Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war

Kevin Myers has an article in the Sunday Telegraph, Terrorists fought the law…and the law lost, in which he looks at whether a democracy can successfully combat terrorism through the courts.

In it he points out that the neither Law nor Justice won in the courts during the troubles, merely lawyers. He argues that the failure of the legal system to protect society led to a form of ‘rough justice’ which while questionable, was successful – using events in Loughgall to illustrate his meaning.

“No single factor brought the IRA to its negotiating knees, but the most formidable was its knowledge after Loughgall that it had an enemy as resolute and dark as itself. The war on terrorism was now being led by special forces, often operating on the very margins of the law, and sometimes outside it. Henceforth, the fight would get really dirty, as all counter-insurgency campaigns inevitably must. The days of predictable, legal rules of engagement were over: now they could be highly unpredictable and deeply illegal.”

He goes on to recommend that in the fight against al quaeda lessons should be learned and applied, not just against Islamic terrorists but also Irish terrorists.

“Lesson one is that it is morally wrong for a government to be more concerned about the legal rights of its enemies than the lives of its servants. Lesson two is that heavy-handed, indiscriminate actions against civilian populations by the security forces only help terrorists. Lesson three is that those who preach civil liberties cannot disclaim moral and personal responsibility for the deeds that the terrorist beneficiaries of such liberties later perform.
Last but not least, lesson four: the result of allowing anti-terrorist policy to become the forensic plaything of the courts will be certain, abject failure – as Colonel Wilson’s quite shocking figures make clear. That so many soldiers were killed and no one was jailed is simply a massive defeat for law and a comparable victory for terrorist outlaws, who must have thought that they were fighting pedantic, dysfunctional fools. For years, they were: and al-Qa’eda’s operatives in Britain probably have the very same thought today.”

  • headmelter

    Are we to believe the brits never acted outside the “law” prior to Loughgall? UDR/RUC collusion, loyalist death squads, diplock courts etc etc…

  • Jim Bob

    This is such a typically stupid argument on so many levels.

    Firstly there is no comparison whatsoever between the almost civil war situation in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s and the threat posed by Islamic militants today.

    And secondly it was the Northern and British states’s abuse of the Law and due process which mainly created that civil war situaton in the 1970’s.

    The only lesson here is that if anyone were stupid enough to take the advice of this writer they would run a serious risk of increasing the terrorist threat to Britain beyond their worst nightmares. And not from outside, from within!

    Thankfully most of the people who make decisions about these issues already know all that, some of them from bitter experience.

  • Human Bean

    Kevin myers is well known to be a crank, an eccentric, a wingnut. His woefully misguided scribblings have added greatly to the gaeity of nations.

    Don’t make the mistake of taking him seriously.

  • barnshee

    Exactly what parts should not be taken seriously?

    Stick to the facts from the item

    Fact 1 referring to the legal process

    ” Northern Ireland, tragically, shows the complete opposite – that the rule of common law, even without jury trials, is only marginally effectual in coping with serious terrorism, and the huge price of failure is paid in the lives of civilians, soldiers and policemen”

    Fact 2 referring to Loughgall

    “Most had been through the courts many times, and patterns of murder in their area were directly related to whether or not they were in custody. So the SAS decisively put an end to their careers. “

    The failures to the british governments to preserve law and order produced the loyalist paramilitaries and in the end Loughgall. The protestant community applauded Loughgall –had the murder gang not been caught in the act the usual band of suspects would have ensured their release as poor discriminated against catholics.

    The knowledge that the SAS were involved and the certainty that their would be no prisoners had an inhibiting effect on republican murder gangs- the balcome street bombers threw in the towel as soon as they saw SAS turn up outside.

    Myers begs the question -what can be done if murder gangs cannot or will not be made accountable by the state -in sense he provided the answer “And so after a while, people began to go elsewhere”

  • Jim Bob

    “Exactly what parts should not be taken seriously?

