Seanad debates

Wednesday, 26 May 2004

3:00 pm

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House on this subject. The violence and loss of life in the Middle East have been of major concern to the international community for a number of years past. This region is beset by a number of conflicts and sources of tension. I propose to deal only with the more prominent among those issues.

The events of the past few days and weeks have underlined, once again, the tense and dangerous situation created by the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. There has been no visible progress in advancing the peace process. On the contrary, violence continues unabated and the number of casualties increases with every passing day.

The Government has expressed grave concern at the deterioration in the Gaza Strip. The current violence demonstrates the futility of trying to resolve this conflict by military means and the need for an urgent resumption of negotiations. I call on both sides to take the essential first step of declaring a reciprocal ceasefire under the supervision of international monitors as a prelude to renewed political negotiations. I also condemn terror attacks on Israel, as well as statements inciting violence, and I call on the Palestinian Authority to take immediate action against terrorists.

The European Union recognises Israel's right to protect its citizens against terrorist attack. We have often stated our belief that no cause can justify the terrorist atrocities against innocent civilians carried out by Hamas and other organisations. Nevertheless, the Union is opposed to extra-judicial killings. Far from ending terror, they can only inflame the situation. Equally, terrorism does nothing to advance the Palestinian objective of a state of its own. On the contrary, terrorism and especially the horrific suicide bombings inflict immense harm upon the Palestinian cause.

Another problem which needs to be tackled is the security fence being built by Israel where it crosses occupied territories. The Union has called on Israel to stop and reverse construction of the fence as well as settlement activity. The Union has also addressed the questions raised by Israel's proposed unilateral evacuation of Gaza. We see in this both a danger and an opportunity. The danger is that, if this withdrawal is not properly orchestrated, it could lead to chaos, further bloodshed and the weakening of the Palestinian Authority.

The opportunity is that a properly managed withdrawal, involving the co-operation of the international community, could represent a significant step towards implementation of the roadmap. The Union has identified a number of elements which will be necessary for a successful withdrawal. In particular, it should take place in the context of the roadmap and it should be a step towards a two state solution. Above all, there must be no question of Gaza first and Gaza last.

The Union insists that a viable Palestinian state must be based on contiguity of territory within agreed borders. It is also clear that any revision of the Gaza proposal must be based on a total withdrawal if it is to attract international support.

A particularly crucial meeting of the Quartet took place in New York on 4 May. It came at a time of great uncertainty following a lengthy period of quartet inactivity. The Bush-Sharon exchange caused understandable anxiety. All this resulted in a recognition of the need to restabilise the situation. This could only be done by strongly reaffirming the basic principles underlying the peace process. The European Union expressed its position at the Foreign Ministers informal meeting at Tullamore in a major affirmation of EU principles. All the essential principles are maintained and confirmed in the Quartet's New York statement.

First, the Quartet reaffirmed its commitment to the two state solution. This is defined as a viable, democratic, sovereign and contiguous state in the case of Palestine. It stated there must be a full Israeli withdrawal and end of occupation in Gaza. It placed this firmly within the two state vision and the roadmap. It reaffirmed President Bush's call for an end to the occupation that began in 1967 through a settlement negotiated between the parties. It stated explicitly that no party should take unilateral actions that seek to predetermine issues that can only be resolved through negotiation and agreement between the two parties. The Quartet further stated a final settlement on issues such as borders and refugees must be mutually agreed by Israel and Palestine and must be based on the relevant resolutions and principles.

In other parts of the statement the Quartet set out a wide range of measures they expect Israel and Palestine to take. It also called on the Palestinian Authority to take immediate action against terrorism. Israel, for its part, was called on to exert maximum efforts to avoid civilian casualties and to exercise its right of self-defence within the parameters of international humanitarian law.

The position of the European Union is quite clear. It is committed to a negotiated agreement resulting in two viable, sovereign and independent states, Israel and Palestine, based on the 1967 borders, living side by side in peace and security. We see this as taking place in the framework of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The European Union will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties. A comprehensive peace must, of course, include Lebanon and Syria.

The roadmap brings together all the elements that are essential to reach an agreement. Unfortunately, neither side has acted with sufficient vigour to implement the roadmap. It would appear that it is too difficult to carry out all the measures envisaged in the first phase at one time. This is why the European Union has suggested that a number of smaller steps be taken. They must, however, be significant and, although small, concrete and visible. These steps should include meaningful security measures that begin to prevent acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. They should include meaningful measures to ease the suffering Palestinians face in their daily lives and they should be accompanied by a complete ceasefire between the two sides. These steps would mark a beginning in the implementation of the first phase of the roadmap. They would aim at building the necessary confidence and political will needed to permit the carrying out of all the measures contained in the first phase. The process could then move on to the second and third stages and culminate in the establishment of a Palestinian state.

We also look forward to an early meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian Prime Ministers. We realise that one meeting cannot solve all problems. Nevertheless, we believe this meeting should have a substantive outcome that would pave the way for further significant progress. It is of vital importance that action be taken now so as to prevent the opening of a political void that would further undermine the chances of moving forward in the peace process.

A further major problem besetting the region and which has broad international consequences is the very worrisome situation in Iraq, which is of huge concern to us all. The European Union's position on Iraq has consistently been one of support for the restoration of sovereignty to the Iraqi people. The Union believes a strong UN role is essential for the success of reconstruction efforts. We look forward to the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq to an interim government at the end of June and to future national elections, with a vital and growing role for the UN endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.

The European Union has condemned all violence and terrorist attacks. We have expressed our concern that the current campaign of terrorist violence is both leading to significant loss of life, especially among civilians, and is impeding the path to political progress and economic reconstruction in Iraq.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Is the Minister of State speaking about the Americans?

