Government fails to produce US assurances over renditions

Government has refused to investigate CIA flights through Irish airports and has rejected Irish Human Rights Commission's advice on renditions. By Justine McCarthy



The government has failed to produce the diplomatic assurances it claims to have acquired from the US administration that Irish airports are not being used by the CIA for rendition flights. Ireland is alone among the EU's 25 member states in making such a claim.

In a series of written correspondence with the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) over the past year, the government has rejected every scintilla of the commission's advice that it must ensure against Irish territory being used to facilitate the transporting of CIA detainees for interrogation and torture. In one letter, the commission president, Maurice Manning, wrote to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, that “it would be helpful” if the IHRC could have sight of the US assurances. That was last spring. They have not been forwarded yet.

Manning first wrote to Dermot Ahern on 21 December 2005 recommending random inspections of US planes at Shannon Airport as a method of establishing if there were grounds for suspicions that the airport was being used to facilitate the CIA's operation.

While the foreign-affairs minister was volubly criticising the European Parliament for “leaking” its draft report before he met the investigating committee, it emerged that the government formally dismissed the advice of its independent statutory human-rights watchdog in a letter last April, saying it had no legal responsibility to investigate unsubstantiated claims.

The IHRC again replied on 26 April, enclosing a lengthy document detailing the legal reasons why the government was duty-bound to investigate the allegations.

“We're not happy that the issues we have raised have been fully addressed,” Maurice Manning told Village.

Ireland merits a single paragraph in the European Parliament's draft report on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for illegal detentions. It states: “[The committee] expresses concern about the 147 stopovers made by CIA-operated aircraft at Irish airports that on many occasions came from, or were bound for, countries linked with extraordinary rendition circuits and the transfer of detainees; [the committee] deplores the stopovers in Ireland of aircraft which have been shown to have been used by the CIA, on other occasions, for the extraordinary renditions of Ahmed Agiza, Mohammed El-Zari, Bisher Al-Rawi, Jamil El-Banna, Abou Elkassim Britel, Khaled El-Masri, Binyam Mohammed, Abu Omar and Maher Arar.”

The case of Abu Omar is the strongest example of a CIA rendition operation stopping over at Shannon (as did all Irish flights, bar two that stopped at Dublin Airport). Egyptian cleric, Abu Omar, had been granted asylum in Italy and was abducted in Milan on 17 February 2003. He was transferred from Milan to Aviano by car and then flown, via Ramstein in Germany, to Cairo, where he has been held in communicado and tortured ever since.

The plane that took Abu Omar to Cairo stopped to refuel at Shannon Airport on its way back from Egypt that night. The European Parliament report condemns “the active role played by certain officials of the Italian military security services (SISMI) in the abduction of Abu Omar”. It also “regrets that the abduction of Abu Omar jeopardised” the Italian public prosecutor's investigation of the terrorist network to which Omar was connected”.

Italy comes in for some of the sternest criticism in the report. It records that a document on US-Italian cooperation in the fight again terrorism, which would have assisted the committee's investigation, was classified by the former Italian government and that the current Italian government has confirmed the classified status of the document.

Poland is also strongly rebuked for its government's lack of cooperation with the committee by declining to meet it. It records 11 stopvers by CIA-operated planes at Polish airports that were coming from or were bound for countries linked with rendition.

The report also deplores “the way the British government, as represented by its Minister for Europe, cooperated with the committee” and condemns the rendition of two British residents, Jamil El-Banna and Bisher Al-Rawi, from Gambia, via Afghanistan, to Guantanamo Bay.