    Stick to the facts from the item

    Fact 1 referring to the legal process

    ” Northern Ireland, tragically, shows the complete opposite – that the rule of common law, even without jury trials, is only marginally effectual in coping with serious terrorism, and the huge price of failure is paid in the lives of civilians, soldiers and policemen””

    ==================================

    Because it’s an argument based on a false premise. The Law alone can never be effective in dealing with the sort of civil war situation you had in Northern Ireland. Neither can his suggested SAS approach.

    You’re dealing with a breakdown in politics and that’s what you need to fix.

    His proposed solution would only make things worse in Britain, just as they did in Northern Ireland.

  • Davros

    I’m amused to see you endorse the British solution to NI – They have indeed ( as Myers suggests ) not chosen “SAS Only” after “Courts Only” Failed. They
    tackled the Political problem ( A-I Agreement) while letting the Courts do what they could AND using the special forces.

  • Jim Bob

    “I’m amused to see you endorse the British solution to NI”

    I haven’t endorsed anything of the sort. I’ve pointed out that the British have learned from the mistakes they made in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s, and won’t therefore be adopting the foolish tactics outlined by Myers.

    ” “- They have indeed ( as Myers suggests ) not chosen “SAS Only” after “Courts Only” Failed. They tackled the Political problem ( A-I Agreement) while letting the Courts do what they could AND using the special forces””

    The fundamental mistakes the British made were in the 1970’s as I’ve pointed out above. It’s the errors of the 1970’s they’ve learned from and therefore won’t be taking Myers’ advice anytime soon, in terms of applying it to the Islamic threat.

  • Dualta

    Because it’s an argument based on a false premise. The Law alone can never be effective in dealing with the sort of civil war situation you had in Northern Ireland. Neither can his suggested SAS approach.

    You’re dealing with a breakdown in politics and that’s what you need to fix.

    His proposed solution would only make things worse in Britain, just as they did in Northern Ireland.

    Spot on Jim Bob. I think the IRA’s campaign burned out due to the leadership’s realisation that neither the British governments or the Unionists were about to cave in under it.

    Our problem here is an ethno-political one and it can only be resolved when there is a political structure agreed apon by the two main ethnic groups. No amount of murder by the state or anti-state forces will change that.

  • Davros

    I haven’t endorsed anything of the sort.

    You might not have realised it, you might not want to admit it, but you did just that 🙂 To the Courts and the Dogs of War you added political initiatives – which is exactly what the British government have done, certainly since the mid-80’s .
    TAL mate 🙂

  • JD

    The knowledge that the SAS were involved and the certainty that their would be no prisoners had an inhibiting effect on republican murder gangs- the balcome street bombers threw in the towel as soon as they saw SAS turn up outside.

    I fail to see how useful the fantasy that the lads from Hereford fighting Islamic extremists to a draw is. If martyrdom is part of the deal for Islamic extremists, then I seriously doubt an SAS murder gang will have the effect you or Kev desire. Square peg, round hole.

    Then again, maybe Kev just likes the idea of blood. I just don’t see how anyone can take him seriously any more. It’s like he wishes he was a contrarian of Christopher Hitchens’ rank. But he’s just a button-pusher. And not a very good one.

    But he is quite funny, really.

  • Davros

    If martyrdom is part of the deal for Islamic extremists, then I seriously doubt an SAS murder gang will have the effect you or Kev desire.

    I think you are missing the point here JD.

    The logic is –

    Sure the Islamic Terrorists will be dead, martyrs.
    The alternative ? In jail for a few years, if convicted and then free to kill again. The IRA men Killed in Loughgall ? If they had been captured rather than killed how many more people would they have gone on to kill ?

  • JD

    Sure the Islamic Terrorists will be dead, martyrs.

    And what of the next wave of martyrs related to/ inspired by the previous ones? The dead are great recruiting sergeants.

    Problem not solved, although its a great way to make it a generational issue.

  • Davros

    And what of the next wave of martyrs related to/ inspired by the previous ones? The dead are great recruiting sergeants.

    Problem not solved, although its a great way to make it a generational issue.

    JD – that’s where the third part of the equation comes in – the political components. e.g in NI we had the A-I agreement and the Belfast agreement.
    The “martyrs” of Loughgall and the Maze are no longer great recruiting sargeants. Sinn Féin, to their credit, have accepted this and said that there is a better way.

