On January 30, 1972, about 15,000 people gathered in the city of Derry, in Northern Ireland, for a civil-rights march. At the end of the day, 13 unarmed protestors were dead after British paratroopers opened fire on the crowd. On Tuesday, the British government released its second investigation into the chaos of that day (now known as Bloody Sunday). And even for a government report, even by European standards, it's a colossus: 12 years and some $280 million in the making, it expands over 5,000 pages, comprises 30 million words, and includes the testimony of some 2,500 witnesses, experts, military officials, politicians, clergy, police, and paramilitary members. It's the product of the longest and most expensive investigation in British history. And, absurd as it seems, it was worth it.
The report's most obvious benefit is that it illuminates an enormous injustice by the British state, and firmly attributes blame: the troops, "losing their self-control," fired unjustifiably and killed 14 people, most of them teenagers. Many of the victims were shot in the back, or while attempting to help the wounded; none of them were visibly armed. The first official reckoning of this bloodshed (the Widgery Tribunal, which took all of 10 weeks and 39 pages in 1972), conceded only that the soldiers' actions "bordered on the reckless" -- words that have since lived in infamy among the North's Catholics. The Widgery report also hinted that some of those killed were armed terrorists who had provoked the troops, a claim that was decisively debunked on Tuesday.