Wednesday, 23 November 2005
Seanad Eireann Debate
—calls upon the Irish Government to review its policy on the use of Shannon Airport and to make a definite and credible statement concerning the nature of this traffic, in particular, the use of the airport by the Gulfstream Five jet aircraft which has been implicated in the policy of extraordinary rendition;
—calls for restrictions on the international media in the reporting of the Iraqi war to be lifted and for full access to be granted to international agencies such as the Red Cross, Red Crescent, etc., in order to allow them to assess the impact of military operations on the civilian population of Iraq; and
I do not envy the Minister his position of having to defend an indefensible Government amendment. The reason I will oppose it so vigorously is that my motion was intended to cause discomfort to the American regime in its criminal activities. The Government’s amendment is anodyne; it is an attempt to soothe the discomfort. I agree with the Dalai Lama that even though there is a great disparity between the size of a flea and that of a human, it is sometimes good to be the flea in the bed that keeps people awake and awakens their conscience.
It is becoming clear now that, despite President Bush’s vainglorious boasts during an electioneering stunt on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on 2 May 2003 in front of a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished”, American and British troops have not prevailed in Iraq. The truth is as a correspondent in the British newspaper The Independent wrote on Monday this week: “The endgame in Iraq is nigh.” Some of us foresaw this. I was not alone in predicting that the Iraqi adventure would end in tears. Militarily, I believe the war is in the process of being comprehensively lost despite whatever face saving spin is put upon it. I take no pleasure in this for, unlike Bush and Blair, I do not gloat in death — the death of Iraqi civilians, the so-called insurgents or, indeed, the unfortunate and misled coalition troops.
However, there is still time to rescue something vital from the debacle. I refer to those standards of decency and humanity that underpin the fragile moral order of the world and the two words that have been so violently misused by Bush and Blair, “democracy” and “Christianity”.
It is now a clearly established fact that the assault on Iraq was planned well before the attack on the World Trade Centre. The events of 9 September 2001 merely provided a convenient catalyst which could be supported by a tissue of lies about weapons of mass destruction and posturing about an interest in humanitarian issues. Indeed, the media driven emphasis on the al-Qaeda inspired attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon failed to put this in the perspective of the activities of Western countries, led by the United States in South America where death squads and torture were orchestrated by US operatives and in Asia where the wholesale employment of the chemical warfare weapon Agent Orange and napalm led to the annihilation of hundreds of thousands of neutral civilians in places such as Vietnam and Kampuchea.
Did they think it would never come home to roost? Despite the appalling nature of the carnage in New York and Washington and the tragedy and horror visited upon the innocent victims, to whom my heart goes out, the number of casualties was but a pinprick compared with what has been done to the subjugated people of this planet in the name of the West. If the disaster of the war in Iraq can be said to have any positive aspect it is that it must force us to reassess and reassert our values in the face of those wicked leaders who have deliberately subverted them.
It is ironic that last Sunday marked the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Nuremberg war crimes trials. The US played a righteous and leading role in this, contrasting dramatically with its current attempts to evade the remit of the newly-established International Criminal Court. We are repeatedly told that this war is being fought in the interests of Western values. My values as a Westerner do not include the waging of aggressive warfare, the wholesale use of torture, the bombing of civilian targets and the use of chemical weapons.
We had many warning signals that we were on a moral slide, and some of us tried to speak out but we were not heeded. We witnessed the systematic undermining of the United Nations, the decrying of the Geneva Convention, the targeting of the independent news agencies — particularly troubling are yesterday’s reports that Tony Blair had to fight hard to dissuade President Bush from bombing the al-Jazeera studios in Qatar — the killing of journalists, the embedding of reporters with armed forces to prevent independent reporting, and the defence of the use of torture, at first insidious and anonymous but now reaching to the very top through the discredited agencies of the law, right up to the leaders of the Untied States and Britain. All this has been accomplished to the accompaniment of a cynical abuse of language the like of which has not been seen since the Third Reich. I could give many examples of that but I will give only two. Extraordinary rendition, the euphemism to cover the kidnapping of individuals and the illegal transfer of persons to third states for the purpose of torture and interrogation, and the appalling concept of targeting human beings with chemical weapons such as white phosphorous, a corrosive substance that burns through the human flesh to the bone, in an operation described as “shake and bake”.
Nor will I be intimidated by those who would accuse me of being anti-American. In this morass the best friend America has is the person who will them the truth to their face and among those I number a former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, who stated:
In light of these circumstances, it is difficult to see how the trial of Saddam Hussein can proceed. He is charged with waging aggressive war, using chemical weapons, involvement in torture and other human rights abuses. This is an exact description of what the United States and Britain have done in Iraq. How can they possibly be taken seriously when they accuse another of those crimes of which they themselves are guilty? This is just one of the ironies with which this situation is replete. The tyrannical monster, Saddam Hussein, may ultimately escape justice because of the moral bankruptcy of those forces led by Bush and Blair.
Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a tyranny but it was functional. It was held together by a central authority. It now looks as if the outcome of the west’s intervention will be to leave behind a fragmented and shattered society dominated by a religious clique whose strings are pulled from Teheran. Meanwhile, the people suffer ever more intensely. One hundred thousand civilians have been killed, according to figures published by the Lancet, which the British and American Governments dishonestly tried to undermine. The provision of electricity and sewerage services are worse than it was under Saddam, and the people are subject to terror not just from the allies but from roving bands of militia and death squads. It is a comprehensive reign of terror.
I want to examine the question of the use of chemical weapons, which is a contentious issue. What is referred to here is a new generation of incendiary weapons code named MK77. These are the linear descendants of weapons widely used in Korea and later in Vietnam. Their use was denied last June in response to a question in the House of Commons by Mr. Adam Ingram, Defence Minister. However, later Mr. Ingram was forced to admit to Labour MP Harry Cohen that he had misled Parliament because he had been lied to by the US. He told Mr. Cohen:
In light of this and the American doctrine of plausible deniability, why should the Minister for Transport or the Minister for Foreign Affairs believe, for example, the denial concerning the Gulfstream V jet given by unnamed officials of unknown rank within the Bush Administration. I have since spoken to our Foreign Minister. It was not even at that level. It was junior officials in the American Embassy in Dublin.
The 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons appears to permit the use of this kind of material but only for illumination purposes and only against military targets. MK77 is a napalm canister munition. The containers lack stabilising fins and consequently acquire a tumbling motion on being dropped that contributes to the scattering of the combustible gel over a wide area. Its use is a violation of the Geneva Protocol Against the Use of White Phosphorus “since its use causes indiscriminate and extreme injuries especially when deployed in an urban area”. The effect of this material was certainly known to the United States army before its use. The Marine Corps Gazette, an official organ of the American army, contains the following description of so-called thermobaric or fuel air weapons:
This is the material that was used in Falluja. There is no doubt that it caused a holocaust. I would put those who deny it in the same category as those who denied the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.
It must be remembered that the United States and British Governments have steadfastly refused to keep or release statistics concerning the number of civilian casualties. Indeed, in December 2003, the Iraqi health Minister, under pressure from Washington and London, ordered a halt to the count of civilians killed during the war. Moreover, when United States soldiers stormed Falluja their first action was to seize the general hospital and arrest the doctors. The New York Times reported: “The hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was a source of rumours about heavy casualties”.
Were civilians killed in addition to military personnel? We know that before attacking the city the Marines stopped men of fighting age from leaving. They were categorised according to age, not according to military occupation. In addition, many women and children stayed. A correspondent with The Guardian, for example, estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians were left.
There is a further eye witness account by an embedded reporter, published in California’s North County Times, which confirms the matter. I note in that account the use of the phrase “insurgents”. Who are these insurgents? I will give an example of the way this phrase is used.
On 16 October 2005, a group of adults and children gathered around a burnt out American vehicle on the edge of the city of Ramadi. There was some horse-play from the children. The group was attacked by a US F15 fighter jet. Subsequently, the US military released a report saying it had killed 70 insurgents and knew of no civilian deaths. Among the “insurgents” killed were six year old Mohammad Salih Ali, who was buried in a plastic bag after relatives collected what they believed to be parts of his body, and four year old Saad Ahmed Fuad and his eight year old sister, Haifa, who had to buried without one of her legs as her family were unable to find it. It is very necessary although harrowing to put human faces on these victims, so easily dismissed as insurgents. It is also useful to remind ourselves that according to a 1978 United Nations General Assembly resolution, armed resistance in the case of occupation is legitimate. So insurgency is legitimate but what about the murder of children? Is that legitimate?
