IRA Taped Interviews Fight: US Policy or “Warlow’s War”?

Michael Cummings
National Board
Irish American Unity Conference

In a Mike Nichol’s film, a Texas congressman singlehandedly manipulates money and power to arm the Taliban and force the retreat of Russians from Afghanistan. This despite the fact that US policy had a different objective in mind. The movie was Charlie Wilson’s War. Today in the Department of Justice, the bureaucratic equivalent of such Wilson-like determination may be undermining the peace process in Ireland.

The United Kingdom has used a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) to ask Ms. Mary Warlow, the Director of International Affairs (Criminal Division) for Attorney General Holder to demand and obtain audio tapes in the Irish archives of Boston College. Ms. Warlow seems poised to deliver the records to the British despite the fact that to do so would seem to contradict the provisions of MLAT and the spirit of the 1998 Belfast Agreement. How is this so?

In 1998, after much US coaxing, the British signed the Irish peace pact. But since then Great Britain has worked “in the long grass” away from probing media to undermine the key the so called ‘justice’ provisions of the Agreement. Those provisions, if honored, would show lawless security forces playing a much larger role in conflict related deaths. The UK concocted a distraction while their cover-up work is underway. This request is the distraction mechanism. By misusing the MLAT and asking the US to subpoena oral history tapes at Boston College, England seeks to have America play in a part in their treachery. It has worked before. In 1976 Congress prohibited arms sales to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the most murderous and political police force in Europe. The Reagan administration was accustomed to ignoring Congressional embargos.

Ms. Warlow has advised members of Congress and those in opposition to the subpoenas that she has consulted with the Department of State per Article 3 of the MLAT and executed the request with the subpoenas.

In 2005, Ms. Warlow told the US Senate that the MLAT would be used to pursue the flight of serious felons, and would reflect the US international priorities to protect citizens from dangerous and violent suspects.

None of that is involved with this subpoena request. It was initiated by one of 300 pensioned police officers who the British have returned to the ranks to help cover up police corruption and collusion with loyalist murder gangs.

The subpoena is based on a newspaper reference to a killing 40 years ago during the British Army’s attempt to crush the civil rights movement. It is a brazen attempt by police dissidents to smear Sinn Fein leader and member of the Irish Dail, Gerry Adams.

Although the contents of this Justice to State consultation has not been revealed, these are some facts that would be integral to Secretary Clinton’s response.

  • The human rights violations of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have been documented by the Department, the European Court of Human Rights, Amnesty International and the United Nations.  
    Since the request seems spurious and not germane to the purposes of MLAT, the cooperation of America’s chief law enforcement could embolden dissidents to the Belfast Agreement.
  • The same police service that made the request was complicit with loyalist vigilantes in the murder of lawyer Patrick Finucane.
    This much was admitted by Prime Minister Cameron. They are also suspected in the murder of lawyer Rosemary Nelson and five democratically elected Sinn Fein officials. Fearing the worst Cameron unilaterally rejected a public inquiry promised in the peace process. Under these circumstances there is no good that can come from cooperating with the PSNI.
  • The Department of State has a special obligation under Article 18 of the MLAT to advise Justice of the related rights and obligations of the US under the US-UK extradition Treaty and the multi-lateral Irish peace Agreement which the US crafted.
    Seventeen Members of Congress including the Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, have expressed to Clinton their opposition to these subpoenas, their fears for their impact on the Irish peace process and misrepresentations made by the British at Treaty hearings.
  • Testimony and documentation given at a March hearing of the Joint Committee on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) Co-Chaired by Senator Cardin and Representative Chris Smith depict in detail British efforts to obstruct the work of the Historical Enquiries Team and the Police Ombudsman in violation of the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and US commitments.

So why hasn’t Justice stopped enforcement of the subpoenas or the British withdrawn the request?

Some have surmised that this first time use of the MLAT was rubberstamped in an act of ignorance or incompetence. It is more likely that British arrogance is the driving force here.  They are determined to undo the Belfast treaty brick by brick and deal with Ireland as they wish. If they can smear an Irish politician here and there so much the better. And to do this they may have found a useful accomplice.

The persistence of Director Warlow may have more to do with Attorney General Holder’s management style and broad delegation of authority.

If the British make a shambles of the Belfast Agreement and violence returns to the streets of the North,  scholars may one day look back to this sordid Boston College subpoena episode and conclude the fragile peace was the victim of “Warlow’s War”.