Coalition warned on rendition flights after US papers reveal Shannon link

 

THE STATE’S human rights watchdog has called on the Government to ensure Ireland is not being used for “extraordinary rendition” flights following new evidence which links Shannon airport to the practice.

About 1,500 documents indicate that the CIA secretly flew terrorist suspects or prisoners around the world using privately owned aircraft between 2001 and 2005. At least 10 of these flights passed through Shannon airport.

The documents were used as evidence in a court case involving a dispute between two private firms: Richmore Aviation, an aircraft operator and SportsFlightAir, an aircraft broker, which acted for a US government contactor.

The records, which are mostly invoices, were submitted to a New York court as evidence and tally with flights that are suspected of transporting terrorist suspects who were captured and delivered into the custody of the CIA.

The US government used the same aircraft for more than 55 flights to destinations such as Guantánamo Bay, Kabul, Islamabad, Cairo, Baghdad, Djibouti, Rabat, Rome, Tenerife, the Azores and Bucharest.

The aircraft, a Gulfstream jet, frequently passed through British and Irish airports en route, including Shannon.

One flight which passed through Shannon is linked with the CIA’s capture of a high-value suspect, al-Hashiri, in Dubai in October 2002.

He was later taken to a CIA prison in Afghanistan before being flown to Washington.

It is not clear, however, if the suspect was on board the aircraft when it passed through Ireland.

A spokesman for the Minister for Foreign Affairs said there was nothing in the documents which proved that rendition suspects had passed through Shannon.

“The Government has in the past sought and received assurances from US authorities and we have no reason to doubt those assurances.”

During the period in which these alleged rendition flights took place, the Government expressed its “complete opposition” to the practice and insisted there was no evidence that any had taken place through the Republic.

However, US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks last December revealed that former minister for foreign affairs Dermot Ahern in 2007 “seemed quite convinced that at least three flights involving renditions had refuelled at Shannon airport before or after conducting renditions elsewhere”.

The Irish Human Rights Commission – which investigated allegations of rendition in 2007 – said yesterday that the Government should ask US authorities why it was “misled” over the use of Shannon airport.

The commission’s 2007 report found the Government was failing to live up to its rights and obligations by accepting diplomatic assurances regarding such flights.

Yesterday, president of the commission Dr Maurice Manning said it was vital that the Government should now do everything possible to ensure the practice is not continuing.

“There is very clear evidence that the taoiseach and the government were misled at the time and it seems appropriate that it should make its displeasure known to the relevant authorities,” he added.

US authorities have to date declined to comment on the documents that have come to light.