Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Say Anything: The DOJ Comes Clean on Retribution

For government lawyers, truth can be a contingent, situational, and highly malleable idea. And today we have new evidence of that fact. 

Three years ago, when Boston College filed a motion in a federal court to quash subpoenas of Belfast Project interviews, Assistant U.S. Attorney John T. McNeil flatly rejected the idea that the release of those interviews from a protected academic archive might endanger people involved in the project. You can read McNeil's July 1, 2011 brief here. But here's the relevant passage, from pg. 2:
While the Respondents make other equitable and factual claims, including the claims that the researchers will face retribution and that the disclosure of the materials will threaten the political stability in Northern Ireland, those claims falter in the face of close scrutiny. The researchers themselves, and the subject of the interviews, widely publicized their involvement in this oral history project long before the subpoenas in this case were issued. Moreover, the Respondents’ decision to publicize the issuance of the subpoenas – which had been kept under seal by the United States – belies any claim of such risk. If there were a substantial risk of retribution, the Respondents’ efforts to publicize the subpoenas would compound the purported problem, rather than mitigate it.
So the release of Belfast Project interviews would be no big deal: no risk to the political stability of Northern Ireland, no risk of retribution for people involved in the project. No good reason not to pry open the archive, your honor. No danger at all. They made this claim often and loudly; see also this example.

This week, Assistant U.S. Attorney John T. McNeil filed two documents with the same court -- a brief, and a supporting declaration -- to argue against a federal judge's proposal to publicly release documents filed under seal in the matter of the Belfast Project subpoenas. Why? Because, ladies and gentlemen, the release of material related to the Belfast Project endangers witnesses and might subject people to retribution.

Same prosecutor, same case. The material should be released, because warnings about retribution are silly; the material must not be released, because it's dangerous and people will get hurt.

Here's a link to the brief; the relevant language is on pg. 2, where McNeil writes that British officials "continue to seek that the materials remain impounded to ensure that evidence (both testimonial and documentary) is not destroyed or altered, and to ensure that witnesses and investigators are not subject to harassment, reprisals or tampering."

And here's a link to the supporting declaration, where McNeil writes that "the release of such information could unfairly impugn the reputation of those witnesses and suspects, or subject them to retribution."

Suddenly, three years later, the Department of Justice says the release of documentary material related to the Belfast Project threatens to subject people to retribution.  

So what does that say about the decision to pry the interviews out of the archive in the first place?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Parody of a Satire of a Farce

Ivor Bell was back in court this week, where his lawyer asked the judge to throw out the increasingly weak and stale charges against him. Here's how the Belfast Telegraph explains the judge's response:

"But after being told prosecutors want another eight weeks to consult with police, District Judge Fiona Bagnall indicated that the defence application should wait until full papers are served."

Ivor Bell was arrested in March. Now, in September, prosecutors in Northern Ireland can't make a decision about whether or not to pursue his prosecution, because they need some time to consult with the police on the case.

If six months of consultation hasn't been enough, another two isn't going to help. Give it up, folks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Urgent Search for Justice in a 1972 Murder, Cont.

Ivor Bell was arrested in March. It's now September, and his prosecution has not gone forward. When, if ever, will he brought back into court? Six months, no action, dead silence.

Gerry Adams was arrested at the end of April. It's now September, and no decision has been announced regarding the possibility he'll be charged in Jean McConville's 1972 kidnapping and murder.

At about the same time, Helen McKendry said publicly that she knew who had kidnapped her mother, and said she would go to the police to name names. It is now September, and we have no public indication that the PSNI has acted upon, or even received, the information that McKendry said she was about to bring to them.

Someone at the PSNI leaked the news, back in May, that the police would be returning to the archives at Boston College for new subpoenas of the entire Belfast Project. It's now September, and there are no publicly available signs that those subpoenas were ever served.

The investigation into the murder of Jean McConville has stalled or evaporated. It's time for the PSNI and the PPS to either take action or provide some explanation. What has been the point of all this?

Do it or give it up, publicly and explicitly. It's time.