We have, in addition, accounts from an embedded reporter, Darrin Mortenson, describing the firing of “round after round of high explosives and white phosphorus charges into the city of Fallujah Friday and Saturday never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused”. Another reporter, Dahr Jamail, reports speaking to a doctor who had remained in the city of Falluja and encountered numerous reports of civilians suffering unusual burns. One surviving resident of Falluja described “weird bombs which put up smoke like a mushroom cloud” and described watching “pieces of these bombs explode into large fires that continue to burn on the skin even after people dump water on the burn”. A physician at a local hospital said that the corpses being brought in were “burnt and some corpses were melted”. Further eye witness accounts include that of Jeff Englehart, a former marine, who spent two days in Falluja during the battle. He has since said in an interview:
Moreover, even if one accepts an argument on technical and legal bases for the use of white phosphorous as an illumination, the United States army’s own regulations, as contained in the US Army and General College Staff Battle Book indicates that its use as described above is illegal. Burster-type white phosphorous rounds burn with intense heat and emit dense white smoke. They may be used as the initial rounds in a smoke screen to rapidly create smoke, or against material targets such as class five sites or logistics sites. It is against the law of the land, however, to employ white phosphorous against personnel targets. Many of us were already worried about the use of cluster bombs, which particularly target children, and depleted uranium with its consequent impact on civilian health.
With regard to torture, there has been a consistent attempt by the United States Government and its agents to legitimise the use of torture in a manner that has completely shocked most European nations. An enormous number of people have been arbitrarily detained. A Pentagon report released in the last week reveals that 13,814 persons are held in United States custody in Iraq out of a total of more than 80,000 detained in facilities there and in Afghanistan and Cuba since September 11 2001.
One of the major problems in Iraq is that the coalition forces have largely abdicated the responsibility for policing in favour of local sectarian militias. The result has been the emergence of death squads and the phenomenon of disappearances. There have been repeated unsuccessful attempts to persuade the allies to investigate the persistent stories of torture being carried out under the aegis of the Minister of the Interior.
Dr. Henry: It is an honour to second the motion. When I supported Senator Norris’s recent call on the Order of Business for a debate on the situation in Iraq, I reminded the House of the iconic photographs of children in Vietnam burnt with white phosphorous and trying to flee. It was impossible for them to escape it, however, because this substance sticks to the skin. The world was appalled by those photographs. To see the United States army using such a weapon again in areas where there are civilians is dreadful. It is important to say that none of us believe the entire United States population supports such action. During a recent visit to Washington, I found that most people, many of them Republicans, are shocked at what is happening.
The use of this agent is dreadful. Senator Norris has spoken in some detail about its effects and the illegality of its use. The inhalation of the smoke, from which people cannot escape, causes immediate scarring of the lungs and subsequent suffocation. The medical description tells us that the body is burned from the inside out. Persons who are struck by the smoke from white phosphorous are burned almost immediately and the effect is as bad as, if not worse than, that of napalm. The smoke affects not only the skin but also penetrates the subcutaneous tissues where it causes the person to be burned to the bone. Sometimes, extraordinarily, the clothes of the victim are left intact because they are not necessarily set on fire by the phosphorous.
The March 2005 edition of Field Artillery describes how white phosphorous was used in what were the unfortunately named “shake and bake” missions to flush out insurgents. No consideration was given, however, to the so-called collateral damage done to civilians. Senator Norris has vividly described what doctors in Falluja saw of those civilians burnt by white phosphorous. Another attractive ingredient is now being added to these canisters in the “shake and bake” bombings. The addition of polystyrene pellets ensures there is better adherence to the victim’s flesh. It is impossible to remove them and prevent further burn damage. This is a new innovation.
Reports from Iraq in the United States media give little idea of how life goes on there because many reporters are embedded with the military. I found it particularly sad in Washington to find no reports in the newspapers or on television about what is happening. There is nothing like the coverage we receive in this country. There were some reports on public service radio but that is listened to by less than 10% of the population. There is an extraordinary dearth of information in that country. If any of us ask our interns what they know about Iraq and what they have discovered since they came here, I am sure they will agree with what I have said.
Nor is the situation for the civilian population being explained, quite apart from what is happening with the military. Some of the best of the services in the Middle East were those in Iraq, particularly prior to the imposition of UN sanctions. Saddam Hussein was a dreadful man but his people enjoyed a health service better than that in Saudi Arabia, for all its petrol dollars. This is evident from an examination of Iraq’s maternal and infant mortality figures and the subsequent slide since the early 1990s. Its people must contend with a far worse situation since the occupation.
Under the Geneva Convention, occupying forces are supposed to protect the civilian population. The United States Attorney General, Mr. Alberto Gonzales, has described the provisions of the convention as “quaint”, an unfortunate description for the United States military who must go and fight there. If one does not intend to abide by the Geneva Convention, one cannot expect the opposition to give the benefits of that international protocol to one’s own army.
Going through Shannon Airport on several occasions recently, I looked with dismay at the unfortunate United States soldiers returning to Iraq. They all seemed to have been home for just 15 days. Some 40% of those National Guard members on duty in Iraq never expected to serve in foreign conflicts. A large number of them are college students who joined the military in order to get their fees paid and receive other supports in their study efforts. These are the people being put to war at the command of those very wicked people in Washington. As I observed them at Shannon, I realised that five of them would be killed each day. By the time I had returned from the United States, a considerable number of them would have been dead.
Senator Norris spoke about the shocking outing to Falluja. The civilians who tried to get out succeeded in doing so. Men of military age were stopped and sent back, as has happened in other towns. Those who are old, infirm, pregnant or ill, however, cannot flee and it was their bodies that were found. People with diabetes and other chronic illnesses cannot flee. Large numbers of the population cannot do so. We have seen no photographs of the tent cities now in place outside Falluja because the building is proceeding at an extraordinarily slow pace.
Dr. Henry: Spain, England, Germany and many others have asked what is going through on some of these American aeroplanes. Were the cargo so innocent that it could be easily examined, all the Americans would need to do would be to say: “Come friends, for friends we are, and look inside”.
I am deeply concerned by this issue. It is important that we address the matter of American troops in Shannon. When they reach the other end of their flights in Washington, they say they know they landed in Shannon on their way to Iraq and it was the only part of Ireland they saw. What if people in Guantanamo Bay and God knows where else they were tortured announced that they could see the green fields of Ireland through their windows?
—welcoming the political progress in Iraq as preparations continue for the holding of democratic elections under the new constitution on 15 December, and concerned by the serious security situation and continuing allegations of abuses of human rights;
—welcomes the outcome of the 15 October referendum, which approved the new Constitution for Iraq and looks forward to the democratic elections on 15 December for a sovereign Iraq Assembly and Government;
—welcomes the efforts of the Arab League in co-operation with the parties in Iraq to organise a national reconciliation summit with the objective of ending the tragic violence in the country and ensuring the full participation of all communities in Iraq’s transition to full democracy, in line with Security Council Resolution 1546 of 2004;
—notes the unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 1637 on 8 November 2005, which, responding to a request from the Government of Iraq, reaffirmed the authorisation for the multinational force and decided to extend its mandate until 31 December 2006;
—expresses the hope that sufficient progress will be made in the political transition of Iraq to enable the democratically elected sovereign Government to assume full responsibility for security and stability in its country at the earliest possible date, condemns the indiscriminate use of violence against civilians and government officials in Iraq, which has caused such terrible suffering in recent months and is aimed at creating further divisions between the communities in Iraq;
—notes that the arrangements for the overflight and landing in Ireland of US military and civilian aircraft have remained in place under successive Governments for almost 50 years, were approved by Dáil Éireann on 20 March 2003, and are wholly in accordance with Security Council resolutions on the situation in Iraq, including that of 8 November 2005;
—welcomes the Government’s policy of not permitting the use of any Irish airport to transit prisoners for rendition purposes, and the repeated assurances of the US Administration that Irish airports have not been used in this regard and would not be so used without the consent of the Government;
—notes the intention of the Government of Iraq to investigate conditions of detention following the recent deeply disturbing discovery of 170 detainees in an Interior Ministry building, and supports the call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that, in light of the apparently systemic nature and magnitude of the problems with the system of detention, the Iraqi authorities should consider calling for an international inquiry;
—expresses its strong support for the courageous and determined efforts of Iraqi and international journalists to continue to report developments in the country in the most difficult and dangerous of circumstances.
Mr. Lydon: The motion condemns the use of chemical agents, such as white phosphorus, MK77, by US forces and expresses revulsion at the discovery of 170 persons who were victims of torture in the basement of the Iraqi Interior Ministry building. I do not know whether there is a connection between the two.
We have seen fit to table a very long amendment to this motion. There is probably an esoteric political reason for this that escapes me as the motion is clear and apposite. It is not US-bashing, rather an important motion. It arose at yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. Members of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and the Independents were there and no one had any difficulty with it, nor do I. I am very fond of the United States of America as it is a wonderful country. I even like its President, Mr. George W. Bush, although some people do not. This does not mean that I cannot criticise that country at any stage. I do not agree with everything America or President Bush do.
