Wednesday, 14 December 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
40. Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures he has taken, intends taking or is empowered to take to ensure that the transferral of prisoners by the US military through extraordinary renditions does not occur with the use of Irish airspace or ground-based air facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39254/05]
45. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the fact that two planes which it has been acknowledged landed in Ireland in 2003 and 2004 have been reportedly used by agents of the United States to render persons to torture in Egypt; to remove the German citizen Khaled Al Masri from Macedonia and Afghanistan to imprisonment, treatment the US Secretary of State admitted to have been a mistake, and the fact records show that this plane flew from Shannon to Kabul in the same month; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39268/05]
48. Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions that he has held with the US Administration with regard to the rendition of prisoners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39176/05]
53. Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on 5 December 2005 Amnesty International report outlining extraordinary renditions by six CIA-chartered planes; his response to the revelation that these planes landed at Shannon Airport 50 times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39306/05]
56. Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the character and precise nature of the assurances the Government indicates it has received with respect to the passage of planes owned by the CIA or its agents through Irish airspace, in particular if such assurances have related to the transfer of prisoners or to ascertain if such transfers are in compliance with international law; the form in which such assurances have been received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39266/05]
82. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures the Government proposes to take to ensure that Irish airspace and facilities are not used to breach international and Irish law, inter alia, through the conduct of verification measures such as random and regular checks of aircraft, particularly in view of his reply to Question No. 2 of 10 November 2005 in which he acknowledges Ireland’s positive obligations to ensure that persons who come within the jurisdiction of the State benefit from protection against removal to serious harm. [39264/05]
85. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the basis upon which he considers that it is reasonable for the Government to rely on assurances from the Government of the United States that international law is not being breached as a result of planes owned by the CIA or its agents landing in Irish territory in view of a raft of publicly known facts, not least that leaked classified reports by the CIA’s own inspector general indicate that interrogation techniques approved by the White House violate international law. [39267/05]
90. Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if in view of the admission by the US Secretary of State that mistakes had been made in the US renditions policy and with the aim of promoting Ireland’s contribution to international peace, security and development, he will reconsider the policy whereby authorities do not seek to board US military aircraft or aircraft carrying US personnel in order to verify their declared cargo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39317/05]
110. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he is taking to ensure that no Irish facility is being used to facilitate the rendition of prisoners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39175/05]
114. Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the assurances given to the Government by the US Administration regarding extraordinary renditions of prisoners and possible involvement of Irish airports in the transit of these prisoners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39307/05]
210. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has satisfied himself that US prisoners or prisoners of war are not being transported through Shannon Airport en route to centres where treatment might not be in accord with the Geneva Convention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39607/05]
221. Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the suspected transfer of terror suspects through Shannon by the US; if such claims turned out to be true; the action which will be taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39632/05]
The Government is completely opposed to the practice of so-called extraordinary rendition, whereby prisoners are transported from one jurisdiction to another contrary to international law and without recourse to the normal judicial checks and balances that attend the legitimate transfer of prisoners. That such a practice might have the aim of delivering a prisoner to a jurisdiction in which he or she might be tortured or otherwise ill-treated is particularly disturbing and objectionable.
The Government has not permitted, and we cannot and will not permit, any flight engaged in so-called “extraordinary rendition” to pass through an Irish airport or through Irish or Irish-controlled airspace.
As Deputies will be aware from my replies to previous questions on this subject, most recently to Priority Questions today, the United States has given Ireland repeated, clear and explicit assurances that no prisoners have been transferred through Irish airports, nor would they be, without our permission. These assurances were confirmed by Secretary of State Rice at my meeting with her on 1 December 2005 in Washington. There have been suggestions that these may be qualified in some way by the definition of torture that is applied by the US Government. I would like to set the record straight on this matter. The assurances we have received contained no reference to the purposes for which any prisoners might be transferred which could be used to limit the broad scope of those assurances. In the wider European context the assurances Ireland has received consistently from the US authorities are of particular clarity and completeness.
