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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Secrets of the Belfast Project
Aired September 30, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Northern Ireland, here for decades, violence simmered, exploded, ripped families apart. A brutal battle between those who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of Britain and those who wanted to unite it with the rest of Ireland.
So painful they called it the Troubles. It's been almost 15 years since an accord brought peace to Northern Ireland. But now a hidden trove of audio tapes locked away in a U.S. college archive threatens to unravel the uneasy status quo.
BRENDAN HUGHES, FORMER IRA COMMANDER: I knew she was being executed. I knew that. I didn't know she was going to be buried.
ROBERTSON: And calls into question the very balance between peace and justice.
HELEN MCKENDRY, MOTHER MURDERED BY IRA: At the very beginning of the Troubles, we were put out of our home.
ROBERTSON: Helen McKendry had nine brothers and sisters and a family on the front lines of the Troubles.
H. MCKENDRY: We lived in East Belfast which is mainly Protestant. And my parents had a mixed marriage so we had to leave. They threatened to kill my father.
ROBERTSON: A mixed marriage because her father Arthur was a Catholic, her mother Jean a Protestant, putting them on both sides of a bitter divide.
Northern Ireland is part of Britain. Protestant fighters known as Loyalists along with the police and army were fighting to keep the status quo. Catholics, nationalists and Republicans were fighting to kick out the British and re-unify all of Ireland. With the Irish Republican Army, the IRA, at the forefront.
While Jean and Arthur lived their happy life together, outside their home all hell was breaking loose. Protestant against Catholic. Houses burned. Communities divided.
H. MCKENDRY: Every day you heard shooting and seeing somebody being shot, injured and bombs going off all around us. And that's the way it was. We just got used to living like that. We didn't think it was any different from anywhere else in the world, really.
ROBERTSON: After Helen's father died, her mother Jean was left to raise the 10 children alone.
H. MCKENDRY: When you'd come home from school, she was there and -- with a cup of tea, some toast. Going to bed at night, Mum was there, you know, just doing what every mother does. She was a happy-go-lucky person. She would have done anything to help anyone.
ROBERTSON: But that changed the day the IRA took her mother away.
H. MCKENDRY: They came about tea time. And they dragged her out of the bathroom and dragged her out.
ROBERTSON: It was December, 1972, the last time Helen would see her and the beginning of Helen's quest for the truth. A quest she would get little help with until she met her future husband, Seamus, a few years later.
SEAMUS MCKENDRY, HELEN'S HUSBAND: I made Helen a promise there and then that I would do everything in my power to find the truth.
ROBERTSON: They would need each other. They were up against the powerful, violent IRA.
H. MCKENDRY: We knew it was the IRA but we went to people and asked questions. And we were told, no, your mother, we had your mother but she's gone now. And apparently they had let her go and she was in England and she would come home for us.
ROBERTSON: It was all lies. Decades were to pass, no sign of her mother. In 1998, the Good Friday Peace Agreement was signed. IRA and loyalists paramilitaries laid down their weapons. Peace had come to Northern Ireland, but not to Helen.
H. MCKENDRY: I wanted to know where my mother was. I wanted her body back. I wanted an end to what we had to suffer for all those years.
ROBERTSON: Though now officially at peace, the IRA did not relish Helen's constant questions and did not want to reopen the past. The IRA turned to its well-known tactic of intimidation forcing Helen and her family to flee their home.
S. MCKENDRY: Our children were beaten up. The car was destroyed. It was one threat after another. We couldn't sleep, we were just waiting on the door coming in and a bomb getting chucked in or somebody coming in, and putting us to sleep forever, you know.
ROBERTSON: Finally, it was here on this lonely beach, more than 30 years after she disappeared that Jean McConville's body was discovered in 2003. No one has been charged with her murder.
For Ireland, it was an uneasy peace. For Helen and her family, it's been four decades of unanswered questions.
H. MCKENDRY: All I ever wanted was to know the reason why they killed my mother.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTSON: Even in death, there was little peace for Jean McConville's family. She was buried in a quiet cemetery outside Belfast. The family say the IRA wanted her funeral kept low key. Yet another cruel blow for Jean's daughter, Helen.
H. MCKENDRY: After the burial, there's all different sorts of emotions going through your head. You get angry, you know, you get mad at people.