  • aquifer

    Surely what ended the ‘long war’ strategy was loyalist assassins with improved targetting information going into the republican heartland. Or was the author just too polite to say?

  • Davros

    Surely what ended the ‘long war’ strategy was loyalist assassins with improved targetting information going into the republican heartland. Or was the author just too polite to say?

    I think that base was covered (another baseball idiom LOL ) with :

    “No single factor brought the IRA to its negotiating knees, but the most formidable was its knowledge after Loughgall that it had an enemy as resolute and dark as itself. The war on terrorism was now being led by special forces, often operating on the very margins of the law, and sometimes outside it. Henceforth, the fight would get really dirty, as all counter-insurgency campaigns inevitably must. The days of predictable, legal rules of engagement were over: now they could be highly unpredictable and deeply illegal.

  • JD

    JD – that’s where the third part of the equation comes in – the political components. e.g in NI we had the A-I agreement and the Belfast agreement.

    I’m afraid that I’m not exactly sure who/ what you’re arguing with, Davros. I never said there wasn’t a political aspect to the NI situation.

    I’m simply pointing out that saying the illegal and unlawful use of state death-squads in NI (which Myers has no problem in stating) will be efficacious against Islamic extremists is like comparing apples to oranges. The differences are too many to go into here.

    In a nutshell: illegal state murder likely won’t bother Islamic extremists. Their deaths through illegal means will simply produce the next list of martyrs to be emulated.

  • JD

    Edit *grumble*

    I’m simply pointing out that saying the illegal and unlawful use of state death-squads as was done in NI (which Myers has no problem in stating) will be efficacious against Islamic extremists is like comparing apples to oranges. The differences are too many to go into here.

  • Davros

    JD- the point I’m trying to make is that the world needs to address the political issues that provide the seed-bed for Islamic terrorists. As we have seen in Ireland Martyrs lose their recruiting powers when the underlying political issues are addressed.

  • JD

    Davros:

    I completely agree regarding the need for political solutions: no argument from me there.

    I do, however, have a problem with illegal state murder.

  • Davros

    I do, however, have a problem with illegal state murder.

    I completely agree. I was following Myers logic rather than agreeing with him JD.

  • Jim Bob

    To Davros:

    “You might not have realised it, you might not want to admit it, but you did just that 🙂 To the Courts and the Dogs of War you added political initiatives – which is exactly what the British government have done, certainly since the mid-80’s”

    The flaws in both Myers and the British approach are to be seen in the 1970’s. That’s the point.

    He’s actually advocating making those same mistakes again.

    The 1980’s is a red-herring because by that time you’re already mired in the conflict which you ought to have been avoiding in the first place.

    The point is to avoid the conflict getting to the 1980’s stage, not encourage it.

    To achieve that you don’t make the mistakes which Myers is now advocating and which the British made in the 1970’s.

    And you also don’t pretend as Myers likes to do do that there is any comparison between the Northern Ireland conflict and the Islamic threat to Britain today. Indeed British leaders and opinion-formers are now having to roll back on some of the propaganda produced for the Northern Ireland conflict in order that the public don’t make the same errors in analysis that Myers has just done above.

    Looking at the confusion in your arguments, I suspect you are you making similar mistakes as he.

  • Davros

    Sorry Jim Bob, You are in denial.

    Of course Britain was on the wrong track in the 70’s and of course Myers needs to add in a Political dimension. Which is why when you rightly mentioned this Political dimension you were unwittingly endorsing the British Gov’t policy here. Now, are you big enough to acknowledge this ?

  • Mike

    Jim Bob:

    “The Law alone can never be effective in dealing with the sort of civil war situation you had in Northern Ireland. Neither can his suggested SAS approach. You’re dealing with a breakdown in politics and that’s what you need to fix. His proposed solution would only make things worse in Britain, just as they did in Northern Ireland.”

    Plenty of experts would disagree with you that Loughgall-type action “made things worse in Northern Ireland”. See Ed Maoloney’s ‘Secret History of the IRA’ or Peter Taylor’s ‘Provos’ for opinions that the deicimation of the IRA in East Tyrone in particular hastened the end of their campaign of violence.

