Monthly Archives: February 2014

‘On The Runs’ Trickery By Blair Shows How The Future Is Trapped By The Past

The article below, dated June 2007, by Belfast Telegraph reporter, Chris Thornton highlights two potentially destructive pitfalls in the path of the still not-quite-stable peace process in Northern Ireland.

One is that the trickery and sleight of hand that characterised Tony Blair’s handling of the Iraq invasion, and pretty much everything else during his time as British prime minister, was also evident in his dealings over the peace process in Northern Ireland. The other is the potential of the past to hold the future hostage.


Reading Chris’ piece it is quite apparent that Blair told the DUP one thing about the way wanted IRA fugitives – ‘on-the-runs’ or OTR’s – would be treated and quite another to the Provos. The Shinners were seemingly told that the OTR’s, some 187 of them, would not be pursued by the police. The DUP on the other hand appear to have been told that the OTR’s would get no special treatment and would be hauled before the courts if caught. But no public announcement was made, meaning officially the issue remained unresolved.

It is all very typical of the chicanery and dissimulation that Blair employed when he played politics; all that mattered was the endgame. How you got there, who you lied to and what happened way in the future in terms of damage was secondary to getting results in the here and now. And even if people did eventually find him out, it would probably be too late to make a difference.

Except the issue of the OTR’s touches the third rail in NI politics, the unresolved issue of the past, of who did what to whom and why and who, ultimately, is to blame for the violence of three and a half decades? Unlike most of the domestic English and Welsh issues which Blair and New Labour dealt with in this way, the matter of blame for the Troubles is something that could only be dealt with honestly and openly.

Anyway read Chris Thornton’s article and make up your own minds (incidentally I did a pretty comprehensive search of newspaper archives and Chris’s was the last article on OTR’s in any of the major Irish newspapers until the recent Downey row):

More than 100 republicans still on run from justice
By Chris Thornton
747 words
22 June 2007
Belfast Telegraph
(c)2007 Independent News & Media (Northern Ireland). All Rights Reserved.
Dozens already cleared to return but ‘no plans for fresh legislation’

Another 84 OTRs – the initials stand for on the runs – have already been cleared to return to Northern Ireland without facing jail time, according to statistics released to the Belfast Telegraph by the Attorney General’s office.

That includes almost 50 people who spent at least a decade on the run but who were never wanted in the first place.

Material released under the Freedom of Information Act shows the number of OTRs is far higher than previous estimates.

The names of almost 200 people have been passed to the Government by Sinn Fein over the past seven years, while London wrestled with mechanisms to allow them to return.

The most recent list was passed last September – a month before the DUP declared it had killed off the issue.

During the eight years that OTRs have been a political issue, one fugitive has been recaptured. Michael Rogan stood trial for bombing Thiepval Barracks and was cleared in 2005.

Of the 193 other people whose cases have been considered, 84 have been told they are free to return without fear of arrest.

Forty-seven have spent at least the last decade thinking they were being sought by police, but the Attorney General said checks have shown they were not wanted by any police force in the UK.

Outstanding warrants were dropped in 15 cases when the Director of Public Prosecutions decided there was not a sufficient case to bring to court.

Another 22 had already been convicted: 11 of them – mainly Maze escapees – had served the two years in prison necessary to qualify for early release under the Good Friday Agreement.

The other 11 – including escapees from the Crumlin Road jail who were sentenced but did not serve time – were freed under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.

Currently, 75 people remain wanted, and they form a sticky political wicket for the Government.

Prime Minister Tony Blair had promised Sinn Fein he would allow the fugitives to return, but attempts at legislation have twice run into the sand.

Sinn Fein says there is an anomaly that needs to be resolved, but the DUP says the Government has killed off the issue and there will be no further moves to allow OTRs to return.

There have been suggestions that the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, could drop their cases in the public interest.

But the legal authorities have resisted that suggestion, with Lord Goldsmith declaring that the offences concerned are too serious to be dropped.

Of the 75 people who remain wanted, eight are wanted for return to prison, meaning they have not served sufficient sentences for an Agreement release.

Another 46 are wanted for questioning by police and 21 are wanted to face trial.

Another 34 cases are still being reviewed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Previous published estimates of the number of OTR cases put them far lower than the 194 now confirmed by the Government.

Between 60 and 80 names were thought to have been put forward by Sinn Fein, although some republicans accurately forecast 200 names at an early stage of the process.

The Northern Ireland Office said it accepts that the  issue of OTRs will have to be dealt with at some stage.

A spokesman said: The Government’s position on OTRs remains the same: we accept that OTRs are in an anomalous position and the issue will need to be addressed at some stage, but we have no plans for legislation or amnesties.

That’s not the DUP’s understanding. Last year, it declared that this matter is put to rest once and for all.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said at the time: The Prime Minister has made it clear that there is going to be no amnesty for IRA terrorists on the run.

Neither will it be done by reintroducing the deeply offensive legislation or by some kind of back door deal.

Sinn Fein once indicated that Tony Blair would deal with the issue before leaving office, but that now looks unlikely.

