Saturday, 19 June 2010

Wheels within wheels

A small convoluted argument. Regarding the troops who gave evidence at Saville and the question of their being charged and tried for perjury. This is not a discussion about their criminal liability as such - I have explained why that is not a matter for public debate. Just an exercise in abstraction.
Everyone in NI knew what the Para battalions did. Not only what they did but also how they operated. Major involvement as at Ballymurphy and lesser involvement in the blinding of Emma Groves.

The Belfast government knew, the UK Government knew. Protestant and Republicans, both good-living people and terrorists, were aware. The military all knew; from privates in what they described as 'crap-hat' units to the very top Generals. They had been doing what they did the way they did right from the earliest days of The Troubles.

And, despite this knowledge, they were never corrected or limited when acting in support of the civil power or when protecting one community from another. It was not possible for the battalion, from colonel down to the lowest and newest recruit, to be aware that what they did was wrong in the eyes of those who commanded and controlled them.

So, in Londonderry, they did their thing. Just as trained and experienced. There was no panic - if you believe this just ask how far greater the death toll would have been. The firing did not stop because they ran out of ammunition or targets. The need to return fire ceased when the local gunmen realised for the first time just what was involved in confronting that Regiment and folded their tents.

Everyone in the battalion knew what would follow. Statement taking where they would be asked to relate all they had seen and what they did. A routine procedure for many of them. It does not really matter why and it is not appropriate here to go into any question of why so very few such interviews led to disciplinary proceedings.

Their view of things was 'do your job, say what you did and move on to the next confrontation' At the time they made their statements, they had no reason to believe that that Sunday would be any different. So, no fear of prosecution, no threat of any further action, no time to coordinate false accounts, condemnation from anyone that mattered unlikely - why invent lies?

A small bubble of doubt may have arisen during the process in the weeks before Widgery when more detailed investigations were made and the soldiers were again interviewed. Very few altered their account they had given within hours of events. Widgery was a weak premature foetus and again, no suggestion of disciplinary proceedings. When Saville came along the questioning was much more forensic and probing and carried out by civilians who knew nothing of the soldier psyche. Concerns would have become more real and threatening. All knew that a Nuremberg Defence would not wash. Some suggested that the original statements were false; words had been put into their mouths by the statement takers, they were tired and stressed or confused in a strange city. These claims were not entertained by Saville. They could not expect the powers that be to come forward and admit that they had acquiesced to the battalion's methods. At least, nothing more protective than the now dishonoured promise that no one would be prosecuted for what they might say. So loyalty was preserved.

Damned if they did and damned if they didn't. But none of these change my perception that they had all spoken the truth as they knew it. What follows on from that is something I have ruled out as a suitable topic for any layman and something to be left to my learned fee-charging friends and the duplicitous politicians seeking to be all things for all men.

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