4:00 pm

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The European Union has also condemned the assassination of the Chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council. We further condemn the kidnapping and brutal murder of hostages, in particular the appalling and barbaric murder of Mr. Nick Berg. I have also expressed my deep concern at reports that some 40 people were killed by US forces in an incident last week, the circumstances of which have still to be clarified.

The Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and I have reiterated our abhorrence at the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraqi prisons time and again. Ireland also made known its concerns directly to the authorities in London and Washington when the allegations of abuse first came to light.

The European Union has, in very clear language, strongly and publicly condemned any instances of abuse and degradation of prisoners in Iraq as contrary to international law, including the Geneva Conventions. The 25 member states of the Union did so together with our eight Arab partners at the Euro-Mediterranean meeting of Foreign Ministers held in Dublin on 5 and 6 May. This was the result of an Irish Presidency proposal. At the same time, we acknowledged the commitment of both governments to bring to justice those responsible for such abuses and also their commitment to rectify any failure to adhere to international humanitarian law.

The EU Council of Ministers, acting upon the initiative of the Irish Presidency, repeated this condemnation in conclusions following its meeting on 17 May and again following the meeting with the Gulf Arab states on the same day. I note there is already an independent international report into the human rights situation in Iraq being prepared by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and I have every confidence this highly respected UN office will carry out its task objectively and impartially.

The transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi interim government is due to take place in a matter of weeks. Many important provisions have yet to be clarified. The United Nations is playing a vital role in all of this.

A new draft Security Council resolution is under debate in New York. It contains a number of elements, the most important of which are as follows: it endorses the formation of a sovereign interim government of Iraq that will take office by 30 June 2004; it welcomes the commitment of the occupying powers to end the occupation by 30 June 2004 when the interim government will assume responsibility and authority for governing a sovereign Iraq; and it provides for the convening of a national conference and the holding of direct democratic elections no later than 31 January 2005. A transitional national assembly will have responsibility for drafting a permanent constitution for Iraq under which democratic elections to a national government will be held.

The draft outlines in more detail the role for the UN in Iraq, including assisting in the convening of a national conference to select a consultative council and advising on elections; promoting national dialogue and consensus building on the drafting of a national constitution; advising the interim government of Iraq in the development of effective civil and social services; contributing to the co-ordination and delivery of reconstruction, development and humanitarian assistance; and promoting the protection of human rights, national reconciliation and judicial and legal reform.

The draft resolution then reaffirms the authorisation for the multinational force established under Resolution 1511 and provides some detail on the role of the force. It decides further that the mandate for the multinational force shall be reviewed after 12 months. It makes clear that the interim Iraqi government will control oil revenues and enables it to discuss Iraq's debt with international financial institutions.

There is no doubt there are difficult questions to be addressed by the Security Council in looking at these various issues. It is clear the most difficult question concerns the ending of the occupation and how that relates to the security issue. In other words, decisions will have to be taken on the future role and structure of the multinational force in Iraq and the relationship it will have with the interim Iraqi government to which sovereignty will be transferred on 1 July.

The text now before the Security Council is a draft and discussion has only begun. It is clear that, as is normal, there are differences between the permanent five members as to how exactly the issues should be resolved. The Irish Government will welcome any resolution that gains the requisite support and satisfies the concerns of the UN on its mission in Iraq. It must also, of course, be in keeping with the goal of seeing the earliest possible restoration of sovereignty of Iraq to a democratically elected Iraqi government.

The European Union is committed to playing a significant role in the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq within the framework of the relevant Security Council resolutions. At the Madrid donors' conference, the European Union pledged €700 million until the end of 2004. The European Council will consider a medium-term strategy for Iraq at its meeting in June. We wish to see a prosperous, stable and sovereign Iraq whose territorial integrity is preserved. This will be essential for stability in the region and beyond and we will continue to work with the international community to achieve this objective.

I understand the Seanad was also anxious to debate the current situation in Iran and therefore I will make some brief comments on it. For many years, the European Union has been trying to develop its relations with Iran. It has pursued dialogue with the Iranian authorities, intended to explore areas of disagreement and concern and to bring their two positions closer together wherever possible. The principal areas are human rights, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the Middle East peace process.

The European Union has particularly welcomed and supported the reform efforts conducted by the Government of President Khatami. It has, however, noted with regret that successes achieved earlier in his term of office have not always been sustained. Two areas in particular stand out. In recent months there has been a number of worrisome developments regarding Iran's nuclear programme. The International Atomic Energy Agency has noted a series of serious shortcomings. While Iran has made some effort to move to meet these concerns, there are still several outstanding questions that must be fully cleared up if the international community is to have confidence in Iran's declared position that its nuclear programme serves only peaceful purposes.

The European Union strongly urges Iran to co-operate fully and proactively with the IAEA to resolve all these questions in a spirit of transparency. We hope Iran will comply fully with the provisions set out by the IAEA board of governors at their meeting in March. The EU considers it very important that Iran meet its commitments within the agreed timeframe.

The other major issue of immediate concern relates to human rights in Iran where what limited progress has taken place has resulted in little overall improvement in the observance of human rights. Widespread abuse persists and I call on the Iranian authorities to act immediately to bring Iran into line with internationally mandated standards of behaviour.

I repeat the European Union's deep regret and disappointment at the interference by the Council of Guardians in the recent Majlis elections. We believe that this interference is a setback for the democratic process in Iran. We hope that Iran will soon return to the path of reform and democratisation.

