’s battling the Justice Department, then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said clearly that newsgathering needs to be protected and that no journalist should face jail for doing his or her job. President Obama has echoed that, as has Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.

If courts — military or civilian — are able to subpoena reporters’ testimony and materials, and use them to prosecute crimes, interview subjects (also known as sources) will be much less likely to agree to speak.

“Journalists conducting newsgathering need protection from being dragged into prosecutions,” said Michael Oreskes, the news chief at NPR. The real protection isn’t for journalists themselves, he said, but for the public and its right to know what journalists turn up.

After all, according to Boal’s lawyer, Jean-Paul Jassy, the prosecution already has more than 300 pages of sworn testimony from Bergdahl himself and 1.5 million pages of material from 28 different agencies.

Oreskes termed the military prosecutor’s plans “just a fishing expedition.” And it would be a harmful one.

After his “dream team” of supporters came together last month, Boal asked a rhetorical question: “When was the last time Fox and NPR agreed on an issue?” That they have done so is a clear signal that the stakes are high, not only for journalists but also for those they are intended to represent: U.S. citizens.

Whatever happens to Bergdahl at Fort Bragg, the recorded interviews shouldn’t be part of the equation. The incremental value they might add to the prosecution’s case wouldn’t come close to being worth the eventual cost to newsgathering and to the public’s right to know.

For more by Margaret Sullivan visit

Bloody Sunday, On-The-Runs, Secret Deals And The Question Of Amnesty

Eamonn McCann, responding to criticism from some Bloody Sunday families, untangles the tortuous story of Sinn Fein’s negotiation of the ‘On-The-Runs’ deal, describes the complicating impact it has had on the campaign for justice for Bloody Sunday relatives and alleges that both the SDLP and Sinn Fein have had secret dealings with the British over diluting the official expression of regret for the massacre, most recently over the terms of David Cameron’s House of Commons’ apology, which absolved the military’s top brass and the British  political establishment of blame:


On July 22nd, the Derry Journal carried a front-page story saying that a number of relatives of the Bloody Sunday victims had reacted angrily to a statement which I’d issued nine days earlier.

Here is the Journal story:

Relatives of those shot dead on Bloody Sunday have rubbished claims that they struck a ‘deal’ not to campaign for the prosecution of soldiers in return for an apology from the British government.

The ‘deal’ assertion was made by Foyle MLA and former Bloody Sunday Trust chairman, Eamonn McCann, who alleged that, in exchange for an apology from the British and an assertion that all of the dead and wounded were innocent, there would be no more Bloody Sunday marches or efforts to push for prosecutions.

The ‘stitch-up,’ he added, only unravelled because some family members weren’t prepared to accept the ‘deal’ and opted, instead, to keep on marching until the original demands of the campaign – including prosecutions – were met.

Now, a number of relatives have issued a statement in which they angrily refute the ‘deal’ claims, branding them ‘fanciful,’ ‘highly misleading’ and ‘deeply offensive.’

Tony Doherty, John Kelly, Gerry Duddy and Jean Hegarty, who all lost relatives in the 1972 massacre, said Mr McCann ‘knows full well’ there was no such deal or any discussion of a deal.

The Bloody Sunday march was never discussed with the NIO or Downing Street.

‘To suggest otherwise is fanciful.

There was no discussion of the issue of prosecutions. How could there be? None of us, Mr. McCann included, knew at that time what was in the Saville Report.


Eamonn McCann pictured after his election to the NI Assembly as a People Before Profit candidate

Eamonn McCann pictured after his election to the NI Assembly as a People Before Profit candidate – ‘….influential elements in Northern Nationalism had cleared Cameron’s Commons statement absoving the British Army’s top brass and at least one Sinn Fein member had discussed the terms of the “apology” in advance with British officials…..’

Here’s my statement of July 13th – the day David Cameron left Downing Street – to which the four family members say they were reacting:

The usual suspect commentators and politicians have been falling over themselves to heap praise on David Cameron for his apology for Bloody Sunday.

In fact, the apology was predicated on no politician or senior military man having been fingered by Lord Saville. Saville blamed one officer and 10 rank and file soldiers for the all the killings and woundings.