ROBERTSON: Nothing can bring her mother back, heal the pain of lives soured by suffering.
It's when you walk the streets here that you realize just how locked in the past these communities are. Constant reminders, these murals, just when they walk to the shops of everything bad that happened before. It seems no one here really wants to let go of the past.
Helen needs a way to move forward to understand the past. Just as this man hopes to do. Three years after the Good Friday deal brought peace to Northern Ireland, Anthony McIntyre began trying to make sense of what had happened.
ANTHONY MCINTYRE, FORMER RESEARCHER, BELFAST PROJECT: They wanted to get as many historical voices out as possible to give an insight into why people who are behave peacefully in a normal society turn to violent methods.
ROBERTSON: McIntyre began taping interviews in the hopes Northern Ireland's violent past might some day be better understood, archiving them here at Boston College. Inside this library are the Belfast Project archives, an oral history of some of Northern Ireland's darkest secrets, cataloging from both sides of the divide, 30 years of bitter sectarian fighting between Catholics and Protestants known as the Troubles.
MCINTYRE: Well, that was me back in 1988, in a very relaxed pose in the prison classroom.
ROBERTSON: McIntyre isn't just any researcher. He was once a jailed member of the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, that led a terrorist campaign in the hope of forcing the British from Ireland.
MCINTYRE: I got out at the very end of '92, December, the last week of December, '92, Christmas week.
ROBERTSON: After leaving prison and the peace accord was signed in Northern Ireland, McIntyre, now a Ph.D., persuaded his former comrades to tell their stories.
MCINTYRE: I thought I was doing something good for the community, for society, for academia, and the production of knowledge in general. I think it's also important from a point of view of truth recovery.
ROBERTSON: But convincing members of the IRA to talk about who they were and what they did was tricky. The IRA demands a vow of secrecy on pain of death. So McIntyre and Boston College agreed to keep the IRA interviews secret until the men who gave them were dead.
MCINTYRE: Do you have a problem with committing all this to a secret tape to be used only after you have died?
HUGHES: I don't have a problem with that, if I did have a problem with that, I wouldn't be sitting here talking into your microphone.
ROBERTSON: This is the audio recording of McIntyre's interview with the former IRA cell mate, Brendan Hughes, first broadcast several years after his death in 2008. Rare words, rare admissions from a secretive terrorist organization.
HUGHES: A lot of the stuff that I'm saying here, I'm saying it in trust because I have a trust in you. And I have never, ever, ever admitted to being a member of the IRA Never. I've just done it here.
ROBERTSON: Hughes was the IRA commander in Jean McConville's neighborhood the night she was abducted. He says he knows who was responsible for her killing.
HUGHES: I knew she was being executed. I knew that. I didn't know she was going to be buried or disappeared as they called them now.
ROBERTSON: This is exactly the information that Helen McKendry has wanted for 40 years. And few know for sure what other answers, what other closure the archives might provide.
But opening the archives is a dangerous business. The tapes could contain explosive revelations, could implicate important Irish figures and could reopen the wounds of a painful past.
Northern Ireland's police want access to the secret tapes. But in rare bipartisan agreement, U.S. politicians warn against it.
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: What purpose now to say that we're going to execute people that used weapons years ago when we, the U.S., is almost a guarantor, saying, if you come forward, if you put down your weapons, we will stand by you.
ROBERTSON: In a forthright letter, Democratic Senator John Kerry weighs in, too, warning Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of the dangers.
"As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I am obviously concerned about the impact that it may have on the continues success of the Northern Ireland peace process." Kerry continues, "It is possible that some former parties to the conflict may perceive the effort by the UK authorities to obtain this information as contravening, the spirit of the Good Friday accords."
The Good Friday Accords that brought peace to Northern Ireland and that provided a foreign policy triumph for President Bill Clinton. When I met Owen Paterson, the British government's most senior Northern Ireland politician at the time the police requested the project tapes, I discovered there's a desire for the Belfast project, but little appetite for U.S. interference. OWEN PATERSON, FORMER BRITISH SECRETARY OF STATE FOR NORTHERN IRELAND: I think it's a good thing to capture these memories. And it's not just an issue of the political history or the violence, I think it's very interesting social and economic history spirit.