It is most important for all those directly involved to be aware of the linkages between these different problems. Action taken in one area has implications for the evolution of events in other areas. Nothing can be dealt with in isolation and what is done today will have its repercussions in the future. None of these problems is intractable. In every case, there is a way forward and we must not give into despair. The solutions will require a large measure of courage, wisdom and determination. We in Ireland, both nationally and as a member of the European Union and the wider international community, will use all the possibilities open to us to assist in the work of building peace and reconciliation in the region.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I hope this will be the first of a number of debates on this broad issue. The matters raised in the Minister's opening contribution are profoundly important to the European Union and to this country. The matter needs regular airing among the Members of the Seanad. Since we last debated this topic, the situation in the entire Middle East and not just in Iraq has become profoundly more dangerous and serious not only for the unfortunate people of the region, but also for stability and order throughout the world. There is a strong onus on us in this House, the Government and the European Union to play a leading role in trying to bring balance and some degree of harmony to the region.

In our earlier debates we spoke about the role being assumed by the United States as some type of world policeman. That role has not worked. We can now see the job of international policing is one for the United Nations and cannot be done by one country alone. The European Union must now take the lead in this debate. We in the European Union and in this country can bring the balanced, fair and reasoned perspective that is required in this ever increasing gulf between, on the one hand, the United States and, on the other, the various governments of the Middle East. The European Union has a crucial role to play.

When we debated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict some 12 or 18 months ago, we had high hopes for the roadmap process. We recognised it was a difficult route and there would be many difficult twists and turns on the road. Unfortunately, the type of progress for which we had hoped simply has not happened. I appreciate that international focus has been on Iraq rather than the broader Middle Eastern problem. Europe must play a leading role in trying to return political focus to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

It is possible to admit without fear of contradiction that the United States has never been neutral in regard to Israel and has been unable to play the role of referee. The political influence the state of Israel can bring to bear on the United States is of such significance that the United States alone cannot play the role of referee in the Middle East. There is a huge role for us and a huge opportunity not just for this country, but also for the European Union to take a much more serious hands-on approach to the issue.

In so far as we can, we must return the debate to the roadmap. We all recognise the right of the state of Israel to exist. However, we must equally recognise the right of the Palestinian people to their own state with defined borders so that its people can live not behind a wall of division, which is being built at present, but behind a reasonable cordon of peace and security.

It is a matter of great concern to see the building of the security wall by the state of Israel. In 1989, the people of Eastern Europe brought an end to the Cold War and its physical manifestation when the Berlin Wall was knocked down. We thought we had seen the last of such crude devices of division. However, this security wall is a new Berlin Wall with all the negative influences that it will bring to bear. We have seen the cost of walls across the centre of Europe. We saw the failed policy of plantation in this country and we must recognise that this security wall represents almost an Israeli version of an Ulster plantation. It cannot and will not work. We must lead the way in arguing for the end of that type of politics.

This debate on the Palestinian and Israeli situation requires much more time than I have available to me. I ask the Minister of State to ensure the European Union gives a new focus to this issue and goes back to what we thought was the starting point last year, namely, the roadmap, and tries to work towards a solution in that context.

While perhaps the images we have seen from Iraq in recent weeks and months have not been surprising, they are truly depressing and absolutely appalling. The number of troops and civilians being killed is rising on a daily basis and the bloodshed at the wedding party last week was yet another of the many low points that have been inflicted on the people of Iraq in recent times. On the other side of the equation, we saw the Internet pictures of the barbaric beheading of the American citizen, which shows how depraved the whole situation has become. Our political focus must be on trying to assist in bringing some order and peace to where there is nothing but chaos and disorder at present.

The conflict in Iraq is an appalling tragedy for the people of Iraq and, from a political perspective, it has very seriously damaged the international standing of the United States and, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, the United Kingdom. Above all, it has harmed the status of the United Nations, which has been seen as almost powerless to intervene. We must ask ourselves where we go from here and what we can learn.

In the debates we had last year the House was unanimous in stating that moving away from the path of the United Nations would be a tragic route, as it has proven. My party, along with all parties in this House, strongly argued last year for the need for the United Nations to have a primary role and that unilateral action being taken outside the ambit of the United Nations was a very dangerous move. Sadly, that has proven to be the case. We in Fine Gael did not state we were opposed in all circumstances to military action in Iraq. However, we constantly stated that only the authority of the United Nations could bring about the circumstances where such action could take place.

Fine Gael continues to maintain the stance it articulated during last year's debate. Unilateral action against the state and people of Iraq is not acceptable. Any action should have multilateral support and be the subject of UN Security Council authorisation. We spoke of the weapons inspectorate and debated the issue of weapons of mass destruction the existence of which was, according to the USA and British Governments, the primary motivation for the intervention in Iraq. Many of my colleagues voiced the opinion that those weapons would not be found as they did not exist. Nothing which has happened to date suggests this argument was incorrect. It is now most unlikely that weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq. Perhaps they never existed. I have had a personal difficulty during the course of this conflict with the fact that the premise for invading Iraq was founded on arguments which did not stand up.

We all concede that there was an absolute necessity to help the people of Iraq to change the regime of Saddam Hussein. There was unanimous international backing for any reasonable measures which would have brought about his removal. Such measures should properly have been the responsibility of the United Nations rather than an individual state. It is deeply disappointing that in bringing about the removal of Saddam Hussein and creating circumstances in which the Iraqi people may be able to carve out a future for themselves, the result has been daily chaos, confusion, murder, maiming and killing.

We must ask where we should go from here. I agree with the Minister of State about the absolute need for progress in returning authority to the people of Iraq. Only the people of Iraq can decide their future. It is essential that the deadline set for the creation of an interim administration is met. By midsummer, the people of Iraq must be playing a leading political role in their own affairs. It is essential that the deadline for full, direct elections is written in stone and met in January 2005. Over the past few days, we have seen again an apparent division between the pronouncements of Prime Minister Blair and Secretary of State Powell. We must demand in this House that political authority is vested in the people of Iraq at the earliest possible stage.

