Putting a witch on trial was easy and popular.
A witch hunt is David against Goliath and the state backs Goliath
It needed no evidence. A flimsy complaint and belief in witches was all it took.
Witch hunts are a superior power leveraging ignorance of what does not conform to a common belief.
Superstitions are spread. Dissenters silenced. All possibilities other than a witch are eliminated.
What is imagined possible replaces what is practically possible.
The people seduced with dark conspiracy theories that hide and explain everything.
Modern witch hunts were political stitch-ups and deviations from criminal justice norms. The most infamous, Stalin’s show trials in the Soviet Union.
Even a liberal democracy lost the plot. McCarthyism in the US against communists ruined reputations.
Witch hunts peaked in the Reformation when two Christian Churches competed for popularity.
A witch hunt is populism triumphing over realism. In ‘peace process’ populism, cherished by those unsupportive of security policy, Special Branch is the wickedest coven that caused many murders.
For witch hunters it must pay for collusion witchcraft that protected terrorists, especially loyalists.
A witch is any officer deemed complicit in collusion sorcery rooted in conspiracy theory.
For witches, their families, partners and widows the injustice of it all stings as much as the stigma.
Am I being fitted up? Mummy, is daddy a murderer? Did you do that son?
From old cop Ronnie Hawthorne awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal in the Troubles to young soldier Brian Wood awarded the Military Cross in Iraq, hunting witches has saw us burn, metaphorically, our finest.
Shocked by the ignorance of this more than its unfairness.
From the perspective of impeding the West’s capacity to counter sophisticated terrorist threats in the future, former CIA director David Petraeus, top expert on modern armed conflict and distinguished US general, made comments in defence of veterans serving in conflict.
His remarks in a speech in London helped to bolster the petition to the prime minister by 150 MPs and peers to stop witch hunts against veterans.
Since the Belfast Agreement in Northern Ireland the state has been hollowing itself out from within and ordinary people, and witches, feel powerless to stop it.
A practitioner such as David Petraeus clearly finds it disturbing that those who helped suppress the Troubles should fear legal persecution. In London, I pointed out to him that British soldier scholars who wrote ‘lessons learned’ accounts of Kenya and Malaya did not do this for the Troubles out of fear of being sued. I asked if he had experienced this in the US. He had not. It is peculiar, it seems, to Northern Ireland.
A police-led security approach that resulted in a Troubles murder clearance rate that peaked at 54% in 1994 (cited in ‘Violent Politics’) is being torn to pieces retrospectively by former terrorists and their apologists.
Yet this excellent clearance rate surpasses anything for Troubles-type chaos in other parts of the world. It was the type of rule of law approach David Petraeus and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan needed 15 years ago.
Indeed, here in Northern Ireland the clearance rate is now only 2% for terrorist murders, from the 1998 peace deal until now, according to research by Paul Nolan — although I suspect the figure may be slightly higher. The clearance rate is 33% in London (mostly gang-related murders), according to ‘The Guardian’.
Imperfect as 54% was, and I know this is little comfort to victims, it is arguably as good as it gets.
Significantly, it was achieved under intelligence-led policing by Special Branch where loyalists were put in prison in almost equal numbers to republicans despite loyalists committing half as many murders.
This was all about doing the basics well.
Information was gathered and flowed to where it was most needed. In this respect the RUC police model, as with the RIC police model, is unique. It is a ground-up structure that heavily employs a uniform frontline that comes into daily contact with the public.
And I wonder if the fall in the clearance rate in communities with a lingering omerta culture is due to the change to intelligence practices that are traditionally unsuited to this challenge, as well as less uniform officers on the beat?
Instructive here is Professor Michael Rainsborough’s study in 1996.
Of intelligence-led policing in the Troubles he wrote “one of the most over researched areas in the world ended up being one of the least understood”.
If security policy was poorly understood then it is chronic now.
The kryptonite of witch hunts is enlightenment, a scarce commodity in a sacred ‘peace process.’ But few noticed and any that did were scared to say. Little has changed from the 1600s.
We are more educated than ever, but more ignorant than ever.
• Dr William Matchett is author of Secret Victory: The Intelligence War that Beat the IRA. He is Adjunct Senior Researcher at the Edward M Kennedy Institute for Conflict Prevention, Maynooth University, Ireland