Eric Holder, Boston College & the Irish Peace Process
The Pensive Quill
29 May 2013
Kevin Cullen writing in the Boston Globe earlier this month examined the issue of Boston College’s invitation to Taoiseach Enda Kenny to speak at their commencement. Because Boston College is a Catholic University, some people were upset at the invitation given the recent abortion debate going on in Ireland and Enda Kenny’s refusal to automatically bow down to demands of clerics. Previously, Kenny had given a landmark speech about the Church and its shameful handling of child abuse; it was much needed, and reflective of the changes in Ireland. For whatever else one may think about Kenny’s leadership, he has been very strong in publicly distancing the State from the Church — much to the Church’s chagrin.
Leaving the issues of abortion, Ireland and the Catholic Church aside, our personal circumstances means I tend to see everything through the lens of the Belfast Project subpoena. So given that, I couldn’t help but wonder, while Boston College was inviting the Taoiseach to come speak at their commencement and making all the necessary arrangements, what were they doing with their obvious political contacts, networks, and strength in regards to the subpoena case?
I remain hopeful that behind the scenes they have been using their contacts effectively to protect the oral history records — and that the fact that they can and are hosting the leader of Ireland shows they are protecting their research against the British desire to use them politically — but, given my experience, it is admittedly hard not to see it as anything other than a cynical attempt at damage control and protecting their reputation in Ireland over how badly they have behaved in our case.
From the start of the issuance of the subpoenas, Boston College was more interested in scapegoating my husband and those involved in the project, and via their spokesperson Jack Dunn spent more time protecting the institution than they did their research and researchers. I would have much rather seen them publicly and loudly lobbying the likes Enda Kenny for protection of the archives and feel had they taken such a course perhaps things would be turning out differently.
I hope my cynicism is proved wrong — those who participated in the Boston College project are depending on the integrity of Boston College to protect them. I would like to think that the commencement invitation is the result of hard lobbying done behind the scenes over the last two years and maybe, just maybe, the political intervention that was always going to be the key to dealing with the subpoenas will manifest. Somehow, though…
Twitter drew my attention to this article yesterday, about Attorney General Eric Holder’s “remorse” for the Department of Justice’s going after the press as criminals, in relation to the recent Associated Press and James Rosen cases. I will reserve my full thoughts about that, suffice to say I imagine the remorse has more to do with the exposure of the extent of the DoJ’s activities than the actions themselves.
Having spent the last two years dealing with a case pursued by Holder’s DoJ and being involved in a suit against Holder because of it, it is readily apparent the recent AP and Rosen cases belong to a larger pattern of abuse of freedom of the press by the DoJ, of which the Boston College subpoena case is very much included.
I hope that the BC case is not overlooked, because it raises the same important issues and questions that the AP, Rosen, and Aaron Swartz cases do. Like them, the subpoenaing of the Belfast Project archives is a 1st Amendment issue, and a 4th Amendment issue. The added dimension is the MLAT request: Holder’s DoJ is not only willing to trample on the 1st and 4th Amendments for internal political reasons, but is also doing so at the behest of foreign governments who are pursuing their own political agendas contrary to established American foreign policy.
I urge reporters following the AP, Rosen, and Swartz cases, as well as concerned citizens, please, don’t let the Boston College subpoena case get lost — ask the Obama administration what they are going to do about it, and will it be included in the ‘review’ taking place by Holder; ask the administration and the DoJ how that MLAT subpoena action ‘strikes a balance between law enforcement and freedom of the press’, particularly when the law enforcement is a political investigation involving a foreign government.
It is not too late to stop the handover of confidential archival material. Help by raising voices to ask the US Government the questions the DoJ should have asked when the MLAT request landed on its desk. Ask the Irish Government why it is happy to have the British Government ride roughshod over its jurisdiction in pursuing cases that the Good Friday Agreement had placed in the past. And ask the British Government exactly what it is looking to achieve given the constrained circumstances the GFA places on them — ask them if they lied to the US Government in making the MLAT request, or what, if any, significant information they failed to impart.
