Sir, – Simon Carswell's article on Shannon Airport and renditions ("Bush assured Irish State Shannon not used for rendition flights", December 22nd) provides an important insight into the concerns that two former Irish ministers had in relation to the CIA's torture and renditions programme.
Dermot Ahern was minister for foreign affairs and Michael McDowell was minister for justice when a report by Dick Marty for the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe identified Ireland and Shannon as a stopover point for rendition flights. Nonetheless the government failed to take decisive action, apart, it would seem, from asking the US government if it was taking prisoners through Shannon. The US government’s response to such questions can hardly have been a surprise to the ministers.
US officials or politicians were unlikely to divulge the extent of their illegal programme to another government, particularly if they were confident that their assurances would satisfy that government.
An even better outcome for US officials would be the opportunity to use an airport like Shannon unimpeded, confident in the knowledge that their aircraft would not be inspected.
This is exactly what happened, despite the minister for justice at the time being, in his own words, utterly hostile to the torture and abuse of people.
There were options that could have been employed apart from banning all American flights to Shannon, although if that was deemed necessary to stop the crime of torture then it should have been done.
The government could have sought to identify aircraft and operators that were linked to renditions and were using Shannon Airport. Indeed the government cannot have been unaware of the many landings by suspected rendition aircraft. In 2005 Amnesty International provided flight logs to it showing that six aircraft known to have been used by the CIA for renditions made some 800 flights in or out of European airspace, including 50 landings at Shannon. In 2006 a series of further reports emerged documenting the use of Shannon by CIA-operated aircraft, and highlighting the consequent risk that it was being used in rendition circuits.
From 2004 onwards local activists made repeated requests to the Garda to search suspected rendition aircraft that had landed or were expected to land at Shannon.
The government could have enacted legislation to permit random searches of these suspect aircraft. It could have improved the systems for collecting information on unscheduled civilian aircraft landings. And it could also have improved the oversight and control procedures so that aircraft operating as civilian aircraft but engaged in state activities were identified as such. None of this was done, and the CIA was allowed to continue to operate its brutal kidnapping and torture networks. – Yours, etc,