  • George

    Mike,
    I think Jim Bob is making the point that there would never have been things like Loughgall if the British had followed different policies in the 70s.

    Do you believe Loughgall dealt a fatal blow to the Provisional IRA and, if so, why aren’t they dead yet?

    Maybe you can also explain to me why Sinn Fein seem to be cleaning up in Tyrone at the expense of “constitutional” nationalism?

    Do the words permanent alienation say anything to you?

    I hate to disappoint you but you can’t have total victory in a civil war.

  • Jim Bob

    To Mike:

    I’m not talking about the 1980’s. The mistakes were made before that.

    That’s the problem with what Myers is arguing.

    He’s actually arguing for the 1970’s mistakes.

  • Jim Bob

    “Of course Britain was on the wrong track in the 70’s and of course Myers needs to add in a Political dimension. Which is why when you rightly mentioned this Political dimension you were unwittingly endorsing the British Gov’t policy here. Now, are you big enough to acknowledge this ? “

    I’m actually saying something rather more nuanced than the “them or us” straitjacket into which you want to squeeze it.

    I’m saying that what Myers is arguing is comparable to the mistakes the British made in the 1970’s.

    That’s the comparison.

    Therefore the 1980’s are a red herring in terms of what Myers is arguing.

    Obviously British policy has improved a great deal since the mid-1990’s, but that’s hardly the point in terms of dealing with Myers’ argument.

    It’s just a red-herring you’ve thrown into the pot for some reason of your own. If you’re looking for some naive and simplistic pro-Brit/anti-Brit nonsense you can look elsewhere. It’s always more complicated than that I’m afraid.

  • Davros

    Obviously British policy has improved a great deal since the mid-1990’s, but that’s hardly the point in terms of dealing with Myers’ argument.

    The Anglo Irish Agreement was in the mid-80’s

  • George

    Davros,
    the Anglo-Irish Agreement was 1985 so also was a product of the mistakes made beforehand.

    What was the prime objective of the Anglo-Irish Agreement according to then Irish Taoiseach and co-signatory Garret Fitzgerald?

    To stop the electoral rise of Sinn Fein.

    Yes, that was a resounding success alright.

  • Davros

    Q:Were or were there not Political initiatives from the 80’s to bring PF republicans in out of the cold ?
    A Yes.

    Q: did those political initiatives in conjunction with a)Courts and b)Dogs of War work ?

    A: yes.

    Q: did the political initiatives reduce/eliminate the “martyrdom” factor caused by b) Dogs of War ?

    A: Yes.

    Now some of you will never admit that The British got anything right, so I’m going to rest my case.
    Your prejudices mean you cannot analyse and discuss, you just want to Brit-bash.

  • George

    Davros,
    “Q. Were or were there not Political initiatives from the 80’s to bring PF republicans in out of the cold ? “

    A: No, but maybe some people like yourself are trying to market them as such after the fact.

    Just ask one of the main people behind it, Garret Fitzgerald. The initiatives were to stimmy SF and stop their electoral rise following the hunger strikes not to bring them in from the cold.

    Why would one of the two main architects of the Anglo-Irish Agreement lie? I believe Garret as a man of integrity and not you Davros.

    I might remind you that there was still a broadcasting ban on SF in the Irish Republic and Britain introduced one later. This also was the exact time that the Irish Republic started extraditing people north for “political” offences.

  • George

    Davros,
    clarification in case I implied I was questioning your integrity:

    I believe Garret is a man of integrity, has no reason to lie and was at the coalface so knows the truth which is why I don’t believe your alternate view.

  • Jim Bob

    “Q:Were or were there not Political initiatives from the 80’s to bring PF republicans in out of the cold ?
    A Yes.

    Q: did those political initiatives in conjunction with a)Courts and b)Dogs of War work ?

    A: yes.

    Q: did the political initiatives reduce/eliminate the “martyrdom” factor caused by b) Dogs of War ?

    A: Yes.”

    None of which has anything to do with Myers argument.