ROBERTSON: Why go through with this process? Why have the police embarked on this?
PATERSON: Well, that's a question you need to address with the police. If the police have a lot of inquiry to pursue, an interest of bringing a case to the court, that is for them. And it is quite wrong for a politician to interfere in that process.
ROBERTSON: For British officials, releasing the secret tapes is a matter of justice. But for McIntyre, it may be a matter of life and death.
MCKENDRY: I feel that there's always the possibility of somebody throwing a petrol bomb on the house, or throwing an improvised grenade through the window.
ROBERTSON: In the IRA's eyes, McIntyre could be considered an informer, a crime seldom forgiven.
MCINTYRE: We are dealing with people here who buried Jean McConville on a beach, 30 miles up the road.
ROBERTSON: For now, the decision whether to release the tapes is in the hands of an American court and with it, McIntyre's safety. Helen McConville's answers and Northern Ireland's peace.
ROBERTSON: Violence and anger were tearing Northern Ireland apart.
HUGHES: We were robbing banks, robbing post offices robbing trains.
ROBERTSON: And men like former IRA commander, Brendan Hughes, were to blame.
HUGHES: Planting bombs, shooting Brits, trying to stay alive ourselves, trying to stay from getting arrested.
ROBERTSON: Explosive revelations on audio tape. Hughes' memories and those of more than 50 other former combatants in Northern Ireland's Troubles are held here at Boston College.
These tapes contain sensitive and secret information about the Troubles and what happened and who was involved, and why.
Helen McKendry believes the tapes contain incriminating clues that could point to her mother's murderers.
ROBERTSON: Have you asked the police to pursue the tapes?
S. MCKENDRY: Yes, we hope of course. Yes. ROBERTSON: After almost a lifetime of disappointment the McKendrys are beginning to believe truth and justice may be within reach.
S. MCKENDRY: We didn't really care for the foot soldiers that were tasked with killing her mother, perhaps, disposing of her body. It was the the generals that told them to do it. And those generals are masquerading as politicians in suits and ties. And yes, of course, it's only natural we'd wish to bring them down. Yes.
ROBERTSON: Northern Ireland's police, agents of the British government, have subpoenaed the tapes believing they contain critical information about Jean McConville's murder. But Ed Moloney, the archives' former director, believes exposing the secret tapes could lead to more violence.
ED MOLONEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, BELFAST PROJECT ARCHIVE: It is a crime in their eyes, in the leadership of the IRAs eyes, punishable by death, to betray secrets to anyone outside the organization which they were doing and these subpoenas have put the interviewees in danger for that reason.
ROBERTSON: The men who gave their secret testimonies did so confidentially in hopes that some day history might learn from their actions. Sharing their words endangers their safety and promises to open all wounds. Now the next battle in Northern Ireland's history is being fought here where Ed Moloney and former researcher Anthony McIntyre are appealing a U.S. court ruling that the tapes must be released.
To McIntyre, it's a huge problem for which he blames his American employer.
MCINTYRE: Boston College have violated every guarantee of confidentiality by even giving them to the district court judge.
ROBERTSON: By failing to fight to keep the archives secret, says McIntyre, Boston College has put dozens of lives at risk.
MCINTYRE: I feel very, very badly let down by the Boston College authorities. They should have worked to protect research participants and the archive itself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to invite Ed Moloney to the podium, please.
ROBERTSON: Former project manager Ed Moloney agrees.
MOLONEY: Sadly Boston College's behavior since the subpoenas were served has been nothing short of disgraceful.
ROBERTSON: Moloney accuses the college of failing to fully challenge subpoenas issued by the United States attorney general. Demanding they hand over some of the trove to Northern Ireland's police.
MOLONEY: Here is Boston College, a huge institution, wealthy institution, could easily afford to continue this fight, should continue to fight. Because if this case is lost, it has terrible, terrible implications for the whole tradition of oral history which is a very rich tradition.
ROBERTSON: Moloney, an award winning documentary filmmaker, has written cutting-edge books on the IRA and Irish politics and is now appealing the subpoenas with researcher Anthony McIntyre in a last ditch bid to protect the former IRA members they interviewed.
