Column: Wheels of justice grinding slowly

careyGerry Adams, 65 years old and head of Sinn Féin, was arrested last week in connection with the 1972 unsolved murder of a 37-year-old widow and mother of 10. Evidently, there is no statute of limitations for murder in that jurisdiction, no period of time, however long, after which one can no longer be prosecuted.

In 1972, the year of the murder, I heard a good bit about Gerry Adams while in Northern Ireland. I got there on Feb. 20 along with Georgetown law professor Samuel Dash and former Yale law school dean Lou Pollak. We were there to witness the start of the British government’s official investigation of the killing of 14 unarmed demonstrators on Jan. 30 by paratroopers in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

Shortly after our arrival, we saw a “snatch squad” of soldiers grab a young man and rush him away for questioning. Then live ammunition began hitting the ground 15 feet from where we were standing. Had they killed Sam, the U.S. Senate Watergate Investigation Committee, of which he became chief counsel later in 1972, might have had a different outcome.

Had the bullets killed me, I would not have been elected mayor of Rye in 1973.

The “Bloody Sunday” investigation was to be led by the lord chief justice of England, the Rt. Hon. Lord Widgery. Sam Dash had met Widgery when His Lordship visited the U.S. at a time when Sam was head of the American Bar Association’s Section of Criminal Law. Sam had also been President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers after serving as district attorney in Philadelphia, where he and I had been fellow assistant DAs.

We heard Gerry Adams described as head of the political wing or arm of the Irish Republican Army. I was puzzled then, and still am, just how you can be the wing or arm of anything without being involved in its activities. After all, would it be possible for us to imagine anyone being in a political wing or arm of Al-Qaeda without being involved in its activities? Adams says he was never a member of the IRA and had nothing to do with
the murder.

In June of 1972, Sam Dash published a scholarly 85-page analysis entitled “Justice Denied: A Challenge to Lord Widgery’s Report on Bloody Sunday.”

In June 2010, almost 40 years later, British Prime Minister David Cameron apologized for the Bloody Sunday killings. He told the House of Commons, “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—and indeed our country—I am deeply sorry.”

Between 1972 and 2010, significant progress was made in ending the “Troubles,” as they were called, in Northern Ireland. In 1998 the “Good Friday Agreement” largely curtailed 30 years of sectarian strife. According to a Reuters report, Adams, on his release from jail last Sunday, May 4, stated, “I’m an Irish republican. I want to live in a peaceful Ireland. I’ve never dissociated myself from the IRA, and I never will, but I am glad that I and others have created a peaceful and democratic way forward for everyone. The IRA is gone, finished.”