Incredibly, Boston College has been served with a new Belfast Project subpoena, following a request from the British government to American authorities under the terms of the US-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.
The latest demand for archived materials seeks the interviews that were conducted with a primary researcher on the project, Dr. Anthony McIntyre. A Queen's University history PhD, McIntyre is himself a former member of the Provisional IRA, once imprisoned by the British government for 18 years. McIntyre interviewed former IRA members for the Belfast Project, and was also interviewed himself by an as-yet-unidentified guest researcher.
The absurdity of the new subpoena would be hard to exaggerate. Dated April 21, and signed by First Assistant United States Attorney John McNeil, the subpoena seeks "evidence regarding alleged violations of the laws of the United Kingdom," including "membership of a proscribed organization."
This isn't a joke: In 2016, the British and U.S. governments are working together to try to figure out if Anthony McIntyre was ever a member of the IRA.
It's like the FBI suddenly deciding to assemble a major case squad to see if Huey Newton ever had anything to do with that whole Black Panther thing. Was Nathanael Greene somehow involved in the American Revolution? An urgent government investigation is underway!
(Personal aside to Police Service of Northern Ireland: Try looking here. If that's too much reading, this confidential law enforcement source might also help.)
The new subpoena follows several earlier waves of equally ridiculous subpoenas, which began in 2011 and first sought information on the long-ignored 1972 kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville. Several years after receiving subpoenaed interviews that discussed the McConville killing, authorities in Belfast have charged precisely no one with those crimes – and the available evidence strongly suggests that they never will.
The Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland did charge a single person, Ivor Bell, with aiding and abetting in the McConville murder, but police and prosecutors have never said who Bell was supposed to have aided and abetted; they have brought charges for helping with a murder, but they have not brought charges for the murder itself. Even that weak and tangential case is evaporating in painful stages: Bell was charged in March of 2014, but -- more than two years later -- has yet to receive so much as a preliminary inquiry, much less a trial. Bell's lawyers now seek to have the charges thrown out of court, an outcome that seems increasingly likely.
More recently, law enforcement officials in Belfast used the MLAT process to ask the U.S. Department of Justice to obtain the Belfast Project interviews of former Loyalist paramilitary commander Winston Rea. Police in Belfast got the Rea tapes nearly a year ago. The tapes have not been spoken of since, and no charges have been filed.
And so Northern Ireland's Keystone Kops return to the same dry well that has served them so well in the past, demanding tapes that may reveal Anthony McIntyre's involvement in the IRA.
I keep trying to decide if this is a tragedy or a farce. It may be both. One thing that it certainly isn't: A legitimate police investigation.