Monday, April 25, 2016
British and Irish newspapers have begun to cover the latest subpoena served on Boston College for Belfast Project materials, and some are getting big parts of the story wrong. Most egregiously, David Lawler writes in the Telegraph that the newly subpoenaed materials "could shed light on the infamous abduction of Jean McConville in 1972."
Doubling down, Lawler's story later ascribes this view to the Police Service of Northern Ireland: "The PSNI believes McIntryre's interviews with former IRA members could indicate what role, if any, Gerry Adams had in the kidnap and murder of McConville."
Not true. Not close to true.
Start with the subpoena itself, which directly declares the categories of crime that are supposedly under investigation:
The subpoena sent to Boston College tells us that police are investigating "alleged violations of the laws of the United Kingdom, namely, attempted murder, possession of explosives with intent to endanger life, possession of an imitation firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence, and membership of a proscribed organization."
Notice the absence from that list of the crimes of kidnapping and murder, the two things that were done to Jean McConville.
But that's only one of the reasons we know this new subpoena isn't about Jean McConville. Recall that Boston College received two sets of subpoenas back in 2011: A first set for particular interviews undertaken with Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes, and a second (and later) set requesting all interviews that described the McConville matter.
Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill, the university official responsible for archiving the Belfast Project, told the federal district court that he was unfamiliar with the collection he had spent years receiving and cataloging. That claim led Judge William Young to perform a complete in camera review of every IRA interview in the collection, personally determining which interview materials were germane to a request for evidence in the McConville case. Young ordered all of those materials sent to the PSNI.
Now: The PSNI has returned to Boston, through the agency of the US Attorney's Office, to seek Anthony McIntyre's interviews, so...
1.) The PSNI doesn't already have McIntyre's interviews, but
2.) Four years ago, every Belfast Project interview with material about the McConville murder was sent to the PSNI.
Therefore, McIntyre's interviews were not among those that contained material about the McConville killing. Because they would already be in Belfast, lodged with the police, if they did.
Anthony McIntyre's interviews don't contain information about the McConville killing, and the new subpoena doesn't mention kidnapping or murder. It's not at all correct to link this new subpoena for McIntyre's interviews to McConville. Stop doing it.
Incredibly, Boston College has been served with a new Belfast Project subpoena, following a request from the British government to American authorities under the terms of the US-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.
The latest demand for archived materials seeks the interviews that were conducted with a primary researcher on the project, Dr. Anthony McIntyre. A Queen's University history PhD, McIntyre is himself a former member of the Provisional IRA, once imprisoned by the British government for 18 years. McIntyre interviewed former IRA members for the Belfast Project, and was also interviewed himself by an as-yet-unidentified guest researcher.
The absurdity of the new subpoena would be hard to exaggerate. Dated April 21, and signed by First Assistant United States Attorney John McNeil, the subpoena seeks "evidence regarding alleged violations of the laws of the United Kingdom," including "membership of a proscribed organization."
This isn't a joke: In 2016, the British and U.S. governments are working together to try to figure out if Anthony McIntyre was ever a member of the IRA.
It's like the FBI suddenly deciding to assemble a major case squad to see if Huey Newton ever had anything to do with that whole Black Panther thing. Was Nathanael Greene somehow involved in the American Revolution? An urgent government investigation is underway!
(Personal aside to Police Service of Northern Ireland: Try looking here. If that's too much reading, this confidential law enforcement source might also help.)
The new subpoena follows several earlier waves of equally ridiculous subpoenas, which began in 2011 and first sought information on the long-ignored 1972 kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville. Several years after receiving subpoenaed interviews that discussed the McConville killing, authorities in Belfast have charged precisely no one with those crimes – and the available evidence strongly suggests that they never will.
The Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland did charge a single person, Ivor Bell, with aiding and abetting in the McConville murder, but police and prosecutors have never said who Bell was supposed to have aided and abetted; they have brought charges for helping with a murder, but they have not brought charges for the murder itself. Even that weak and tangential case is evaporating in painful stages: Bell was charged in March of 2014, but -- more than two years later -- has yet to receive so much as a preliminary inquiry, much less a trial. Bell's lawyers now seek to have the charges thrown out of court, an outcome that seems increasingly likely.
More recently, law enforcement officials in Belfast used the MLAT process to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to obtain the Belfast Project interviews of former Loyalist paramilitary commander Winston Rea. Police in Belfast got the Rea tapes nearly a year ago. The tapes have not been spoken of since, and no charges have been filed.
And so Northern Ireland's Keystone Kops return to the same dry well that has served them so well in the past, demanding tapes that may reveal Anthony McIntyre's involvement in the IRA.
I keep trying to decide if this is a tragedy or a farce. It may be both. One thing that it certainly isn't: A legitimate police investigation.
Saturday, August 22, 2015
I sent an email message to Detective Inspector Neil McGuinness of the PSNI, asking him for comment on his recent letter to Ed Moloney (that he didn't send to Ed Moloney, because he doesn't know how to find him). I got this remarkable message in response:
The investigation into the abduction and murder of Jean McConville is on-going. Can you confirm that Mr Maloney has received my request that he contact me in the matter I referred to in the letter you have received? To date I have not received any reply from Mr Maloney.
