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Time for truth and honesty

Acknowledgement that plain-clothes British soldiers shot unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland will come as no surprise

Acknowledgement that plain-clothes British soldiers shot unarmed civilians in Northern Ireland 40 years will come as no surprise to local residents.

Numerous allegations of such incidents at the time were pooh-poohed by military and police representatives.

Unarmed victims were slandered, accused of carrying a variety of weapons or of moving in such a way as to give the impression of an aggressive move.

After the notorious Paratroop Regiment massacre of 14 innocent civilians in Derry in 1972, Justice Widgery's tribunal delivered a whitewash, claiming that troops had come under fire from republican forces.

Even now when there is general agreement that the 14 men and boys shot dead were wrongfully killed, there remain those who excuse the perpetrators of the massacre.

As with the dozens of Irish victims of the English justice system - the Birmingham Six, the Maguire Seven, the Birmingham Four, Judith Ward and so on - those unjustifiably killed by the British army still attract "insider" off-the-record assurances of guilt, supposedly covered up for political reasons.

Retired military officers have spoken out to contradict the testimony of former Military Reaction Force members.

They cite soldiers' bravado or their apparent tendency to embroider facts about acts they never carried out, but this theory crashes on the rocks of reality that these atrocities certainly did happen.

Patricia McVeigh's campaign to uncover the truth behind the army's snuffing out of her father Patrick McVeigh's life, merits success.

Nothing can bring back the thousands of people killed during the Northern Ireland conflict, but there must be truth and honesty shone on the circumstances of their deaths.

Paramilitary forces have faced demands to come clean on their activities, including identifying where the bodies of their victims are buried, and have responded to some degree.

However, the British state has failed to acknowledge the gulf between its own official aims and methods and the reality on the ground.

The former Military Reaction Force members have given their side of the matter, claiming to have saved lives by shooting unarmed IRA volunteers when they had the chance to do so.

But the political, military, security and judicial Establishment has never admitted its own recourse to shoot-to-kill policies, collaboration with loyalist paramilitary groups to carry out assassinations of suspected republicans, disregard of the criminal careers of its informer network and politicisation of the legal system.

The official position remains that state forces, with the exception of an occasional bad apple, observed Yellow Card rules scrupulously.

Such fiction is essential to justify politicians' references to anyone who puts on military uniform as a "hero."

To that end the public is enjoined to contribute to charities for "our heroes" fighting in overseas wars to, allegedly, defend Britain when the real aim is to impose imperialist power on behalf of the City of London.

Criticising their deployment is portrayed as akin to stabbing these soldiers in the back.

Such blackmail must be resisted. There is nothing positive or honourable about serving imperialism, no matter what the personal qualities of the individuals involved.

Recently publicised crimes against civilians and captured enemy combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan show that these tendencies are endemic in unjust wars.

Military Reaction Force records have already been destroyed - what a surprise - but, in any case, far more important than identifying individual perpetrators of state-sponsored murder is recognition that it took place and was officially sanctioned.

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