If I have a good friend and he is guilty of a moral transgression, I surely have the right to remonstrate with him and still retain his friendship. Otherwise, he is not worth having as a friend in the first place. America’s case is the same. It is a wonderful country but, in recent times, human rights have been overridden. There is no other way of putting it. US forces have used chemical weapons against civilians, which is appalling. It is a serious issue and I congratulate Senator Norris, his colleagues and supporters for moving this motion. One can pass and agree a motion such as this but does not need to disagree with America as a country, people or anything else. When we see wrong, we must stand up and say so, which is what the Senators are doing tonight. I cannot speak for Senator Norris but I believe this is what he is saying. When he speaks he is generally sincere and I believe this is a sincere attempt to criticise something being done by what in many ways is a great country as there are, or were, great freedoms there. It saddens me that we must make this criticism.
Senator Henry mentioned Guantanamo Bay. The United Nations inspectorate will not be allowed to interview prisoners there on a one-to-one basis. We have spoken about the bay before. It is an appalling place. Can we imagine being taken from the wilds of Afghanistan, put in orange suits in our bare feet with something in our ears, mouths and eyes, placed on our hunkers and kept there? In my book, this is torture. I cannot think of any other word for it.
I can appreciate the American point of view. Never before in the history of America did people fly planes into buildings and kill 3,000 people in one go. The US will not relent in its pursuit of terrorism, which I applaud. I also applaud the toppling of Saddam Hussein. It could have been possible to do so in a different way but the war was started and is continuing. It horrifies me that soldiers will be blamed for incidents such as this but they generally only do what they are ordered or permitted to do.
Mr. Lydon: If a blind eye is turned, it is a general who does so. Generals really only do what they are permitted by politicians. Blame should sit where it must, namely, with the people who give the instructions. America’s Commander-in-Chief and Secretary of State for Defence are very strong and powerful roles. If one were to examine any army throughout history one would find very few mutinies. Soldiers generally obey orders and do not act on their own. However, I am not so naive as to believe that, in a war situation, soldiers do not sometimes carry out actions they should not.
Young men from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Texas, Idaho and so on are frightened in Iraq. It is a shocking and incredible statistic that one US soldier loses a limb every four hours. A total of 100,000 Iraqis are dead and the country is in chaos despite elections and what they are trying to do. I do not wish to take away from this in any sense as the West must try to help Iraq establish a democracy according to its principles and ways, not ours. It must be given the freedom to do so. It has been rid of a tyrant but he should not be replaced by another tyrannical regime.
The problem for the US in Iraq is that the situation is almost another Vietnam. I visited Vietnam a number of years ago and spoke with many Vietnamese who do not call it the Vietnamese War but the American War. Approximately 3 million Vietnamese and 66,000 Americans were killed. The figures were so great it does not matter. One incident saw Hue, a beautiful city that is now a UNESCO site, being taken on General William Westmoreland’s order. Inside a week, 10,000 civilians were killed for nothing as today, the city is doing business with America, the state is communist but one can still practice religion and so on.
The same is happening in Iraq. It is difficult not to have atrocities in a conventional war but we must never be afraid to speak out against them when we see them. I applaud Senator Norris and the Members who support him for doing so. I am afraid that the American forces will have trouble in this struggle, which is turning into a guerrilla war. The only way to win this type of war is with a massive sweep of men and resources, which the US does not have at present. The danger could spread into other countries, such as Iran and neighbouring states.
We can support a motion such as this. I welcome that the amendment states it condemns the use of violence against civilians and chemical weapons in Iraq, although it does not say who uses them. We are using the phrase “Irish airport to transit prisoners for rendition purposes”. “Rendition” is a great word but what does it mean? Does it mean torture? It should not be in the amendment. However, I support the amendment because I am supposed to but it goes against the grain. The motion is good and does not bash America but merely states a fact. In our country and our democracy we should be entitled to condemn this outrageous use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians.
Mr. Bradford: I am disappointed that the Government has seen fit to table an amendment to the motion in the name of Senator Norris and his colleagues as the wording of the motion is very balanced. More importantly, its unanimous approval by the House would give us a moral standpoint as to our position on the conduct of the Iraqi war.
There were quite a number of debates in the House during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and since then on the subject of the politics of the war, the politics of the invasion, its purpose and what would flow from it. Many of us differed in that broad debate but the House should now be in a position to fully unite behind this motion and its absolute and proper condemnation of the use of chemical weapons and our revulsion at the practice of torture in Iraq.
I was interested to hear Senator Norris quote former President Jimmy Carter to whom I have often referred. It is commonly agreed that he is without doubt the outstanding ex-President of the United States. Since he ceased being President in 1980 he has done outstanding humanitarian work. I read his recent comments not just on the current situation in Iraq but on the broader state of current American political and military thinking. He paints a very depressing and worrying picture as to where America stands on a broad range of issues.
When people speak of President Bush, they often refer to his apparent strong moral convictions which I do not deny he holds. However, former President Carter also held and holds very strong moral convictions. His autobiography called Keeping Faith is more a diary of his four years in office. It shows the lengths to which he would always go to ensure that a political decision was underpinned by clear, moral thinking. Coming from that background of strong personal morality, he has serious concerns about what America is doing not just in Iraq but in other parts of the world. We should give serious consideration to his views.
The use of chemical weapons is indefensible. It is the ultimate irony that one of the supposed purposes of the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein was to ensure that chemical weapons would not be used against Americans and other people. However, chemical weapons or chemical agents, or whatever the correct scientific title is, are now being used.
The use of white phosphorus is a chilling and horrific way of conducting warfare. Senators Norris and Henry have outlined in graphic detail the physical impact of that weapon or chemical agent. The House cannot but support what the Senators have said. Both this House and the Government must be very strong in condemning its use and make strong representations directly to the United States authorities to express our opposition to this activity. The issue should also be raised at European and United Nations levels.
We must be equally strong on the issue of torture. Even the strongest opponents of the war in Iraq would have conceded the widespread use of torture under the regime of Saddam Hussein but it is immoral to replace one regime of terror with another. The full facts of the case referred to in the motion are not clear nor are the facts relating to the use of torture on Iraqi prisoners but the discovery of 170 persons in a basement requires immediate investigation and we need to know the facts.
The strength of the United States down the years has been that it showed a high moral purpose. Its finest hours were in coming to the aid of Europe during the First and Second World Wars and coming to the aid of Europe in assisting the ending of the Cold War and the unifying of the continent. All its finest moments came when it acted with clear moral authority. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about its activities in Iraq. The United States is devaluing itself in the manner in which it has conducted its activities in Iraq.
The House debated and divided on the issue of the invasion of Iraq but to make matters worse, what has happened since the invasion presents a very negative view of the United States. As a result, we are all reduced and the United States itself is reduced. We must be very clear in making our feelings known. As Senator Lydon stated and as Senator Norris said on many occasions, highlighting these issues is not damaging in any way to the relationship that exists between the United States and the Irish Republic. We are duty bound as a people very closely connected to the United States to highlight where it is going wrong and it appears to be going spectacularly wrong in Iraq.
I support what has been said about the reporting of the war. Senator Henry referred to the lack of coverage of the Iraq war in the United States. It is a given that television and radio in the United States is so commercialised and so geared towards a commercial pop agenda that current affairs are never a number one on the best sellers charts. It is disappointing and it should be noted that there appears to be a deliberate effort to ensure that the war in Iraq and its profound failures to date are not receiving in the United States the media attention or debate they deserve.
I note the Government amendment, parts of which I agree with. We welcome the referendum and the Security Council resolution and we hope they will in some small way lead to progress. However, the issue is for this House of the Oireachtas to be clear and unanimous in its condemnation of the use of chemical agents and weaponry. We must clearly demonstrate our most strident opposition to the use of torture, whether in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere. We must state loud and clear that these activities have no place in a civilised world and should not be practised in any form by a country such as the United States which for generations was the leading voice of human rights but now, sadly, is reducing and devaluing itself by the carrying out of these activities and these atrocities.
Mr. Minihan: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. In preparing for this debate, I undertook an exercise which has served me well on previous occasions. I rigorously examined all my previous contributions in the House on the topic of Iraq and in light of current events. That re-examination led me to an uncomfortable weekend as long-cherished assumptions about the war in Iraq were placed under the spotlight and if not found wanting were at least found to be overoptimistic, which is an understandable human failing.
Just 12 days ago, many in this country remembered the armistice of 87 years ago which ended the Great War, a war that participants believed would be over by Christmas, and would end all wars. Alas, seldom can one predict the course that conflicts will take. Helmut von Moltke once said that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it is obvious now that the rapid defeat of Saddam Hussein’s regime was not the Godsend that many people hoped it would be, myself included, but was a precursor to a bitter struggle for democracy.
I repeat these words not in a sense of vindication but rather with a sense of sadness that these things have come to pass and that ordinary Iraqi citizens have suffered and continue to suffer today. I also repeat these words and speak of the suffering of the Iraqi people because the motion put forward by Senators Norris, Henry and O’Toole, while well meaning, suggests little to ease those sufferings. Condemnations of the use of phosphorus and torture apart, it should be calling on the Government to do all that it can in support of United Nations Resolution 1637 and to remind Britain and the United States of their international obligations to help rebuild Iraq’s shattered society.
