20 March 2003, the coalition government secured
the necessary parliamentary approval to allow US
military forces utilise landing and refuelling facilities
at Shannon Airport. During the debate Bertie Ahern
argued that a refusal to allow US military and civilian
aircraft avail of Shannon would be viewed as "a
radical and far-reaching change in our foreign policy
and in the long-standing national interpretation
of what is and what is not participation in war."
In actual fact the decision to permit US forces
land and refuel at Shannon en route to Iraq represented
a radical departure from previous government policy.
For the past fifty years foreign military aircraft
were denied over flight and landing facilities if
they were armed, carrying armaments or aerial photographic
equipment, engaged in intelligence gathering or
part of a military exercise or operation.
several occasions George W Bush has publicly thanked
"the countries in the coalition who are giving
crucial support, from the use of naval and air bases
to help with intelligence and logistics to the deployment
of combat units". The Irish government is clearly
part of the "coalition of the willing".
However, the question remains, is the government
also complicit in "extraordinary renditions"
- one of the most scandalous aspects of the Bush
administration's "war on terror"?
rendition, the abduction of people and their transferral
to countries where they are interrogated under torture,
was devised by the Clinton administration during
the initial stages of its intelligence war against
militant Islam. Rendition is illegal under international
law. According to the United Nations Convention
Against Torture, "no state shall expel, return
or extradite a person to another state where there
are substantial grounds for believing that he would
be in danger of being subject to torture".
It is also illegal under international law to assist
extraordinary renditions. According to New York
University's centre for human rights and global
justice, "a state which aids or assists another
state in the commission of an internationally wrongful
act by the later is internationally responsible
for doing so". So is the Irish government in
breach of international law?
activists and Amnesty International have been monitoring
the flight paths of CIA-owned planes. This scrutiny
has highlighted the important role Shannon has played
in the Bush administration's rendition programme.
For example, on 16 February 2003, Abu Omar was abducted
by 13 CIA operatives while walking along Milan's
Via Guerzona. The Islamic cleric was bundled into
a Gulfstream IV jet [call sign N85VM] and flown
to Egypt, where he was tortured during a prolonged
interrogation. Having departed Egypt, the CIA-owned
plane landed and refuelled at Shannon at 0552 on
18 February, before returning to Dulles Airport
in Washington. The Italian state has since issued
extradition proceedings against the American agents
involved in the abduction.
complicity in the CIA's rendition programme is not
restricted to the Abu Omar abduction. For example,
two Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad el-Zary,
were abducted by the CIA in Sweden. The two men
were flown to Cairo in a Gulfstream jet [call sign
N379P]. While in Egyptian custody Agiza and el-Zary
were subjected to electrical shocks under interrogation.
Flight N379P has landed at Shannon on numerous occasions
over the past four years. Initially, the government
refused to confirm this fact. However, under persistent
questioning by Finian McGrath TD and Senator David
Norris, the government admitted the CIA-owned plane
had landed in Shannon on more than a dozen occasions
have abducted prisoners been transported through
Shannon? It is highly probable that they have. Senator
Mary O'Rourke recently stated: "there have
been incidents of which we would not be proud as
a country." However, to date, no specific evidence
has entered the public domain which confirms that
abducted prisoners have landed at Shannon. Yet some
questions remain unanswered. For example, Amnesty
International consulted the US Federal Aviation
Administration files and found that 50 CIA-owned
planes recently landed in Shannon. However, the
human rights organisation also discovered that only
35 take-offs were logged by the airport authority
during the same period. Why the discrepancies? Have
flights been kept secret? Were abducted Islamic
prisoners on any of these flights?
McDowell believes we should accept US assurances
that no abducted prisoners have passed through Shannon.
The UN does not concur and has stated that diplomatic
assurances have no validity and provide no exemption
from legal obligations under international law.
government has established a special Seanad select
committee to investigate Irish involvement in renditions.
Village recently published an extract from a memo
prepared for the committee by the Department of
Foreign Affairs International Security Policy Section,
which states the Irish government "has not
and will not permit any flight engaged in rendition
to pass through Ireland". The information contained
in this departmental document is totally untrue.
The CIA plane involved in the Abu Omar rendition
landed and refuelled in Shannon on the return leg
of its journey. This was a specific instance of
assistance. And it was not an isolated case.
Irish Human Rights Commission and the Council of
Europe has stated that the government has "a
positive obligation" to inspect incoming US
flights to ensure there is no breach of the European
Convention on Human Rights. But is this sufficient?
Obviously no abducted Islamic prisoner should enter
Irish airspace. But surely the government must go
further and terminate the current practice of logistically
assisting extraordinary renditions?
Irish government is complicit in the illegal Anglo-American
occupation of Iraq, which has resulted in the deaths
of over 100,000 Iraqi civilians. To make matters
worse it is now facilitating an illegal CIA intelligence
gathering operation that is founded on abduction
and torture. It is time for the Irish government
to fulfil its obligations under international law.
And how is this best achieved? By immediately withdrawing
Irish landing and refuelling facilities from all
US military and intelligence aircraft and all chartered
flights transporting US military and intelligence
McKevitt is a political prisoner currently detained
in Portlaoise Prison Ireland. He was sentenced to
20 years' imprisonment in August 2003 for Directing
and Membership of an Illegal organization namely
the Real IRA, on the sole evidence of a paid FBI/MI5
informer David Rupert. This article appeared in
a recent issue of Forum.