As for Boston College --
JACK DUNN, SPOKESPERSON, BOSTON COLLEGE: To try to assign blame to Boston College is absurd.
ROBERTSON: It says Moloney himself endangered the archive he is now fighting to protect.
DUNN: The blame lies exclusively with Ed Moloney for foregoing his obligation.
ROBERTSON: The obligation to the interviewees broken, the college says, when Moloney quoted from the archive.
DUNN: It all went long regrettably when a book was published in Ireland in 2010 by Ed Moloney called "voices from the Grave." It brought attention to an archive that had otherwise been at Boston College for five years without any recognition, quite frankly.
ROBERTSON: The book, in which Boston College was heavily involved, pushed for sooner publication features excerpts from interviews from Brendan Hughes and one of his former enemies. By agreement their words made public only after their death.
But the allegations and arguments don't stop there. The university accuses Moloney of underplaying the risks to interviewees.
DUNN: From the beginning we said to the project organizer who approached us with this idea if there were limitations regarding the insurances of confidentiality under American law, specifically he was told that these assurances of confidentiality would not withstand a subpoena.
ROBERTSON: Across the Atlantic in Belfast, these recriminations are an irrelevance. Police investigations have begun, triggered they say by Ed Moloney's book. Police declined interviews. But in a short press release outlined the following.
Police say they'll follow the material in the Boston archives all the way to court, if that's where it takes them. They say detectives have a legal responsibility to investigate murders and follow all lines of inquiry for the victims, for their next of kin and for justice.
Ultimately, the whole archive, not just the IRA tapes relating to Jean McConville's death, but any interviews by IRA or loyalist fighters could be at risk.
DUNN: If UK law enforcement seeks a subpoena to the U.S. attorney's office regarding criminal investigation in light of the precedent that this case has set, yes, Boston college could be liable to turn over additional materials.
ROBERTSON: Do you think, in your heart, that these tapes will be handed over here?
H. MCKENDRY: I'm hoping that they will be, yes. I'm hoping. That's all I can do is hope.
ROBERTSON: There is in Northern Ireland an unease. Communities clinging to faith, holding on to their histories, ever present, the belief that the other side of the religious political divide is getting a better deal.
On the contentious issue of unsolved murders, that unease is acute. Jean McConville's family is not the only one in need of answers. McConville was killed by the IRA while Pat Finucane, a young charismatic Catholic lawyer, was gunned down by the IRA's enemies.
Finucane was killed by loyalist paramilitaries shot 14 times in front of his family.
He'd risen to prominence in the courts, defending the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries. A British government report stated that his killers acted in collusion with the police. With police and the British army all responsible to the British government, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, who oversaw the Good Friday Peace Agreement promised Finucane's family an inquiry.
But late last year, when his wife went to visit David Cameron, Britain's current prime minister, the British government's message had changed. There would be no inquiry, no effort to find new evidence, no deeper look at how the British government may have been involved in Finucane's death.
GERALDINE FINUCANE, PAT FINUCANE'S WIDOW: If they don't give an inquiry into my husband's murder, which was promised, it will just increase the suspicions. And there are many dissident Republicans who are saying see them, all Brits, nothing has changed, we still need to fight against the British government. And it is giving ammunition to people to turn to violence.
ROBERTSON: British officials say they are doing enough to investigate what happened to Finucane.
PATERSON: We spent some time looking at every possible options. And the prime minister gave personal interest in this case. And we concluded that actually the best route was to let loose an internationally renowned lawyer on a huge archive of government and police material. And those are exactly what we have done.
ROBERTSON: But Ed Moloney says it isn't nearly enough. Even as the British government and Northern Ireland's police, the PSNI, are fighting to open the secret Boston College archive. The Finucane case shows they refused to examine their own wrongdoing.
MOLONEY: While the PSNI is demanding the right to rummage through the archives of Boston College, David Cameron is refusing the Finucane family the right to rummage through MI5's archives to find out what happened in their case. That's double standards.
ROBERTSON: Richard O'Rourke (ph), an IRA member for decades, cannot understand why British police are pushing so hard for the tapes.
RICHARD O'ROURKE, FORMER IRA MEMBER: I find it just imponderable way the police are going down this road when they must know that there is no chance of obtaining any convictions at the end of this.
