Award-winning author of Setting the Truth Free: The Inside Story of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign and former Chair of the Bloody Sunday Trust in Derry, Ireland, Julieann currently works as Heritage & Programmes Coordinator for the Museum of Free Derry. All views expressed are personal.
Bereaved families should never have to fight for answers, yet they do the world over.
One would think that an atrocity on the scale of the attacks of September 11, 2001 – events which caused the deaths of almost 3,000 men, women and children in the most brutal way imaginable – would demand the most meticulous, wide-ranging investigation in US history. On the contrary. Few were satisfied with the 9/11 Commission proceedings or its subsequent 2004 report. Almost fifteen years after the report’s release, calls for a new, scientific investigation into 9/11 are growing louder and louder.
Only now in the north of Ireland, a region still scarred by decades of state and paramilitary violence, are we beginning to address the wounds inflicted by years of oppression and conflict. Infuriatingly, very few of the bombings, shootings and massacres that spanned the past five decades have ever been properly investigated or acknowledged, much to the hurt and frustration of those left behind.
I speak as a woman who has watched my own family wage a tireless campaign against the British state, and since spent years immersed in such subjects. My uncle Jackie Duddy was just seventeen when he was shot dead by British paratroopers during the 1972 civil rights march that became Bloody Sunday – the first of many to die that day. He was a champion boxer with Olympic aspirations, but the British state publicly claimed he was a nail-bomber – a lie that lasted generations and devastated my family, and all the others branded ‘terrorist’ families.
Most Irish people and many in Britain know Jackie’s face and have witnessed his last breath because of the much-used BBC footage of him being carried away, the future Bishop Daly waving a bloodied white handkerchief in truce. We became accustomed to that footage from an early age. My mother can never escape it, and she misses her brother.
The facts surrounding Bloody Sunday are now a matter of public record. The cover-up began just hours after the massacre with a document written by General Mike Jackson, then-captain of the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, who drafted an erroneous list of casualties, each described as either gunmen and bombers. His infamous ‘shot list’ was distributed to international British embassies that same night – thus propagating the lie that lasted decades. Victims, families and wounded were vilified; fellow citizens traumatised.
The 36-page Widgery Report was published eleven weeks later, exonerating the army. Derry reeled as the Lord Chief Justice Widgery’s findings were labelled a ‘whitewash’. It took nearly four more decades – and an international campaign – before the state acknowledged any wrongdoing in relation to Bloody Sunday and broke all precedent in announcing a second inquiry. Public pressure, coupled with overwhelming new evidence, had overturned Widgery and made reinvestigating a necessity. After all, Bloody Sunday had killed the peaceful civil rights movement and effectively paved the way for thirty more years of conflict.
My auntie Kay, who campaigned alongside my uncle Gerry on behalf of the wider family, welcomed the shift in momentum as fresh evidence mounted and support grew internationally.
“We started to feel a glimmer of hope then. It was a frustrating time, a sad time and an exciting time. It was a whole rollercoaster of emotions because we realised that people were beginning to listen,” she remembers.
“We were invited to the Whitehouse, to New York, and to Boston for its St Patrick’s Day parade. I later stood at a podium in Capitol Hill in a room full of senators . . . when I began to talk, I cried my way through it.”
I feel immense pride that these ordinary people, my own family and community, took on the might of the establishment in this way. The release of Lord Saville’s report on June 15, 2010, told the world what we had always known, that our loved ones were innocent, that the army fired first and without justification, and that all were shot while either running away or helping others escape. A ten-thousand strong crowd came out in support of the families and wounded, and all were overcome to hear a British prime minister apologise on behalf of his government and his country. The relief was palpable. The truth was out.
These achievements came at a cost, though, as those same aunts and uncles I admire are now greying pensioners, and many more have long since died. They should never have had to wait for answers. Today, the Bloody Sunday families are one of the few cases to have had an inquiry and a public apology. This was followed by the first ever police investigation into Bloody Sunday – over forty years after the event, and currently we await news of a decision on soldiers’ prosecutions – almost fifty years later.
Kay reflects: “I do believe that someone has to be called to account, even if for the sheer fact that these soldiers committed perjury and lied and sullied my brother's name before two inquiries. Never mind the fact that they murdered him, too.
“Bloody Sunday devastated families with sickness, trauma, drink problems, problems with their nerves or families splitting up. Thank God we got some truth at last from Saville. It means a lot that we didn’t have to pass this on to another generation.”
It’s been a long and arduous journey for all involved. Our families have endured decades of frustration and pain from an ever-resistant government and state. This angers me.
“The 9/11 Commission Report is our Widgery,” said Ted Walter, Director of Strategy and Development for Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth, during a 2018 visit to the Bloody Sunday Trust’s Museum of Free Derry. I remember that this statement shocked me. I thought about it for days afterwards, how a comparison like his revealed the sheer depth of feeling towards the 9/11 Commission Report. I wondered how many others thought this way, and I felt a greater understanding of their need for reinvestigation.
