Dáil debates

Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Human Rights Issues: Motion.


7:00 pm

Photo of Eamon GilmoreEamon Gilmore (Dún Laoghaire, Labour)

I currently have the honour of representing the Labour Party and, indeed, this House, on the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. Last week, that assembly published the report of Senator Dick Marty, the Council's official rapporteur, on the issue of renditions and secret detention centres.

In recent days, I was disappointed to hear the Minister for Foreign Affairs effectively rubbishing the Marty report. The Minister represented the report as if it were some kind of individual contrarian's opinion, rather than as a report which had been compiled by an official rapporteur of the Council of Europe. I was also disappointed that in presenting his case, the Minister insinuated that Senator Marty's report was at variance with that of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

For those reasons, I wish to put on record the fact that the Marty report is the result of a process that began approximately six months ago. In November 2005, following allegations from Human Rights Watch, which were published in the Washington Post, concerning the existence of secret CIA detention centres in Romania and Poland, Senator Marty, a Swiss parliamentarian and former prosecutor, was appointed by the Council of Europe's legal affairs committee to conduct an inquiry into alleged secret detentions in Council of Europe member states. As part of that process, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe triggered a rarely invoked legal power under Article 52 of the European Convention on Human Rights, requesting the 45 European governments of member states of the Council of Europe to explain, by 21 February 2006, how their laws prevent unacknowledged deprivation of liberty and the aiding of foreign agencies in the carrying out of such acts.

In December 2005, the Venice Commission, which is the Council of Europe's group of legal experts, was asked for an opinion on the legality of secret detention. By the end of January 2006, in an interim assessment, Senator Marty said it was highly likely that European governments were aware of rendition affecting Europe. He announced that he had information he had requested from EU satellite and air traffic agencies.

In March 2006, the Venice Commission said the Council of Europe member states must refuse to allow the transit of prisoners where there was a risk of torture and that, if this was suspected, they should search civil planes or refuse overflights to state planes.

On 12 April 2006, following a second round of government replies, the Council of Europe's Secretary General, Terry Davis, said he had received official acknowledgement of the handing over of individuals to foreign officials in ways which ignored the Convention on Human Rights' standards concerning human rights. Last week, on 7 June, Senator Dick Marty published his report which, he said, exposed a global spider's web of illegal US detentions and alleged collusion in this system by 14 Council of Europe member states, including Ireland.

The term "extraordinary rendition" is very clinical and applies to a practice which involves the kidnapping of individuals, sometimes directly off the streets of European cities, and illegally transporting those prisoners for torture in third countries, thus avoiding liability on the part of the countries that are actually carrying it out. In the course of his report, Senator Marty refers to a number of individual cases, which explains the gruesome nature of what rendition is all about. He refers, for example, to the case of Binyam Mohamed Al Habashi, an Ethiopian citizen who had held resident status in the UK since 1994, and who is now detained at Guantanamo. We do not know if this man has been involved in terrorist activities or not because he has never been brought to trial, although I understand he is to appear before a US military commission later this year. Senator Marty relies on diaries that were kept my Mr. Al Habashi and letters he wrote to relatives. Paragraphs 205 and 206 of the Marty report stated:

Binyam has described his ill treatment in Morocco to his lawyer in several phases: an initial softening up; a routine circle of torture; and eventually heavy abuse involving mental torment and the infliction of physical injury. In the first few weeks of his detention he was repeatedly suspended from the walls or ceilings, or otherwise shackled and brutally beaten: [I am quoting Binyam] "They came in and cuffed my hands behind my back. Then three men came in with black ski masks that only showed their eyes...one stood on each of my shoulders and the third punched me in the stomach. The first punch...turned everything inside me upside down. I felt I was going to vomit. I was meant to stand, but I was in so much pain I'd fall to my knees. They'd pull me back up and hit me again. They'd kick me in the thighs as I got up. They just beat me up that night... I collapsed and they left. I stayed on the ground for a long time before I lapsed into unconsciousness. My legs were dead. I could not move. I'd vomited and pissed on myself."

At its worst, the torture involved stripping Binyam naked and using a doctor's scalpel to make incisions all over his chest and other parts of his body. [He said] "One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once and they stood for a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony, crying, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming. They must have done this 20 to 30 times, in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. They cut all over my private parts. One of them said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists."

The interesting thing about this man's testimony is that he says he underwent his first rendition on 21 July 2002. The official records obtained by the Marty inquiry show that the known rendition plane N379P took off from Islamabad on 21 July 2002 and flew to Rabat in Morocco. Rabat is linked to Shannon in the so-called spider's web. The plane N379P, a Gulfstream V executive jet, owned by Premier Executive Transport Services, was later registered as N8068V and then N44982. This plane was nicknamed the "Guantanamo Bay express" because of the frequency of its trips there. It was used to take Ahmed Agiza from Sweden to Egypt and Amnesty International has recorded that it landed at Shannon 22 times. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, has acknowledged that it landed 12 times at Shannon under the registration number N379P and three times as N8068V.

The Marty report does not state that Mr. Al Habashi was actually on board that plane when it landed in Shannon. However, no Ministers can tell us that Mr. Al Habashi was not on board because they took no precaution to check the planes, their passenger lists or to investigate who was or was not travelling through Shannon. I accept entirely the statement of the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, that the Government does not support rendition. Of course it does not. I also accept that the Government has raised the matter with the United States authorities and I accept its genuineness in doing so. However, the Minister should not justify the inaction of the Irish State authorities in inspecting the planes.

The agencies that have an interest in this matter include the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the Venice Commission, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and this country's Human Rights Commission, which was established by the Oireachtas to protect and vindicate human rights. They have all said that it is insufficient to accept the diplomatic assurances of another state that nothing illegal was happening on planes being used and chartered by the CIA, which are going through Irish airports. There is a positive obligation on the State to investigate, inspect, send gardaí on board, and establish independently that the law of this country, international law and the Convention on Human Rights are being upheld, and that nobody is being transported through an Irish airport or through Irish airspace to undergo the kind of treatment that was described in the Marty report and which was inflicted on that unfortunate man to whom I referred.


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