#Lethal Allies: this is not collusion.

This is much worse.

The publication of Ann Cadwalladers Lethal Allies last month by Mercier Press was always going to have a relatively predictable reception. In many ways, nationalists and republicans have largely accepted that there was participation by members of the security forces in providing intelligence, weapons and targeting information to loyalist/unionist paramilitary groups from the late-1960s onwards. In some cases, it was even clear that either officially or unofficially, security force members and agents being run by the security services directly participated in killings and bombings. There was also some high-level strategic direction being given to those activities.

The short-hand for this process has been to use the term collusion, which features in most of the reportage around the launch of Lethal Allies, despite the fact that the term is very poorly defined (eg see a previous post on it here or a blog on it by Mark Devenport). This is largely because ‘collusion’ is not defined anywhere in law as a criminal act, making it’s definition such a fugitive concept. In many ways this lends itself to a certain type of public debate since, with ‘collusion’ so hard to define, the level of public debate never really descends beyond the semantics that proliferates where there is such vagueness. In actual fact, what is being called ‘collusion’ is a cumulative assessment of a litany of unpunished criminal acts.

Similarly, unionist reaction to Lethal Allies has largely gone to script, dismissing Cadwallader’s work as either a distortion, or trying to minimise it by saying it was really just a tiny number of security force members. Writing in today’s Irish News (behind the paywall), Alex Kane neatly captures unionism’s failure to comprehend what is going on here:

Given the nature of terrorist and counter-terrorist campaigns it’s not surprising that they often involve what is described as ‘dirty war’ tactics: they aren’t conducted under the normal rules of warfare, so it’s almost inevitable that combatants will, quite literally, resort to the rules of the jungle and a dog-eat-dog approach.

Once read, Lethal Allies quickly disabuses the reader of a couple of key concepts. Ann Cadwallader constructs a crushing inventory of criminal acts perpetrated by individuals who combined membership of the security forces and loyalist paramilitary groups, utilising security force weapons, intelligence and training. They were immune from punishment even when sufficient corroborating evidence was in place to meet a test for prosecution, never mind in instances where their criminal actions were simply not investigated. Cadwallader does this by simply gathering together strands such as ballistics reports, eyewitness statements and other forensic evidence that was all available at the time to the RUC and other investigative authorities if they chose to act up on it. In many places she augments this with eye-witness accounts and other material, such as HET reports.

One of the key themes that emerges from Lethal Allies, though, isn’t ‘collusion’. That individuals like Robin Jackson were so impervious to any investigative or judicial restraint over such a wide area and long period of time underscores the connivance of the security forces in the violence they perpetrated. However, this was no ‘dirty war’ tactic, as alluded to by Alex Kane in the Irish News (see quote above). The normal subtext to discussing ‘collusion’ is that the security forces participated in extra-judicial killings of members of the IRA or other combatants by using proxies to get around restraints placed on them (with the hint that those restraints were somehow inappropriate). When challenged about collusion on television recently, Mike Nesbitt retorted that if there had been no IRA, there would have been no collusion.

Cadwallader completely debunks that whole concept (and in many respects part of unionism’s cherished and heavily curated myth of victimhood). Practically none of those killed by the security force members and loyalists were combatants by any stretch of the imagination, let alone active members of the IRA. The targets were well-to-do farmers, successful businessmen and other upwardly mobile members of the Catholic communities that were being attacked. Nor is this type of targeting in any way new in the north. Denise Kleinrichert’s work on internment in 1922-24 demonstrated how it was used to economically remove Catholic professionals, farmers and business people from particular areas (release from internment often being conditional on exclusion from the six counties).

In reality, what Lethal Allies illustrates isn’t collusion. It’s called total war.

As ever, read the whole thing.

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