The Widgery Inquiry is now universally accepted as being the most biased and incompetent inquiry conducted by a British judge in modern times. Widgery refused to accept the statements from hundreds of civilian witnesses and accepted forensic evidence which was deeply flawed. He accepted soldiers’ testimony which had been doctored to suit the British version of events. He refused to listen to recordings of the British Army’s radio communications. And, of course, he accepted the infamous instruction by then British Prime Minister Edward Health that his findings might do well to reflect “not only a military war but a propaganda war”. For Derry, Widgery confirmed that the entire British establishment stood behind the Bloody Sunday killers. The British Army commander, Colonel Wilford, was awarded an OBE. His adjutant, Mike Jackson, later became chief of staff, Britain’s number one soldier.
My father always said the truth about Bloody Sunday would come out – but he never lived to see that day. The 9/11 attacks are one of my last memories of my father – I vividly recall him calling me downstairs to the kitchen as events unfolded on TV’s breaking news. We sat glued to that little TV for hours. We saw it all. We cried.
In years since, I have read widely and followed the various 9/11 campaigns with interest. In an ideal world, I wish these disparate groups across the US and internationally could unite as a single super-campaign with one common demand for a new investigation – strength in numbers. In fact, a similar thing took place in Belfast this year when thousands of relatives, groups and individuals affected by the conflict came together for an inaugural March for Truth. This is a tactic with huge potential.
Since losing his son, 26-year-old Bobby, in the September 11th attacks, Pennsylvania man Bob McIlvaine has pursued the truth. One of the few families to have had a whole body returned, Bob learned his son’s injuries were consistent with an explosion which occurred as he entered the lobby of the North Tower. Bobby’s body was already in the morgue before the towers came down.
Last year, with support from AE911Truth, Bob spearheaded the launch of draft legislation called the Bobby McIlvaine Act, which, if passed, would compel the US Congress to reinvestigate the destruction of the World Trade Center. This act needs support.
“The idea that Bobby died because of a fireball just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny,” Bob Sr. insists. “This happened before the first plane even hit, and a fireball couldn’t have done this damage to my son. His face was blown off and his arm was blown off. He was literally blown out of his shoes. Could a fireball travel so far and do that? No, it couldn’t. This has consumed my life since, I just can’t let it go, and yet it was given two lines in the final Commission Report.”
Bob Sr. attended almost every day of the Commission hearings. “I went to 99% of the hearings and I thought it was a travesty, an absolute joke. I was so angry. I just think we’re a country of cowards, and I’m specifically speaking of Congress when I say that. I have no faith in this government to do the right thing, but I’m getting older and I just can’t sit around and wait.
“Bobby’s Act is going great,” his father adds. “Every day I’m in touch with people from all around the world who agree that we need a new investigation. The main message I want to send out to the world is that Muslims had nothing to do with the death of my son on 9/11, I can specifically speak of Bobby when I say that. This was blamed on Muslims. We can prove Bobby died in explosions before the first plane hit, and so Muslims had nothing to do with that. I could die any day, so that’s important to me.”
“All I see is a father needing answers,” my museum colleague, John Kelly, said after learning about Bob McIlvaine’s efforts to reignite an investigation of Bobby’s death.
Co-founder and chairperson of the Derry campaign, John’s teenage brother Michael was murdered on Bloody Sunday – the first march he’d ever attended. John has since spent decades educating others about what happened in Derry.
Recalling how difficult their own campaign was, John said: “One thing we always had to do was listen to each other. That was important because we were a group of people trying to achieve a common goal.”
“Over the years, we’ve met with five secretary of states, three Taoiseachs, and been in touch with three different prime ministers,” he said. “It was important to put the story out there – we took every opportunity, and we got there in the end.”
It’s no surprise that families who lost loved ones in the September 11th attacks want and need answers. Theirs is a loss with global implications. Yet with few resources and a very short deadline imposed on its work, the 9/11 Commission hurried through its investigation and ignored vital evidence in its rush to conclude.
It amazed me to find out just how little the US government invested in investigating terrorist attacks that killed thousands of innocent citizens, destroyed three steel skyscrapers and caused global fear and chaos. Initially, the 9/11 Commission was granted just $3 million, later increased to $14 million for their investigation. By way of comparison, costs of the second 12-year Bloody Sunday Inquiry spiralled near £200 million. Again, a price avoidable if the murder of my uncle and the others had been investigated back in 1972. The truth costs nothing.
The 9/11 Commission Report was widely criticised upon its release in 2004 – not so much for what it said but for what it left out. Interestingly, the final report placed no importance on finding those who financed the attacks, or the urgent intelligence warnings from over a dozen countries that went unheeded in the months before the attacks, and the fact that all standard US operating protocols failed that morning – for the first and only time ever.
The report also neglected to mention that a third building came down later that afternoon – WTC 7 – a nearby 47-storey high-rise that collapsed into its own footprint with little discernible damage, exhibiting all the hallmarks of a controlled demolition. The facts surrounding this aspect of the case are many and compelling – yet merited no mention – nor did the 100-plus eyewitnesses reporting explosions who could have shed light on this theory. Add to this the fact that much of the physical, forensic evidence was removed within weeks of the attacks, and the official narrative becomes curiouser and curiouser.