I have no reason to believe Irish airports have been used in the manner described by the Deputies. None of the allegations made about the passage through Irish airports of aeroplanes supposedly involved in extraordinary rendition has included any concrete or specific claim of this type.
In the light of the absolute assurances we have received, the Government will continue to follow the long-standing practice whereby details supplied to the Department of Foreign Affairs in this area by the US authorities are accepted in good faith as being accurate. I would add that should it ever emerge that, contrary to our firm belief, our airports or airspace have been used for the purpose of extraordinary rendition, the Government would take the gravest possible view of the matter.
Ms C. Murphy: The Minister said earlier that we had a special relationship with the US. Will he accept that trust has become difficult with this Administration given that weapons of mass destruction did not materialise in Iraq when we were told they were there? That was the raison d’être for this war. Given that we have this special relationship with the US, how would the Minister treat a state with which we do not have a special relationship? Would we treat it any differently? That is important in terms of determining what it is possible for Ireland to do to ensure that our airports and air space are not being abused.
I echo the point made by Deputy Michael Higgins. If it has nothing to hide, would the Minister not expect an Administration to invite inspections with a view to ensuring that a State like ours does not feel compromised?
I am confused about the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Minister said that if the Government gets hard evidence it will take appropriate action yet he said it is up to the Garda to take that action. Presumably, the DPP is constrained by this special relationship with the US because it is difficult to understand how he can reconcile one with the other if that is not the case.
On the issue of our special relationship with the US, people here accept that given America’s emphasis on Ireland concerning all matters, not least the peace process on which an inordinate amount of time and effort was spent by US politicians and Administrations of all creeds to help Ireland, when they give us an assurance on these issues, and these are categoric assurances from as far back as autumn of 2004, we accept them. We were one of the first countries to ask the Americans about these media reports. Many other countries have come late to this issue and it has moved on somewhat. However, regarding the assurances that we were given, if we were to go against that without any hard evidence it would show extremely bad faith to the US people generally, not just the Administration.
On the issue of inspections, it is entirely a matter for the Garda Síochána if it believes a crime has been committed. A civilian airplane is treated in the same way as a house. If they wanted to search a house they would have to get a search warrant. The same rule applies to civilian airplanes. Laws enable the Irish Aviation Authority to carry out safety inspections of airplanes. We have received categorical assurances from the US that Ireland has not been used to render prisoners to other destinations to be tortured or for other purposes. We accept these assurances until we receive hard evidence and will act on such evidence if we receive it.
Deputy Rabbitte argued that it was ludicrous for the Government to ask the Opposition to supply it with hard evidence. If the Opposition has such evidence, it should come forward with it. We are asking any individual with evidence that can be passed on to the Garda Síochána to come forward. The Minister of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has stated in this House that the Garda Síochána will investigate any evidence brought to it. To date, we have received no hard evidence despite publicity generated by different organs and individuals.
Mr. M. Higgins: The DPP has stated that he will not permit the Garda Síochána to take action on matters reported to him. There have been two cases involving the reporting of evidence to the DPP. Such issues have arisen before and must be resolved by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the DPP. I would be delighted to hear from the relevant Department if I am wrong.
The Minister probably agrees that secret detention breaches several international conventions and customary laws of war. I am glad he quoted from Human Rights Watch because it is a reputable source. On 1 December 2005, this organisation stated that at least 26 “ghost” prisoners were being held at secret detention centres. Human Rights Watch has also stated that the US Government has not denied holding prisoners at secret detention centres. Senator Dick Marty from Switzerland is rapporteur of the group appointed by the Council of Europe to investigate the issue. This group has requested flight plans and log books of flights that might be involved in the secret detention of prisoners. According to Senator Marty, allegations regarding secret detention centres in Europe have credibility. He has also suggested that prisoners could have been moved from Europe to north Africa in November 2005. How can we be in compliance with international conventions if it is proved that an airplane carrying a person to a secret detention centre landed in our jurisdiction? How can we be in compliance if we do not seek assurances of those involved or investigate what takes place on such flights? How can it be considered unfriendly to ask why such airplanes land 50 times if they are flying between north Africa and Kabul in Afghanistan?
