Spare a thought for Tom ‘Slab’ Murphy as he lies in his cell in Midlands Prison tonight (Republican inmates in Portlaoise refused him entry so he ended up in the smaller jail nearby) serving a sentence of 18 months for evading tax bills between 1996 and 2004.
Over in Europe meanwhile, Apple Corporation has been ordered to pay some $15 billion in unpaid taxes in Ireland; or rather the Irish government has been told by the EC to collect the unpaid debt from the world’s trendiest, but now one of the most crooked corporations, in the history of capitalism.
It is not known for sure how much tax the IRA’s former Chief of Staff evaded thanks to his cross-border shenanigans but his trial was told that Irish police had found some 700,000-800,000 euros in cash and checks at his farm when it was raided while English police had confiscated nearly £500,000 of property in the north-west of England that had been traced to him (was that why Manchester was bombed during the ceasefire interregnum)..
Whatever the full scale of his criminality one thing is for sure: it paled into insignificance compared to the squalid thievery orchestrated by the people who brought you the iPhone, iPad and the MacBookPro.
There is another difference: in ‘Slab’s’ case the Irish state threw its full weight behind the pursuit and prosecution of the South Armagh republican chieftain. Only the innocent or stupid failed to see this for what it was: revenge for South Armagh’s role in the Troubles (including the subversion of key Gardai) and a way to embarrass Sinn Fein and its leader, Mr G Adams.
In Apple’s case, not only did the Irish government not pursue Apple it actually conspired with it to facilitate the tax evasion and now that Apple has been prosecuted, found guilty and sentenced by Europe, the people who run Ireland’s government in Dublin plan to resist legally the order to retrieve Apple’s tax debt.
You could not make this up. Unfortunately it did happen, as a brilliant article penned by my former Sunday Tribune colleague Gene Kerrigan details. As you read, spare a thought for ‘Slab’ Murphy and ask yourself who should be sharing his cell in Midlands Prison.
Published 28/08/2016 | 02:30
You want to get out of paying taxes? We’ll tell you how it’s done.
You already know that much of Irish politics involves throwing shapes. That is, making broad but empty gestures you hope will create a favourable image of yourself. Well, before the General Election, Fine Gael threw lots of shapes. One of them was a promise to get rid of the Universal Social Charge.
Last week, we were told how the mandarins of the Department of Finance felt about that.
If you’ve been around long enough to know who “Sir Humphrey” was, you’ll know how the senior civil service reacts to proposals it doesn’t like. It gives ministers a list of dire choices to live with if they go ahead.
So, Michael Noonan was told he’s free to cut back the USC but he’ll have to increase property tax by 600pc.
Or, perhaps, put 5pc on income tax.
Or, perhaps put up taxes on petrol and beer and throw a 5pc Vat increase on kids’ shoes.
In short – Yes, Minister, you can keep your promise, but you’ll also have to do something else that will make you even more unpopular.
Basically, what the Government’s going to end up doing is putting more money in one of our pockets and taking at least the same amount of money out of some other pocket.
Because, according to the Department of Finance, things are so tight they’re really considering hitting children’s shoes.
Except – things needn’t be that tight.
The Government is actually turning away money it’s owed.
Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan are bracing themselves for an overdue ruling from the European Commission. It was being talked about two years ago, it was promised in 2015, then in early 2016 and it’s expected now in the next few weeks.
In the ruling, Apple is expected to be directed to pay our Revenue Commissioners a large sum of money.
Large could mean hundreds of millions of euro. It could mean thousands of millions of euro – up to €19bn.
Apple produces those neat, shiny phones and lots of other cool stuff. Apple is so cool that it apparently doesn’t see why it should pay tax.
And, so – way, way back – it set about arranging things so it can, eh, maximise its tax efficiency.
You want to pull the same stroke as Apple?
First, set up a company in Ireland to control your income – let’s call it Soapbox Inc. Then, appoint a couple of people to control and manage that company – and they have to be based in the USA.
That’s the trick – set up the company in Ireland; but get someone to manage it from the USA.
Now, when the US Revenue comes looking for taxes you tell them Soapbox Inc wasn’t set up in the USA, and, therefore, is not liable for US taxes. (The United States determines tax liability based on where the company is set up.)
