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Many land mines on road to Irish peace; rumors, scandals distract from real story of terrorism.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - The word "scandal" dominated the headlines describing the British government's admission it had lied to Parliament when it denied talking to IRA terrorists. Nobody stopped to notice that the "admission" was itself a lie. Parliament had known about the talks all the time, as was clear from comments by Northern Ireland members.

What had really happened was that the government had lied to the British public. And within a few days persuasive evidence emerged that the admission of lying was itself, in part, fabricated. So what else is new? Don't governments lie to their citizens all the time?

Was all the talk of scandal designed to distract attention from the real issue raised by the disclosure? In Northern Ireland three groups use unlawful violence ("terrorism") to promote their objectives. How justify the exclusion of one of them from discussion of the region's future?

The first of these terrorists to emerge was the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) and other Unionist paramilitaries. Their original purpose was to crush the Civil Rights Movement, which in 1968 was winning wide support (including that of the Labor government then in power in England) for its nonviolent crusade to end discrimination against Nationalists in housing and employment. Today the UDA's purpose is slightly different. To avenge deaths of Unionists in IRA actions, they kill an equal or greater number of Nationalists, at times targeting known or suspected IRA members, at times picking randomly.

Next came the IRA. Twice previously, in the 1930s and 1950s, the IRA had launched a campaign of violence. Each time it failed for lack of popular support. In 1968, the UDA killings and burnings in the Nationalist enclaves provided the necessary social base. Although there were fewer than 30 full-time active members, with almost no weapons, in Belfast they obtained 15 rifles during a raid on a gunsmith. They used the guns to repel UDA attacks on the Nationalist enclaves.

Ironically, the official Northern Ireland policy of denying arms to Nationalists guaranteed the social base for the IRA after 1968. Unionists not only monopolized membership in the police (RUC) and the semi-military B-Specials, both heavily armed; they were also given permits to have and carry arms. Permits to the civilian Unionist population amounted to about 100,000 in 1970, to 130,000 by 1973. Then and now, Nationalists - even those who have received death threats - are routinely denied permits by the RUC.

In August 1969, to the great relief of the Nationalists, the British government committed troops to police duties in Northern Ireland for the first time since the 1920s. The RUC was disarmed, and the B-Specials disbanded.

Gradually however, especially after a Conservative government came to power in Britain in June 1970, the reforms were not only abandoned but the military joined the rearmed RUC and the B-Specials (revived as the Ulster Defense Regiment) in repressing the Nationalists.

The British army, today numbering 30,000 in Northern Ireland, thus became the third terrorist group. But before describing its illegal violence, the "legal" terrorism of the British government merits examination. For in fact the entire rule of law has been perverted as part of the "pacification" program.

Detainees can be held for days without access to a lawyer. Suspects are jailed - often for more than two years - while awaiting trial. The right of a suspect to remain silent has been abrogated, as has the right to a trial by jury. A single judge presides. He rules on admissibility of evidence, and he can (and does) draw an inference of guilt from the accused's silence. Most, prosecutions rely on confessions, 85 percent of which are uncorroborated. The conviction rate is 95 percent.

This system continues even after such incredible miscarriages of justice as the Guilford Four and the Birmingham Six.

In addition to this "legal" terrorism, the British army has long been engaged also in illegal terrorism. This process developed - perhaps not coincidentally - while Brigadier Sir Frank Kitson was commander of the British forces in Northern Ireland in 1971-72. Kitson is world famous - or infamous - for his theory of low-intensity warfare, based on his counterinsurgency campaigns in Malaysia after World War II. Kitson's theories appear in the book Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency, Peacekeeping, published in 1971.

The fact that Kitson's formula failed abysmally in Vietman and only produced stalemates in Guatemala, El Salvador and elsewhere does not seem to have tarnished his reputation. This may be because stalemate, not victory, is the objective - that is, a war without end as anticipated by George Orwell in his book, 1984. If so, it matches perfectly what is happening in Northern Ireland.

Kitson is a military chap, a no-nonsense, pure-blooded offspring of Kipling. Because we have and they want, he says, our task is to fight subversion; and by definition, fighting is the business of the military: "It is the job of soldiers to know how to use civil as well as military methods for fighting subversion. . . . Civil administrators are not taught how to do it."

Having assigned policymaking to the military, Kitson reformulated the role of law in counterinsurgency. Here, his preferred option is to use the law "as just another weapon in the government's arsenal . . . for the disposal of unwanted members of the public."

This policy not only sees the law as useful for disposal of the unwanted. It has another edge, the blunt one that protects the military from having to account for its behavior. Since 1970, only one British soldier has been given a life sentence for killing a civilian in Northern Ireland, and he was returned to active duty after serving 26 months.

Persistent and systematic violations of human rights by the British security forces in Northern Ireland during those years have been denounced by international human rights organizations.

Helsinki Watch has denounced systematic use of torture, "persistent and ongoing . . . by both security forces and paramilitary groups." Children younger than 18, it says, are physically and mentally abused, psychologically tricked, jailed in inhuman conditions. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee says that British policies in Northern Ireland are the main contributing factor in an "appalling record" on human rights abuses. In 1976, the European Court found Britain guilty of torture; in 1978, of inhuman treatment of prisoners.

Rather than change its practices, Britain has |suspended' its due-process obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since the killing of three unarmed IRA members in broad daylight in Gibraltar in 1988, charges of a shoot-to-kill policy have proliferated. Amnesty International has urged Britain to set up an independent judicial inquiry for all disputed cases since 1982. Just three months ago, the European Commission on Human Rights decided to launch its own investigation of the Gibraltar killings. Amnesty International says that collusion between the security forces and the Loyalist terrorist groups "remains a fact of life - and the government is not prepared to confront it."

On various occasions these groups have used secret government files to identify targets for assassination. The London Daily Mirror claims to have a top-secret dossier of 12 suspected IRA members that was passed by security forces to Loyalist paramilitaries.

The view is frequently expressed that all terrorists should be excluded from peace talks. But if Britain is allowing terrorists, it should at least have a level playing field. Either all or none.
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Title Annotation:Northern Ireland
Author:MacEoin, Gary
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 17, 1993
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