If, instead, Saville had followed the evidence and found that members of the top brass – General Michael Jackson, Brigadier Frank Kitson, Major General Robert Ford, Brigadier Patrick MacLellan and half a dozen others – had played key roles in organising, directing and covering up the killings, Cameron wouldn’t have been able to damn the men who had pulled the triggers while at the same time declaring that the reputation of the British army itself wasn’t besmirched in any way.

The Bloody Sunday killers were all rogue soldiers, Cameron argued. Neither the British army nor the government of the day could be held responsible for what they’d done.

Naturally, all of the politicians behind the paras – Edward Heath, Lord Carrington, Reginald Maudling, Alec Douglas-Home etc. – were likewise given a clean bill of health.

MI5, which had been up to its neck in planning Bloody Sunday, wasn’t given even a rap on the knuckles.

This was a perfect example of an official inquiry fulfilling its true purpose – of finding small fry to shoulder all of the blame while enabling the real villains to escape scot-free.

One of the main reasons Cameron’s ‘apology’ worked, at least for a time, is that influential elements in Northern Nationalism had, in effect, already ‘cleared’ his Commons statement. At least one member of Sinn Fein had discussed the terms of the apology with British officials in advance. The deal was that Cameron would acknowledge that all of the dead and wounded had been innocent and would condemn the privates and corporals involved in the massacre in strong terms. But he wouldn’t have to say a bad word about anybody that mattered.

In exchange, there would be no more Bloody Sunday marches – and no attempt to push on for prosecutions. ‘This is as good as it gets,’ the families were systematically told on their doorsteps.

At this time, mid-2010, the British authorities were trying to put together an overall deal by which the past would be put in the past and we’d all ‘move on.’

The stitch-up has unravelled, largely because some Family members – Kate and Linda Nash, Liam Wray, Bubbles Donaghey, Mickey Bridge and others – weren’t prepared to accept the deal and opted instead to keep on marching until the original demands of the Bloody Sunday campaign, including prosecutions, had been met.

Kate, Linda and the others were also conscious of the fact that calling off their campaign would be a kick in the stomach for the bereaved families of other atrocities – Ballymurphy, McGurk’s Bar, Kingsmills, Enniskillen, Birmingham, Loughinisland, etc. – who hadn’t yet reached the stage achieved by the Derry campaign.

In that sense, Cameron’s Commons ploy hasn’t succeeded after all.

The point to keep in mind as Cameron leaves Downing Street to spend more time with his money is that, far from bravely telling the truth about Derry, his Commons statement was just a new and more subtle phase in the efforts of apologists for State violence to escape the verdict of history.

The proper response to Cameron’s departure is – good riddance.”

Martin McGuinness - defends On The Runs deal

Martin McGuinness – defends On The Runs deal

Thus, it can be seen, the piece was pegged on Cameron’s resignation and on his cynical role in relation to Saville’s report back in June 2010. It was issued after a series of politicians, North and South, in their comments on Cameron’s departure from Downing Street, had referred in glowing terms to his supposedly positive – even “courageous” – Commons apology. I was pointing out that the apology had been grudging, self-serving, meretricious and undeserving of applause.

Nowhere was it said in my statement that members of the Bloody Sunday Families had made a deal about an apology for the massacre or about the Bloody Sunday march. The people I identified as having had discussions with the British authorities on these matters were “influential elements in Northern Nationalism” and “at least one member of Sinn Fein.”

Parts of the statement could have been better worded. But nothing in it could reasonably be interpreted as claiming that the members of the Bloody Sunday Families had struck or discussed a deal with the British government. I have no reason to believe that any such thing happened.

This does not mean that no deal was discussed or that strenuous efforts weren’t made to cajole or persuade family members to get behind these discussions and their outcome.

The British Government’s efforts to “settle” the Bloody Sunday issue go back a long way. It is the incident from our past which most unnerves them. They cannot fit Bloody Sunday into their preferred narrative of the Troubles, of two ethnic groups at one another’s throats, saved from annihilating one another only by British forces standing between them, holding the ring for peace and democracy and encouraging the various factions to learn to live with one another.