ROBERTSON: The main value of the archives, says O'Rourke, is healing. For him, giving his interview to Boston College 10 years ago was life changing.
O'ROURKE: I remember breaking down, actually breaking down and can't control, we had to stop the interview. Crying, yes. I was never the same after that. And that was the thing about Boston for me. It was a catalyst.
ROBERTSON: A catalyst to tell his story. He has no blood on his hands, never killed anyone, he says. But even so, since the subpoenas in Boston, he's been watching his back.
O'ROURKE: I have spoken to leading lawyers. Particularly from my own point of interview and asked them how credible would these tapes be in evidential terms. And they were absolutely adamant that there'd be no evidential value in them whatsoever.
ROBERTSON: A sentiment echoed by a former IRA enemy, William Plum Smith.
WILLIAM PLUM SMITH, FORMER IRA ENEMY: There's no golden treasure there. I mean, where people are going to get -- where the mass prosecutions. So it's giving people false hope. It's delaying any truth recovery process.
ROBERTSON: Smith's community was ravaged by violence, the IRA blowing up pubs, shops, killing and maiming. Loyalists like Smith struck back, setting out to cause equal or worse carnage from their Catholic enemies. Smith and O'Rourke, once bitter enemies, now they find they have something in common, a deep distrust to police efforts to access their confidential interviews.
SMITH: You can expect people to talk if on one hand and be open and honest or candid as much as they can be. And then have the police knock on her door and say, you said this or you said that.
ROBERTSON: Cutting short the project, a huge loss for future generations.
MOLONEY: This would be a very valuable, historical archive and a very useful tool for future students of conflicts, also for policymakers because what we were providing here very -- I think in a very realistic way was a glimpse into the mind of a terrorist.
ROBERTSON: And into the truth of what really happened during the worst of the Troubles. Here, Brendan Hughes tells a story of one of the IRAs biggest atrocities. Bloody Friday.
HUGHES: I was responsible for a fair deal of bombs going into the town. It wasn't directly my decision to do this, but I was the person that organized it.
ROBERTSON: In the space of 80 minutes, 22 IRA bombs went off here in the streets in the center of Belfast. It was just after 2:00 in the afternoon, the 21st of July, 1972, nine people were killed, 130 wounded, 77 of them women and children.
HUGHES: It was a major, major operation, but it was never, ever intended to kill people. I mean if I could reverse the situation, I would. I have a fair deal of regret.
ROBERTSON: It is a tiny tip of an iceberg of information that McIntyre and Moloney fear could trigger police demands for all the tapes in the Boston archive to expand investigations beyond Jean McConville's murder, promising answers to come, possibly threatening the lives of others.
ROBERTSON: Murals like these in a Catholic housing project in Belfast, Northern Ireland are a reflection of a community and its heroes. But when Brendan Hughes broke a vow of silence and named the man he claimed was responsible for Jean McConville's death, a mural in his memory was painted over, only recently redone. It is a clear example of the power the interviews in the Boston College archives may have to awaken demons and destabilize Northern Ireland on easy peace. Hughes words split his community.
HUGHES: The special squad was brought into the operation then called the Unknowns, you know, when anyone needed to be taken away, they normally done it. I had no control over this squad. Gerry had control over this particular squad.
ROBERTSON: That's Gerry is Gerry Adams, Hughes' IRA commander in the early 1970s. And now one of Northern Ireland's most important political figures.
MCINTYRE: Gerry Adams was probably most key IRA leader that the armed Republican produced. He was the heart of every decision and every strategic direction that the IRA took.
ROBERTSON: Adams rocketed through the IRA ranks, was welcomed in the U.S. by President Clinton, silenced the IRA guns for the landmark agreement that ended decades of bloodshed. And ultimately emerged as the most influential Catholic politician in Northern Ireland.
Gerry Adams has refused our request for an interview. But in the past, he has said many times he was never in the IRA and certainly never involved in the death of Jean McConville. His press spokesman goes further labeling Adam's critics as anti the peace process.
But the interviews held in the secret archives and the words of Brendan Hughes tell a very different story about Adams and his actions.
O'ROURKE: Brendan Hughes wasn't the type that told lies.
ROBERTSON: Richard O'Rourke, who shared a jail cell with Hughes, remembers just how close Hughes and Adams were.
