Category: Archive

Inside File: The lesser-known Shannon stopover

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

These days you might be forgiven for believing that your plane lost its way and landed at Fort Bragg.
Shannon is a front line jumping-off point for U.S. troops heading to and fro in a fractious and troubled world.
Some Irish have a problem with this.
They think the government’s willingness to allow troop planes use the Co. Clare airport is a violation of Ireland’s military neutrality.
Most, however, have little problem with entire regiments knocking back Guinness by the barrel.
Some Irish people actively support this military version of the famed Shannon stopover.
And there are those who fall off their chairs laughing when you mention neutrality, Irish-style.
This is understandable because Irish military neutrality these days is a bit of a sham — akin to claiming sainthood in a brothel. So the troops come and go.
Airport employees are happy enough to see them — happier still when the soldiers, kids mostly, are heading west and away from wars in the east.
Additionally, of course, the landings produce a significant stream of revenue for the airport and the local economy.
And it is all up-front and above board. You simply can’t miss a platoon at the bar, a company in the duty-free shop or a squad in the bathroom.
But all at Shannon might be more than it seems.
There have been suggestions, accusations and indeed confirmation that in recent years, Shannon has been a stopover for aircraft on missions more snoop than troop.
In recent days, concern has been heightened by reports of “ghost detainees” mysterious CIA aircraft involved in “extraordinary rendition” missions and “black site” prisons deep in the murkier corners of Eastern Europe.
The governments of Spain, Iceland and Sweden are investigating and demanding answers from Uncle Sam.
Ireland has already asked and has accepted assurances from Washington that Shannon has not been used to secretly ship detainees lifted in the global war against terror and transferred for interrogation to dodgy third party countries in the Middle East where scant regard is paid to the various Geneva conventions dealing with arrest, detention and torture.
But there is the matter of that Gulfstream 5 jet, described in more than one Irish media report as the “torture plane.”
This particular aircraft, sporting a variety of civilian registration numbers and seemingly owned by front companies for, eh, The Company, has been a multiple visitor to Shannon in recent years.
The Gulfstream first came to prominence in reports on the kidnapping of two Egyptian nationals in Sweden in December, 2001, allegedly by the CIA.
“Given that the plane seems to have been used exclusively for covert operations by a secret U.S. squad established explicitly to evade both international law and democratic scrutiny within the U.S., the presence of the plane at Shannon raises two possibilities,” wrote Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times.
“One is that the Irish authorities were not informed that Shannon was being used…the other is that the government was told, or, what amounts to the same thing, that it thought there might be something funny going on and decided not to ask questions.
“Either possibility raises the most basic questions. If the government was not told, then its trust has been abused by a friendly state in the most egregious way. If it knew, or even suspected, what was going on, then it has colluded in serious crimes under national and international law.”
Earlier this month, a Human Rights Watch statement about secret detention facilities, prompted by a Washington Post report, pointed to the group’s “independent research” on the existence of secret detention locations and other dubious doings including mysterious “rendition” flights.
Separately, a spokesman at HRW’s New York office referred to Shannon as a “gas stop” for such flights stretching from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay.
It’s important to state that flights of this kind are known to have preceded 9/11 and the current administration.
But the war on terror has apparently upped the number, heightened the dubious nature of their destinations and invited closer press scrutiny of their purpose and modus operandi.
Even from within the Irish government.
That government, however, insists it has no knowledge of any instances of prisoners being transported through Shannon airport on U.S. planes. Foreign affairs minister Dermot Ahern said during his recent visit to the U.S. that Ireland was being vigilant with regard to the way that Shannon was being used by U.S. aircraft.
“No evidence has been brought to us that such planes are landing in Shannon,” said Ahern, while adding that the Irish government had raised the matter of who was transiting through Shannon with the U.S. embassy in Dublin.
The government, he said, had received “categorical assurances” from the U.S. that it had not broken the parameters with regard to the use of Shannon.
He said it was the word of a friendly government and a friendly nation and if it was given it had to be accepted.
“We have to accept their word, government to government,” Ahern said.
Irish investigative journalist Gene Kerrigan has his doubts.
“An extraordinary number of people don’t seem at all upset that there’s a bunch of weirdos running around the world acting like judge, jury and torturer. As long as they’re clean-living Western spooks, not terrorists with funny names, what the hell,” he wrote in the Sunday Independent earlier this year.
Funny, those same words could have been applied to the wee North not so long ago — the native “Oirish” being the ones with funny names.
There’s no doubt that there’s a global dirty war going on, one in which torture is routinely employed as a tool against terror.
Most people in what we still call the Western World seem better able to do deal with this when it’s all happening in dusty hellholes with exotic names and inhabitants who seem to have walked straight out of the middle-ages.
But when it nudges up against a terminal building in a nice, normal place like Shannon folks start to feel a little uneasy.

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