I am not naturally a fan of the current British prime minister. But I admire him today.
(That, by the way, is detailed and extensive, delving into the geography and history of the area, the events leading up to and following the shootings, and a close scrutiny of the day itself. The individual soldiers—whose names have not been released; they are referred to by code—are each dealt with, and their actions and probabilities of guilt described with due consideration.)
And the conclusions are damning.
The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury. What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland.
This is in marked contrast to the first report on the day, the Widgery Report. That was issued 11 weeks after the deaths, and has long been held to be a whitewash. It blamed the organizers of the march2, insinuated things about the victims in direct contradiction of the evidence3, and asserted that “There is no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired upon first.”
Lord Saville’s investigation was first mooted in 1998, in response to the provision of additional evidence by the government of the Republic of Ireland. It’s widely held that the British government’s willingness to reexamine the events of January 30, 1972 was a key ingredient in bringing about the subsequent Good Friday Agreement (pdf). But it didn’t turn out to be a cheap thing, or a quick one. It took a decade and cost the thick end of £200 million. Cameron himself was not a fan of it due to the expense.
And yet he stood up in the Commons and gave a statement the like of which I never expect to hear from a US President about, say, Abu Ghraib.
What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.
…these are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say. But Mr Speaker, you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible.
We do not honour all those who have served with such distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth.
Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces and for that, on behalf of the government, indeed, on behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.
The inevitable arguments have already started. What about prosecutions? asks one side. What about the things the British Army did well in Northern Ireland, and the casualties they suffered? asks the other. It’s still the messy, bitter, grievous situation it’s always been, though with much less lead flying than used to be the case.
Nonetheless, the world has more truthful words in it, and more courageous ones, than it did yesterday. And that’s a good thing.