I record my absolute distaste at the images we have been seeing and the stories we have been hearing of prisoner abuse in Iraq. It is not good enough to say that what we are hearing and seeing is minuscule by comparison with the activities of Saddam Hussein's regime. That is no excuse. If the international community, the United Nations and the rule of law are to mean anything prisoners, be they in Iraq or elsewhere, must be treated with dignity and respect. The United States of America and Britain are letting themselves down by permitting the ill treatment of prisoners.

Don Lydon (Fianna Fail)
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A debate on the Middle East presents a wide ranging brief. We could discuss Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Syria or Lebanon. For the most part, Senators will wish to refer to Iraq and what I call the Holy Land.

We hear continually of Israeli over-reaction. When a group of Palestinians blows up a bus, kills ten people or blows up a building and the Israeli response is gunships and tanks, it is classed as over-reaction. To understand, we must examine the context. Israel was formed after the Second World War by Jews. Through fighting, they formed the new State of Israel, which Ireland was one of the first countries to recognise. Palestinians were displaced and many are for the third and fourth generations living in refugee camps in horrible conditions. There are difficulties preventing the Israelis from giving land back to the Palestinians and allowing a self-governing, separate state of Palestine to exist. There are Palestinian groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad which do not want separate states of Palestine and Israel. Their sole raison d'être is the complete destruction of the State of Israel. We need only think of the Six Day War, the Palestinian attack at the 1972 Olympics, hijacking and suicide bombing, all of which serve merely to reinforce Israeli fears. They see themselves surrounded by enemies on all sides.

It is often asked why the Israelis do not accept United Nations Security Council resolutions. Israel is not simply a secular state. It is the only Jewish state and its inhabitants see themselves being continually outvoted by Christian and, especially, Muslim states. I spoke to a number of people from Israel who expressed very little confidence in the UN. One can imagine what the scenario would be if Ireland were the only Christian state with all others being either Jewish or Muslim and was constantly voted down at the United Nations. Israel may be wrong on this point, but its point of view must be understood. It sees itself as a state with only one ally, the United States of America. Israel can only continue to exist because of the in-flow of subsidies from the USA and funds from Jewish organisations around the world. As long as the USA supports Israel, there will be no change of policy.

Israel is a good ally of the USA. It has nuclear weapons, the world's third largest air force and it supports the USA in the area. In turn, the USA supports Israel. The only way forward is to adhere to the road map which was agreed some time ago. While we should support a withdrawal from the occupied territories, Israel's security must be guaranteed by the USA impartially while international support for Palestine is guaranteed without supporting terrorist groups. I have visited the region many times. It is very difficult in Ireland to appreciate the role of religion there. It has a profound effect. It is not the case, as it is here and in other countries, that people worship on a Saturday and Sunday before simply heading home.

Some two years ago, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, gathered together important figures from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths who met for three days at Alexandria. Among those present were the Latin Patriarch Michael Sabbah, two archbishops representing respectively the Greek Orthodox and Romanian Patriarchs, the Anglican Bishop and the Greek Malachite Bishop of Galilee. Rabbi Michael Melchior, the then Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, led a delegation composed of five other rabbis including the Chief Rabbi of the Sephardi, Eliahu Bakshi Doron. There was also a Muslim delegation composed of the Chief Justice of the Sharia Courts Sheikh Taisir Tamimi and Minister of State for the Palestinian Authority Sheikh Tal El Sider and two others. In the concluding declaration, to which the highest Muslim dignitary in Egypt, the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar University in Cairo was one of the signatories, a commitment was made to re-establishing real peace in Jerusalem and the Holy Land and ending violence. Violence must be opposed by all people of good faith who are called upon to oppose incitement, hatred and misrepresentation. The declaration has had an effect and note has been taken of it.

We must insist on an unequivocal condemnation of terrorism whatever the source and denounce the unjust, humiliating conditions imposed on the Palestinian people as well as the reprisals and retaliations which serve only to increase feelings of frustration and hatred. There must be respect by all parties for the UN resolutions; proportionate use of legitimate means of defence; and the duty of the parties involved in the conflict to protect the holy places which are so important to the three monotheistic religions and for the heritage of all mankind.

All the talk in recent weeks has been about the horrible pictures of US soldiers torturing, humiliating and sexually abusing Iraqi combatants and civilians. Why are we so shocked about this? It is because we do not expect this sort of behaviour from the world's greatest democracy. However, let us think back to Vietnam — was it not much the same? Some 10,000 people were massacred at Hue by the Americans. Some 58,000 Americans lost their lives in Vietnam, along with 3.5 million Vietnamese — for what, I do not know. In the My Lai massacre, American soldiers went into a village and shot the men, raped women and teenage girls before shooting them, bayoneted babies and then sat down and had their lunch among the mayhem. This was captured on video. Things are no different now.

The Nazis, when they went into Russia, hung people from lampposts and put old people out in the cold. Then, when the Russians went into Germany, they raped German women. We must also remember Pol Pot in Cambodia and the Pinochet regime in Chile, which was supported by the USA. There are no differences among any of these regimes. The list is endless — Suharto, Pinochet, Marcos and Saddam Hussein were all supported by the West, particularly by the USA. They were supplied with arms; there was an international outcry, then civil war, followed by reconstruction contracts.

As I have said before, if Iraq produced bananas rather than oil we would have seen no war. I was one of the people who said the war was unjustified in the first place. I said this because I know that war brutalises people. We should not be too shocked when we see pictures of the results. The UK was found guilty in the European Court of Human Rights of having tortured republican prisoners at Castlereagh. The French tortured the Algerians. Anyone who has been on the Champs Elysées on Bastille Day will have seen the French Foreign Legion wearing big leather aprons and carrying hatchets. If one does not know what they are for, one can use one's imagination. Torture has also occurred in Turkish jails.