    “Now some of you will never admit that The British got anything right, so I’m going to rest my case. Your prejudices mean you cannot analyse and discuss, you just want to Brit-bash.”

    As I’ve pointed out to you a number of times now, what you’ve been doing is avoiding the issues raised by Myers in the hope that you can misrepresent the debate as an exercise in pro or anti- Brit nonsense.

    And again as I’ve pointed out to you a number of times now, the issue has nothing to do with whether the Brits ever get anything right or not. That’s just your own red herring.

    The reason the British performance and errors are relevant here is only because Myers uses British performaance as evidence that his latest argument is the right way to go.

    It isn’t, for all the reasons I’ve previously given.

    So just once more for the hard of thinking. It’s not about how good or bad the Brits are. It’s about whether Myers use of their performance in the North in the 1970’s stacks up.

    And it does not. That’s why his argument fails.

    That’s what analysis looks like davros

    It’s not red, don’t have a fishy smell and answer to the name herring

  • Ringo

    George
    What was the prime objective of the Anglo-Irish Agreement according to then Irish Taoiseach and co-signatory Garret Fitzgerald?

    What is your source for this – I don’t believe this to be the case? I agree with your views on his integrity, I’m questioning the context of your reference.

    And also, was he referring to the electoral threat posed by PSF North or South, and was what Maggie, Tom King etc wanted out of it identical to what Garret wanted?

    (BTW – the extraditions were a result of closer co-operation between the two governments resulting from the agreement, not an independent issue as you suggest)

  • Davros

    None of which has anything to do with Myers argument.

    LOL – and has everything to do with the discussion I was having with Jim Bob 🙂

  • George

    My source for this Ringo is Garret Fitzgerald himself, who said exactly this on RTE on that programme on the history of the peace process.

    I believe he was referring to SF north of the border alone as SF had yet to remove its Dail abstention policy in the Irish Republic at the time.

    On extradition, you are incorrect.In 1984 before the Anglo-Irish Agreement was even signed, Dominick McGlinchey became the first Irish republican to be extradited from the south to the north since 1922.

    My point was that at this time the Irish Republic was also working closely with the British on other means to prevent the rise of SF and to defeat the IRA, including extradition and continuing the broadcast ban.

  • sean west

    Myers is a total scumbag.I hope some one in Dublin offers him out for a dust up.He is a total
    tosser.He upsets a few people talking about bastard children and then goes crawling to keep his job.I bet he was crying about his mortgage
    to the editor.Total scumbag.

    Please play the ball and not the man sean west A.U.

  • Ringo

    George –
    My source for this Ringo is Garret Fitzgerald himself, who said exactly this on RTE on that programme on the history of the peace process.

    what program – any idea when it was screened?

    I would be extremely surprised if Garret said that he was more concerned with the lawful rise of Sinn Fein electorally in the North than unlawful activities of the IRA and the other paramilitary outfits such as McGlinchey’s INLA in the Republic.

    Regarding McGlinchey – fair enough, co-operation predated the signing, but increased co-operation regarding extradition was one of the primary motivations for the accord on the British side.

  • sean west

    I humbly apologise with regard to Kevin Myers.
    How could i take him seriously.After all was it not him who throughly backed the good friday agreement.

  • George

    Ringo,
    it was an RTE programme on the history of the troubles which was several episodes long and ran a couple of years ago.

    I can’t remember the name of it for the life of me but I distinctly remember him saying the objective of the Anglo-Irish Agreement was to stop the electoral rise of Sinn Fein. That type of comment sticks in your head.

    Don’t forget that earlier in 1983, SF was excluded from the New Ireland forum so there was an ongoing attempt by Irish nationalism, north and south, to exclude and the Anglo-Irish Agreement was seen as the next step.

  • George

    Ringo,
    From Republican writer Paul O’Connor so he has his angle but I would still agree with his analysis and by the way I’m asking around for the name of the programme:

    “When, in the wake of the hunger strikes, Sinn Féin emerged as a growing electoral force, it became central to the policy of both governments to halt its advance. Indeed, one of the principle motivations of the 26-county government in pursuing the Anglo-Irish Agreement was to shore up the SDLP as a bulwark against Sinn Féin.”

