US use of Shannon grows
US use of Shannon grows

New figures have shown that more than 300,000 US troops had passed through Shannon airport in the west of Ireland last year.

The figures show the use of the airport as a war base had doubled in the past twelve months.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has insisted CIA planes landing at the airport are searched for abducted prisoners.

Labour Party president Michael D Higgins said the Irish public were outraged at the figures.

“This has been one of the bloodiest weeks in the recent history of the Iraq conflict, with hundreds of lives lost in bomb attacks and ongoing fighting,” said the deputy for Galway West.

“At such a time, it is necessary to consider the Irish government’s role in the war through the continued use of Shannon by the US military both for sending troops to Iraq and for the transfer of prisoners without legal process.”

Pressure is increasing on the Dublin government to ensure that the United States is not illegally transporting prisoners through Shannon. Despite Ireland’s long-standing claim to military neutrality, the airport is used as a a transport hub by US military aircraft.

Evidence of so-called ‘extraordinary renditions’ has mounted with the publication of an Egyptian intelligence document by a Swiss newspaper, apparently confirming that the CIA has held 23 people from Iraq and Afghanistan at a military base in Romania. It also said there were similar US detention centres in Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria.

The Council of Europe is currently investigating allegations that prisoners were taken for torture elsewhere through European airports, and that the CIA may have operated illegal prisons in countries such as Poland.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles said he supported calls by the the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) for “greater transparency” in the US use of Shannon Airport.

CIA flights have been observed passing through the airport, apparently en route to secret detention centres. International human rights lobby groups have tracked a half-dozen aircraft owned or chartered by the CIA that have used Shannon up to 50 times over the last three years.

A number of the aircraft, including a Gulfstream jet that has become known as the “Guantanamo Bay Express”, have been linked directly with carrying a number of known prisoners, including a man kidnapped at Stockholm airport.

In a letter to the president of the IHRC, Mr Gil-Robles said states “must be in a position, where there is doubt, to establish who is on board planes transiting via their airports, whether they are travelling freely or are detained, and, if the latter, under whose authority they are being transported and for what purpose.”

The Dublin government has said it accepts US assurances that Shannon is not being used as a hub for CIA abductions, and has no plans to search CIA flights.

Sinn Fein National Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald today said the 26 County government should heed the calls.

“The Irish Government should immediately set out procedures allowing inspections of all planes suspected of being used in the transportation of prisoners from an illegal war in Iraq,” she said.

It has also emerged that US ambassador to Ireland James Kenny is unlikely to accept an invitation from a parliamentary committee to answer the allegations.

The invitation was issued early in December, but the US State Department has been increasingly reluctant to allow its ambassadors to appear before parliamentary committees anywhere.

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