Torture is synonymous with dictatorial regimes and war. We must state this clearly. War brutalises people. Soldiers are trained to kill. It is difficult to kill a friend or someone who is similar to oneself, but somebody who is totally different can be thought of as subhuman and is easy to kill. It is easy to kill or torture gooks, wops, slit-eyes, Jews or Arabs. The more different they are, the easier it is to hurt them. If they are subhuman, one can extract information and humiliate them through torture. All armies have reported cases of rape, including the British in Cyprus and our own Army in certain cases abroad. During the Civil War, a few Free State soldiers blew up nine republicans at Ballyseedy by tying them to a mine. Even our own Government at that time ordered that 77 people were to be executed in retaliation for assassinations. That was a peculiar action for a Government to take. It is the same everywhere. Before the American soldiers went into Kuwait they were shown four hours of hardcore pornography, after which they buried alive thousands of conscripts.

None of this can be justified, but it is understandable in the context of war. We must respect human dignity, but at the same time we must try to understand what is happening and not be hypocritical. Let us not try to blame the American soldiers who are indoctrinated into blind obedience, with their cries of "Sir, yes Sir!" and "Unit, corps, God, country." These soldiers are not conscripts; they are mostly volunteers. They offer their lives for what they believe in. It is their political masters who deserve the blame. These are the people who want war to secure oil resources, to reward contracting companies for campaign donations and to reward arms manufacturers over and over. That is the real problem in the Middle East. Regimes are supported until they are no longer useful. Where did Saddam Hussein obtain his arms? He got them from the French, the Americans, the British and others.

These soldiers have been torturing people, but they are torturing themselves as well. We must try to understand that they are brutalised by war. We must condemn war and condemn particularly the people who cause wars, while trying to stop them. We cannot solve the Middle East problem without the co-operation of the USA and Mr. Bush. I would love to meet the American President when he is here and say a few things such as this to him. In some ways I admire Mr. Bush, but there are other things about him that I abhor. I do not suppose I will meet him but if I do I will certainly say these things to him. The European Union, in formulating its defence policy, will undoubtedly come into conflict with the USA at times.

We cannot give up on the Middle East, just as we cannot give up on anything in this life. We must keep on trying. We must use whatever means we can, including religious means, conferences and meetings. As the Minister of State said, we must speak out against what is happening in the Middle East. The Minister, Deputy Cowen, did this recently, but he did not please anybody, particularly the Israelis. He told the truth. In the matter of allegations of torture in Iraq, we must not focus all our attention on the soldiers, but we must concentrate on the political masters who sent them there. This is the real problem. It is only with their help, particularly that of the USA, that we will be able to solve the crisis in the Middle East.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The Minister of State is a decent and intelligent man, but his speech was pretty poor. It was timid, pusillanimous, apologetic and lickspittling to the Americans. I was astonished at the sequence of ideas. There was a general expression of concern about the level of hostilities in the Gaza Strip, which is entirely due to the Israeli invasion of that area, and a gesture towards a reciprocal ceasefire under the supervision of the international model. Why does the Minister of State not take the bull by the horns and admit that to protect the human rights of people who are being shot like rabbits every day of the week, Israel must accede to the requests for international observers to be brought in immediately? We must have some idea what is going on. Did the Israelis not bulldoze Rachel Corrie into the ground? Did they not shoot an unarmed reporter, James Miller? There was hardly any protest about this. Why was that?

The Minister of State also condemned attacks on Israel and called on the Palestinian Authority to take immediate action against terrorists. He must know this is rubbish. I have been there and I presume he has too. I have seen the devastated police stations. The Israelis have deliberately destroyed the infrastructure. The Palestinian police are not even allowed to wear uniforms when they are directing traffic. They have no means of controlling terrorism. The Minister of State also referred to Hamas. Hamas was established by the Israelis in order to impinge on the Palestinian Authority. It is coming back to haunt them now, sadly, at the expense of innocent Israeli lives.

The Minister of State referred to the security fence. That is an interesting use of language. I wonder whether he has seen it. It is a wall. I have been there. It horrifies me because it reminds me of the ghetto wall in Warsaw. On one side it is a nice, pretty wall with murals, about a quarter of the height it is on the other side. I know something of the distress of the people living there, as do many Israelis, who would be disgusted by the timidity of the Minister of State's speech. This disgust would be shared by groups such as Physicians for Human Rights — distinguished doctors who queue outside the ghettos, waiting their turn in the rain to go in and treat Palestinians because they do not agree to the suspension of their human rights.

The Minister of State reaffirms the calls of Mr. Bush for an end to the occupation. I do not remember any such calls, but that is what should be done. Israel should withdraw to within its 1967 boundaries and obtain guarantees from the surrounding states. The one place where settlements cannot be satisfactorily dismantled is in Jerusalem, because it is so organically embedded in its surroundings I do not see how it could be done. However, Israel should sow the seeds of peace with an act of generosity, unlike what happened at Taba. It should agree that instead of demolishing these buildings it will make them available to its Palestinian cousins.

Many European countries which were involved in the Holocaust against the Jews, which was a shameful crime, should help to subsidise the building of decent neighbourhoods for the people displaced from these settlements.

In the Minister of State's attempt to do a balancing act, he has not done a service to this House. He referred to Nick Berg, which was an horrific appalling occurrence for his unfortunate family. They blame the United States Government because he was arbitrarily arrested by United States forces and detained there, but they made no attempt to guarantee his safety on the way out. Perhaps he was set up. His family feels aggrieved at the Bush Administration for what happened.