Mr. D. Ahern: This is because it boils down to actual knowledge. When these airplanes came through Ireland, we had no actual knowledge regarding this matter and any investigation into it. According to the European Court of Human Rights, substantial proof was needed, of which there is none. This question concerns rendition flights, although the Deputy’s argument veers between them and black sites. Human Rights Watch has stated it is unlikely that clandestine operations of the kind referred to by Deputy Michael D. Higgins, which I condemn, would be run through civilian airports. The organisation does not mention Shannon Airport but it is obviously the type of airport to which it refers.
Tom Clonan, an expert on defence matters, investigated the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and was told off the record that Shannon Airport would not have been used. We have received no hard evidence about the use of Shannon Airport for rendition flights despite our exhortation to the public in Ireland and abroad. The DPP often states he will not act in certain cases because he does not have hard evidence and I suspect the same is true in this case.
Aengus Ó Snodaigh: What little knowledge I have regarding investigations by the Garda Síochána suggests gardaí operate on the basis of suspicion when they look for a warrant. They seek a warrant to gain evidence, which they then pass on to the DPP, who decides whether to prosecute. The gardaí should investigate these flights by boarding them and ensuring that available evidence is obtained and passed on to the DPP.
Does the Minister agree we have an obligation under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which this State ratified in 2002, to actively seek to prevent any activity that may contribute to torture? If we are party to this convention, it is logical that we investigate these flights. The Government should direct the Garda Síochána to seek evidence based on the suspicions of Members of this House, the Council of Europe, journalists and reputable organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch instead of waiting for Opposition Deputies to present evidence. The Council of Europe has appointed a group headed by a rapporteur to investigate the matter because it believes these activities have been taking place throughout Europe.
Does the Minister agree the definition of torture used by the US Government is so narrow that it renders assurances it has given on this matter meaningless? The US Government refers to “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which contravene the understanding of torture as enshrined in the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Mr. D. Ahern: I defer to Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s experience and knowledge of Garda investigations, which probably surpass mine. As I understand it, the gardaí must have a reasonable suspicion before they can enter a premises. We cannot direct the gardaí with regard to this matter but it is obvious that they do not have a reasonable suspicion that crimes are being committed on these aircraft. They probably take the assurances given by the US Government into account.
The various respected international organs quoted by Deputy Ó Snodaigh have produced information but no hard facts. I made a reference to people speaking out of both sides of their mouths on this issue. I am reluctant to take any guidance from Deputy Ó Snodaigh, who condones attacking aircraft at Shannon Airport.
Mr. D. Ahern: I am even reluctant to try to understand his perspective. However, Deputy Ó Snodaigh and the rest of Sinn Féin do not use such anti-American rhetoric when they visit the US or when Gerry Adams, MLA, appears in a video aimed at his friends in the US.
Mr. D. Ahern: On their next visit to the US or when they appear in videos aimed at a US audience, Deputy Ó Snodaigh and his colleagues might inform their hosts about the type of questions the Deputy asked me today.
Dr. Cowley: I am experiencing a sense of déjà vu regarding this issue. I remember speaking in this House about the war in Iraq and the assurances given to us that it held weapons of mass destruction and that measures were needed to deal with them. I remember Congressmen speaking with Members of this House about that. It appears that there were no weapons of mass destruction, yet we have had this terrible war which is still going on. There is a great need for more checks and balances. After all, anything could be in those aircraft. Surely we have an obligation to carry out checks on these aircraft.
Mr. D. Ahern: The situation regarding these aircraft is historical. There is nothing we can do about it. They passed through our State and based on the assurances that we were given, no investigation was carried out into what might or might not have been on them. In recent times, nothing has been brought to our attention about the use of Shannon by similar planes.
