Amnesty: 77 CIA flights through Shannon

After Frankfurt airport, Shannon is Europe's most popular stopover airport for CIA planes, according to a new Amnesty report. Colin Murphy reports

Shannon airport is the second most popular stopping point in Europe for CIA flights involved in renditions, according to new data released by Amnesty International. Four aircraft identified by Amnesty as being run by the CIA, and having been involved in renditions, have passed through Shannon at least 77 times since 2001. Only Frankfurt airport in Germany has been used by these aircraft more often (144 times), while the next most common stopping point in Europe is Glasgow Prestwick (36 times). Dublin airport has also been used by these aircraft on three occasions.

The data is contained in a new Amnesty report on US renditions, "Below the radar: Secret flights to torture and 'disappearance'".

Speaking in the Dáil on 22 February, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, said that reports that CIA-run flights involved in renditions had landed at Shannon were "based on the retrospective imposition of a pattern of movement on flight data some considerable time after the fact". He said reports of CIA planes landing at Shannon on return from rendition missions (as was first reported in Village in September 2005) "do not involve a claim of illegal activity on Irish territory".

Speaking in the Seanad in June 2004, the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, said he would respond "immediately" to any evidence that a "person has been transited through Irish territory, in unlawful custody, particularly to Guantanamo".

"We have our Constitution and the right of the freedom of the individual is not confined to citizens; it applies to all persons. Therefore, it would cause me grave concern if I thought people were being smuggled through Irish territory in circumstances that amounted to unlawful detention in Irish law or in international law for that matter", he said.

However, none of the planes documented as having been involved in renditions have been searched. Senator David Norris told the Seanad recently that gardai had told him that "they interrogated the cleaners" at Shannon airport as part of their investigations.

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis, said recently that Europe was "a happy hunting ground for foreign security services", and said European states had failed to put adequate procedures in place to investigate alleged "extraordinary renditions" taking place on civil aircraft. "Europe's skies appear to be excessively open", he said.

The Department of Transport has confirmed that aircraft identified as being used by the CIA have landed at Shannon, and has said these were "technical stops" by "civilian" aircraft, which were not required to provide any information to the Department. These planes are identified by their registration "N-number", and information on planes is publicly available from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). A document obtained from the Department of Foreign Affairs under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that officials in the Department were not able to confirm reports that one of the rendition aircraft had been re-registered. The memo, dated 26 November 2004 and prepared by the Security Policy Section of the Department of Foreign Affairs, stated: "Anti-war websites are claiming that the aircraft which operated as call-sign N379P has now changed its registration, apparently in late 2003 or early 2004, to N8068V. It has not been possible to confirm whether or not that re-registration has happened. Even if the aircraft has been re-registered, it is not possible to say what significance that has - it may simply be a normal commercial or regulatory practice in the US."

According to a further document obtained from the Department of Transport under the Freedom of Information Act, an internal email between officers of the Department, the Department did not seek legal advice on the issue of alleged use of Irish airports by covert CIA flights.

1. Boeing 737, number N 313P

According to flight records compiled by Amnesty, this was the plane that took Khaled el-Masri from Skopje to Afghanistan in January 2004. According to Human Rights Watch, it was the "plane that the CIA used to move several prisoners to and from Europe, Afghanistan, and the Middle East in 2003 and 2004 – it landed in Poland and Romania on direct flights from Afghanistan on two occasions in 2003 and 2004". Records show it flew to Guantanamo a number of times. It has passed through Dublin airport twice and through Shannon 23 times.

It was registered to Premier Executive Transport Services in May 2002. Investigations by the New York Times and other US media concluded that this was a front company set up by the CIA. The plane was re-registered to Keeler & Tate Management in December 2004, as N4476S. Premier Executive Transport Services had permission to land at US military bases worldwide.

2. Gulfstream V, number N379P

This executive jet is the plane most often identified with known cases of rendition. It has passed through Shannon at least 22 times. It has also landed at Guantanamo Bay (at least 20 times), and in Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaihan, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan and Libya, as well as other countries in North Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe.

It was registered in February 2000 by Premier Executive Transport Services; it was re-registered as N8068V at the beginning of 2004; and again re-registered as N44982 in December 2004 by Bayard Foreign Marketing, another front company. The aircraft was put up for sale in late 2005, and is now the property of a company based in Miami, Florida.

3. Gulfstream III, number N829MG

This plane carried Canadian national Maher Arar from the US to Jordan, where he was transferred overland to Syria. He was tortured during 13 months of detention without charge, and was released in October 2003. It has passed through Shannon at least twice, and has also landed at Guantanamo.

4. Gulfstream IV, number N85VM

This plane took Abu Omar to Egypt after his kidnapping in Italy. It is operated by Richmor Aviation, an American company which runs a fleet of business jets. Richmor has said it leases the plane to the CIA, but that it is not used exclusively by the CIA. It has passed through Shannon at least 30 times, and through Dublin once. It has also made over 100 trips to Guantanamo Bay, and has also landed in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Bahrain.

From the Amnesty report, Below the radar: Secret flights to torture and 'disappearance'