The Minister of State expressed his deep concern at reports that some 40 people were killed by US forces in an incident last week, the circumstances of which must still be clarified. I can clarify them for him. It was a wedding. There is contemporary video and eye-witness accounts that it was a wedding. The people killed who have been identified included children and one of the best known entertainers in Iraq, who was performing at the wedding. That imbecile general said he does not know why people would go 40 miles into the desert. Many of these people are called Bedouin and they do it regularly. I have visited the area and I know a little about it. It does not need to be clarified. What awaits to be clarified is the fact that the general said he had nothing for which to apologise. He said he would not apologise for his troops because nasty things happen in war. They certainly do when an army is out of control and the tone is set by the commander-in-chief, President George Bush, who is personally implicated in the whole mess, particularly in the use of torture.

Last summer, I read an analysis of American foreign policy by Gore Vidal who said the sweetest four words in the English language were "I told you so". They are not; they are the bitterest because some of us on all sides stood up here during the debates and warned what would happen in the Middle East. However, we are impotent and make no impact. It is dreadful to experience standing by and seeing what one forecast happening. We should recall the language used by the soldiers during the war such as "Iraq is a disease and we are the cure", which is sinister, and "I got that chick", when a woman civilian was killed.

This all came about because President Bush decided unilaterally and arbitrarily to suspend the Geneva Conventions as they operate in particular areas and for particular groups of people. He has no authority to do so. He set about systematically and deliberately to undermine the rule of law in areas of human rights, destroy international conventions in these areas and deprive people of the very basic human rights. He is directly responsible. I will quote from an article in the weekend review in The Irish Times on Saturday, 15 May 2004, which states:

In some cases, such as determining whether a US citizen should be designated an enemy combatant who can be held without charge, the president makes the final decision, as Alberto R. Gonzales, counsel to the president, said on February 24th in a speech to the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security.

It could not be clearer. The President's finger prints are on this gun, which is not smoking — it has actually fired a fair few bullets at this stage. That makes the man a war criminal.

They call Guantanamo "Gitmo". The personnel from Guantanamo were transferred within the last year to Abu Ghraib prison with instructions to "Gitmoise" the situation there. What we have are people torn to pieces by dogs, people covered in their own excrement, people forced to fish food out of a lavatory bowl and people forced into humiliating images of copulation in front of female officers. The most disturbing of all is a pretty young "bimbo" in her 20s, with her head resting on the ground and her two fingers up in a victory salute beside the corpse of a man who had been battered to death. This is not far from the Nazis, but should this surprise anyone who knows of the Bush family's connections with the Nazi party in the 1920s? This is worrying.

I honour Deputy O'Donnell who spoke for all of us when she said in the Dáil that the United States has been shamed by what has been happening. However, there is no shame in President Bush. This is a man who corrupts language. There was no condemnation from Bush when they shot rockets from a helicopter at an unarmed, slowly-moving civilian group of peaceful demonstrators. President Bush reaffirmed backing for Israel as a courageous ally. This is the man who described Ariel Sharon, the man responsible for Sabra and Chatila, as a peacemaker. He appears to be either deliberately dishonest or completely disconnected from reality.

We must examine some of the other personnel like General Boykin, who is the Under-secretary of Defence with responsibility for intelligence. His ideas are interesting. He was one of the people sent to "Gitmoise" Abu Ghraib. In the past year, he staged a travelling slide show around the United States displaying pictures of Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. He is quoted as saying, "Satan wants to destroy this nation, he wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army". He preached they "will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus". As a Christian who goes to church every Sunday, I am revolted by this and I object strenuously to this barbarian invoking a religion whose basic tenet he does not understand because it is about love and turning the other cheek against violence. How dare they abuse the religion to which the majority of people in this country, including Catholic, Protestant and so on, belong.

In regard to Israel, I am a friend of Israel and will remain so. However, I feel betrayed as that wonderful dream has been betrayed. I stand with the really courageous people of Israel, the 29 air force pilots who refused to bomb because they knew it was against international human rights protocols, including the physicians for human rights and my former partner, Ezra, who goes every Saturday to Hebron to protect his Arab cousins — the Jews are cousins of the Arabs. Tommy Lapid, whom I know but do not personally like very much, who was a victim of the Holocaust, said in the Knesset at the beginning of this week that the pictures of the demolitions in Gaza and elderly women wandering around reminded him of his grandmother and her experiences in Hungary. That is from the horse's mouth, which is what we should listen to.

What should we do? Instead of this vague, wishy-washy sentiment about looking for stability, peace, democracy and all this blabber, why not do the one thing we can in our current position, and it is not a boycott? I do not agree with a boycott, which has a nasty aura and a nasty smell about it in this country because it is so personally motivated. It would become a cover for anti-Semitism and it would be a pin prick. We can do something much more serious, which is to examine the human rights protocols attached to the association agreement between the Israel and the European Union. When there are situations where people are being picked off like rabbits, including men, women and children, and there is utter abuse of human rights in Israel, if the human rights protocols are to mean anything and are not just a cosmetic decoration, when else should we operate them other than when Ireland is in the driving seat? This is what I am calling for, not an easy sentimental boycott which will do nothing except release anti-Semitism, which I deplore. We must use the instruments in the treaty itself.

This is a terrible situation, for which the Americans are largely responsible, not just in Iraq but also in Israel because it is under the shadow of the criminal regime in Washington that Sharon operates. It is by this that he is protected.

Even if one accepts American motivations, it has still been disastrous. They set out to look for weapons of mass destruction, yet not a single thing was found. We all said that would be the case but they would not listen. They frustrated Mr. Blix and the inspectors. They then forged a completely nonsensical relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. There were no members of al-Qaeda in Iraq at the time but there certainly are now. There was a secular state run by a tyrant that the Americans had placed in power, but at least it was run efficiently. There is now a shattered society and the possibility of a civil war. People are up in arms and I do not blame them.

