Against State Violence: The UK, the US, Patrick Finucane & Drone Attacks

Jack Healey, the Founder of the Human Rights Action Center

On December 12, 2012, two days before the horrific school shootings in Connecticut, two reports were issued that might have merited more media attention and societal concern on both sides of the Atlantic. The UK Government released the Peter Finucane Review, detailing the active complicity in the 1989 assassination of one of its citizens during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. In the United States, this report discussed the sundry human rights violations involved in drone strikes internationally.

The death of Pat Finucane is a reminder of the delicacy of the still-settling aftermath of the Troubles. Coming from a town that became known to the world as the sight of the Bloody Sunday Massacre, Patrick had family who were members of the IRA. But he himself was a solicitor who defended the IRA as a nonviolent non-member. He was warm and kind and proud of the principle of defending those who the UK Government would prefer to crush.

Pat died at 40 years old, gunned down by fourteen shells fired into his body in front of his Protestant wife and their three children who watched in horror as a gun was fired into the face of their father. One of his assassins, Ken Barrett, got a life sentence and only served two years before release due to the peace agreement. The Pat Finucane Review, issued nearly a quarter century after his murder, reveals the atmosphere of hostility that the UK engulfed republicans with and the networks of collaboration between elements of the Government and the radical Ulster Defence Association. Peter Hain remarked that the report "revealed probably the worst atrocity by the British state within UK jurisdiction in recent times." While the report is disturbing and has reopened the pain for the Finucane family in realizing the depth of the UK travesty committed on their family, the peace process in Northern Ireland continues to largely hold. People like the peace, from both sides of the conflict. Guns have been handed over and grievances have begun the long process of forgiveness necessary to transform conflict into something more than a mere truce.

While we call out the UK for this behavior, let us not fail to look at the US behavior from a much more contemporary time. Drone attacks, which involve "soldiers" sitting in air-conditioned trailers in the Nevada desert controlling armed flying robots to pursue "militants" in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen with limited oversight, has been the sleeper story of the past couple of years. To date, the best estimates are that drone attacks have resulted in the death of many hundreds of civilians (including hundreds of children) and where deaths from strikes have only involved 2% of the killed being high-level militants. They have included US citizens, including at least one sixteen year-old US citizen whose death was dismissed by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs as avoidable if the child had "had a more responsible father," and are largely conducted in secret but in numbers considerably higher in the Obama Administration than the Bush Administration. We are now employing "double-tap" strikes, a tactic of waiting after a first strike and then refiring into the same target, a tactic that often kills first responders and which the United States officially referred to as a war crime and terrorist tactic as recently as 2007.

With at least one hundred seventy six children(!) killed by drone US drone attacks in Pakistan alone and thirty five women and children in a single strike in Yemen, more than Newtown at a single glance. To me, the drones killing capacity is like the two men who killed Patrick. Somehow these killers felt that Patrick is part of the problem and must die. Courts and lawyers and judges and processes move too slowly for them; to kill the evil is the game. Like killing a snake endlessly to overcome one's fear of the dark spot on the soul. Our government keeps firing from drones with much of the same sickness. Thousands of innocents die regularly. They died in the Troubles. They are dying in drone attacks. They are dying in Newtown, Connecticut. Wherever you might stand on the gun control debate, it is certainly overdue to have a national conversation about the consequences of being awash in firearms. More importantly, if you're one of those who thinks that assault rifles will protect you from a hostile governement, note that we currently plan to allow 30,000 drones in US skies by 2015. Once there, they'd be fairly easy to shift some to armed drones.

As we look forward and back during this first month of 2013, which is after all named after the two-faced Roman god Janus for this very reason, it is good to remember that the future is better because of people like Patrick Finucane, who was able to transform the hatred around him with a commitment to nonviolence and legal principles. We'd do well to remember the man who defended Bobby Sands, who refused to be pulled into a river of discontent which had been a siren to so many in the seven centuries since the Battle of the Boyne. David Cameron has issued an apology even as the Finucane family decries the Review as a whitewash. Members of the Obama Administration assure the few members of the media and public with the temerity to ask that they are safeguarding good process in the macabre selection of their "kill list." And members of the gun lobby tell us that the answer to mass shootings is more guns for everyone. But political power does not flow from the leadership of nations. Political power is given to leaders by the people that permit themselves to be governed. While the need for judicial and legislative oversight of these tragedies can not be overstated, the real need is for the oversight of the people and the imperative for each individual in the UK, the US, and globally to stand up and speak up for their inalienable human rights.

In solidarity for human rights for all,