O'ROURKE: Him and Adams was inseparable. And ideologically they were virtually inseparable. His whole talk was about Gerry.
HUGHES: I trusted the man at that time and I trusted his political maneuvering and his political direction.
ROBERTSON: By the late 1970s, Hughes, O'Rourke, Anthony McIntyre and hundreds of their IRA maze were in prison. In 1980 Hughes and several other IRA prisoners upped the ante and went on hunger strike.
HUGHES: I remember the first day of the hunger strike and they came and left the food at the door of the cell. And I remember the feeling then of looking around the cell and saying to myself, this is the first day of the last day of my life.
ROBERTSON: After 66 days, hunger strikers began to die of starvation. Meanwhile, as a roar around the IRA's propaganda from inside prison, he says Adams negotiated with the government on the outside.
O'ROURKE: The British government came and made a secret offer to us. The prison leadership, though an outside committee, that was controlled by Gerry Adams.
ROBERTSON: But Adams, he says, withheld the government offer to end the strike causing the deaths of half a dozen of his own IRA fighters.
O'ROURKE: I have never ever veered of what I believe to be the essence of what happened. The last six hunger strikers didn't need to die. But that all came out at Boston.
ROBERTSON: At Boston, where O'Rourke's and other interviews and the explosive allegations they contain, threaten to redefine one of Northern Ireland's most important figures. For his claims O'Rourke was ostracized, cut off from the community he loved. But when British government records were released last year detailing the offer made to the prisoners, O'Rourke says he was vindicated.
O'ROURKE: Brendan Hughes in my view rarely, I never -- never ever told me any lies.
ROBERTSON: And Gerry Adams has?
O'ROURKE: Yes, of course he has. He's told lies about the hunger strike to try and cover up his involvement. Gerry Adams will tell lies if he has to. It's water off the ducks back then.
ROBERTSON: O'Rourke is not alone in his perception. Adams' denial of IRA membership has driven some of Adams' most faithful away from him.
MCINTYRE: I feel absolutely disgusted when he abandons the IRA volunteers and he can't stand shoulder to shoulder with them. I can understand him not admitting being a member of the IRA because it could lead to prosecution. But I cannot understand why he creates this false narrative that he was never in it.
HUGHES: It means that people like myself have to carry the responsibility of all those deaths. Gerry was a major, major player in the war, and yet he's standing there denying it.
ROBERTSON: If, even part of the Boston College archives end up in police hands, Adams' denials could face more challenges than they have in the past, a major problem for a major politician and perhaps a major problem for Northern Ireland. Adams and the allies who support him are a critical half of maintaining the status quo, the revelations of the archives could endanger his support even as they provide closure to others. In question, the very balance between peace and justice.
ROBERTSON: Much of Northern Ireland has returned to the bucolic calm for which this emerald isle is so romantically renowned. In these green fields, it is easy to imagine tranquility has come to stay. But close in on Belfast, always the crucible of the conflict and the long fingers of snaking, concrete and brick walls that weave mile after mile through the city, tell a different story.
Known as the peace walls, they keep the peace by dividing, not uniting the communities.
This country is still so divided that many people are just too afraid to cross the sectarian divide, come through the gates and the peace walls just to walk through their neighbor's communities.
William Plum Smith, the former loyalist prisoner, lives close to the peace wall and is at the forefront of building cross-community relations with his former enemies in the IRA
SMITH: So you're always working at peace. We still continue even today to work at peace. And it's a slow, long process. It's not like a water tap that you can turn it on and turn it off.
ROBERTSON: (INAUDIBLE) experience has taught him trouble increases as the pace of peace slows and right now the controversy over opening up the Boston College archives is an impediment they don't need.
SMITH: The more barriers is put up, the more impediments is put up, and it affects the peace process, delays it. Maybe for a while maybe causes an increase in violence.
ROBERTSON: Smith and others, whose interviews are in the archives, worry that releasing the tapes could threaten both the peace and their personal safety. But advocates for victims believe just the opposite. That the tapes are the path to peace. JOHN MCBURNEY, SOLICITOR: We need to be seen to be looking at each of the incidents of the past with diligence and with care and with as much skill as we can bring to the -- to the peace.
