Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Use of Irish Airports: Motion.
That Seanad Éireann, in light of:
—developments in Iraq;
—the recent publication of the Council of Europe Report on CIA Rendition Flights; and
—the confusion surrounding the legal status of any Garda attempt to investigate the nature of these flights,
hereby calls for the establishment of the select committee on the use of Irish airports to investigate the use of Shannon by American military authorities, especially the CIA, for which preliminary preparatory meetings have already been held.
This is an important motion. It is a subject I have pursued for a considerable time. I was probably the first person in either House to raise this issue. I have with me a selection of what I stated on the matter during the past few years. I am sorry to state they have been proved right. I am particularly pleased my colleague, Senator Henry, will second the motion because on a notable occasion she extracted from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform a clear statement about what the attitude of the Government is on any process akin to extraordinary rendition.
One of the horrifying things that has happened during the course of the Iraq war is the constant debasement of language, such as the phrase "extraordinary rendition", "shake and bake attacks" in which people are incinerated by illegal phosphorus bombing and suicides in Guantanamo Bay described as a "publicity stunt". This is unconscionable. Language has been devalued by the American Administration by removing from it all its moral content.
I put down this motion in light of the report by Senator Dick Marty, which made the subject topical. It has been rendered even more topical by the admission by the United States authorities that they transferred a chained and shackled prisoner through Shannon Airport in a civilian aircraft last Sunday without the required notification to the Irish authorities. This places a grave question mark over the assurances given to the Irish Government by the US authorities concerning their use of Shannon. These assurances were never legally binding anyway. It is a requirement of international law that they should be legally binding. They never have been and the Government knows this.
However, even if one accepted their assurances, one must look beneath these legally meaningless forms of words and understand this American Administration has departed drastically from the norms of international law. Torture has been redefined to the point where apparently the only proof a subject has been tortured is if it results in death or permanent injury. Practices such as waterboarding, in which the victim is half-drowned, revived under medical supervision and subsequently subjected to interrogation, a technique initiated by the Gestapo, is defined as not constituting torture.
No doubt, the piratical practice of kidnapping persons who may be either citizens of the US or third countries and transporting them to regimes which the Bush Administration publically holds in distaste so they may be tortured in the presence of CIA agents, is regarded by the current incumbent at the White House and his associates as being perfectly legal.
Regrettably, spokespersons for the Government appear to have been infected by the linguistic practices of our American cousins. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in a statement issued no later than yesterday, stated we will not facilitate and have not facilitated extraordinary renditions and that is and remains our policy. Perhaps it remains a publicly-stated policy but it is and will remain totally untrue. I call on the Minister to withdraw it.
It has been demonstrated beyond any possibility of doubt that by refuelling aircraft such as the notorious "Guantanamo express" we have incontrovertibly facilitated the noxious practice of extraordinary rendition. We in old Europe and many in the United States know this degradation of international standards of decency does not, and should not, be allowed represent the typical values of the democratic world.
Throughout this debate there has been constant obfuscation and indulgence in what the Taoiseach would no doubt describe as "waffle". Serious questions have been asked but never answered. The Minister for Foreign Affairs confines himself to answering questions which have not been asked but for which he believes he has a mollifying answer. He defends the Government against accusations which have never been made while never replying to those which have.
There has been a tendency in Government circles to dismiss the Marty report. The language, we are told, is emotional. I would not have respect for anyone who did not become emotional at the prospect of human beings, in some cases subsequently proved totally innocent, being snatched off the streets or intercepted in airports, their clothes surgically shorn from their bodies, drug suppositories inserted in their anus, unceremoniously clothed in nappies, then shackled to the inside of a CIA plane disguised as a civilian aircraft and transported to destinations they know not where for the purposes of being tortured.
This is all done in the name of realpolitik to maintain American investment in Ireland. This is a short-sighted and mercenary view of morality and never served the Government well in the past. Senator Mansergh in this House last Thursday, if one unpicks the diplomatic language, was surprisingly frank on this issue, stating the conduct of foreign policy and our relations with other countries often involves striking difficult balances, taking into account both our values and interests.
Striking that balance wrongly can have serious long-term consequences. This is virtually what I was told by the Fianna Fáil benches when I was a lone voice opposing Irish beef deals with the Iraqi army. I well remember the phrase which emerged from the foreign affairs spokesperson on the other side, when I was told what I advocated might well be the moral position, but could Ireland afford it. We still have not resolved the question as to whether Ireland can afford to act morally in international relations.