So, you might say, since Soapbox Inc was set up and is based in Ireland, wouldn’t it be liable to pay its taxes in Ireland?
No, because Ireland determines tax liability not on residency but on where the company is controlled and managed from.
And since Soapbox Inc is controlled from the USA, not Ireland, it’s not liable for Irish tax.
Apple’s global web of companies trade with one another, to ensure the costs are borne elsewhere and the profits flow through Ireland. And one part of the Apple web pays nominal taxes here, just to take the bare look off things.
Otherwise, a company called AOI is stacking up the tens of billions in tax-free profits.
AOI is the equivalent of Soapbox Inc. It was set up in Ireland over 30 years ago. It’s based in Ireland but it has no physical presence here. It has no headquarters, no workplace, no address, no employees. It is managed from the USA.
Apple could not reap those monumental profits without the complex global network of services – roads, schools, hospitals, civil service, courts, police – that enable modern states to function.
And it doesn’t pay its fair share to maintain them.
We pay our share. And we pay Apple’s, too. In income taxes, in Vat, in the USC.
Oh, well, says you – leaving morality out of it – at least they can’t get out of paying our legendary 12.5pc tax on Apple’s vast corporate profits, right?
Let Apple explain: “Since the early 1990s, the Government of Ireland has calculated Apple’s taxable income in such a way as to produce an effective rate in the low single digits . . . The rate has varied from year to year, but since 2003 has been 2pc or less.”
In fact, Apple says, in 2009 and 2010 they paid less than 1pc in tax. In 2011, it was 0.05pc.
Is everyone happy with this? No, the European Commission has been investigating Apple’s Irish set-up. And politicians in the USA are annoyed, too.
Well, isn’t the answer simple? This AOI was obviously set up with no function other than to avoid taxes, and companies that do that can be challenged. And that purpose would be clear from the documents created in forming the company.
Eh, they’re lost. The documents. They’re lost.
Can’t find them. Missing, mislaid, gone awol, toor-aloo. Shucks.
Can’t we all, eh, maximise our tax efficiency thusly?
Ah, no. The Government lets cool, vastly rich people like Apple do what they like – we’re not cool enough. Or rich enough.
Ah, come on, it’s more complicated than that.
Yes, it is. Our government parties – FG and FF, both of them (and Labour when they can get their hands on a Merc or three) – believe they have to kiss corporate backsides in order to get investment.
All that stuff about a great workforce, within the EU single market, speaking English – apparently that’s not enough, we have to kiss ass, too.
But, fawning on rich and powerful people is the default position for these guys. Look at the video of Michael Noonan fawning over Donald Trump; look at Enda being tickled by Sarkozy; look at the way they defer to our domestic millionaires.
The EC sees the Apple deal as “state aid” to the company, and therefore illegal. Informed speculation says it may demand that Apple pay Ireland €6bn, which the full 12.5pc tax would have reaped over three years; or €19bn if they reckon it over 10 years. It may be €2bn. (Apple recently had to pay Italy €318m, when prosecutors went after the company for tax fraud.)
What would you or I do? We’d gratefully take the money and turn to Apple and say, Ah, gee, we’re under orders from the EC, but we’ll put the money to good use.
Enda Kenny, with the backing of Micheal Martin, doesn’t want the money. Michael Noonan has said they’ll appeal such a ruling. They’ll fight like dogs not to take it.
To be clear.
The FG government, supported by FF, by Shane Ross and Finian McGrath and all the rest of our great patriots, will insist that we spend a small fortune on lawyers – to ensure that we lose a big fortune in taxes that should have been paid under the 12.5pc rate.
There was “no state aid” to Apple, Noonan told the Dail on 14 January. There was “simply no question” of a “special tax deal”. There’s nothing special, apparently, about paying tax at a rate of 0.05pc.
Pursued by Richard Boyd Barrett, Mr Noonan insisted, “There is no suggestion that there is anything wrong with our tax system”.
You can read it here.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Abrams was working in the Bush White House during the second phase of the peace process and the mark he left 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.
July 5, 2016
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.
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’.
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:
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 wapo.st/sullivan