by Irvin Muchnick
As noted in the previous post, the long and comprehensive George Gibney article by Johnny Watterson is now up at the Irish Times. I encourage everyone to read it: https://www.irishtimes.com/sport/no-justice-no-peace-for-the-victims-of-george-gibney-1.3413396.
It is a thorough take from the Irish perspective. I offer one small correction, along with observations or clarifications from the American perspective.
Watterson characterizes my recently concluded case in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security as an “exhaustion” of efforts “to have [Gibney] deported.” Later the piece gets the technicalities a bit straighter: This was a Freedom of Information Act matter. Judge Charles R. Breyer “was passing judgment on what documents should be released to Muchnick — not how Homeland Security should act.”
As for the clarifications …
Watterson, who has been exposing this ghastly story for decades longer than myself, focuses primarily on the theme of victims’ fatigue — even, at times, their feelings of being manipulated by activists and investigative journalists, as years of revived and re-revived efforts to bring Gibney to trial ebb and flow, yet never seem to resolve. For some, the process has morphed, unhelpfully, into the opposite of the concept of “closure.”
Gibney victim Tric Kearney gives poignant voice to this phenomenon when she tells the Irish Times, “I’ve resigned myself to the fact the ship has sailed. I will never receive justice in this country. I would have no faith in the system we have, to try Gibney or find him guilty of any crime, if he was deported.”
With an equal chill of existential betrayal, Kearney speaks of her “decision many years ago that Gibney had stolen a lot of my childhood. I wasn’t going to allow him to take another day,” and adds:
“While the early years were traumatic, I have not had the dreadful experiences in life other victims have had. People say we didn’t get justice. But I’m not so sure of that. Okay, we never got a chance to stand in court and let everyone know what he did. But if he had gone to court he would be out by now. He’d be sharing the same sky I live under.
While others bay for blood, I do not. I am content to know he lives in exile, far, far away. I can remain calm when on occasions I think I smell his aftershave in a shopping centre or think a stranger coming towards me looks like him.”
Another voice in Watterson’s story, root whistleblower Chalkie White, strikes a similar theme, as he did last year in an interview from South Africa with the Irish Independent. See https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/a-childhood-burden-all-of-the-secrets-all-of-the-time-36225265.html.
I would never, ever, presume to invalidate such feelings. I would only point out that, in the United States in 2018, the story isn’t only about justice, with a small j or even a capital J. It’s also about the accurate rendering of history. And it’s about accountability in the Gibney saga — our own government’s, our own swimming establishment’s. Taken together, it might just save a life or two or thousand in the future.
Right now the occupant of the U.S. presidency is a racist demagogue whose uninformed vituperations include attacks on “diversity lottery visas.” Well, here’s something we learn from Gibney’s tale: He got to America, in flight from prosecution of more sex crimes against children than we’ll ever know, on just such a diversity lottery visa. What’s commonly overlooked is that these lottery visas were in part a reaction to the 1965 immigration act, which had newly advantaged the entry of South Americans and Africans.
Even if we assume that Gibney did not have cronies in high places — a dubious proposition given the existing state of the evidence — it’s important to chronicle that his 1992 visa came under legislative programs, variously known as “Morrisons” or “Donnellys,” with explicit set-asides for Canadians, Brits, and especially Irish (for whom up to 40 percent of the slots were dedicated). In the current charged immigration debate, Gibney illustrates how references to “diversity” lotteries are more than just rhetorically skewed. They are a canard.
I write this from the San Francisco Bay Area where, just last weekend, the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency went on a round-up of illegal immigrants from Central America. These wide-scale and prejudicial raids would have netted even more than the reported 100 or so deportations had the mayor of “sanctuary city” Oakland not leaked advance word of what should be labeled for what it was: a modern-day Gestapo operation.
Meanwhile, Congress debates what to do about the expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented by Donald Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Estimates of the number of “Dreamers” — children of illegal immigrants who have largely made good of their lives in the U.S. and know no other — range from 700,000 to more than a million.
Then there’s the ICE angle. ICE was the very agency that — newly released government documents in my FOIA case reveal — told U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that Gibney could not be removed from the country in 2010. During the Obama administration. Even after Gibney had submitted a failed citizenship application, and one that failed precisely because he had evidently lied on it by concealing his indictment in Ireland in 1993 on 27 counts of illicit carnal knowledge of minors.
That’s what Judge Breyer meant when he said in open court in October 2016, “We’re not a haven for pedophiles.”
Today the monster Gibney is still in our midst. His most recent sighting was in Florida, practically within spitting distance of where he had raped and impregnated a teen swimmer he was accompanying on a 1991 training trip. In short, we Americans, too, have a dog in this hunt.
Finally, though Johnny Watterson rightly links to the #MeToo movement the latest outreach of Irish legislator Maureen O’Sullivan to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Jackie Speier, the full context is both broader and more surgical. The Gibney case is bubbling up at an overdue moment of public reckoning for coach sexual abuse at USA Swimming and other national sport governing bodies under the U.S. Olympic Committee. In essence, the American swimming establishment’s role in harboring Gibney — the American Swimming Coaches Association’s as well as USA Swimming’s — is at a flashpoint, similar to the one in Ireland in the 1990s that forced the dissolution of the Irish Amateur Swimming Association.
So far, not even the FOIA case has raised more than a few Gibney ripples at major American media outlets. Early in 2016, Tamara Holder, then with Fox News, interviewed me (http://video.foxnews.com/v/4744406376001/). Later in the year, Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle covered Judge Breyer’s decision (https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Judge-warns-U-S-over-Irish-immigrant-s-10592267.php).
The silence may be breaking, however. Last month, in a USA Today story about the USA Swimming scandals, Jonathan Little, one of the country’s leading victims’ attorneys, name-checked Gibney, as well as American Hall of Fame coaches Paul Bergen and Murray Stephens who have skated from credible abuse allegations, and others. See https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/2018/02/23/usa-swimming-safe-sport-director-resigns-susan-woessner-pat-hogan-sexual-abuse/366161002/.
I expect more developments on this front soon. The quest for Gibney justice proceeds. So does the recognition that his victims deserve compassion, respect, measured discretion — space to work out their own relationships to the newest twists and turns.
Also so proceeding: the accountability project underlying everything.