Shocker: there are worse than Trump

This blog first appeared as a column in the Andersonstown News

Donal Trump has shocked the world again.  Days before Roger Stone was due to report to prison for a 40-month sentence, he found himself a free man, because his former boss Trump had commuted his sentence for lying to Congress. Stone was a “long-time confidant” of Donald Trump, and so he walked free.

The former confidant sounds grateful for his liberation, even though he hasn’t received a full pardon. In twenty-five other cases since becoming  president, Trump has granted a full pardon for twenty-five people convicted.

This has disgusted Trump’s political opponents. The House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, Chairwoman of the Oversight and Reform Committee released a joint statement:

“By this action [of letting Stone walk], President Trump abused the powers of his office in an apparent effort to reward Roger Stone for his refusal to cooperate with investigators examining the president’s own conduct. No other president has exercised the clemency power for such a patently personal and self-serving purpose.” 

I expect there are British politicians who are also indignant that a US president should use his powers in such a partisan way. But if they think back to crimes not just of lying, but abuse and murder, they may find that Britain’s capacity for forgiveness of its servants far outstrips that of Bush.

In 1984 British soldier Private Ian Thain got a shock.  A Belfast court pronounced him guilty of shooting in the back and killing Thomas Reilly,  a young man who was running away at the time. Thain was sentenced to life imprisonment. But two years later Thain was released and reinstated in the British army.

In 1993  British soldier Private Lee Clegg also got a shock. He was pronounced guilty of shooting dead Karen Reilly, who was a passenger in a stolen car: in all, nineteen rounds were fired into the car.   Clegg was sentenced to life imprisonment. But two years later he was released from prison, after a campaign by the Daily Mail  for his release.

Thain and Clegg could consider themselves unlucky or lucky, depending on how their cases were looked at. Unlucky, since they spent  three and two years respectively in prison; lucky, since they were given life sentences which were now set aside.

In late 1971, over a period of several days, ten innocent people were shot dead in Ballymurphy by members of the British Parachute regiment. None of the soldiers who killed them  was convicted of any crime.

In 1972, thirteen innocent people were shot dead on the streets of Derry in broad daylight; a fourteenth man died a short time later. None of the British British Parachute regiment who killed these fourteen people was convicted. In fact, almost fifty years later, the very notion of having just one of these soldiers [known as ‘Soldier F’] being asked to appear in court has provoked outrage in unionist and British circles.

How many civilians did British soldiers kill during the decades of the Troubles? Accounts vary but most agree that at least 258 civilians died at the hands of the British army. And that’s not counting the scores of cases in which innocent Catholics were killed by collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and British forces. Four soldiers in total were tried for murder during the Troubles. All four, including Thain and Clegg, were released within five years.

So let’s not be too hard on Roger Stone or Donald Trump. They may be nasty people, but Stone never killed anyone, as far as we can tell, and Trump didn’t pardon ‘close confidants’ who had killed people. 

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