The Council of Europe said Friday that it backed calls for gardai to board so-called “rendition” flights” at Shannon airport in County Clare.
Rendition flights are alleged to involve the abduction and transport of suspected Islamic militants from locations around the world. Many of those who allege to have been abducted by CIA operatives claim to have been taken to torture centers.
The Irish government has said it accepts U.S. assurances that no prisoners have been brought through Irish airports
The call by the Council of Europe, a 46-member state organization not linked to the European Union, followed a report published by the Irish Human Rights Commission last month that urged the government not to take these assurances at face value. It said the government should, in agreement with the U.S. authorities, arrange for the flights to be boarded.
In a letter to the president of the IHRC, former Fine Gael senator Maurice Manning, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles said: “In so far as so-called extraordinary rendition flights are concerned, states must be in a position, where there is doubt, to establish who is on board planes transiting via their airports, whether they are traveling freely or are detained, and, if the latter, under whose authority they are being transported and for what purpose.”
He backed calls for greater transparency with regard to renditions flights.
Meanwhile the taoiseach’s office has refused to release any information it has on rendition citing national security concerns.
A request made under the Freedom of Information Act was refused on the grounds that to disclose the information would compromise the security, defense or international relations of the Irish state.
The U.S. ambassador to Ireland, James Kenny, was last month invited to appear before an all-party Oireachtas committee to discuss the use of Irish airspace by CIA aircraft.
The invitation followed assurances given by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Shannon had never been, and is not currently, a stopping-off point for rendition flights.
Figures recently disclosed to the Irish state broadcaster RTE showed that a total of 38 flights involved in the program passed through Shannon since 2001.
It is known that, on at least one occasion, Shannon has been used as a refueling stop during a “rendition” operation.
The presence of CIA jets on Irish soil has been well documented by a group of plane-spotters at Shannon.
The first, a Gulfstream jet with call-sign N379P, is known to have used the airport on numerous occasions since 2001. The plane’s registration plate has been changed several times.
Last year, Amnesty International stated that it had information that proved that prisoners have been moved through the County Clare airport in at least 50 flights.
“On Feb. 17, 2003, for instance, the Gulfstream IV, N85VM took Abu Omar from Ramstein to Cairo, then turned around and flew to Shannon, arriving at 0552 on the 18th,” Amnesty stated in a report released in Brussels.
The Amnesty claim that Shannon has been used by the CIA reflects similar claims by other rights groups, including Human Rights Watch in New York.
The Irish government has yet to respond to the Council of Europe’s call. Last month, Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said he accepted the assurances of Secretary of State Rice that no prisoners had gone through Shannon.
He said, however, that were he to be given “credible evidence” to the contrary the matter would be brought to the attention of the gardai.