Time for investigation into Roger Casement affair


Roger Casement


Roger Casement was hanged for high treason after arranging for German arms to be landed in Banna Strand, County Kerry in 1914. But his brutal end may have been brought about, not so much by his support to free Ireland, but by his exposing of the dreadful sufferings of colonised people in Africa, Asia, America and Australia. Pádraig Ó Cuanacháin says the British government should set up a commission to investigate his death.


'The Ghost of Roger Casement is beating on the door' - W.B. Yeats.


In August 1916, in Pentonville Prison in London, when Roger Casement was executed for treason, he joined the long list of people of Planter and Protestant background who made great sacrifices even of life itself, to win Irish Independence, a Republican form of government and a just Social Order.


The case of Roger Casement, however, had some unusual and puzzling features. As a diplomat he had served the British Empire, and the London establishment which controlled and exploited its subject peoples. But he was a humane person a quality he may very well have inherited from his father, a British army officer in Ireland during the Land War who resigned his commission in protest at being asked to support the eviction of the victims of rapacious landlords.


Roger Casement first attracted attention when he exposed the appalling atrocities committed by the Belgian Colonists against the native population in what was then the Congo. Slavery had ended in the sense, that the coloured peoples of Africa were no longer sent in death ships to America, but as far as the Belgian Government was concerned, it remained in a worse form in the territories administered by them.


Tribes were enslaved in their own locations and compelled to work, gathering new raw rubber, and subject to the most gruesome punishments if they failed to collect the quota set by their masters. Even in a world now inured to appalling atrocities the accounts of what happened to the poor innocent tribesmen still makes shocking and disturbing reading.


Casement's exposure of the Congo atrocities and his subsequent investigation of similar treatment of the Amazon tribes led to change and an improvement in the way in which the natives were treated.


Casement may have been the pioneer in exposing the awful truth that the native people in Africa, Asia, America and Australia were subject to a Holocaust even worse than that suffered by Jews, Gypsies and others under the Hitler regime in Germany.


The destruction of colonial peoples was carried out by Imperial Nations like France, Britain and Belgium who in 1914 had the neck to claim that they were fighting for the freedom of small nations.


It was his experiences of the ugly side of imperialism, that inevitably led him to become an enemy of British rule and back in Ireland, having recovered from a serious illness, he became an advocate of an Independent Irish Republic and the restoration of the Irish language.


The Casement story is already pretty well known to most Irish people. He was in Germany during the First World War where he attempted to raise an Irish Brigade to fight for Irish Freedom from among the Irish prisoners of war. He helped in procuring German help for the planned insurrection in Ireland and left Germany by submarine at about the same time as the arms ship 'Aud' left the German port of Kiel to assist in the Easter Week rising.


The 'Aud' was apprehended by the British navy off the coast of Kerry and ordered to sail for further examination to the port of Cork, however, the German crew scuttled her. Casement together with Captain Monteith landed at Banna Strand. Monteith escaped but Casement was arrested, brought to Tralee RIC Barracks and from there to London, where he was arraigned on a charge of High Treason.


He was sentenced to death, although the Act under which he was tried was stretched very much to cover the circumstances of Casement's conduct.


Once sentenced to death, there was worldwide interest and apprehension that one of the greatest humanitarians of the country was about to be executed. The British Government was subject to immense pressure to have the sentence commuted. In an unprecedented action, they circulated what purported to be extracts from a diary written by Roger Casement, which indicated that he was a pervert of the most appalling kind.


Did ever before in history any government take such an extraordinary and illegal action? It was all the more serious because his own Counsel had no opportunity of examining the diaries. Those who knew Casement well such as Alice Stopford Green, the historian, refused to believe that the diaries were authentic. Immense damage was done to the reputation of Casement and no amends have been made to date. In 1966 the British Government agreed to allow the remains of Casement to be repatriated and buried in Glasnevin cemetery.


However, science has now brought about a situation where the matter of the diaries can finally be resolved one way or the other. It seems that just as DNA testing has brought about a great breakthrough in forensic medicine, scientists have now discovered that every person may have a distinctive type of expression and the use of words and phrases that may identity clearly the author of a document.


Writing can be easily copied and signatures can be easily forged. Indeed the Pigot forgeries were expert enough to fool the London Times on the matter of the alleged complicity of Charles Stuart Parnell in the Phoenix Park Assassinations.


It was the new study of word patterns that eventually led to the freedom of the Birmingham Six. It was proved that they certainly did not make the statement as alleged by the police. Derek Bentley the 18-year-old who was executed 40 years ago has now, at last, been found - not guilty although fat lot of good that is to him now.


The Court of Appeal in London agreed that he did not make the statement to police as admitted in evidence at the original trial. Incidentally, science has already cleared up another mystery and controversy. It seems that Shakespeare certainly did write those plays not Bacon or Marlowe as some scholars have argued.


There is now an opportunity to disprove the Black Diaries of Roger Casement. Already, research and analysis carried out by Eoin Ó Máille of the Roger Casement foundation has shown that the word-pattern between the Black Diaries and Casement's own Diaries is totally different. For instance, 60 words are used a total of 1,100 times in a 1910 Diary, that is certainly his and they involved link words like 'nearly', 'actually', 'moreover', 'unless', but not one is used in the 'Black Diaries'. In a story that shows truth is indeed often stranger than fiction, we now have information arising from the interrogation of Gestapo Chief Heinrich Muller by a CIA operative after the last war.


All his evidence has been recorded and published. He claims that a British Agent and forger by the name of Swingleman was assassinated by the Abhwer (German military intelligence) agents, in Geneva in 1941 but not before they had taken possession of forgeries completed and in the course of preparation, and among the documents were the original drafts of the Casement forgeries.


A truly extraordinary story but why would Muller lie on a matter in which he had no special interest? No doubt these documents, if not destroyed during the war now remain to be discovered in German Military archives.


The story is really irrelevant to the main point that it is now time for the British Government to set up some kind of an International Commission to investigate the entire Casement affair.


It is not just a question of proving the forgery, but raising the matter further as to why the forgeries were created at that time. Had it more to do with Casement having upset by his actions the vested money interests of British and American capitalists rather than his alleged treason. The Commission of Enquiry should not alone have carried out full scientific tests on the word patterns but also have access to all the Casement files, even those which the British Government have still refused to release under the 'Official Secrets Act'


Now as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, the climate is right, but it is unlikely that the British Government will take any move unless they are subject to continual pressure and lobbying from not just Irish people but those throughout the entire world who are interested in humanitarian issues.


There is a special obligation on the Irish government to raise the matter with their British counterparts and to point out that the resolution of this affair will not only undo a great wrong to a man who was a patriot and a humanitarian, but will also lead to improved relations between England, Ireland and the newly emerging Independent Nations of Scotland and Wales.


(First published in The Irish Examiner 26-05-99).


'Casement' Images


An Irishman's Diary


Further articles and reviews by Pádraig Ó Cuanacháin


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