The Irish government’s involvement in facilitating the CIA’s international programme of humiliation, degradation and mistreatment of prisoners in facilities by the CIA or on their behalf has come under renewed enquiries following the release of an investigation by the US Senate. The report sets out details of torture; abuse and harmful conditions in detention facilities around the world manned by CIA staff. A number of planes used to fly prisoners to and from these sites landed at Shannon Airport over the past twelve years in order to refuel and to provide rest opportunities for teams involved in the transport of detainees.
The report released earlier this week provides descriptions of the interrogation of prisoners who were routinely subject to humiliation and degrading treatment, including stress positions, sleep deprivation over periods of days, forced nakedness, complete darkness/illumination and ultimately, indefinite detention without trial. In seventeen cases, inmates were subject to waterboarding, a practice US Senator John McCain has described as “an exquisite form of torture”.
Irish involvement in the rendition programme has previously been highlighted by a number of civil society organisations’ reports, including Amnesty International, the Open Society Foundation and Reprieve. From these reports, a follow-on investigation by the Council of Europe was carried out and tracked planes landing at several European airports, including Shannon that would then travel on to alleged torture sites in Morocco, Afghanistan and Poland. Irish officials facilitated and routinely defended the landing of planes at Shannon to the Irish public after receiving assurances from the US government that no prisoners were being transported through the airport.
A private jet with the flight number N397P was tracked landing at Shannon on July 21st 2002, before departing to Islamabad where it picked up Binyam al-Mohammed and two other unnamed prisoners. They were then transported to Rabat, the capital city of Morocco and driven to a nearby prison camp. For the next eighteen months, Binyam al-Mohammed described his treatment throughout his detention at the facility as including the denial of adequate food and water, being beaten and during one interrogation session, being cut repeatedly with a scalpel on his genitals. He was also interrogated on information that only could have come from the intelligence services from the United Kingdom.
Following this period of detention in Morocco, Binyam was flown from Morocco to Afghanistan aboard another Gulfstream V jet with the tail number N313P. According to documents prepared by the Council of Europe, this plane landed at Shannon airport on the 17th of January 2004. Five days later, the plane was tracked flying from Rabat to Kabul. Binyam al-Mohammed was on board this flight. While in captivity in Afghanistan and at a later stage in Guantanamo Bay, Binyam al-Mohammed was subject to a range of debilitating and humiliating practices while in custody of the CIA until his release in February 2009. He was later paid £1 million by the British government in compensation for the conditions he endured while in captivity.
Documents obtained from Wikileaks sent from the US Embassy in Ballsbridge show increasing concern on the part of the ambassadorial and embassy staff throughout the “War on Terror”; that Irish perspectives of the use of Shannon were becoming increasingly hostile. In a cable from December 2004 regarding a briefing between Keith McBean (who was chief of the Irish Department of Foreign Affair’s International Security Policy) increased emphasis is placed in the communiqué that pressure was growing from various aspects of Irish society: “Parliamentarians draw on allegations from journalists, activists’ web sites and tail spotters to suggest the USG [United States Government] has used Shannon for nefarious purposes. Particularly difficult have been questions in the last two weeks about a Gulfstream jet that allegedly has been used to transport prisoners and allegedly had its tail number changed.”
The plane in question was N379P, which was used throughout the CIA’s rendition programme and had its tail number changed repeatedly until its sale in 2005. The plane was also used to fly Ahmed Agiza from Sweden to Egypt at the behest of the US government. While in Egyptian custody, Agiza was subject to various forms of humiliating and mistreatment including beatings by prison guards and threats against the safety of his family. This resulted in a successful claim by Agiza in 2005 against Sweden for its breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. Agiza was later released from Egyptian prison in 2011 and was later awarded compensation by the Swedish government.
Wikileaks documents also reveal a growing atmosphere within the Irish government that Ireland would be at a later stage implicated in the process of extraordinary rendition. The cable later goes on to outline how McBean made these fears known to the US embassy, “were a plane to include Shannon in an itinerary that also included transporting prisoners, GOI lawyers might be forced to conclude that the GOI itself was in violation of torture conventions”.
Other political representations made by the then Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern to Ambassador Thomas Foley outline that there were misgivings from Irish politicians regarding the use of the airport. A statement in a 2007 cable from the US embassy shows Ahern’s fears of the backlash both he and the government would face should it become clear that the Irish government had assisted in rendition flights, ‘Ahern noted he had “put his neck on the chopping block” and would pay a severe political price if it ever turned out that rendition flights had entered Ireland or if one was discovered in the future.’ The then Minister is quoted as saying that he “could use a little more information” about the flights. Ambassador Foley then goes on to describe in the cable that Ahern suggested, “it might not be a bad idea to allow the random inspection of a few planes to proceed, which would provide cover if a rendition flight ever surfaced.”
The representations could prove embarrassing for the Irish government in the wake of the release of the US Senate report into torture, mistreatment and humiliating practices in secret prisons run by the CIA. The programme run by the CIA was facilitated by fifty-four countries around the world, who allowed planes to land, refuel and to provide rest opportunities for crewmembers on their way to transport prisoners to and from detention facilities.
The Irish Human Rights Committee in 2007 was condemnatory of the Irish Government’s failure to take a firmer stance regarding their human rights obligations. The committee believed and stated in the document that by allowing planes to refuel at Shannon airport, the Irish government was complicit in aiding and facilitating the practice of torture. Rory Montgomery, the Political Director of the Department of Foreign Affairs at the time, responded to a draft version of the article, prior to its publication and described the IHRC’s allegation as “quite unfair, inappropriate and based not on any fact but on pure speculation”. Since the publication of the Senate investigation into CIA behavior earlier this week, it would appear that the fears of the IHRC were well founded, as prisoners in CIA detention were waterboarded, shackled in darkness for prolonged periods, and in one instance died of hypothermia as a direct result of this mistreatment.