Bloody Sunday was daylight mass-murder not by purported representatives of one community or the other but by uniformed representatives of the State. The killing-spree showed the British Army in the same moral category as terrorist organisations. The British State cannot allow that categorisation to go unchallenged. It subverts the basis of their conception of themselves as natural-born rulers. If they allow themselves to be seen as no better than marauding brigands, they cannot expect to command respect, much less obedience. So they first try to smother the issue under cover of a phony inquiry – Widgery – and then, when that doesn’t work, they keep on trying by any means they think necessary.

John Major made an offer in 1992 when he said that the dead and wounded of Bloody Sunday “should be regarded as innocent of any allegation that they were shot whilst handling firearms or explosives.” Right on cue, the SDLP leadership of the time contacted Family members and tried to persuade them to accept Major’s formulation as the final word. They were given short shrift. Sinn Fein, with strong support from many others, roundly attacked the SDLP for urging acceptance of such a low bid.

And so it has continued, the persistence of campaigners matched by the British authorities’ adamant refusal to concede that what had happened in Derry was murder and that those behind it were murderers. In the meantime, local parties manoeuvred in search of advantage.

In January 1998, the Blair government agreed to a second Bloody Sunday Inquiry. This came in the context of the all-party talks then under way which were to lead to the Good Friday Agreement three months later.

Presiding over the second inquiry, Lord Saville of Newdigate took a long time to complete the task, then, in June 2010, published a report which went significantly further than Widgery in acknowledging the wrong done in Derry – but didn’t cross the line into territory which British political chiefs and military top brass wanted kept off limits.

Among Bloody Sunday campaigners and supporters, disagreement arose between, on the one hand, those who reckoned that everything which could be achieved had now been achieved and the campaign could honourably rest on its laurels and, on the other hand, those set on continuing to pursue the outstanding demand of the three originally advanced by the campaign – that the killers be prosecuted for murder. (The other demands were for repudiation of Widgery and acknowledgement of the innocence of the dead and wounded.)

Bloody Sunday campaign

The disagreement about prosecutions quickly became entangled with the issue of “on the run” members of the IRA given “letters of comfort” guaranteeing that they wouldn’t be imprisoned if they now returned home. This arrangement became the subject of another bout of barbed exchanges between the SDLP and Sinn Fein. In March 2013, the Londonderry Sentinel reported:

The war of words between Sinn Fein and the SDLP over the ‘On the Run’s’ (OTRs) issue has continued in the city with Foyle MP Mark Durkan accusing the republican party of ‘dishonesty’ over the political debacle.

The latest twist in the debate between both parties came after the Sentinel spoke to relatives of the Bloody Sunday victims who contended that back in 2005 that (sic.) some of the families met with Sinn Fein representatives and that their support was sought by the party for OTR legislation and in return they would have to drop their desire to see members of the Parachute Regiment prosecuted for the killings on January 30, 1972.

This claim has been flatly denied by Sinn Fein who in response to questions on the matter released a statement from party Justice spokesman, Raymond McCartney MLA which said: “Sinn Fein have always supported the families of those killed by the British army on Bloody Sunday. Some of those families wish to seek prosecution against those responsible for the death of their loved ones.”

Sinn Fein also said that at no point did they agree to a “trade off” between amnesty for British soldiers and “on the runs…”

In response to the Sinn Fein comments, the SDLP MP told the Sentinel: “Sinn Fein’s dishonesty in of all this has related to their primary interest in getting their on the runs back with no questions asked – ie, it has not been about the victims…

Mr Durkan provided the Sentinel with a SDLP document compiled in November and December 2005, the time at which the legislation was presented at Westminster.

The 2005 document said: “Sinn Fein not only accepted that loyalists get skip jail cards, but also state killers. In return for the greater advantage of getting their on the runs back with no questions asked, Sinn Fein sold out the victims of collusion they claimed to fight for. They let state killers and loyalists totally off the hook-without even securing the truth…

“On November 10 (2005), Martin McGuinness was interviewed on Hearts and Minds. He called our (the SDLP’s) objections about state killers ‘naïve’ and said that he did ‘not envisage that any of the people who were involved in the murders of nationalists…is ever going to be brought before a court in this day and age.’ Compare that to what he says now: ‘We support the families of victims in their pursuit of justice and truth.’”