Even the Commission’s own co-chairs, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, wrote a book about how the Commission was set up to fail. Among the reasons highlighted were interference from the Bush administration which delayed investigations for more than a year, unrealistic deadlines, unrealistic budgets, widespread political and government resistance, and difficulty accessing important witnesses and documents. I understand families also submitted an extensive list of questions to Commissioners, the majority of which went unanswered.
Matt Campbell, from Sussex in England, is scathing of the official US inquiry and its findings. His brother Geoff was on the 106th floor of the North Tower that day. He’d been due to get married.
“The 9/11 Commission was just frustrating. It’s obvious that the full truth hasn’t come out, but it doesn’t make it any easier,” Matt told me.
“The absolute and shocking failure of duty by authorities isn’t addressed in the Commission Report at all, and the fact that war games happened that very morning was also omitted. There are so many questions that the authorities still refuse to answer, and so much I don’t agree with in the official narrative. I don’t expect people to be angry, I’m not as angry anymore. I just want answers.”
‘We need facts, not fanciful ideas’
“I’ve come to surrender and accept most of the facts about my brother’s death – I’ve done a lot of healing – but I also know that this needs to be addressed and investigated properly,” Matt continues.
“Most people look no further than the official narrative, but I would encourage people to actually look into this and make their own mind up. I truly don’t know what to think, but no-one can deny it’s all very suspicious. I’d also urge people to look into Operation Northwoods as an example that will make you stop and think that maybe – just maybe – it’s not exactly like they told us. That it’s conceivable that they lied to us or exploited the situation in order to go into war in Iraq.”
With so much misinformation out there, Matt also urges caution: “You have to tread carefully with 9/11. There is so much information out there, much of it by well-meaning people but also a lot which is deliberately misleading and false – like the idea that there were no planes used in the attacks. These are fanciful ideas that are put out there to confuse the subject of 9/11, and they’re not helping our cause at all. It’s hard for anyone to take you seriously. We need facts, not just fanciful ideas.”
Matt is not alone in his criticism of the 9/11 Commission Report, as growing numbers now openly question the official narrative. Although our campaign did change the official narrative on Bloody Sunday, many here – including myself – remain unsatisfied at the breadth and scope of Saville’s inquiry, in that it ignored the chain of command for soldiers in favour of the ‘few bad apples’ theory. In this way, Saville echoed Widgery in protecting its own.
I’m certainly no expert on the events of 9/11, but it doesn’t take an expert to see that the facts just don’t add up. In my own family’s case, they challenged lies until the facts emerged.
When debating the subject of 9/11 with others, I challenge them to take just one hour of their time to research the case objectively, to at least have an informed opinion with which to discuss. Regardless of which story you accept, I urge you to look beyond the obvious. Take the time to listen to periphery voices without discounting them off-hand. You might not believe in the controlled demolition theory. But give yourself one hour to examine the evidence with an open mind and you may find it points towards controlled demolition being a distinct possibility.
It’s obvious that there is more to the story of 9/11 and the role of the US government in these matters, whether that role be ignorance, complicity or incompetence, and history demands we seek this knowledge out. While critical thinkers and those who challenge authority are increasingly dismissed as deluded or cranks, the number of us asking questions grows exponentially.
By their very nature, justice campaigns set out to challenge perceptions and reignite contentious historical issues. When the Derry families first began knocking on doors with petitions, they were verbally abused and had doors slammed in their faces. But times change, and people change.
When researching for my book about the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign I learned how a past-President of Ireland had refused to meet our families on several occasions – a snub that stung deeply. On another early occasion, campaigning relatives were apprehended in Dublin and escorted back over the northern border by hostile Gardai [police]. Years later, I myself witnessed the south’s sea-change in attitude when those very same families – myself now included – were invited to the President’s official residence in Dublin, Áras an Uachtaráin, for a Presidential reception. While there, President Mary McAleese thanked them for “an absolutely outstanding contribution to the peace process.” The contrast was stark, and the message crystal clear: Persevere.
While I make no comparisons between the terrible events discussed here, there are nevertheless parallels in how each case was handled and in how successive governments close ranks when challenged. Families and individuals have the power to change this – I have seen it happen. As press officer for the Bloody Sunday families on the day Lord Saville’s report was published in 2010, I witnessed history unfold under a hot Derry sun as families declared our loved ones ‘innocent’ to the world. It took four decades, but those same ordinary citizens have held the state to account, and, unfortunately, it’s not over yet. They inspire me, and I hope this brief reminder of their struggle now inspires you – whoever you may be.
It took many years and a colossal, combined effort to legitimise the Bloody Sunday struggle, and in this respect, I feel those who seek a fuller truth about 9/11 have far to go before their voices are truly heard and respected. Only then will the tide change. Until then, keep asking those difficult questions. Demand more. We owe it to our children and our children’s children to do so.
Title photo courtesy of the Derry Journal.