Since joining the United Nations in December 1955, this country has endeavoured to uphold the ethos and support the work of that organisation. I cannot imagine this House, this Government or the Irish people turning their backs on the UN when it calls on, “the international community... to support the Iraqi people in their pursuit of peace, stability, security, democracy, and prosperity”.
While we are a small country, we have a distinct voice in the world and have taken a position of leadership in areas like human rights, conflict resolution and peacekeeping. To close Shannon Airport, or indeed Irish airspace, to United States military flights would do little to help the human rights of ordinary Iraqi citizens. It would do little to resolve conflict and bring peace to that far-off land. In effect, it would be an abdication of the role we have played for the past 50 years, a role that has seen us give assistance to whomever has desired it, regardless of colour or creed.
Mr. Minihan: Turning to the specifics of the motion, I would like to speak for a moment on the allegation that Shannon is being used as a part of a clandestine Central Intelligence Agency operation to transfer so-called “unlawful combatants” to countries where the torture of prisoners is routinely practised. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and his officials have repeatedly raised the matter with the US authorities and have been given categorical assurances on this matter. Despite these assurances I still have concerns and would urge anybody with credible information that such activities are taking place to contact the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, who has stated that a full investigation would take place in the event of such evidence arising.
Mr. Minihan: While unlawful combatants are not entitled to any protection under the third Geneva Convention they must be granted their rights under the fourth Geneva Convention; they must be “treated with humanity and, in case of trial, ... not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial.” I urge the Government to prevail on the US Administration to end the practice of extraordinary rendition immediately.
I had also intended to urge the Government to raise this matter at the highest levels within the EU; however events in the last 24 hours have somewhat overtaken me. I welcome reports that the Foreign Office in the UK, as holders of the EU Presidency, will be contacting the US Administration on behalf of the EU seeking information on the existence of clandestine CIA prison camps in eastern Europe.
Mr. Minihan: ——himself a victim of torture, and his fellow legislators, who are currently engaged in a bitter struggle with the White House to prohibit cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of persons in the detention of the US Government. I wish to quote from Senator McCain, who is far more eloquent on the subject of terrorism and torture than I could ever be:
Turning again to Iraq itself and the use of phosphorus and the discovery of tortured detainees in an Iraqi Interior ministry building, the use of extemporised phosphorus munitions against insurgent units in civilian areas of Falluja must be condemned out of hand, as should the detention in the Iraqi Interior ministry building some 170 Sunni detainees. However, we must retain our focus. There is a growing campaign in Britain and the United States to bring home the troops. Despite daily bombings aimed at inciting civil war, discouraging Iraqis from joining the security forces and stifling the political process, the insurgents have not won. To prematurely bring home troops would be to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
UN resolution 1637 recognises that the occurrences in Iraq continue to constitute a threat to international peace and security. Until that country is at peace with itself, it is beholden on this House, this country and its citizens to do all that we can to support the democratically elected government of Iraq and ensure that each and every Iraqi citizen enjoy enjoys a prosperous and free future. I support the Government amendment.
Mr. Ryan: I would like people to attempt a degree of consistency. I have often stood here before or after Senator Minihan, and we have both, in unequivocal terms believed in the value of condemnation. This is the belief that it is important that small countries take a position based on morality. As I understand Senator Lydon’s honourable position on the issue over a period of time I will restrain myself in that respect. This is a serious issue, and I wish the Minister of State had even an inkling in realising that we are talking about the murder of innocent children by somebody that this Government calls a friend. I would appreciate if he removed the grin from his face and showed some indication that he is taking the matter seriously.
Effectively, control of Iraq has been handed over to a Shi’ite militia in Shi’ite areas, to a nominal Iraqi army under the control of many of the militias fighting the insurgency and to a Kurdish army in the areas of Iraq which have a Kurdish majority. It is impossible to see the purpose served by the forces of occupation other than hiding the political embarrassment of the President of the United States. Iraq is not under the control of its own government, it is not under the control of the occupying forces and it is instead under the control of three different ethnic or sectarian groups — the Shi’ites, the Sunnis and the Kurds.
The role of the United States is to hold on to some semblance of public credibility in a position where it has no real influence. Of course there were elections and a referendum, and there will be more elections. The three sectarian groups, for reasons of their own, want them. The Shia militias and the Kurds will ensure that people can vote during a referendum while, yet again, the Sunni provinces will have a low — close to zero — turnout. This has happened repeatedly. It gives the semblance of democracy because it suits to do so. However, when I hear competent journalists say that women are being shot in Shia areas because they are not wearing appropriate dress and that there is no Western journalist able to go anywhere outside a couple of areas surrounded by American troops — when I know all that — I know we are living in an world of illusion.
I wish to refer to extraordinary rendition. Whatever I might think of the present US regime, the US is and ought to be a symbol of the best of what the world should hope for in terms of freedom and democracy. The problem with war, terrorism and the wrong response to the terrorism is that they insulate or anaesthetise us against any sense of morality. That is what this motion is concerned with and why the amendment is so unsuitable. George W. Bush could vote for the amendment without any problem. Tony Blair would vote for it enthusiastically — he might even toughen it up a bit, because he thinks everybody else is bound by a morality that he does not have to address. Tony Blair will not even say how many civilians his Government believes have been killed in Iraq since the invasion. Apparently, they do not count.
Every one of the innocent civilians killed by terrorists counts. If one wants to take the position that we are concerned about attacks on innocent civilians, then all innocent civilians count: the innocent civilians shaked and baked by high explosive and phosphorous; those left in the wake of murderous attacks such as that on Falluja; those bombed at a marketplace in Baghdad during the war, when we never heard the outcome other than through an attempt to defame one of the best and bravest journalists writing in the Western media, Robert Fisk; those killed when a wedding party was attacked; or those killed last week when understandably terrified young American soldiers opened fire on a car.
All of those innocent civilians are equally as innocent as the unfortunate people bombed on the London Underground. That is why this issue is so serious. It is not about George Bush’s politics. It is about whether this country, having lived through and learned of the contaminating, corrupting nature of the belief that civilians are legitimate targets, is now walking away from a position just because our friends in Washington would be upset. That is the real debate around this issue: the fact that we do not want to upset those friends in Washington. How far do they have to go before the Irish Government will say that something is unequivocally wrong?
Some 20 years ago, when Ronald Reagan was exercising himself in Central America, Irish Governments were prepared to say that what was being done was wrong and immoral, and they took the side of the people who demanded that human rights be respected and upheld throughout Central America. Something has happened since and we have walked away from that position. There is no doubt that a Gulfstream jet which was used to transport people to be tortured, if not killed, was facilitated at Shannon Airport. The evidence for this is overwhelming and is believed by competent people in the US, Sweden and elsewhere. We know of this, yet some member of the Government said it had received repeated, high level assurances. When the New Yorker magazine was endeavouring to write a piece about extraordinary rendition, nobody in the US Administration was prepared to talk to that major US magazine. However, apparently, they are all prepared to talk to the Irish Government.
Mr. Ryan: Of course not. We are prepared to nod and wink to each other, and say: “We won’t ask and you won’t say. We won’t let on and you won’t pretend, and, hopefully, you won’t embarrass us.” It is getting to a stage where some civilised country in the Western world must stand back and say that the whole Iraq project has failed.
There is no stable Government and no security in Iraq. Some 85% of the people of Iraq now regard the US and British armies as forces of occupation. Barely 10% see them as liberating forces. That is statement enough. Given the increasing desperation, the increasing attrition against civilians and the lie we always suspected we were told about Falluja, the moral position of this country on international affairs demands something more than an anodyne amendment to a reasonably moderate motion — an amendment that could have been written in the White House or at 10 Downing Street.
It is shameful that we could not at least get a Government amendment that addressed the specifics. Who is in favour of using chemical weapons? Nobody, but the problem is that one country has used them. Who is in favour of massacring civilians? Nobody, but the problem is that two countries have presided over a regime under which civilians have become easy targets. Members should examine the entire amendment. Nobody is in favour of any of the practices the Government amendment condemns. What we are concerned about is one country acting in a way that is profoundly and morally wrong and that will cause decay.
Let us remember that the relationship between Turkey and its neighbours is still, 100 years later, tainted by the massacre of Armenians. Let us remember that our relationship with the neighbouring island is still influenced by what happened here over 85 years ago. These events do not go away. Not only, therefore, are we not achieving any political or military purpose, or progressing any strategic interest of this country, we are conspiring to sow the seeds of hatred and division that will last for another 100 years.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Treacy): I welcome this opportunity to address the House on behalf of the Government on the situation in Iraq. I always enjoy coming to the House, for which I have the utmost regard. I take its Members, its motions and its business very seriously.
I know that there is a real sense of concern in the House at recent developments. Attention has naturally focused on the series of disturbing allegations of human rights abuses and on the terrible daily toll of human suffering wrought by shooting and bomb attacks against ordinary civilians. This Private Members’ motion raises important issues. The amendment submitted by the Government addresses these issues and places them in context.