The Attorney General’s office refused to disclose the names of those individuals who are wanted, saying it could cut the chance of them being caught.

The Belfast Telegraph will appeal that decision on the basis that details of the case have been given to third parties, and presumably those individuals know they are on the wanted list.

The American Prison Torture – Solitary Confinement

I should have been writing about the solitary confinement of prisoners in America long before this and I have been prompted to take pen to paper by the gratifying news that at long last this most cruel but unfortunately usual form of punishment in America is at last on the political agenda.

(A note of explanation to Irish readers: IRA and Loyalist prisoners regularly experienced solitary confinement in places like the Maze but nothing like what exists in America; paramilitary prisoners could face a few weeks ‘on the board’ and consider themselves hard done by. In America it is not unusual for terms of solitary confinement to last for years; in California the average is 6.8 years; 78 prisoners there have spent more than 20 years in solitary. In Louisiana, the Angola Three have spent between 29 and 40 years in solitary. The federal jails can be worse: one prisoner has spent 28 years in solitary. Compared to this the Maze was a Butlin’s holiday camp!)

That the reform of solitary is being discussed seriously and with a view to reform is due in no small measure to the heroic efforts of a couple of friends of mine, Jim Ridgeway, who is something of a legend in American journalism, and Jean Casella who a few years back created the website ‘Solitary Watch’ to highlight this uniquely American form of prison torture which at the most recent count, in 2005, had over 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement.

American prisons, as Jessica Mitford wrote four decades ago, are a business, except nowadays a huge and very profitable business which relies on a steady stream of mostly African-Americans being incarcerated, often for extraordinarily lengthy terms to generate income and dividends for the corporations that own and run America’s prisons.

Many are convicted on drugs charges that are disproportionately leveled at Blacks rather than Whites; for example recommended sentences for possession white powder cocaine, the drug du jour of Wall Street are considerably less than for crack cocaine, widely regarded as the drug of the ghetto.

In the antebellum South, Black slaves were exploited for huge profit in the cotton fields of Mississippi and Alabama; thanks to America’s draconian drug laws, their offspring perform the same function for the likes of the Corrections Corporation of America in 2014. It’s not called slavery any more but it might as well be.

At the last count some two million people were incarcerated in America; to put that in perspective, that is twenty-five per cent of the world’s jail inmates from a country that has only five per cent of the globe’s population, the largest per capita prison population in the world, a captive and cheap source of labour.

I know that Jim & Jean will not welcome being singled out for their role in highlighting the horrors of solitary confinement but the fact is that when they started their website, it was one of those subjects that was so far down the agenda in this country that it seemed, at least to me, very unlikely to make an impact.

It was a bit like campaigning for gay rights in the 1950’s; laudable and worthy but marginal.

The sad truth is that this is a law and order country which elevates its police and security agencies to an unreal status. There is also a disturbing toleration of cruel punishment in the criminal justice system which ranges from obscenely long sentences to solitary confinement, sometimes for decades. And of course there is capital punishment.

The conventional wisdom always was that tampering with the system of solitary confinement was a political taboo. Inflicting such punishment was so popular with the voters that no politician would dare suggest changing it.

But the winds of change are gently blowing through parts of America. Fewer and fewer States execute prisoners for instance and now New York has announced a major reform of the solitary confinement system while the US Senate is holding hearings that are so well attended they have had to move to a larger room. Other States are debating change. The mainstream media has also started to show an interest and coverage is widening. It is as if Americans are beginning to realise the shame such practices bring upon their country.

None of this was happening when Jim & Jean started their work. They saw the change coming before others and then helped speed it up,. They say that for mountains to move, thousands of pebbles must first roll down the hillsides. As pebbles go, ‘Solitary Watch’ has done one hell of a job.

Below is a fascinating if disturbing video interview with Sam Mandez who spent over 15 years in solitary. His story is an awful indictment of the American prison business.

The Bloodbath In Kiev

Dramatic video footage of the slaughter in Kiev:

The United States Of Surveillance….And The British State Of Surveilance….And, If They Had The Know-How & Money, The Irish State Of Surveillance Too…..And Big Bobby’s Wet Dream Come True (No Problems With Money)…..

Marc Fiore at his brilliant best:

Note from IRA man raises questions on Loughgall.

An interesting piece on a new blog in Belfast……

Vixens With Convictions!

                        arthurs  Brian Arthurs.

A typed note from one former IRA commander to another may shed light on a mystery surrounding the murder of eight IRA men and one civilian, shot by the SAS in 1987, in what subsequently became known as “The Loughgall Ambush”. 

“VWC” has seen the document in question, which is part of a wider archive of material smuggled out of the H Blocks in the late 1990’s.

 Dated 6th May 1995, just weeks before an inquest into the killings took place, the note contains the following revelations;

  • A suggestion that men convicted of IRA offences conspired between them to offer false evidence at the inquest, if called to the witness stand.
  • Corroboration of the theory that at least one IRA man escaped during the shoot-out.
  • For the first time, further information regarding the…

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The Broken Elbow Supports Niall O’Dowd hereby declares its support for Niall O’Dowd in his efforts to resist attempts to censor or close down his site, Irish Central, or parts of it, over an article alleging gross overpayment to the head of an Irish charity.

