Reliving 'Bloody Sunday'
Part 2 of 3: "Survivor Guilt"
By David Tereshchuk
|After facing skeptical examination by the British army's lawyer, journalist David Tereshchuk hits Derry's streets, and finds he shares a ready bond with fellow survivors of Bloody Sunday -- guilt. Part 2 of 3 in "Reliving 'Bloody Sunday.'
One of the earliest challenges to the earlier, subsequently discredited Widgery inquiry was transatlantic, coming from an International League for Human Rights observer, Samuel Dash, the American lawyer and academic who was much later to become known as ethics counselor to Whitewater Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Professor Dash summed up many jurists' objections to Widgery in the stark title of his critique: Justice Denied.
My own appearance before Widgery in 1972 was marked by haranguing from the Army's lawyer:
Attorney: "The soldiers who were firing were NOT firing in your direction at all, were they?" Witness: "They were firing down Rossville Street, yes."
|Bloody Sunday Trust|
Derry, January 30, 1972 -- Thousands of unsuspecting civil rights demonstrators march into disaster.
Witness: "I was there for some time. I was looking around me in all directions."
My cross-examination 29 years later was at least courteous. The attorney acting for 440 soldiers who were on duty on Bloody Sunday mainly questioned the reliability of recollections like mine. I had perhaps unwisely written the previous week in The New York Times about the malleability of such memories when they are formed under hectic and traumatic conditions, and then frayed by the passing of time.
"In an article you have described yourself as an unreliable witness," the lawyer asserted. Picking up on my admitted uncertainty about the headgear of a particular soldier (was it a beret or a helmet?) he asked: "Do you believe it is possible, out of fear or for any other reason, to make similar mistakes over things you may have heard or not heard?"
I could only reply: "I am sure all of us in this room would accept that, yes." The inquiry chairman, Lord Saville, and one of his co-judges, William Hoyt of Canada, stepped in to suggest that my visual recall may not have been as confused as I feared, and that some photographs showed both helmeted and beret-wearing soldiers in my vicinity. "I want to reassure you about your memory," said Hoyt. The inquiry's leading attorney was at pains to draw out my testimony in detail.
Like others before him he pressed me on whether I had heard or seen anything to suggest that the Army was coming under fire or under threat from any other weapon, like a bomb.
The local TV station summarized my responses that night: "A journalist who covered the march which became Bloody Sunday said he could see nothing to justify the British Army shooting he witnessed from close range."
|"My instinct for
self-preservation took over and I ran."
Summoning up the grim day's memories was not limited, of course, to the inquiry chamber. I spent a week back in Derry, and, unsurprisingly, many of the people I came across in the city's close neighborhoods had also been there on Bloody Sunday. A sudden, strange kinship would develop with each encounter.
|Photo by Michael McHugh|
David Tereshchuk (right) and author Don Mullan, in the Bogside, in this still from the documentary "An Unreliable Witness," by GRACE Pictures
"Where were you? Sure, you must have been just 30 yards from me!" and so on, many times over. Some of us turned out to share an onerous sense of having unaccountably -- even somehow unjustifiably -- escaped while others died. "Survivor guilt" was a phrase that hadn't occurred to me until it was voiced by the author Don Mullan -- who was 15 at the time and had been (we figured) about 25 yards from me when the shooting started.
Another fellow-witness, Terence McClements, who was 17 at the time, told the inquiry: "My instinct for self-preservation took over and I ran. I've felt guilty that a fella I knew, two feet from my shoulder, was shot -- and why was I not shot." Others I met talked of wishing they could have done something for the victims. I myself didn't even know if anyone around me had been hit -- everyone seemed to be lying prone when I eventually got up and ran. I couldn't tell whether they were hurt, or just being cautious as I had been.
"The Full Truth," Part 3 of the series Reliving Bloody Sunday, is coming soon.
The Victims (Names and Photos)
Editor's Note: WGT Contributing Editor David Tereshchuk, a former producer for ABC and CBS News, is a media consultant for the United Nations. This article first appeared in the June/July 2001 issue of Irish-America magazine.