Mr. Treacy: There can be no sense of complacency about the situation in Iraq. It is a country blessed with the richest of natural resources and has a vital role to play in ensuring stability in the Middle East. Most importantly, however, it is a country whose people deserve a better future following years of brutal and corrupt dictatorship, three major wars and international economic isolation. Iraq remains a key foreign policy issue for Ireland and for our partners in the European Union. Our priority must be to support the Iraqi people as they attempt to build a society based on democracy and respect for human rights against a background of widespread and often indiscriminate violence.
In addressing our shared concerns, which mostly relate to the security situation, it is important that we recognise the substantial progress made by the Iraqis themselves in the political reconstruction of their country. The Seanad last debated Iraq in May last, almost one year after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1,546, which set out a path for political reconstruction. Immediately following the adoption of this resolution, the Iraqi Interim Government took over from the Coalition Provisional Authority. Elections for a national assembly were held in January last, and an elected Iraqi Government, with representatives from all communities, was appointed in May last. In recent months, the parties in the assembly have drawn up a new constitution for Iraq, which was approved by the people in a democratic referendum on 15 October. New democratic elections for a fully sovereign Parliament and Government will be held under the constitution on 15 December next.
It is incumbent on all of us, as democrats, to recognise that these are impressive political achievements. Even before the December elections, for the first time in its difficult history, Iraq has a democratically-elected Government which represents the majority of its people.
We do not underestimate the challenges ahead and we are all keenly aware of the principal outstanding political issue. It is essential that the Iraqi Government and the international community work together to involve the minority Sunni community in the political process. That community for years provided the ruling elite in Iraq. It had very real difficulties with the current constitutional arrangements. Nobody would now wish to see the former marginalisation and disaffection of the majority Shia and Kurdish communities replicated as regards the Sunni community, which makes up about 20% of the country’s population.
The constitutional referendum in October last highlighted the clear divisions in Iraqi society. Although members of the Sunni community voted strongly against, it is important that they cast their votes. They did participate. We welcome the stated intention of the Sunni parties to participate in the December elections next month. All the parties have agreed that there will be a short period of review of the new constitution following the elections to try to accommodate Sunni concerns once again.
Following courageous efforts by the Arab League, led by Secretary General Amr Moussa, it also looks likely that a national reconciliation dialogue meeting will be organised in Iraq early in 2006. A preparatory conference involving representatives of all communities has been held in Cairo in recent days. It produced some notable gestures of reconciliation. In particular, President Talibani stated clearly that he was prepared to talk to representatives of the insurgent groups. It is too early to predict success, but again I believe it is important that we recognise and encourage the courageous efforts of Iraq’s political leaders to maintain the unity of their society and of their country.
The motion tabled by the Independent Senators rightly raises a number of extremely serious issues as regards the conduct of the Iraqi security forces and of the multinational force in Iraq. It would be inappropriate for us to debate these issues without also recognising the very real dangers facing ordinary Iraqi people, and the horrendous daily toll of civilian casualties inflicted with deliberate, brutal cynicism by groups seeking to foment division and chaos.
In this month alone, by the most conservative estimates, over 200 Iraqi citizens have been murdered in indiscriminate bomb attacks on markets, mosques, funerals and other public gatherings. The intention of the attackers is to cause the maximum number of deaths and injuries to innocent civilians. Given our experience of sectarian violence, I think it is only right that the motion which the Seanad passes should clearly recognise and condemn that wanton violence.
However, terrorism does not provide any excuse for those in authority to inflict further suffering through the abuse of human rights. There can, for instance, be no excuse for the conditions in which some 170 detainees are reported to have been found by US troops in an Iraqi Interior Ministry building. There appears to be clear evidence that at least some of the detainees had been very severely beaten and maltreated. There are also wider concerns about due process for persons detained in Iraq, admittedly against a background where the courts and legal practitioners are themselves targets for attack. I want to be clear in stating that our Government strongly condemns human rights abuses of this kind in Iraq and everywhere they happen in the world. We have done so consistently in every forum available to us.
There have been reports that the situation arises in part because of the incorporation into the security forces of units of Shia militia which are not under the effective control of the central government. It is essential for the future of Iraq that the new democratic Government and its forces demonstrate clearly that they have made a break with the past and will not allow the continuation of the human rights abuses inflicted on their people by previous Iraqi regimes.
The Government of Iraq has announced a full Investigation into the case of these detainees and we must await a more clear report of what actually occurred. However, our Government supports the call by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights for consideration by the Iraqi authorities of the possibility of an international inquiry into the wider problems of detention and the treatment of prisoners in Iraq. Considerable concern has been expressed in recent days about the reported use of white phosphorus munitions by US forces in Iraq, especially in the attack on Falluja last November.
There have been numerous media reports, not all of which may have been fully accurate. The US authorities have admitted that in their initial reaction to the reports, inaccurate information was given to journalists.
Mr. Treacy: This Government strongly opposes the use of chemical weapons in any country, including Iraq. My party and one of its great founders, Deputy Frank Aiken, led that move internationally in the United Nations. We got the agreement, we stand by and have led the work on this issue and are proud of that contribution. We also strongly oppose the use of any conventional weapons in a manner which is contrary to international law. When he became aware of the recent media reports, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, another Louthman, had immediate inquiries made with the US Embassy to ascertain the actual position. The US Embassy confirmed that US forces had used white phosphorus munitions in Iraq, both to create smokescreens and as incendiary weapons, against defended positions.
Mr. Treacy: The US characterises white phosphorus as a conventional munition and a standard part of its arsenal. It does not regard it as a chemical weapon as defined in the chemical weapons convention. Subsequent international comment and analysis has tended to support this view. A spokesman for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which polices the chemical weapons convention, has been quoted in media reports as suggesting that the weapons concerned were not prohibited by the convention.
Mr. Treacy: Our Government has also sought clarification of the organisation’s official view. The response has been that white phosphorus is regarded as an incendiary weapon. Since incendiary weapons achieve their intended effect through the release of thermal energy or heat, they do not fall within the purview of the chemical weapons convention.
Mr. Norris: I want to make a point of order or a point of information. The Minister of State has unintentionally misled the House. I know this report from the chemicals weapons convention. It is not forbidden when it is being used for illumination purposes only. However, when it is used against personnel it is most clearly illegal under international law, and the domestic law of the United States of America.
While this clarifies the international legal position on the status of white phosphorus, it does not, of course, alleviate concerns about the use of conventional munitions, including white phosphorus, in areas where civilians are present. This Government has clearly and consistently expressed the view before, during and after the events in Falluja, that every possible effort must be made to keep to a minimum the use of force in built-up areas and to avoid civilian casualties. That has been made clear by us on several occasions. The Government of Iraq has now announced that it is sending a team to Falluja to investigate the circumstances in which incendiaries were used in that battle. We look forward to the outcome of that investigation.
Other than during large-scale fighting, I am not aware of reports that the Red Cross, Red Crescent, or international media, have been prevented by multinational forces, from entering areas of Iraq. Unfortunately, it seems rather to be the case that potential attacks and kidnappings by insurgents have largely confined them to areas where they can be protected. We in Ireland are very aware of the dangers facing journalists following the kidnapping last month of Mr. Rory Carroll. A free media is an essential element to a democratic society, and it is important that we express our strong support for the courageous and determined efforts of both Iraqi and international journalists——
Mr. Treacy: I believe Senator Ryan has a problem. He is not clear whether he is still lecturing in Cork, is with the Independent group or in his new socialist environment. That creates confusion for people like him, so perhaps he could restrain himself.
Mr. Treacy: The Government and the wider international community, believe that there should be no delay in creating the circumstances under which the Iraqi authorities can take full responsibility for security in their country. The current situation is that the presence of the multinational force in Iraq has been authorised by the UN Security Council through Resolution 1,511 of October 2003, and Resolution 1,546 of June 2004. The mandate was further extended by the unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 1,637, on 8 November last. The multinational force is legally present in Iraq, under UN mandate, and at the request of the Iraqi Government. Whether we like it or not, it is clear that the Iraqi authorities do not yet feel they are ready to ask for the immediate withdrawal of international troops. A week ago, President Talibani stated that all Iraqis looked forward to the departure of foreign troops and that he hoped for the start of a phased withdrawal before the end of 2006. That is positive and we hope that everything goes well. He also stated that withdrawing now would be a catastrophe and would lead to civil war in Iraq.
This is the context for the continuing presence of US forces in Iraq. In March 2003, the Dáil approved the Government’s decision to continue the long-standing practice of allowing the use of Shannon by US aircraft. The use of Shannon continues to be in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions, which include the request that members of the United Nations contribute assistance to the multinational force, including military forces.
Separately, and not directly related to the situation in Iraq, the Government has made it clear that it does not and would not permit the use of any Irish airport for the transport of prisoners without due process of law — a practice which has become known as “extraordinary rendition”. Concerns raised about this issue, including by Members of the Oireachtas, have been raised regularly with the US authorities. They have given express assurances to the Government that Irish airports have not been and are not being used for this purpose.