ROBERTSON: McBurney represents many families still trying to get the truth about how their loved ones died and wants all the tapes in the archive given to the police.
MCBURNEY: There are details within the archives, which would be much more mundane and routine pieces of information which feed into other murders, other bombings in a much more low key but very significant way.
ROBERTSON: Close to 4,000 people were killed during the Troubles but McBurney fears the police are using the wrong case to try to force open the secret archive.
Jean McConville's death is one of the most notorious killings in Ireland, allegedly under the command of one of the most important politicians. And that could mean access to the archives and the answers they contain could be blocked.
MCBURNEY: A lot of that information will be lost, if because of the sensational nature of the particular case that's being opened up, if you like, through the archives because it involved Gerry Adams and because it has implications perhaps politically and so forth.
ROBERTSON: British officials say that neither the nature of the crime nor the alleged perpetrator, even Adams, with whom they negotiated peace trading on his violent past to silence the IRA guns are an issue.
PATERSON: We've been quite clear as a government there can be no concept or amnesty so we have to support the police to have complete operational independence in pursuing every line of inquiry in bringing those who admitted crimes to justice. But I think the very simple point is, no one person is above the process, no one person is above the law.
ROBERTSON: But researcher and former IRA member, Anthony McIntyre, is as determined to protect the archives' confidentiality as others are to expose its secrets.
MCINTYRE: I will go to jail to protect Gerry Adams as quickly as I would go to jail to protect any other person, any individual person, possibly implicated as a result of this process. I think that's an ethical imperative.
ROBERTSON: For Helen McKendry, it is not about politics, not about legal battles, it is simply about closure for the death of the mother she loved.
H. MCKENDRY: If we get the tapes back, this may put an end to everything.
ROBERTSON: What do you think might be in those tapes? H. MCKENDRY: The truth. I think it's why they don't want us, the people, you know, we do want the tapes to be released because the truth is on them.
ROBERTSON: When you say they don't want it to be released, who do you mean?
H. MCKENDRY: The IRA and people who were interviewed in the tapes.
S. MCKENDRY: I think it's imperative that the tapes be handed over immediately.
ROBERTSON: But the McKendrys know what they may hear may be painful. They have already had a taste of it from Brendan Hughes explaining why at the time he believed Helen's mother, a waiter with 10 children, needed to be silenced.
HUGHES: She had a transmitter in her house. The British supplied the transmitter into her flat. We took her away, interrogated her, and she told what she was doing. She was getting paid by the British to pass on information. She deserved to be executed, I believe, because she was an informer and she put other people's lives at risk.
ROBERTSON: The IRA said that your mother was an informer, informing on their activities to the British troops.
H. MCKENDRY: Yes. Which is lies. I mean my mother would not have known anything about the IRA. She, as I say, a mother of 10, and at home every day with her family.
ROBERTSON: There can be little solace, too, knowing that Hughes came to regret his role. It changes nothing.
HUGHES: Looking back on it now, what happened to the woman was wrong.
MOLONEY: What the Boston College subpoena story is about, really, fundamentally, deep down is the failure of those involved in the conflict in Northern Ireland to deal with the past or to agree on a way to deal with the past.
MCINTYRE: I mean if the McConville family were to succeed in this, I think of the vast number of people who will never have truth about what happened to their loved ones. Because the only reason that this has come to the fore about Mrs. McConville is because people were prepared to talk in conditions which would not lead to prosecutions.
H. MCKENDRY: I've lived all my life in fear. They've destroyed my mother's life, my family life and they tried to destroy what life I have now. To me, it's just really a joke. They're worried about they could be in danger? They are the people who committed the crimes in this country. They should be worried.
ROBERTSON: McIntyre and all those involved in the Boston College archive now share the same fear. No one else will come forward to tell their secrets. Afraid of prosecution and that would mean the archives reach for truth is lost before it could grow to include police, soldiers, even British government officials who, like the IRA men, may have their bloody truths to share.
All eyes now are on the U.S. courts waiting for a ruling on whether the subpoenas will be upheld and the archives opened. What secrets do they hold? What impact will it have? No one can know. But whatever happens, the four stories of Jean McConville's death and so many others may still never be known. Some secrets have already gone to the grave.