There is now the real possibility of a fanatical Sharia regime. This was done at the behest of whom? Some very interesting material was released over the weekend which suggested that they were used like cats' paws by Iranian intelligence. It suggested that Ahmed Chalabi misled them deliberately and fed information to the Iranians so that the Americans could be used by proxy to knock out Iraq in the interests of Iran. This is the type of moral, intellectual and spiritual imbeciles with whom we are dealing. The visit of President George W. Bush, a known war criminal, is a disgrace to this country and I do not want to meet him. I would only like to meet him on the way out of Shannon, through which some of the torturers have probably moved.

I passed some information to the Leader of this House about Canadian citizens who were grabbed in JFK airport by the CIA. They were shackled, interrogated, placed on private planes and exported to Syria to be tortured, yet the US is simultaneously and hypocritically denouncing Syria. I named these people and we now have even more information in reports from Amnesty International. These reports make it clear that the UK and the US are without moral leadership or any vision. This small country, with a pivotal position in Europe, should not be allied to nations that are morally bankrupt and are on the way to imitating the excesses of the Nazis in the 1930s.

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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In speaking this evening on the broad issue of the current situation in the Middle East, I would like to address the situations in Iraq and in Israel and Palestine. In my opinion, both situations warrant a debate in their own right.

There have been many changes in Iraq over the past few months and we can look at these in terms of the glass being half full or half empty. Treatment of prisoners is a serious issue but more importantly it is a sign of the attitude of the US towards Iraqis. Simply put, is it a case of "do as I say, not as I do"? The pictures of prisoner abuses are damning and bring shame on the US Administration, but we must await a reasoned response. It is difficult to see how there can be a reasoned response but natural justice states we afford the right to response before we pass final judgment. War by its nature records outrages and bad events will occur. The US will be more closely judged on how it deals with these events than the events themselves. The international community will not accept junior ranking scapegoats.

Bad soldiers do not reflect the ethos of a professional army. Such soldiers have to accept responsibility for their own actions. Obeying an unlawful order is not a defence to a charge of a war crime. In my opinion, the perpetrators of these crimes fall into one of three categories. They are either rogue elements, covert operations by a combination of military and civilian personnel or political directives. The chain of command has to be clearly identified and those responsible have to be held accountable and prosecuted regardless of how high it goes, even if it is to the heart of the Bush Administration. Final judgment will be measured on who is held accountable.

From a military aspect, all professional soldiers are trained in all aspects of the Geneva Convention, in particular, Article 144 and how it is applied to POWs, the civilian population, the wounded and the sick. The failure of the US to sign up to the International Criminal Court is a weakness in its foreign policy and leads one to suspect that the Americans have different rules for themselves.

There is a weakness in not providing an international forum to debate this issue. The obvious forum is the UN, but due to the power of veto within the UN system, this forum is flawed. I welcome the draft resolution placed before the United Nations but have some reservations about the US interpretation of its future role. It will have to work in conjunction with the civilian authority and this plan will fail if it continues to operate under independent authority. The British Government seems to be adopting a more conciliatory approach on policing and future operations in accepting the primacy of the Iraqi provisional Government. I hope negotiations will lead to the adoption of a workable resolution that can win the support of the international community. Recriminations serve no purpose. The international community has to come together to ensure the future of the Iraqi state and its people.

I believe President Bush's visit to Ireland should go ahead. We will meet him in our capacity as President of the EU, representing 500 million people, and we have to accept the responsibility that comes with that office. Having said that, we should avail of the opportunity to tell the president of our concern over prisoner abuse and that future US operations would go ahead only with the provisional Iraqi Government's approval.

Confidence among Iraqis in international assistance can only be built by co-operation and not domination. Much has been achieved in this regard. There has been a national distribution of over 12,000 tonnes of medicine and supplies and all 240 hospitals have reopened. Health spending is 26 times greater than under the previous regime and child immunisation rates have increased by 25%. The pre-war potable water supply of 12.9 million litres has been doubled. Tens of thousands of Marsh Arabs have now returned to their ancestral home. All of Iraq's universities have been refurbished. School attendance is up 10% on a year ago. The number of departures of daily commercial aircraft is 100 times higher than before the war. Many of the 4.5 million Iraqi exiles have returned and are setting up major business enterprises. The country has now directly elected new town councils that cover 90% of the population. The World Bank estimates that if the unrest can be quelled, Iraq's per capita income will rise by 33% this year and gross domestic product by 60%. These are real achievements by any measure. If such calm is to become widespread, all available assistance must be given to the new Iraqi Government between 30 June 2004 and the general election in January 2005.

Regarding the situation in Israel and Palestine, I believe in the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. I believe in the state of Palestine and also in the state of Israel. I condemn all acts of terrorism, be they ideological or state-sponsored. The difference between a state and a group of fundamentalists is that a state has to work to a higher and more principled standard. We have to be accountable and responsible for our actions. It is easy for us to focus on prisoner abuse in Iraq, but we should not lose sight of the abuse of the Palestinian people, whether they are prisoners or the civilian population. We should not lose sight of the human rights abuses that have taken place in that country. Senator Norris spoke accurately of certain abuses. I personally witnessed Palestinian bodies laid at border crossings to terrorise the Palestinian people crossing the border and to warn them what might happen to them.

As far as the international community is concerned, Israel seems to work to a lower standard. We all acknowledge and condemn the atrocities against the Jewish people, and some more than others must hang their heads in shame for standing idly by, but that does not give us the right to allow Israel to operate to a lower standard. Both sides blame the other for each outbreak of bloodshed. Palestinian suicide bombers have killed and wounded scores of innocent people and the Israelis are clamping down on the Palestinians, launching assaults against what they believe are terrorist cells and claiming innocent lives in the process. Living conditions in the Palestinian territories are atrocious. Israeli settlers on Palestinian land now number more than 250,000. The construction of a security fence, which is more a wall isolating Palestinians, has torn the US roadmap for peace into shreds.

