On Wednesday, federal prosecutors will walk into an appellate court in Boston and tell a panel of judges that they are seeking evidence in an exceptionally serious crime, the murder of a widowed mother of ten who was taken from her home in Belfast and shot in the back of the head by members of the Provisional IRA. Because they are aiding police officials in the United Kingdom with such an important investigation, they will sound a note of urgency: The matter before the courts must be brought to a conclusion, because murderers must be brought to justice.
They will be full of shit.
There was a murder, and it was awful. A widowed mother was killed, and ten children were left with no parents. But is there a murder investigation underway? Is the Police Service of Northern Ireland working to bring killers to justice?
I've said before that you should start thinking about this claim from the moment in 1972 when McConville was taken from her home to be killed. What then? Nothing much. The police have acknowledged that they didn't try to solve her murder until the 1990s, and even then they didn't try especially hard, and then finally they admitted that they probably weren't going to make a case in such an old murder that would survive in a courtroom. Now it's 2012, and there's somehow a serious criminal investigation underway.
But this time, let's start the story somewhere else: February 21, 2010. That's the date a newspaper in Northern Ireland printed a story alleging that former IRA member Dolours Price -- as the paper soberly put it, a "TERRORIST IN A MINI-SKIRT" -- had admitted that she drove McConville to her death. Not only that, added the Sunday Life, but she was known to have told the story to researchers at "Boston University," which is a solid fifty percent correct. (The story isn't online at the newspaper's website, but you can see page scans here.)
And so the Police Service of Northern Ireland, alerted to the confession of an accomplice to murder, came roaring to life and began their desperate quest to win justice in the case of Jean McConville. Game on -- justice was awake and on the hunt. The first set of interviews Boston College will potentially give up to the government when the legal appeals are over are the interviews conducted with Dolours Price. Her newspaper confession is bringing the day of legal reckoning ever closer. The newly tireless detectives have almost got their target.
There are just a few problems with that picture, and start with the fact that the Sunday Life story ran more than a year before anyone got around to asking for subpoenas of the Boston College material. Think about this: A newspaper said on February 21, 2010, that a particular person had driven a murder victim to her death, and that there was more information available in a university archive. The first subpoenas arrived at the university archive in May, 2011. You can almost taste the urgency.
Better yet: In August, 2010 -- several months after the Sunday Life story named her as an accomplice in Jean McConville's murder -- Dolours Price was in a courtroom in Northern Ireland, facing criminal charges. Here's the story on the BBC website. Having confessed to her role in the McConville murder in a published interview, causing the police in Northern Ireland to lock onto her with their laser focus and their passion for justice, Price found herself in the hands of the criminal justice system in the very place where she was known for her role in an infamous political killing. They had her, in the flesh, the IRA terrorist who named Gerry Adams as her commander in a murder she had directly facilitated.
So go read the BBC story. What happened when the woman who drove Jean McConville to her death appeared in a courtroom in Northern Ireland? This: "Convicted Old Bailey bomber Dolours Price has been acquitted of a charge of shoplifting at Newry Magistrates Court." The end. Terrorist in a mini-skirt!
Months after the Sunday Life story identified Price's role in McConville's death, nobody in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland cared or tried to do anything about it. She went and stood in a courtroom, and no one mentioned the whole "murder of a widowed mother of ten at Gerry Adams' command" thing. They yawned at her shoplifting charge and sent her home. Because they were so aggressively pursuing it, you see.
In its amicus brief in the legal appeal, the ACLU of Massachusetts charged that the DOJ was facilitating a political investigation, a course that could lead the United States government into ever-more-horrible involvement in appalling political repression overseas. When a foreign government asks for help gathering evidence against political organizations like the IRA, the U.S. government should think carefully about what they're being asked to do, and the courts should take a close look at the decisions the Justice Department makes.
Here, again, is the government's most recent brief in the Belfast Project appeal. Look at pg. 57, and let's go ahead and add emphasis to make this easy:
Finally, nowhere in ACLUM’s argument is there a recognition that a request by a foreign sovereign under a treaty regarding a sensitive and confidential criminal matter is any different than a civil request by a private party in a mundane business matter. ACLUM’s argument, if taken to its logical conclusion, would subject even the most sensitive and urgent law enforcement requests to litigation and delay by persons with a deeply felt, but tangential interest in such a criminal investigation. Under ACLUM’s reading of §3512, criminal defendants in foreign countries, and others who disagree with the foreign policies of the United States, could tie sensitive and urgent international criminal investigations in legal knots.There is no "sensitive and urgent" criminal investigation. The police in Northern Ireland have had forty years to investigate Jean McConville's murder, and they have not. They had several months between the publication of a story saying that Dolours Price had driven McConville to her death and the moment when she stood in a courtroom and was available for an easy arrest. They had a year to get around to asking for subpoenas of the Boston College interviews.
Someone needs to apply some skepticism to the government's framing of these subpoenas. Let's hope the First Circuit manages the task.