Moving swiftly past the prurient, thigh-rubbing glee that most of the old media seems to be exhibiting over the alleged details of Julian Assange’s love life, let’s re-focus on the heart of the Wikileaks disclosures, and most importantly the aims underpinning them: transparency, justice, and an informed citizenry living within fully-functioning democracies. Such quaint notions.
In the media maelstrom of the Cablegate disclosures, and the resulting infantile and thuggish threats of the American political class, is easy to lose sight of the fact that many of the leaked documents refer to scandals, corruption and cover-ups in a range of countries, not just the good old US of A.
One document that recently caught my attention related to the notorious murder twenty-one years ago of civil rights activist, Pat Finucane, in Northern Ireland. Finucane was a well-known lawyer who was shot and killed in front of his wife and three small children. There has long been speculation that he was targeted by Protestant terrorist groups, in collusion with the NI secret police, the army’s notorious and now-disbanded Forces Research Unit (FRU), and/or MI5.
Well, over a decade ago former top plod, Lord (John) Stevens, began an inquiry that did indeed establish such state collusion, despite having his inquiry offices burnt out in the process by person/s allegedly unknown half-way through the investigation. Stevens fought on, producing a damning report in 2003 confirming the notion of state collusion with Irish Loyalist terrorist activities, but never did clarify exactly what had happened to poor Pat Finucane.
However, Finucane’s traumatised family has never stopped demanding justice. The recent disclosure shines a light on some of the back-room deals around this scandal, and for that I’m sure many people thank Wikileaks.
The “Troubles” in Northern Ireland — such a quintessentially British understatement, in any other country it would have been called a civil war — were deceptive, murky and vicious on both sides. “Collusion” is an elastic word that stretches beyond the strict notion of the state. It is well-known that the US organistion, NORAID, supported by many Americans claiming Irish ancestry, was a major fundraising channel for, um, Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Provisional IRA, from the 1970s onwards.
Such networks provided even more support than Colonel Gaddafi of Libya with his arms shipments, and the cash well only dried up post‑9/11. As you can see in this recent article in the The Telegraph, even the incoming Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, New York Congressman Peter King (who ironically called for the designation of Wkileaks as a “foreign terrorist organisation”) appears to have been a life long supporter of Sinn Féin.
With this in the back of our minds, it appears that Dublin and Washington kept pushing for a full inquiry into Finucane’s murder — and in 2005 it looked like MI5 would finally co-operate.
However, the devil was in the detail. Coincidentally, 2005 was the year that the UK government rushed through a new law, the Inquiries Act, which scandalously allowed any department under investigation (in this case MI5) to dictate the terms and scope of the inquiry.
Collusion by any state in the unlawful arrest, torture, and extrajudicial murder of people — whether its own citizens or others — is state terrorism. Let’s not mince our words here. Amnesty International provides a clear definition of this concept.
As the The Guardian article about Finucane so succintly puts it:
“When a state sanctions the killing of citizens, in particular citizens who are lawyers, it puts the rule of law and democracy in jeopardy. And when a state enlists auxiliary assassins, it cedes its monopoly over state secrets: it may feel omnipotent, but it is also vulnerable to disclosure.”
Indeed. Northern Ireland was like a Petri dish of human rights abuses: torture, Diplock courts (aka military tribunals), kidnappings, curfews, shoot-to-kill, informers, and state collusion in assassinations.
The infection has now spread. These are precisely the tactics currently used by the US, the UK and their “auxiliary assassins” across great swathes of the Middle East. Perhaps this explains why our nation states have been outflanked and have ceded their monopoly over secrets.
Will justice ever be done? In the past I would have said, sadly, that would be highly unlikely. However, courageous organisations like Wikileaks and its ilk are improving the odds.