I have some direct questions for the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and I would appreciate some direct answers. If, as the spokesperson suggested, there is nothing new in the Marty report, why has comment not been made on the clearly proven fact that Ireland has been involved in facilitating rendition? The Minister of State is shaking his head but it is perfectly clear. A man was snatched off the street, he was taken to Egypt, he was tortured and we refuelled that aeroplane on the way back. That facilitates rendition. At least, I know what the meaning of language is, does the Minister of State?
Does he accept that, as I stated, the flight in June 2003, almost exactly three years ago, in which Abu Omar was abducted in Milan, illegally flown to Egypt where he was tortured, was refuelled at Shannon Airport with the consent of the Irish Government on its return journey during the same flight schedule? Does he accept this is clear evidence, and would so be accepted by an international criminal court, of Ireland's collusion with the United States in the practice of extraordinary rendition?
Does he accept that only for the action of cleaning staff, who boarded the aircraft at Shannon last Sunday, a blind eye would have been turned to this incident also? Does he accept that had the aeroplane, which had just dumped Abu Omar in Egypt for the purposes of torture, been inspected in Shannon the modifications made to that aeroplane for the purpose of transferring prisoners would have been noticed and reported?
I was one of three people who made a complaint to the Garda Commissioner concerning these flights. In response, he appointed two detective inspectors to interview me. I arranged to be accompanied at that interview by Deputy Michael D. Higgins. We checked our recollections of that meeting and we can both state independently that we were told on that occasion by these senior representatives of the Garda Síochána that because of the way in which international treaties were incorporated into Irish law, they lacked the power to make the type of investigations sought at that time. This is in clear and direct contradiction of what both the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs told the Dáil and the public. In reply to a question by Deputy Sargent in the Dáil yesterday, the Taoiseach retorted that Deputy Sargent was not a garda. This is quite true but neither is the Taoiseach. I, at least, have the advantage of having spoken to the representatives of the Garda Commissioner. Will the Minister of State outline precisely the legal status concerning such investigations? This is exactly the kind of area that the abortive committee, whose terms of reference had already been agreed by an all-party committee of the Oireachtas, could have investigated had it not been squashed by a combination of interest groups operating in the undergrowth of Leinster House.
Arguments were made that Senators were lobbied by local councillors from the area around Shannon Airport. It is a sad day that Seanad Éireann should be ruled from Clare County Council. I would have thought councillors would have learned by now that it can be dangerous to mix money and morality. In any case, American business is peculiarly hard-headed. Despite all the obsequious lickspittling, it was announced a week ago in the newspapers that a large proportion of these commercial military flights is being transferred to other European destinations which are more convenient. Shannon Airport will and must survive but it should not and must not survive on blood money.
There have been attacks on the Marty report, on its use of language and its reference to a "spider's web". However, I have a map showing the flight paths and if it were shown to any child, he or she would describe it as a spider's web. Shannon Airport is right at the centre of this network of shame.
We have been named and shamed in the Marty report as being in "category A". We have been asked to do something about this by the human rights section of the United Nations, the Irish Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International — I could go on and on.
The practices to which I have referred are gross in the extreme and I would like to put them, as determined by the Marty report, on the record. Reference was made to the lack of evidence but there is plenty of clear, cogent, factual evidence, itemised point by point in the report. Detailed observations, flight patterns and climatic conditions are all included. The report makes an absolutely cast-iron case about rendition and it describes what is known as the "security check" as follows:
i. it generally takes place in a small room (a locker room, a police reception area) at the airport, or at a transit facility nearby.
ii. the man is sometimes already blindfolded when the operation begins, or will be blindfolded quickly and remain so throughout most of the operation.
iii. four to six CIA agents perform the operation in a highly-disciplined, consistent fashion- They are dressed in black (either civilian clothes or special 'uniforms'), wearing black gloves, with their full faces covered. Testimonies speak, variously, of "big people in black balaclavas", people "dressed in black like ninjas", or people wearing "ordinary clothes, but hooded".
iv. the CIA agents "don't utter a word when they communicate with one another", using only hand signals ...
v. some men speak of being punched or shoved by the agents at the beginning of the operation in a rough or brutal fashion; others talked about being gripped firmly from several sides.
vi. the man's hands and feet are shackled.
vii. the man has all his clothes (including his underwear) cut from his body using knives or scissors in a careful, methodical fashion; an eye-witness described how "someone was taking these clothes and feeling every part, you know, as if there was something inside the clothes, and then putting them in a bag".
viii. the man is subjected to a full-body cavity search, which also entails a close examination of his hair, ears, mouth and lips.
ix. the man is photographed with a flash camera ...
x. some accounts speak of a foreign object being forcibly inserted into the man's anus; some accounts speak more specifically of a tranquiliser or suppository being administered per rectum — in each description this practice has been perceived as a grossly violating act that affronts the man's dignity.