Three other news stories caught my eye recently, in relation to the Boston College case and the status of the peace process with regard to the past. I have said to many people over the last couple years while lobbying on the case that without any agreed approach in place to dealing with the past, we will never have “conflict resolution” — what we have will only ever be a “conflict cessation”, and with that comes the implication that it will resume again at some point in the future. The logical and natural end point of a “peace process” should be to lay the past to rest. Whether that is something that can ever be possible is up for debate, but it will never be achieved in the manner the current peace-processors are going about things.
The Boston College case is an example of how the past, and the drift in the peace process, has the potential to unravel the future. Last week, the man who will most likely be making the decisions on whether to use the Belfast Project archives to pursue prosecutions or not, Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory, expressed his reservations about the benefits of prosecuting the past, indicating he understands all too well the problems that the subpoena case brings to the political landscape.
Meanwhile, the PSNI themselves cannot be accused of not being sensitive to that kind of problem — at least going by the BBC report by Vincent Kearney which exposed the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland’s withholding of public records. The PRONI claimed they did so at the behest of the PSNI’s Historical Enquires Team; an HET spokesman issued a denial of this to the BBC.
In a letter explaining the decision, PRONI said the decision had been taken after reviewing the files, and information it received as part of a consultation with the Historical Enquiries Team.The letter said it would “not be in the public interest to release any information at this stage” and that providing access to the documents “would be likely to prejudice the detection of crime, the apprehension or prosecution of offenders, and the administration of justice”. PRONI argued that it would not be in the public interest to release information held in witness statements contained in the file “that may still be of assistance to the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) or HET”.
All of this was a result of a solicitor making a Freedom of Information request on behalf of families of men killed by loyalists who are seeking a new inquest into their deaths. While the HET/PSNI are going to America to attempt to access privately held confidential archives, they are sitting in Belfast blocking access to public records. Talk about having it both ways!
Both ways is apparently how the British State wants it. Padraig O Muirigh, representing the families involved, told the BBC:
“I don’t believe it’s any accident that we’ve had this intervention. We have an attorney general at the minute who is prepared to direct fresh inquests where he sees it advisable and I believe this is a very deliberate policy to stymie and to obstruct families who are seeking to persuade the attorney general to go down that road.”
Some historical prosecutions and inquests are good, while others are very, very bad. I will leave it to the reader to determine which is which.
Almost as if to help assist in making that determination, or at least underline which prosecutions the British State believes are good ones, hot on the heels of Barra McGrory’s handwringing about the inability of the peace-processing politicians to deal with the past, John Downey was arrested in London, accused of being involved in the 1982 Hyde Park IRA bombing. Gerry Adams, in calling for Downey’s release, describes him as “a valued member of Sinn Féin and a long-time advocate of the Peace Process”.
Downey’s arrest and subsequent trial must be seen as a shot across the bows of Sinn Fein, and Adams would be a fool, given the Boston College subpoenas, not to feel something akin to “There but for the Grace of God go I,” while issuing his statements. God being, of course, whichever ‘nameless, faceless securocrat’ is currently calling these shots.
Who exactly is it that is calling the shots now? In the case of the Boston College subpoenas, while the investigation may have been initiated and pursued by the PSNI’s HET and Serious Crime units, it is assumed that the MLAT request would have had to go through the Home Office. This could explain, unless for some reason Owen Paterson was being economical with the truth, why the NIO was reportedly caught unawares by the whole thing — they were not consulted beforehand as it never went through their channel. All of this is speculation, of course — the subpoena is sealed, and we don’t have the answers to who decided what. But the questions remain.
As they do in the case of John Downey. Who has oversight for the Hyde Park investigation? Is it an HET or PSNI Serious Crime case? Or is it strictly a London Metropolitan Police operation? If so, how many other historical cases involving the IRA are currently on the go, or in the pipeline? Who authorized them, and why? If this does not fall under the PSNI umbrella, who does have oversight?
At any rate, it looks like Barra McGrory won’t have to make any decisions on whether a prosecution of John Downey is in the public interest or not, as any trial that does go forward won’t be taking place in Belfast.
Perhaps the peace processors have found an agreed-upon way to deal with the past: to use it to further their agendas in the present, and damn the consequences to the little people they purport to represent. Like the rest of the peace process to date, will it be the processors alone who reap the most benefits of such dealings? That I will leave for the reader to decide.