This site strongly believes in the First Amendment right of free publication of information judged to be in the public interest and it does so despite the fact that Mr O’Dowd has not only failed to support our campaign against the PSNI and US government’s attempts to subpoena the Boston College oral history archive but has attacked myself and the researchers for their involvement in that project.

The efforts to subpoena the archive will have a chilling effect on attempts by others to collect the truth about what happened during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, a consequence that the PSNI must have been aware of when they embarked on this course.

In effect the PSNI, along with their allies in the US and UK government were and are attempting to censor the free collection of truth and history concerning the Troubles in Northern Ireland and that is why this site expresses common cause with Niall O’Dowd.

We do not expect the owner of Irish Central to reciprocate and announce his conversion to our cause but what is happening to him may afford him the opportunity to reflect upon the reality that when the democratic rights of one party are threatened then the rights of all are put in peril, and when the rights of one party are defended then the rights of all are being safeguarded.

In such circumstances, the Pastor Niemoller doctrine demands the maximum solidarity and unity; when one outlet is menaced or silenced then all are threatened. Niall O’Dowd is learning that lesson right now, the hard way. A pity he hadn’t recognised this truth much earlier.

What Is The CIA Up To In Libya? And A Warning Note About The Uprising In Ukraine…..

Thanks to that invaluable little troublemaker of a blog, “Moon of Alabama” for this alert that the CIA is stirring once again in Libya, in the form of a threat from its principal agent in the anti-Gaddafi opposition, Khlaifa Heftir that the militias will force the suspension of parliament and set up a presidential committee to run the country until fresh elections are held, the classic language of the would-be military takeover.

Heftir’s links to the CIA go way back to 1987 at the height of Reagan’s efforts to unseat or destabilise the Gaddafi regime in Libya and I wrote about him at the height of the anti-Gaddafi push by the West and its rag tag band of Jihadist allies in 2011.

One of the areas where this 1987 battle between Reagan and Gaddafi was fought was in a mineral rich slice of Chad on Libya’s southernmost borders where Heftir commanded a Libyan force of some 600-700 soldiers based in the region which was captured by pro-CIA forces controlled by the pro-Western Chad government.

An angry Gaddafi denounced Heftir for his apparently all too ready surrender which understandably persuaded the General to throw his cards in with the anti-Gaddafi National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL), by then a mostly US-based, CIA/MI6-supported band of Libyan emigres.

Khalifa Heftir - the CIA's man in Libya

Khalifa Heftir – the CIA’s man in Libya

Heftir’s force was shuttled from Chad to Zaire and thence to Kenya after which they were given the choice of returning to Tripoli or emigrating to America. About half went to the US with most of them settling in Virginia, as Heftir did, within convenient hailing distance of CIA headquarters at Langley, the group’s principal paymaster.

The remnants of Heftir’s army helped form the basis of the NFSL’s military wing which duly joined the anti-Gaddafi uprising, if it can be called such a thing, in Benghazi in the Spring of 2011.

(Heftir’s return to Benghazi in 2011 is acclaimed by Libyan crowds)

After the fall and death of Gaddafi, Heftir disappeared, at least as far the Westerm media was concerned (not a difficult thing to do!) but he has now re-emerged at the leader of the militias that overthrew the old regime.

Moon of Alabama speculates that it is the resurgence of pro-Gaddafi sentiment that is behind the thinly veiled threat of a putsch: “It is no coincidence that it comes now as the green flag of Ghaddafi’s movement is again raised in parts of Libya. Haftar’s job will again be to facilitate and support AlQaeda affiliated forces from east Libya against the nationalists who are regaining power in the south and west. But without NATO air support, not likely to come again, Haftar’s forces only have a small chance to win.”

However, it is just as likely that Heftir’s move reflects a judgement in the US intelligence community that the elected civilian government is hopelessly out of control and is vulnerable to Islamic extremists. If it collapses a key ally against Al Qaeda and a major supplier of oil and fresh water will once again have fallen into the wrong hands.

The CIA may have concluded that what is needed is a return to military-style dictatorship of the sort that Gaddafi led for so many years, although a dictator that this time is staunchly pro-West. Step forward Khalifa Heftir, your day in the sun may have arrived!

Now wouldn’t that be ironic?

The unknown factor in all of this is Heftir’s abililty to deliver on his threat. Some observers believe his is a shadow army but it might be wise to wait and see which way the Americans jump for a more accurate judgement of that question.

Whatever happens, Heftir’s warning is a reminder that Western governments’ enthusiasm for democracy in places like North Africa and the Middle East can be short-lived and fickle.

Needless to say the Western media is paying almost no attention to the Khalifa Heftir threat. So watch this space. Again the value of the social media and its greater relevance and utility as a news source is underlined by such a story.

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This from the Toronto Globe and Mail is a timely warning that while the riots and deaths in Ukraine may look like a progressive event, especially when one of the target is Putin, the demonstrators, or at least some of them, have embraced very sinister elements indeed.