The Troubles-shooters

On 21 November, BBC Panorama screened a documentary titled “Britain’s Secret Terror Force”. It was about a small unit of murderers that were operating in Northern Ireland in the 1970s that were part of the British army. Amongst several strange points about this programme was the timing of it, following as it did just a day after it was reported that John Larkin, attorney-general for Northern Ireland, has called for no further prosecutions to take place for atrocities committed during The Troubles.

The Troubles is a euphemism for that phase of the murderous foreign policy employed by Britain in Ireland for at least a hundred years (some would say it’s more like four hundred), and which supposedly ended with the so-called Good Friday peace agreement in 1998.

Real students of modern British history would not have been too amazed at the content of the Panorama programme, which outlined some of the adventures of a tiny group of psychopaths employed by the British army in a unit which, allegedly, went by the name Military Reaction Force (MRF). The MRF was supposedly active in Northern Ireland for about fourteen months during the 1970s. Members of the gang never wore uniforms and passed their time driving around the streets of Belfast shooting people. Apart from one account (which may or may not be truthful) of an accidental encounter with some other armed group, no evidence was produced in the programme to suggest that the heroes of the MRF ever did anything really dangerous – like confront anyone who might have fired back; it seems that what these great British soldiers did really, really well was murder unarmed people. As I said, real students of modern British history would not be amazed by that; after all the British army has a long and glorious history of murdering civilians that stretches back to at least the days of the infamous Peterloo massacre, through their concentration camps in South Africa, to the massacre at Amritsar, to current times when three Royal Marines casually slaughtered a defenceless Afghan in his own back yard – and those are a just a few of the better-known examples of the murders we’ve heard about. So learning something of the great heroics of the MRF was nothing very new.

The Panorama programme featured recent interviews with three or four individuals who were supposedly involved in the MRF. One of these people, a rather small-looking middle-aged man, had access to at least two firearms, and displayed to the camera a Browning 9 mm automatic pistol and, rather more surprisingly, a sub-machine gun fitted with a silencer. It was not explained where these weapons came from, or why he still had them in his possession forty years after he was supposedly using them on the defenceless citizens of Belfast.

None of the men interviewed showed any remorse – a fairly typical sign of your average psychopath. One of them clearly saw himself as some sort of unsung hero, and said if he had to do it all again tomorrow he would.

As I said, there’s nothing especially surprising about this story. Although the MRF supposedly only lasted for 14 months, it was almost certainly not the first unit of trained murderers used by the British army in this way, and almost certainly it was not the last. Deeply sinister though this obviously is, it pales to insignificance when compared to the modern equivalent being used by the latest empire to blight the planet.

For the last dozen years or so the United States has been deploying to various parts of the planet something that rejoices in the name JSOC – Joint Special Operations Command. Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill’s superb book Dirty Wars, recently released as a film, is an awesome expose of this deeply disturbing monstrosity of an organisation which most people have still never heard of, and which is effectively answerable only to the US president. Operating on the principle that the whole world is their “battleground”, these people feel free to travel anywhere on the planet, murdering anyone their president tells them to (nearly always defenceless people, almost needless to say), safe in the knowledge that their “exceptionalism” will protect them from any future possibility of appearing before a court of law.

As I mentioned earlier, the timing of the BBC’s Panorama programme was interesting, coming within hours of a call to declare an effective amnesty on all crimes committed in Northern Ireland prior to 1998. The BBC is a propaganda machine for the British government, and Panorama is a long-established vehicle for providing that propaganda. The programme did not make any obvious effort to portray the murderers of the MRF as heroes – but it did absolutely nothing to show them as villains either.

If the fact that the global economy is now almost entirely in the hands of a tiny handful of all-powerful kleptocrats who have all but killed-off any lasting illusions of democracy that might be remaining in our brainwashed minds; or if the fact that deeply sinister institutions such as NSA and GCHQ are bugging every second of our lives… if any of these facts are not enough to galvanise the dozing populace to rouse itself and say “enough”, the fact that obscene organisations such as MRF and JSOC exist, and exist at our expense and supposedly in our collective name, should just about do it. How can anyone support the continued existence of governments that create and sustain all of these very real monsters?

John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. Check out John's books: Fiction: The Road to Emily Bay; Non Fiction: The School of Kindness; The People’s Constitution. Read other articles by John.