It is a fact that CIA planes have been using airports throughout Europe for many decades for issues that have nothing to do with war, but to do with security in general or events that may be taking place. I have no doubt that intelligence services throughout the world are tick-tacking with each other to ensure that the forthcoming world cup is not sabotaged by terrorists. Airports around the world have been used by civilian aircraft on behalf of the US military to bring their personnel to various meetings on these issues. This must be put into the context of what is happening in the fight against what is a new form of war on this globe, as manifested in London, Madrid, New York and so on. Unfortunately, we are living in a changing world where situations must be dealt with in different ways.
Mr. Cuffe: It may be a new form of war, but nothing should allow terrorism to occur. I remind the Minister of the remarks of his ministerial colleague last night, when he stated that all it takes for evil to thrive is for good men to do nothing. It is not good enough to stand idly by on the sidelines claiming that we could not go near those planes as US business would leave in the morning. It is a patriotic act to ask the US what is in those planes. Carrying my Irish and my American citizenship, I think it is incumbent on us to ask what is happening on those planes. We know we were told lies about weapons of mass destruction and about white phosphorous.
Mr. Cuffe: We are only now finding out about the 30,000 Iraqi casualties. Is the Minister saying that the only thing the Garda can do is stand on the sidelines? He and I both know, as I read it into the record on 30 September 2004, that the plane with the call sign N379P landed at Shannon. We know that the people using that plane abducted and transported al-Qaeda suspects on behalf of the US Government. It is not good enough to stand idly on the sidelines. Is the Minister asking the Garda and the people in Shannon to wait until the evidence lands in their lap? I believe that he should be doing more.
Mr. D. Ahern: The Deputy has no evidence and he also has an agenda. He was one of the Deputies who condoned the attack on aircraft in Shannon, something which no member of any democratic society should do. He can correct me if I am wrong.
Mr. D. Ahern: We are not standing idly by. We have raised the issue at every available forum. I have raised it umpteen times at EU meetings. I raised it with the Finnish Government so that the EU Presidency would raise it with US authorities, which it did in a public way. The Presidency raised the issue of what are known as “black sites”, as well as the issue of rendition. I made it clear that the Irish people were worried about constant reports about rendition throughout the EU. I also pointed out that we had received categorical assurances, which is something the other countries had not yet received. We were one of the first countries to raise this when it was published in the media.
The Deputy has no hard evidence that the plane was used in Shannon for rendition. He is talking about something that happened two years ago. If anyone has evidence, we will investigate it. So far, nothing has been brought forward, despite the best exhortations from the Government. We have nothing to hide on this. We condemn rendition and the transfer of prisoners against their will from one country to another. We condemn black sites. Unless and until we get evidence on these activities, I can bring it no further than that.
Ms C. Murphy: The Minister told us what would happen at Shannon in the event of hard evidence coming to light. What kind of policing mechanism do we have for our airspace? It is not possible to board a plane when it does not stop over. Does the Minister not accept that when he acquires knowledge of such activities, it is too late for the individuals involved?
The US Secretary of State stated that mistakes had been made by the US on its rendition policy. Is the Minister satisfied that such mistakes will not be repeated and that they did not affect this jurisdiction? How did he satisfy himself that they are not being repeated?
Mr. D. Ahern: No one would want anything to happen that would subsequently be termed a mistake. My dealings with Ms Condoleezza Rice were categoric on the use of Ireland’s airspace or otherwise for rendition purposes. We were given clear assurances at that meeting and at the US Embassy in Dublin and our embassy in Washington. On each occasion, we raised all the reports to which the Deputies have referred today. We raised them even before they were raised in this House. We were given assurances that Ireland was not used in any way in the facilitation of rendition. Ultimately, the only people who can enforce the law in this land are the gardaí. That is the way matters are dealt with in any democratic country.
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