The SDLP document continued by stating that during the Hearts and Minds interview Mr McGuinness “admitted that state killers would be able to get the benefit of the legislation but said that the people who would “gain most advantage from this are those nationalists and republicans who are on the run for over 30 years.”

“It was two whole weeks after the legislation was published before Gerry Adams said he was opposed to state killers being included. Sinn Fein in their side deal, signed up to state killers getting away with it. So Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams are just not telling the truth when they now say: ‘Sinn Fein did not support, propose, discuss or accept that members of the British state forces should be part of the process.’”

In the transcript of the Hearts and Minds interview from 2005, journalist Noel Thompson asked the Deputy First Minister: “Let’s start with OTRs first. Mark Durkan says you entered into an alliance of sleaze with the government which has delivered, secured an amnesty for the security forces. Are you proud of that?”

Mr McGuinness replied: “When this began its life it was on the basis of On the Runs and On the Runs specifically referred to nationalists and republicans who found themselves in difficult circumstances for over 30 years. How many RUC men/UDR men or British soldiers could have been described as On the Runs? None. Why was that? Simply because they were fortunate in having an undeclared amnesty bestowed upon them by successive British Governments.”

Noel Thompson then asked: “And now you have that written on paper.”

Mr McGuinness stated: “Well how many of them will come forward to avail of that situation? The people who will gain most advantage from this are those nationalists and republicans who are on the run for over 30 years. I don’t envisage that any people who were involved in the murders of nationalists, and Mark knows this better than I do, is ever going to be brought before a court in this day and age.”

Noel Thompson: “But you’ve taken that possibility away from victims?”

Mr McGuinness: “Victims and relatives know, for example in the case of Bloody Sunday families, the British Army was effectively marched up to Buckingham Palace and were decorated by the British Queen for their activities in Derry that day. So what’s the likelihood of those people being brought before a court…?

Noel Thompson: “Mark Durkan is pointing out that it is you who are putting them in that position by giving an amnesty to security forces. He wants their voices to be heard.

Mr McGuinness: “Well, Mark is very naive then if that is the case. because these people have effectively had an undeclared amnesty for over 30 years. Successive British Governments have stood over the murderous activities of some elements of British intelligence services-UDR, RUC and British Army and that’s a fact and people in nationalist and republican areas know that…How many soldiers or RUC men have appeared before court for murders of 100s of Catholics and nationalists that have taken place over the years? Few and far between.”

Noel Thompson: “And now they never will?”

Mr McGuinness: “They never would in my opinion. Anyone from the broad nationalist/republican constituency knows that the State always defends its service people. Those people who were involved, even in the importation of arms from South Africa – what possibility is there that these people would ever stand before a court – I think there is no possibility whatsoever. I am not as naive as Mark appears to be…”

The disagreement over Bloody Sunday between the two Nationalist parties has rumbled in the background ever since. The Bloody Sunday issue is more or less automatically revisited every time talks on patching up or consolidating the Good Friday settlement are started or restarted. This came through in a Derry Journal report on October 6th, 2015:

The ‘Derry Journal’ has obtained a copy of the strand of the Stormont House Agreement dealing with the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict.

The ‘Journal’ understands that the parties involved in the current negotiations received the legislation on September 29. It is also understood that the legislation is due to be placed before Westminster as early as next week with October 12 being the most likely date.

Previously, a Freedom of Information request seeking to view the details of the proposed bill was refused on the grounds that releasing such information was ‘likely to prejudice development and subsequent implementation and could allow targeted lobbying by certain groups that could inhibit objective decisions being made….’

Kate and Linda Nash whose brother was shot dead on Bloody Sunday and whose father was seriously wounded on the same day have been scathing of the arrangements and of the fact that they have been denied sight of the legislation.