  • Ringo

    Sound George –

    When it is described as an attempt to reward the SDLP and constitutional Nationalists at the expense of the others it rings true. But it must be seen in the context of the SDLP being the legitimate voice of the Nationalist community in a way that Sinn Fein only aspires to today. Doing right by the SDLP was the right thing to do.

    I’m interested in the name of the program if you find it out.

  • barney

    I want to complain about the recent link to Langerland on this site. Ever since seeing their ‘What Have the Brits
    Done’ effort for the 1,000th time I have developed a pavlovian response to the words “Kevin Myers”. It forces me to think “Vomit Inducing” and I just can’t get past that tought. Shame on you Slugger. You have conditioned me to think Kevin Myers is some kind of vomit inducing plague. I may never be able to take him seriously again.
    That’s not an attack on Kevin Myers, the man BTW, it’s an attack on Mick Fealty, the scoundrel.

  • Mike

    Jim Bob:

    “I’m not talking about the 1980’s. The mistakes were made before that.

    That’s the problem with what Myers is arguing.

    He’s actually arguing for the 1970’s mistakes.”

    My reading of the article was that Myers was talkinmg about the 80s (and early 90s). The 70s (or much of them) were a different kettle of fish again.

    George –

    “Do you believe Loughgall dealt a fatal blow to the Provisional IRA and, if so, why aren’t they dead yet?”

    I don’t believe it dealt a fatal blow to PIRA but I think the view of some analysts including Maloney and Taylor that their losses especially in East Tyrone contributed to the end of their ‘campaign’ is plausible. Even leaving aside the (Maloney) theory that those involved in Loughgall were an exceptionally ‘hardline’ faction, the loss of several members in the 1980s who had been so prolific in terms of their murder rate may well have been one factor that nudged the Provos towards their ‘cessation’.

    “Maybe you can also explain to me why Sinn Fein seem to be cleaning up in Tyrone at the expense of “constitutional” nationalism?”

    Same reason as across Northern Ireland I would say – the dynamic image of SF compared to the SDLP, coupled with the fact SF are no longer wedded to a campaign of violence. I don’t neceesarily think SF are cleaning up at the expense of constitutional nationalism – it’s still too early to tell for certain but they may be in the process of becoming the next set of constitutional nationalists.

    “Do the words permanent alienation say anything to you?”

    Yes, however it doesn’t mean Myers is wrong in what he says here either.

    “I hate to disappoint you but you can’t have total victory in a civil war.”

    Firstly, I’m not arguing for or seeking ‘total victory’, whatever that might entail (didn’t the outcome of the Irish Civil War come close in some ways though?), simply pointing out that some experts would tend to back up some of what Myers says here. Secondly, I wouldn’t say that there was a civil war in NI – though in the early/mid 70s it came perilously close. Thirdly, of course there had to be a political solution to the NI question – however there was also a terrorist campaign (or multiple terrorist campaigns) that had to be tackled.

  • Jim Bob

    To Mike:

    That’s my point. Myers is using incidents from the 1980’s to make an argument about what should be the strategy in Britain today in terms of their countering the Islamic threat.

    The problem with his argument though is that we’re at the 1970’s stage as far as comparisons with NI and the present Islamic threat are concerned.

    His approach would make those same initial mistakes again.

    You just don’t want to get to a NI 1980’s as far as Britain and her Islamic threat is concerned. You want to do it right first time. You want to get your initial 1970’s right.

    “No Martyrs” is an old lesson, but still a very relevant one.

    If you look at how Britain maintained stability during some very difficult periods of ethnic conflict in its own home territory you’ll see that they have practised a more consistently sensible approach than they did in NI.

    There’s something about things being close to home about it all. Even the media joined in the creation of that stability.

  • JD

    What’s interesting is Myers’ support for illegal state murder. Once they’ve cleansed society of fanatics and their “sympathisers,” why stop there? These muscular special murder squads’ll need to be used to justify the expenditure of tax-payers’ money. Maybe they could pick off other “undesirables.” They could start with those lone girls pushing buggies and prams.