Mr. Treacy: I understand that a Swiss senator, who is a member of the legal affairs committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, has prepared a preliminary report on issues related to the alleged holding of prisoners in secret sites in eastern Europe. He has mentioned Shannon as one of a number of airports which might have been used by CIA aircraft in some capacity. The references to Shannon, however, do not appear to be any more precise or substantive than similar references on previous occasions. Nevertheless, the Government would be happy to offer all possible assistance to any further investigation by the Council of Europe. I spoke there myself last week. I reiterate the Government’s complete opposition to any actions which are contrary to international law, but we have received the clearest assurances from the US authorities in this regard.
I am grateful for this opportunity to outline the Government’s approach on these extremely important issues regarding Iraq, and to place them in their political context. I commend the Government’s amendment to the Seanad.
Mr. Quinn: When I was approached to put my name to this motion, I was very careful before accepting the opportunity to do so. I read it on a number of occasions and found that it was very balanced. The words used were moderate. For that reason, I am surprised that it needed an amendment. The words could have been accepted by the Government and I must express my disappointment that it did not do so. I also wish to express my admiration for the manner and the tone of the words used by Senator Lydon.
Mr. Quinn: He did so in a balanced way. He was obliged to support the amendment, but I got the impression that he did not do it with enthusiasm. It is fair to say that the motion could have been accepted without an amendment.
I would like to make it clear that I take part in this debate as an unashamed friend of the United States. When it comes to friendship, this country should have no hesitation in counting itself on the side of America. The strength of our long-established links — both on an economic and on a personal basis — demand no less. So it is as a friend of America that I support this motion before the House. I do so in the belief that one of the purposes of being friends is that it gives people the freedom to speak frankly to each other. Being a friend does not mean that one must always agree on everything. Being a friend does not mean saying that the friend is always right. In an ideal world, people should be ready to receive criticism from a friend and accept that it is well meant and is grounded in affection.
One of the things I like about this motion is that it is focused on the present. It does not seek to rehash the arguments about whether the US should be in Iraq in the first place, or whether the American Government wilfully twisted and misinterpreted the intelligence it used to base its case for an invasion. These are very hot areas of controversy within the US itself at the moment and it is right that they should be so. It is important that they examine that situation but equally, as outsiders, there are other areas that it makes more sense for us to focus on.
Whether one is justified or not in getting into a war in the first place is one thing; how that war is conducted is a totally different thing. I would like to say, as a friend, that when America goes to war it must do so from the moral high ground. If it does not do that, it loses any authority it may claim as a defender of freedom and as a champion of democracy. If it does not do that, it cannot hope to maintain the support and respect of its friends. As we know only too well in this country, one has to defend freedom and democracy with one hand tied behind one’s back. In other words, in fighting one must respect the very principles that one is defending. If that is not done, one’s defence becomes a meaningless sham and the fight degenerates into a power struggle in which might becomes right.
This is why I believe that any freedom-loving democracy — whether it is the Irish State, the British state, or the American state — simply cannot afford to fight except by the rules that give its existence its moral authority. A freedom-loving democracy cannot afford to indulge in dirty tricks, regardless of what its opponents may do. We experienced this in Ireland in the past. If it is tempted to do so, it should hope that its friends will be quick to point out where it has lost its way.
There are some who laugh at the idea of rules of war, because they see war as a total conflict where anything goes. Others argue that it is ridiculous to bind oneself to rules that are not respected by those against whom one fights, but that is precisely the burden that must be carried by those who would defend what they see as a civilised way of life. If one believes in principles, one must live by one’s principles even as one defends them against somebody who does not share one’s beliefs. This is why it is with a very heavy heart that I watch how the US is carrying on its struggle in Iraq. One does not have to be against the invasion in the first place, nor harbour any feelings that in some respects the Iraqis were better off before the invasion, nor does one have to be an opponent of the United States, to see clearly that the dirty tricks they are using cannot be justified under any circumstances.
This applies to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq itself and in the offshore prison the Americans keep in Cuba, to say nothing of the proxy prisons it apparently operates clandestinely within the borders of the EU. It applies to the use of chemical agents such as white phosphorus referred to in the motion before us. It applies to the condoning of inhuman acts by those Iraqis who now control the Government there. It applies to all these things that we already know about, as well as to the perhaps even worse things that we have not yet found out about. In this situation, it is the duty of a friend to point out that the boundaries of acceptable behaviour have been breached. I believe a friend should persist with that message, even if we get nothing but abuse for doing so.
There is another practical dimension to this issue that is referred to in this motion, namely, the use of Shannon Airport. I do not object in principle to allowing the Americans to exercise the traditional rights we have granted them for more than half a century, especially since they now operate in Iraq under the aegis of a UN resolution we are legally bound to support. However, that does not mean we should close our eyes to the possibility that our hospitality has been and is being abused. This House has tried to find the truth about that. The Leader of the House put down a motion on the Adjournment to determine whether that hospitality was being abused, but she was unable to get the answer to it. In normal times, a friend takes the word of another friend without question. However, when that friend has been discovered in repeated acts of deceit and has then tried to lie and bluster its way out of things, then simple prudence surely demands that we at least take the trouble to count our spoons after the guest leaves. Friendship is based on the assumption of good faith between those friends. When we have good reason to doubt that good faith, as I fear is all too clearly the case here, common sense suggests the need to pull back somewhat from a position of total, unquestioning trust. Certainly it is no part of the role of a friend to cover up a friend’s wrongdoings. Unfortunately however, that is exactly the impression that our Government has sometimes risked giving in this matter. This is particularly true in respect of the amendment tabled by the Government parties. I hope that even at this late hour, the Government Members will reconsider whether it is required.
Our Government must consider carefully what it says and does on this question, both in private and public. If the United States loses the moral high ground in Iraq, it has lost everything. My fear is that out of lack of courage and a misguided sense of what friendship means, our own Government and people would allow themselves be dragged into that same morass. I believe there is a strong case to be made and we should examine its wording carefully. I urge the Minister of State to rethink the requirement for an amendment. I believe the motion tabled by the Independent Senators is worthy of support.
Mr. Kitt: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate. Like other Members, when this matter was discussed briefly on the Order of Business last week, I condemned the use of chemical weapons in Iraq and I am glad the Government amendment refers to that issue.
It is ironic that the issue which Members originally debated, namely, the reason for the invasion of Iraq, pertained to weapons of mass destruction. Senator Norris referred to the invasion ending in tears and I agree that this is what happened. However, the irony of the American forces using such weapons as they looked for chemical weapons of destruction which never existed is not lost on Members. I am proud that the Seanad has discussed this matter a number of times and the Minister of State noted that this House has had this debate. The issue has also been debated in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs.
I am concerned by what has happened in Iraq and wish to discuss a few issues. While this may have been mentioned earlier, Deputy Quinn has circulated a letter which highlights the grave plight of Iraqi Christians in two respects. First, people who are obliged to try to leave the country must literally bribe their way out and, second, those who remain must pay protection money. While this has not been reported extensively in the media, I am glad it has received some attention from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Similarly, the so-called oil for food programme was lauded as one which helped Iraqi people to survive and we only found out subsequently that there was a major scandal associated with it. However, when I visited Iraq almost three years ago, people were proud of it. I met families who spoke about the security they enjoyed under the programme and who were concerned as to what would happen should it break down. We have seen what happened. It has been noted that as far as that programme is concerned, matters are now worse than they were under President Saddam Hussein. The same is true of Iraqi Christians, who are worse off now than they were under that dictator. This is a sad matter to contemplate.
I cannot see much hope at present. I am aware that education has received a high priority and I welcome that investment. However, I am still concerned about what I have heard concerning health services and even basic provisions such as water and sewerage facilities, which have not received the expected investment. I agree with the Minister of State’s comments in respect of supporting the Government of Iraq, which has been democratically elected. Although others might disagree, I believe that one must accept the elected government of any country. I also agree with the Minister’s points concerning a phased withdrawal before the end of 2006.
Members should discuss the question of human rights for Iraq’s citizens. As the Minister of State noted, I am amazed that there are so many instances of suicide bombing. They take place at funerals — which is appalling — in markets and where people are being recruited into the police force or local government services. I want to know more as to why no security exists there. Regardless of whether the suicide bombings take place in the Middle East, Iraq or any part of that region, all Members abhor and condemn them.
I also support the comments made concerning the Arab League, as some hope for the future exists in that respect. It is always positive when countries near Iraq are willing to help out. The same could be said of the peace process in Ireland where, in the main, we deal with our neighbours. When the invasion of Iraq was mooted, I believed the Arab League and Iraq’s neighbours would work on the problem more quickly. Much pressure could originate from such sources. Unfortunately, however, the invasion took place, supported by the American and British Governments in particular, as well as by other countries. All Members now know that it was illegal and immoral, as the United Nations resolutions were completely irrelevant when it came to making the decision to invade. Nevertheless, the Arab League has a role to play, which I hope it will do more fruitfully in the future.