Kate Nash said: “Forty-three years on from the murder of our loved ones and we are no further forward in our quest for justice. The police, military and some politicians know who fired the shots. If this was happening in any other country in the world, the outcry from the international community, including the British government, would be deafening. For us, justice being delayed is justice being denied.

Theresa Villiers also recently stated that the five (sic) political parties in the Stormont Executive – DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance, as well as the British and Irish Governments – all agreed to the proposals last December as part of the SHA negotiations.

Some relatives of people shot dead in Derry had long held suspicions that a deal (had been agreed) allowing perpetrators of killings to make a confession and walk away with assurances of immunity from prosecution. And, despite this being denied by political parties and the Northern Ireland Office, the assertions were subsequently confirmed by the Northern Ireland Secretary of State.”

The disagreement between Sinn Fein and the SDLP over what SF agreed to in 2005 in relation to legislation which would have given an amnesty both to Republican OTRs and State forces accused of crimes has continued to the present. Light may be cast on the controversy by the account of the OTR legislation published in the Sinn Fein ‘paper An Phoblacht on November 10 2005.

British Government publishes OTR legislation

Legislation dealing with the issue of ‘On The Runs’ (OTRs) has been published by the British Government and has been broadly welcomed by Sinn Féin.

The proposals cover around 150 people ‘on the run’ since the introduction of Internment in the 1970s. Since the Good Friday Agreement the British Government has continued to refuse to let many people return to the North without facing imprisonment.

The new legislation would allow men and women to have their cases heard by a special tribunal. If found guilty, they would be freed on licence.
The 26-County Government also announced on Wednesday that it would be setting up an ‘Eligibility Body’ to deal with the issue.

Speaking from London on Wednesday 9 November, the day the British legislation was published, Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy said it was past time for both Governments to address the matter.

“This is an outstanding issue, an anomaly from the Good Friday Agreement,” he told An Phoblacht. “These people would have been freed as part of the early release scheme, so it makes no sense for them to still be sought by the authorities. The British Government has had this very publicly on its agenda for some time now. We believe that in many of these cases, there isn’t even sufficient evidence for convictions.

“In any conflict resolution process there are from time to time issues like this which quite clearly need to be tackled and addressed in a sensible fashion if we are to build confidence in the future,” he added.

There was no suggestion in the An Phoblacht account that SF might reject or have problems with the legislation because it would apply to British soldiers, including the Bloody Sunday shooters, as well as to Republican OTRs.

The bottom line is that there was never a question of the Bloody Sunday Families doing a deal with the British authorities but of political parties doing deals with the British which undermine the efforts of the Families to find full justice for their loved one at last and then using the Families as a shield when the flak starts to fly.

There is an honourable explanation of SF giving the issue of on-the-runs its highest priority and regarding any knock-on effects with regard to other forces in the conflict as less crucial and less urgent. When a war – and that’s how Republicans characterised the conflict – comes to an end, it is the first duty of the leaders of any set of combatants to ensure that their soldiers are brought safely home.

The problem is that that’s not the way others see it. To most people of most political persuasions it seems fair that if one side in the Northern conflict enjoys an amnesty, the same should apply to the others. If the IRA is amnestied, then British soldiers, too, including the Bloody Sunday paras, should be amnestied.

Thus, when Republican leaders go into negotiations on behalf of on-the-runs, they are opening the door to demands for no prosecution of the men who did murder in Derry on January 30th 44 years ago.

This contradiction has generated much of the confusion surrounding the Bloody Sunday issue, including the confusion which arose in reaction to my statement of July 13th.

’66 Days’ – Richard O’Rawe’s Review Of The New Bobby Sands Movie

Former IRA blanketman, H Blocks PRO and author of ‘Blanketmen‘, Richard O’Rawe reviews the new film about Bobby Sands, ’66 Days’.


‘Drama at the absolute rawest edge it could possibly be,’ was how journalist Fintan O’Toole described the IRA/INLA hunger strike in Brendan Byrne’s new film, Bobby Sands –Sixty-Six Days. No one who was around at that time could argue with him.

I went to the premiere of this film in West Belfast along with my wife, Bernadette. Accompanying us were Dixie Elliott and his wife, Sharon. Dixie, a former cellmate of Sands’, had been interviewed for the film but his contribution did not make the final cut.

