Concern mounts over US use of Shannon

The US ambassador to Ireland, James Kenny, is being asked to answer questions on the illegal transport of abductees through Shannon airport amid increasing controversy over the Dublin government’s dealings with the Bush administration.

The Dublin parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee is seeking answers amid growing international concern over the illegal process known as “extraordinary rendition”, following reports that the CIA has been operating secret prisons in Europe for civilians abducted from a variety of locations.

The US government, while not denying that abductions had taken place or that secret prisons exist, has insisted that those who had been “rendered” had not been subjected to torture.

“We do not render to countries that torture. That has been our policy and that policy will remain the same,” President George Bush told reporters this week.

Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act indicates there may have been 38 landings of CIA flights at Shannon, mostly since 2002.

However, Amnesty International has said that six CIA-chartered aircraft have landed 50 times at Shannon and made 800 flights into western European airspace.

The group has callled for the inspection of flights chartered by the CIA that land in Shannon airport to ensure they are not carrying torture victims.

Belfast Aldergrove airport has also been named as one of the destinations for 800 so-called ‘ghost flights’ by the CIA identified in research carried out by The Guardian newspaper,

In the Dail this week, 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern insisted that the Government “cannot and will not allow” CIA-controlled aircraft to land in the State if they are carrying abductees. He said the Government has raised its concerns “at the highest levels” with the Bush administration in Washington.

Labour leader Pat Rabbitte challenged Ahern’s assertion that anybody with information about the US Central Intelligence Agency landing in Shannon with torture victims should inform the Garda.

Mr Ahern repeated that if anybody had evidence to demonstrate that prisoners were unlawfully transferred through Irish territory, it should be passed on. “We are not aware of any such evidence,” he said.

Mr Rabbitte said he was not talking about military aircraft landing with prior approval, but ostensibly civilian commercial aircraft landing. “It is not enough for the Taoiseach to say if anybody has evidence, will they give it to the gardai in Sixmilebridge. How am I supposed to get evidence? I am asking questions as an Opposition politician in this House.”

Sinn Féin’s Aengus O Snodaigh said the Dublin government had presented a “classic Catch-22 situation” by refusing to act without evidence, while not allowing the aircraft to be inspected.

Ahern said Ireland accepted the “repeated assurances” given by the government of the United States.

“The US authorities know the importance we attach to these assurances,” he said. “If the United States secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, gives us assurances, I must accept them,” Mr Ahern declared.

Under the 1944 Chicago Convention, states are entitled to search civilian aircraft at their airports, contrary to the points made by Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Michael McDowell on Monday.

It emerged last week that a US airforce cargo plane bound for Iraq and carrying almost 60 tonnes of "hazardous" gas cylinders was forced to make an emergency landing at Shannon.

Prof William Schabas, director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway, called on the Government to stop CIA flights landing in Shannon.

On Monday, he said, the US secretary of state had “strengthened the presumption that something funny is going on” when she acknowledged that “rendition” flights took place and claimed that they had prevented attacks.

  • Earlier this week, legislation giving effect to a deal allowing US authorities the power to undertake criminal investigations in the 26 Counties was published.

    The legislation also grants the US access to information about Irish bank accounts. Assistance cannot be refused on grounds of customer confidentiality, according to the agreement and extends to the freezing of a suspect’s assets and property.

    The Bill also enables agencies such as the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to request phone taps and other types of surveillance on civilians in the 26-Counties.

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