The Minister of State also referred to the situation regarding journalists and to the experiences of Rory Carroll. It is extremely difficult for the media and anyone else who tries to report on events in Iraq. I was taken by the killing of one of the Iraqi people’s greatest friends, Margaret Hassan. Such killings have demonstrated that human rights do not exist there and that law and order has broken down completely.
Many issues pertaining to Iraq must be discussed further. While we can discuss motions and amendments in this House, ultimately we wish to see a resolution. We also wish to see elections take place, as well as a phased withdrawal of the troops from Iraq. It is a country which is blessed with natural resources and which has a great future. It should be given a chance to hold those elections and to be free from other countries’ interference in its affairs. I again thank the Minister of State for his contribution and hope that Iraq has a brighter future.
Mr. O’Toole: I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate my colleague, Senator Norris, for tabling this motion. I apologise for my absence from the House for almost all of this crucial debate. However, some issues should be put on the record and examined. I regret that the amendment was tabled, as it does not deal with the issues. The Government and the Minister of State’s party has always taken a brave line on issues such as Palestine and other unpopular issues. This is a time when we should stand out and there was an opportunity to take a stronger position on this issue.
When the Minister of State and I were of school-going age, every second topic debated in the school debating society, whether as Gaeilge nó i mBéarla or whatever, pertained to the contribution which small nations could make to world peace. This was important in the development of all the organisations such as the League of Nations, the United Nations, the Council of Europe, etc. Members have missed a great opportunity to put our position more firmly on the record. We can do that without losing friends. Criticism of George W. Bush’s appalling policies is not criticism of the American people, as Senator Norris said in the first debate on this issue over 18 months ago. It suits the people around George W. Bush to portray criticism of him as anti-Americanism, which it is not and will never be. This is the biggest difficulty in this debate.
This war started because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Only one person still claims there are hidden weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We went to war without justification. After the war had proceeded for some time Fianna Fáil Senators, including Senators Ó Murchú and Hanafin, said they had been misled. The British Parliament and the American people were misled. The facts are there.
We can argue whether the inflection on one part of the argument was different from another, but the reality is that people were misled. When al-Jazeera was available on Sky, I often watched it and admired the channel’s courage. It maintained ethical standards and refused to be the creature of al-Qaeda or any other group. It acted as fairly as possible and was an Arab voice giving an important view to the Arab people and the Islamic nations. However, as it was treading a fine line, al-Jazeera was as unpopular with followers of al-Qaeda as with those of George W. Bush.
The only outward sign of that was when the American Government closed down the al-Jazeera head office beside the United Nations building in New York. This was an attempt to muzzle a media entity that was doing no harm but trying to bring the truth further. We read in The Guardian yesterday that George W. Bush proposed and considered bombing al-Jazeera’s headquarters. Is there any reason the Irish Government could not say “If that is true, it is wrong and we want to distance ourselves from it”? We must have ethical standards in our global contacts. I ask the Minister of State to discuss that suggestion in his Department. I do not suggest anything that would bring the Irish Government into deep international problems but somebody has to shout “Stop”. We lost the opportunity with the debate on weapons of mass destruction. We were misled but the debate has moved on. This is today’s issue and we should recognise it.
Another issue is the question of white phosphorous. Imagine if we discovered that Saddam Hussein, al-Qaeda or another repressive regime used it. There would be outrage and we would condemn it. There is something completely wrong about it. Nobody can justify it. Why can this Government not say conditionally that if America used white phosphorous, it is wrong and contravenes a million international conventions? We should set the standards, even in conditional terms. Let others argue whether it took place or not. We will have established our position without passing judgment. This way we would establish what is wrong before we know who did it, rather than vice versa. Surely our diplomats can take us down that road.
The Minister has travelled all over the world. The biggest issue, and the reason we are missing an opportunity here, is that we are polarising the globe. Islamic society is developing a deep hatred for Western beliefs, idioms, morality and culture and in the West we are developing a deep hatred for Islam. This is utterly wrong on both sides but it is being inexorably inculcated into our psyche.
We are dividing the world into “for” and “against”. A pro-Zionist Israeli educationalist has done a huge study on the attitude, culture, background, beliefs and drives of suicide bombers. He has followed and studied every one of them and their families. It is frightening to read it because these people feel as justified as Tomás Aghas or Terence McSwiney when they went on hunger strike. Senator Norris has said in this House that suicide bombing is wrong and that the leaders of the societies and political systems in the Middle East that are producing suicide bombers should make that position clear. All sides must show leadership, take responsibility and mark the boundaries of acceptability.
The fact that people are locked up in Guantanamo Bay is a blot on our understanding of Western culture. They have been disgracefully treated. Their holy books, icons and beliefs have been disgracefully treated. People who have condemned Guantanamo Bay have suffered attempts to blacken their names and break up their private lives. It usurps the most basic right of habeas corpus on which all Western legal systems are built. I can use only broad brushstrokes but I hope the Minister will take something from this and begin a debate in his Department.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire chuig an Teach. I have often said I am a friend and supporter of America and I have availed of American hospitality many times over the decades. Today I am deeply ashamed of America. What it is doing offends my sense of morality and I must speak from my heart. I return to the first shrieks we heard from the “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq. At that time I said it was immoral, illegal and totally unjustified because it was based on a wrong premise and was against the wishes of the United Nations. America and its few allies have damaged the credibility of the United Nations forever. In their subsequent actions, they damaged their own credibility. I have no doubt that young Americans in years to come will feel exactly like young Germans after the Holocaust. I have already seen the reaction to them. I hosted people from Canada and the US in this House in the early stages of the Iraqi invasion. They asked me the straight question of why Ireland was anti-American. I remember subsequently meeting a young couple from Clonmel who attended a funeral in Ireland. They asked me exactly the same question. I said that Ireland was not anti-American, but that enough Irish people and sections of the media were not prepared to accept what was happening, since it was an abhorrence. All that can flow from it is further inhumanity throughout the world.
We need not wait to learn about the use of chemical weapons, since I do not believe the Americans any more. It is as simple as that, and that is the saddest part. I do not accept it when they tell us that they made a mistake by saying that they were not using such weapons, nor do I accept the spin that they now put on it. They are trying to split the definition of chemical weapons. All that I know is that white phosphorous was very graphically explained today. We have all read similar reports and seen pictures of its results. The victims were not just insurgents, since we have seen the marks on children. It can burn human bodies indiscriminately. Let us all ask ourselves whether we would like our children or grandchildren to be on the receiving end of that weapon. We would not be splitting the definition if that happened, and it is happening.
Labhrás Ó Murchú: The torture exposed is only the tip of the iceberg. The only reason that it has been admitted and exposed is that the perpetrators had no choice but to own up to the fact that it had happened. Can anyone here stand over a captive being treated in that manner, when for several decades we have been trying to bring about a world order that will ensure that what happened in the past never recurred? The very people to whom we looked for guidance and support are those who now, for whatever political reasons, are at this point in history doing exactly what they themselves condemned in the past. I am very sorry that I must say this, and I feel that today I have a split personality politically. My heart is with the motion tabled in this House. Senators will know from the Order of Business that, week in and week out, I have made exactly the same statements——
The other side of my personality is the political one, and with a heavy heart I will have to vote for the Government amendment. However, I will have it clearly on the record that the day that I believe we are making progress is when the Government does not table an amendment to a motion of this kind. What would the consequence be for our Government to do what Senator O’Toole said? It would be a very difficult one, but I said the other morning on the Order of Business that the biggest difficulty I see is not the barbarity of which we now hear from both sides but the impact that it will have on world order in the long run.
It is happening because most nations, who are part of a fraternity, are not able to step aside and give an independent view. If we acquiesce in what has happened, the world order will be changed in such a way that there will be no security and no safety. Ultimately, there will be terrible suffering. We keep hearing about another world war. In a way, it is happening all over the world at present.
One can see the terrorism being spread. I would like to put a question on the record. Is there any difference between the terrorism of the insurgents and that of the multinational force? The only difference that I see is that they have the power and the might. I have never seen any moral distinction between the big bomb and the small one. As far as I was concerned, it was not a matter of how one did it. Let us recall the night we watched what people did not then regard as horrific pictures — the shock and awe tactics. We felt as if we were inside a cinema watching a film, but I kept thinking of children on the ground, the elderly and invalids wondering why the world was doing that to them. Their lives were absolutely and utterly obliterated, while the Americans played political games.
I have listened to Donald Rumsfeld without being able to understand what the man was saying. He was talking a jargon meant to be English, but I could not understand. What I did know, however, was that at the end of that jargon was human suffering. He was part of the regime trying to perpetrate that suffering. It had nothing to do with the attacks of 11 September 2001. They were abominable acts against a freedom-loving people. Friends of mine were caught up in that terrible tragedy. However, the invasion of Iraq was on the cards before any attack. It is no longer a secret that the Americans regard themselves as world police. I regard them as domineering people trying to impose their will on everyone else. If they do not do so militarily, they will do so economically.
