Immediately after Saville delivered his findings into the war crime of Bloody Sunday, I found myself writing:
Will prosecutions be initiated or, if they are, will they succeed? Although there are enough who think for genuine reasons that prosecutions should result from the Saville findings I am not convinced there is any point in journeying down that path. A crucially damning verdict would be a simple, concise, unequivocal declaration from the British government that the act was mass murder, that the Widgery Report was a whitewash and that the British government behaviour after the event made it, at the very least, an accomplice after the fact, responsible for covering up and perverting the course of justice. That would be much more beneficial than some woolly verdict of unlawful killing or manslaughter which is probably the only outcome from court proceedings.
Last week's announcement from the British state's Public Prosecution Service in the North that prosecution would be initiated in respect of a mere one of the murderous gang of British Paratroopers present on the day, gave no cause for a change of mind.
There are compelling grounds for believing that a formal insistence on prosecutions suits the powerful just fine. It is a useful mechanism to keep the truth away from the generals of whatever hue and redirect it to the grunts. For the optics, the trap of prosecution is set in such a way that it can perhaps snare a psychopathic thug like Soldier F, but not the likes of Massacre Mike Jackson. Whatever modicum of truth prosecutions bring forth about the trigger man, they are averse to an even more important truth about the trigger plan or planner.
If any conviction secured in this case was to be our sum total of knowledge of events on Bloody Sunday we would know very little. Prosecutions bring a narrow scenes of crime perspective to the past, and a limited truth. Their outcome, and we have to suspect their intention as well, is to minimise the amount of truth recovered. More ominously, they place a very dubious and partisan police structure, and a prosecution service which is hardly any better, in charge of not only what is recovered but what is investigated with a view to recovery.
The campaign for prosecutions in the case of Bloody Sunday while well intentioned was myopic. It is a salutary demonstration of just how little justice, as retribution, actually delivers. Saville’s non-prosecutorial approach, for all its shortcomings and limited terms of reference, told us infinitely more (far short of what we still need to get) than the current farce of a prosecution.
Unfortunately, matters have regressed since Saville. The prosecution of Soldier F is not any form of progress. It has happened only because it, as Eamonn McCann has observed, "would have been positively perverse for the PPS to have arrived at any other conclusion." The same PPS will eventually come to perversely resile from any stated objective to have a verdict of murder written into the judicial record. The official verdict as a result of prosecution will be that there was one unlawful killer on Bloody Sunday whose taking of life was not murder but manslaughter.
If society is intent on continuing down the barren path of prosecutions ostensibly because there is a need for candour, then it should reciprocate with its own duty of candour and desist from the fallacy that prosecutions are designed to achieve an extensive and deep process of truth recovery. They are anything but. Meanwhile, as the past continues to be the subject of exclamation but little excavation, and the strategy of the powerful is to "deny, delay and die", those who can tell us the truth are taking their insights and secrets with them to the graves and crematoria.
Moreover, those who are actually engaged in a broader process of truth recovery will, like the journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, find themselves targeted by PSNI arrests in a bid to intimidate them from persisting in their quest.
For truth recovery to work, a radical reconfiguration of the current model is a minimum. Justice, before its attainment moves beyond the reach of those most in need of it, has to forego the retributory and embrace the revelatory. Legacy might best be tackled not via a beyond reasonable doubt criterion but by a balance of probability threshold. Not because it is the most accurate, just that it is the most accurate that society is going to get.