Unsurprisingly, the cinema was packed with Sinn Féin members and supporters. Equally unsurprisingly, many of those present cast their eyes into the darkest reaches of the cinema rather than in my direction. The reason why? Because I wrote a book called Blanketmen in which I said that a committee of republicans, led by Gerry Adams, had had control of the hunger strike. I also said that before the fifth hunger striker, Joe McDonnell died this committee rejected an offer from the British government that the prison leadership believed to be acceptable. Consequently, six more hunger strikers died on the fast.

Richard O'Rawe - 'Was it (Sands' death) worth it? It pains me to say that I don’t think it was.'

Richard O’Rawe – ‘Was it (Sands’ death) worth it? It pains me to say that I don’t think it was.’

Notwithstanding the preponderance of Sinn Féin members in attendance at the premiere, this is far from a pro-Sinn Féin film. In fact, one viewer later said to me that he thought Byrne had gone ‘a bit too far’ by using Fintan O’Toole as linkman (O’Toole is not known for his Sinn Féin sympathies).

Byrne also afforded speaking rights to former prison officer, Dessie Butterworth, Tory Cabinet minister, Norman Tebbit, and Margaret Thatcher’s biographer, Charles Moore. As well as that, he did not shirk from raising the despicable IRA murder of a young mother and census collector, Joanne Mathers, two days before the electorate of Fermanagh/South Tyrone went to the polls to elect either Bobby Sands or a Unionist as their M.P. To some of us prisoners, it seemed as if someone wanted to sabotage Sands’ chances of being elected.

I have to say, I found this film challenging. For example: Sands gave an interview to Brendan O’Cathaoir of The Irish Times reporter on the third day of his hunger strike.

Commenting on the interview, O’Cathaoir told Byrne: ‘He spoke fluently about how they felt compelled to start the hunger strike. And he made it pretty clear to me he was likely to die. He talked really in terms of laying down his life for his comrades, and of course I am conscious that his protest was in the tradition of positive resistance, immortalised by Ghandi. His most memorial phrase before we parted was: “If I die, God will understand.”’

I later gave some thought to O’Cathaoir saying that Sands’ fast was ‘in the tradition of positive resistance, immortalised by Ghandi’. Ghandi and Sands certainly had things in common: they shared the same imperial foe, they had a great love of their people, and they had iron will.

But unlike the pacifist Ghandi, Sands was committed to armed struggle and, while both revolutionaries may have used the tactic of hunger strike to achieve a political aim, they were altogether different entities.

Another thing that struck me was Fintan O’Toole saying that, ‘Ultimately Bobby Sands’ life effectively marks the end of the tradition of armed struggle because what he said is: There is no justification or need to kill people.’

This is simply not true. The Bobby Sands with whom I lived with for three years on the blanket protest was committed to the armed struggle tradition; he never, during any of his talks with his fellow-prisoners, gave the impression that he viewed constitutional politics as a viable alternative to armed struggle: he was a committed IRA man, with all its attendant violence.

He died believing that his death would enhance the armed struggle, not diminish it.

Moreover, he had absolutely no idea that his death would lead to the peace process. If he had known, I doubt if he would have given his life so freely.

Despite Byrne’s attempt to strike a balance by giving anti-republicans a wide platform, this film is about a republican who died on hunger strike and his testimony. There is skilful use of animation, historical newsreels, and an excreta-covered, H-Block prison cell, complete with two men covered with blankets and lying on dirty mattresses on the floor.

A powerful rendition of Bobby Sands’ hunger strike dairy from actor, Martin McCann leaves one with a feeling of utter helplessness, as does Mrs Sands being interviewed beside a van outside Long Kesh where she tells the world that her son is dying and, holding back her tears, appeals for no violence when he dies.

This is a film that people should go and view if for no other reason than that it has very coherent insights in the Bobby Sands hunger strike, from both sides of the argument. It is also thought-provoking.

And always, at the back of my mind as I was watching this movie, is the question: Was it worth it? It pains me to say that I don’t think it was.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,821 other followers