At the moment, I see hopeful signs that the Americans themselves are reacting and responding. I speak not only of former Presidents but of the media and everyone. Let us consider what happened in Vietnam. One was regarded as a traitor for several years for suggesting that what was happening there was totally and utterly wrong. Subsequently, everyone jumped on the bandwagon, and everyone agreed that killing 3 million Vietnamese, with the barbarity and cruelty inflicted on them, had no justification. We are in exactly the same position today, and unless we all put our shoulder to the wheel and push that other bandwagon a little faster and more strongly, we only delay the opportunity to bring some semblance of sense to events.
Our difficulty is this. We look back at the invasion and see where we are now. It is strange to say that the invaders went in because they said there were weapons of mass destruction but that now they cannot get out because there might be civil war. There is no rationale to that argument. I know that efforts are being made to talk to the insurgents, but they are not strong enough. They had better talk to them and work on the basis that there is no place for America, Britain or any of those other forces in Iraq in the long term.
I accept that we must respect the fact that elections have been held and what is happening with their constitution. However, it will not work in the manner that America envisages. The only thing that will force America to revert to the previous situation is the political climate within that country itself. That is changing very fast, and one need only look at George Bush’s ratings to realise that he has made a mess of this. However, to make matters worse, they are eyeing Iran and North Korea. At this stage, they are eyeing the entire world, and it is not too much to say that what is likely to happen there is that they may need another conflict.
Senators know that there is a kind of gung-ho attitude with most powers. Exactly the same thing happened with Maggie Thatcher in Britain. If their boys are in trouble or having difficulty, they feel that they must respond. I am afraid they might create a situation that will start the whole wheel turning again. I will support the Government amendment, but I must compliment those who tabled the motion. I compliment them on the sense behind their contributions, particularly the graphic descriptions.
I am convinced that might should never succeed over right. In this regard, I refer to the rights of the individual, particularly the most vulnerable people on this earth. Our first task must be to support them. If one considers the history of Ireland, one will note it has always been regarded as an honest broker, as having integrity and as peace-loving nation prepared to send peacekeepers all over the world. We must use this position and not allow it to be diluted. Above all else, we must keep debating this issue in the House.
Mr. Norris: I distance myself from the remarks made by Senator Ryan and exonerate the Minister of State for any inappropriate attitude. I did not attack him personally but simply placed a factual legal matter on the record of the House. It would be easy for me to try to embarrass my colleagues on the Government benches but I will not do so. Instead, I salute them on their moral courage in saying what they said. I am proud of them and thank them from the bottom of my heart for the position they have taken. My colleague, Senator O’Toole, made the very good suggestion that this matter be taken back to their party for discussion — that is the democratic way to do it. I am not bothered about the vote. It is now perfectly clear that it is a farce because the House has spoken with a unified voice, which is terribly important.
I pay tribute to the decency of some of the American troops. It was as a result of their activities in searching for a missing teenage boy that the torture victims were found beaten and starved in an Iraqi Government bunker last week. We now know that 173 detainees were arbitrarily arrested and held without charge in the basement of the Interior Ministry building, after which they were held in an underground bunker. The sectarian nature of the detentions is clear from the fact that all the detainees were Sunni Muslims. Mr. Abdul-Hamid, head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said in a statement, “According to our knowledge, regrettably all the detainees were Sunnis. In order to search for a terrorist, they used to detain hundreds of innocent people and torture them brutally.”
Reports printed in reputable newspapers such as The Guardian include the information that, in addition to live persons, mutilated corpses — including some with electric drill holes in their heads — and torture instruments had also been found at the underground bunker. Another paper of record, The Observer, stated that its reporters had seen photographic evidence of post mortem and hospital examinations of alleged terror suspects from Baghdad and the Sunni triangle which demonstrates serious abuse of suspects, including burnings, strangulation, the breaking of limbs and, in one case, the apparent use of an electric drill to perform a knee capping. This is all part of a pattern.
One could take the case of an imam, Mr. Hassan an-Ni’ami, at a suburban mosque in Baghdad. He was arrested by paramilitary police commandos and taken for interrogation. His capture was reported on television as that of a senior terrorist commander, which was untrue. Twelve hours later, his body was in the city morgue. The Observer states:
America is at last waking up to this horror. It is for this reason that Republican Senator John McCain made an amendment to a military spending Bill in the Senate in which he proposed prohibiting the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by US personnel anywhere in the world. The amendment was passed — 90 voted in favour and nine against. It was then incorporated into the Senate Bill, which was eventually passed with some other modifications. However, the House of Representatives passed its own version of the Bill in the past week, without any of these provisions relating to the treatment of detainees. Vice-President Dick Cheney has recently spent a great deal of time lobbying Republicans to make an exemption from the McCain amendment for the CIA. On top of this, President Bush has come into the open, supported torture tactics and threatened to use his presidential veto to strike down any proposal that includes a blanket ban on mistreatment.
It is a matter of shame that the Irish Government, despite repeated questions from me, the Leader of this House, members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and members of many parties in the Lower House, has made no qualification on the use of Shannon Airport for military traffic of all kinds. The Minister for Transport is responsible for civil aircraft while the Minister for Foreign Affairs is responsible for regulating the activities of foreign military aircraft. The carriage of weapons and munitions on civilian aircraft requires an exemption from the Minister for Transport. Up to and including 17 November 2005, a total of 1,287 exemptions had been granted by the Minister for Transport. Up to 31 October 2005, the number of US military troops passing through Shannon was 268,963. This makes us shamefully complicit in the waging of an illegal war.
A deeply worrying question arises regarding the Gulfstream V jet aircraft that has been permitted to continue using Shannon Airport’s facilities. Other countries are not so pusillanimous and some ban the flights. Denmark denies access, and Austria had fighters intercept a suspect aircraft and escort it out of its airspace. Hungary searches the aircraft on the tarmac.
Some time ago in this House I was able to demonstrate, by an analysis of replies given in the Lower House, that American officials had lied to the Minister, leading him to misinform the House that these flights had ceased. The CIA had merely changed the registration number of the plane. This plane is known to have been involved in extraordinary rendition — it has done nothing else. Why should one believe it is taking tourists through Shannon Airport? By extraordinary rendition, I refer to the kidnapping and transfer of suspected persons to third countries for the purposes of torture. On 21 May 2005, the foreign service of The Washington Post stated:
The Taoiseach, in a reply to Deputy Michael D. Higgins last week, quoted an unsourced Human Rights Watch report, which is itself the subject of serious doubt, to suggest that it is unlikely that a major civilian airport would be used by the CIA for this traffic. However, the BBC radio programme “File on Four” broadcast a report from Stephen Grey which states:
The report further states that the Gulfstream jet also passes through Glasgow, Prestwick, Queen Ali International Airport in Amman, Jordan, and Kastrup Airport in Copenhagen. I am aware that citizens of this Republic have reported their suspicions and the detailed evidence from outside the State about the purposes to which this aircraft is put. The Garda has refused to take action and notification of these facts has been routinely ignored. As a result, I have written to Mr. Noel Conroy, the Garda Commissioner, as follows:
I encourage every Member of the House to write a similar letter to the Garda Commissioner. American public opinion is changing. No longer will people tolerate the bluster of Dick Cheney, who never served in Vietnam because he was able to pull strings and achieved no less than five draft deferments, infamously saying that he had “priorities in the sixties other than military service”. He was content to send other people’s children out to die. For a man such as that to accuse others——
Mr. Norris: For a man such as Dick Cheney to accuse others of cowardice and treachery and losing their memories and backbones is intolerable. Americans will tolerate it no longer. It is significant that Representative John Murtha, a known hawk in defence matters, has stated that the war had obviously been a mistake and that the American people were misled because intelligence reports had been exaggerated. Having been labelled by the Administration as a defeatist, he received enormous support from the American public. He told NBC’s “Meet the Press”, “It is not me, it is the public that is thirsting for answers.”
|Brady, Cyprian.||Brennan, Michael.|
|Callanan, Peter.||Cox, Margaret.|
|Dardis, John.||Dooley, Timmy.|
|Feeney, Geraldine.||Fitzgerald, Liam.|
|Glynn, Camillus.||Kenneally, Brendan.|
|Kett, Tony.||Kitt, Michael P.|
|Leyden, Terry.||Lydon, Donal J.|
|MacSharry, Marc.||Mansergh, Martin.|
|Minihan, John.||Morrissey, Tom.|
|Moylan, Pat.||Ó Murchú, Labhrás.|
|O’Brien, Francis.||O’Rourke, Mary.|
|Phelan, Kieran.||Scanlon, Eamon.|
|Walsh, Jim.||Walsh, Kate.|
|White, Mary M.||Wilson, Diarmuid.|
|Bannon, James.||Bradford, Paul.|
|Burke, Paddy.||Burke, Ulick.|
|Coghlan, Paul.||Coonan, Noel.|
|Cummins, Maurice.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Finucane, Michael.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Henry, Mary.||McHugh, Joe.|
|Norris, David.||O’Toole, Joe.|
|Phelan, John.||Quinn, Feargal.|
|Ross, Shane.||Ryan, Brendan.|
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