So there it is: In August of 2015, the PSNI's detectives are waiting for witnesses to get in touch with them about a 1972 murder. And they haven't quite figured out yet how to spell the names of the people they consider witnesses.
The swift and steady hand of justice, ladies and gentlemen.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Below is an absolutely astounding letter from a Police Service of Northern Ireland detective to the Irish journalist and former Belfast Project director Ed Moloney. The letter is cut off at the top. This is the way it was sent to me, scanned it into digital form this way by the person who has the letter -- not Ed Moloney, who the crack detectives of the PSNI can't find.
This letter is amazing in many, many ways, but start with the date: August 7, 2015.
In the summer of 2015, the PSNI is beginning to ask people to cooperate as witnesses in matters relating to the 1972 murder of Jean McConville. That's well over a year after prosecutors in Northern Ireland filed aiding and abetting charges over McConville's murder against Ivor Bell, who is allegedly a former senior figure in the Provisional IRA. And it's well over a year since the PSNI arrested Gerry Adams and questioned him regarding McConville's murder.
This is how law enforcement officials in Northern Ireland are pursuing justice in the murder of Jean McConville: They filed charges last year, and they're trying to find some witnesses this year. I'm embarrassed for them.
Here's the letter:
Friday, July 31, 2015
A representative of the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland, speaking to the press earlier this month about the possible case against Gerry Adams over the murder of Jean McConville, with emphasis added: “It is anticipated that the processes involved in taking this decision will be concluded before the end of July.”
Most PSNI and PPS statements on the Jean McConville matter are eventually proven to be false.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Ivor Bell, arrested and charged in March of 2014 for allegedly aiding and abetting in the 1972 murder of the Belfast widow Jean McConville, has bounced off the surface of the justice system ever since. After a long series of inconclusive court appearances in which prosecutors asked for more time to think about the charges, a Belfast judge finally gave the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland an ultimatum this year: Make a decision or give it up. So we had many versions of this news story in early June of this year, after the PPS told the court they had definitely for sure decided to proceed:
"Ivor Bell to be prosecuted over Jean McConville murder."
That decision, the Irish Times wrote, "has ended mounting uncertainty over the case."
It surely hasn't. After the June 4 "decision," Bell was ordered to return to court on July 16 so the judge and the lawyers on both sides could figure out a date to begin a preliminary inquiry in the case. Today is July 21. You wouldn't know it from the newspapers in Ireland or the UK, but Bell did return to court on July 16 -- where no date was set for a preliminary inquiry. Instead, the PPS asked for another delay in the case.
The prosecutor assigned to prosecute Bell, they explained, is on maternity leave. And the other prosecutor assigned to the case in her absence hasn't had time to read the case files, yet.
For about the fifty thousandth time, I'll say that you can really feel the urgency, here. The criminal justice system in Northern Ireland will not rest until Jean McConville's killers are brought to justi- okay, wait, another prosecutor just went to the bathroom. Try again in October, your honor? Or we could, I don't know, pencil something in for 2020? That year is looking pretty solid for us.
In theory, the case is back in court in two weeks. Now taking bets on how many times the PPS can say they aren't ready before a judge is willing to mercifully put their case out of its misery. The dog continues to eat our homework, your honor.
I asked the PPS press office for comment, and will update if they respond. But they may need some extra time to think about it, for sure.
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Here's an an actual news headline from early July, 2013: "Boston College tapes: PSNI detectives get secret Dolours Price transcripts."
Two years ago, as part of their urgent investigation into the 1972 kidnapping and murder of the Belfast widow Jean McConville, police in Northern Ireland took possession of a set of taped interviews subpoenaed from the archives at Boston College.
Then, in March of last year, Belfast resident Ivor Bell was charged with aiding and abetting in McConville's disappearance. Those charges, not yet scheduled for trial or brought to court for a preliminary hearing, are now fifteen months old – staler than the wedding cake on Miss Havisham's banquet table.
One of the many problems with the possibility that Bell will be successfully prosecuted is a reality of the Boston College tapes that I reported on a long time ago: Boston College doesn't have an identity key, or many of the collection contracts, that would be needed to connect interviewees with their anonymously labeled interviews.
In theory, at least, one of the ways to successfully prosecute Bell would be to connect the tapes to the interviewees. One of the clearest ways to do that – again, in theory – would be to ask the interviewers to identify the interviewees. For tapes with former members of the Provisional IRA, the organization that took McConville from her home and killed her, the interviews were conducted by the former Provisional IRA prisoner and history PhD Anthony McIntyre. That would be the person you would want to question, if you were the police and you hoped to successfully prosecute former members of Irish republican paramilitary organizations.
So the police have now done just that. Anthony McIntyre lives in the Republic of Ireland, out of the direct reach of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, so a pair of Garda detectives appeared at his front door today and attempted to question him on behalf of their colleagues in the north. McIntyre's account is that he politely declined to offer them any answers, and they went away quickly and with equal politeness. And why not? It's not like anything much is at stake, at this point.
Two years after the PSNI took possession of the Boston College tapes, the police have made a desultory attempt to gesture at validating them. In 2015, they tried to ask some questions about the tapes they got in 2013. So they could solve the 1972 murder that they began to investigate in 2011. For the sake of kindness, let us assume that they just take plenty of naps.
We're having an annual development in the McConville murder, now. By 2032, give or take a decade, we could easily have a denouement of some kind.