Edmund Burke once said, "Never despair, but if you do, work in despair". That was never more appropriate than in this case. Evidence would suggest that some members of the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinians generally, would accept the existence of Israel within its pre-1967 borders. We often see spokespersons for this point of view in the media whenever Israel commits an atrocity. Their argument is that they are reasonable people and if Israel would only leave them alone, they could all live in peace side by side. Many of those spokespersons are honest in their views. They genuinely believe they can live in peace with Israelis but while they are probably in the majority, a significant minority will never accept that solution.

Whether influenced by years of Israeli aggression or believing, as many did in 1947, that a Jewish state should never exist in Palestine, a sizeable minority would welcome the extinction of Israel. A majority of that sizeable minority would never do anything overt to overthrow Israel but their tacit support gives succour to those militants who are willing to take more active measures. If those dispossessed of their land within the pre-1967 borders of Israel were allowed to return, perhaps some would change their opinions, although the militants will never change.

As with Palestinian opinion, Israeli opinion is divided and falls within two blocs. Those of a Labour persuasion would probably welcome an agreement provided Israel's safety within its pre-1967 borders could be guaranteed, while there are those who would broadly support it. Likud will never accept the abandonment of the West Bank. All this may be academic as it is unlikely Israelis will be granted safety within their borders. Taking as a premise that safety will be granted, however, how do we persuade the Likud supporters to relinquish the West Bank?

There is no doubt that the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs international approval. The problem that arises concerns who will be the honest broker. It cannot be the US, given its influence, and Europe is viewed as being pro-Arab. We have to find common ground and it is only when the international community comes together and moves forward that we can hope there will be a successful resolution of this conflict.

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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I will be brief because we are running out of time. I wish to share my time with Senator Kitt and Senator Leyden.

When the invasion of Iraq began, I was one of those who advocated it. At dinner tables I spoke at length to many people who were against the invasion of Iraq, but I have come full circle in my thinking on it. I am so disappointed with the United States Administration. It has lost my confidence and I believe it has lost the confidence of every man and woman in the western world. I do not know how we will get out of this situation. After the horrific pictures that appeared on our television screens over the past few months, how could anybody trust the United Stated with the peace process and the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq? I do not believe a solution can be found. I only hope the United Nations can come in and not be hijacked again by America. I hope it can find a resolution to this situation because that is our only hope. I ask the Minister of State to disinvolve America and the political strategists who hijacked this issue and got nothing out of it. We do not have thinkers at that level, and I am happy to put that on record.

I am against what is happening in Iraq. We are now replacing one tyranny with another. That is the result of putting in place an administration which never thought through this process. The pictures of the beheading of a man in the past week made me sick and I am sure every man and woman on this side of the world felt the same. I will be saying at every opportunity available to me that I am very disappointed with America.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I am disappointed and saddened by what is happening in Iraq. I am not as hopeful as Senator Minihan about the progress in Iraq, although I realise progress has been made in the area of education. I visited Iraq 15 months ago and I try to keep in contact with Iraqi people here who tell me about the circumstances of their families in Iraq. There is a major breakdown in law and order and when that happens, every other issue has to be put into perspective. I am talking about issues such as the poor electricity and water supply, the inadequate sewerage system and so on. There is an irony in people queuing for oil products in a country which is so rich in that resource. Now is the time to restore sovereignty to the Iraqi people, which has been spoken about by the Minister and the Government, and keep in contact with the United Nations Security Council to ensure matters improve. I am told that normal currency is not worth anything in Iraq and that one needs dollars to survive. The oil for food programme, of which we were so proud, has been undermined by what is happening in Iraq.

I condemn what is happening regarding the humiliation of prisoners. We have seen such practices in Palestine and eastern Europe with the trafficking of people, particularly women. I understand information will be made available to us in the coming days on many more examples of humiliation in the prisons. I hope we get back to the question of the role of the United Nations and make a strong case, as we did to Washington and London in respect of the humiliation of prisoners. We must ensure that sovereignty is given to the Iraqi people and that they are allowed get on with their lives.

5:00 pm

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt. I also welcome Mr. Ali Halimeh, the Delegate General of the Palestinian Authority, who is in the Visitors Gallery. He is working closely with all of us to try to bring justice to the Middle East.

I take this opportunity to again condemn the activities of the Israeli Government and the atrocities it carried out in Rafah last week, which resulted in ten people being murdered and 40 injured. Israel is constantly carrying out atrocities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and it is time we took serious action in that regard.

I call on the Minister to review the European Union agreement with Israel, which was signed in 1995. That agreement gave preferential treatment to Israel to export their products to the European Union and it is now one of the major exporters to the EU. That action is in the hands of the Irish Government, as President of the European Union, and I ask the Minister to consider intervening at this time. Article 2 of that agreement states that relations between the parties, as well as all the provisions of the agreement, shall be based on respect for human rights and the democratic principles which guide their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of the agreement. The Israeli Government has broken that agreement and it should be reviewed and renegotiated.

The Irish people have a right to boycott all Israeli products and goods because Israel's illegal activities indicate that it does not have any respect for human rights. As many as 3,500 Palestinians have been murdered in the last three years.

I also condemn suicide bombings, which have ceased for some time. President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority do not support the activities of Hamas or Islamic Jihad but those organisations are thriving as a result of the atrocities which are being carried out.

This is a David and Goliath situation, but David will win in the long term and Palestine will be recognised as an independent state. Ireland was one of the first countries to recognise Palestine. The late Mr. Brian Lenihan, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, was the first European Foreign Minister to recognise the self-determination of the Palestinian people. We have a proud record in this regard and we continue our support for Palestine and for the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

Debate adjourned.