I do not have time to read the full description into the record but I hope I have read enough to shame all of us in this House. Deputy Michael D. Higgins stated in the Dáil last night that these practices are "in breach of every single principle of international law, namely, the manner of apprehension, the manner of transporting, the issue of habeas corpus, the right to legal protection, delivering a person inhuman treatment and the delivery of a person through enforced disappearance into an ill-defined and indeterminate place of detention".
This is the mess we have gotten ourselves into. If only the Government had listened several years ago when I and my colleagues on this side of the House, and many decent Members of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, referred to these practices and tried to stop it from averting its eyes from the horror in which it was rapidly enmeshing itself and becoming complicit, we would not be in this mess tonight.
I second the motion. It is a great honour to be asked to do so.
On 23 June 2004, on Fifth Stage of the Transfer of Execution of Sentences Bill 2003 in this House, I stated the following to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform:
As one who has long been concerned with the rights and treatment of prisoners, I welcome the Bill. It is extremely useful. I wish to raise with the Minister a matter which has been of great concern to the House. Can he assure us that untried and unsentenced people are not being brought through Shannon from goodness knows where to Guantanamo Bay? We raised this issue in the House several times and it has been a cause of real concern to us because many Irish citizens would not like to think that was happening.
The Minister replied:
Obviously, I have no notice of that issue, although, apparently, the Senator has raised it on other occasions in the House. Any person who is on the soil of Ireland is entitled to the protection of our Constitution. No person can be brought through the soil of Ireland in the custody of any other state except in accordance with international law. If the Senator has reason to believe any person has been transited through Irish territory, in unlawful custody, particularly to Guantanamo, I would be interested to hear it because I would respond to it immediately. We have our Constitution and the right of the freedom of the individual is not confined to citizens; it applies to all persons. Therefore, it would cause me grave concern if I thought people were being smuggled through Irish territory in circumstances that amounted to unlawful detention in Irish law or in international law for that matter.
If we do not look for people being smuggled through or if we continue to collude in our dealings with the aeroplanes on which they are smuggled, how on earth can we afford them the benefits of our Constitution?
The report on rendition, produced by Senator Dick Marty of Switzerland, shows that Shannon has been used by CIA aeroplanes to render people to third countries on a continuing basis. Last Sunday's exposé by cleaning staff of a manacled person on a civilian aeroplane demonstrates that we must be sceptical of US assertions that our hospitality towards its aeroplanes is not being abused. It is odd that there is no protocol in place to deal with discoveries such as that made by the cleaners, whose actions I applaud.
Torture, both physical and psychological, has been employed on people who have been sent to third countries for rendition. There are plenty of reports on this. Torture is a barbarous practice and we all prefer to avoid thinking about or discussing it. There is avoidance on the part of the victim and denial on the part of the perpetrator, his or her helpers and society as a whole. This denial is extensive and allows the practice of torture and its effects to continue.
I applaud those at the Centre for the Care of the Survivors of Torture, North Circular Road, on their courage in caring for those who were tortured in other countries and subsequently came to Ireland. I doubt I would be able to do it myself even though medical publications, particularly in the United States, are increasingly telling medical personnel that they must address this issue. I refer in particular to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine:
The Geneva Convention's definition of torture can apparently be ignored by those who have invaded Iraq. What is torture? In the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984, it is defined as follows:
Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
The people who are directing the rendition flights are acting in an official capacity. Physical torture may include suspension, beatings, electric shock, removal of nails and/or teeth, deprivation of food and water, sexual abuse and forced ingestion of chemicals. Other types of torture which are primarily psychological include solitary confinement, threats, witnessed torture or execution — this is particularly serious where the one tortured is a member of someone's family — sham executions, deprivation of sleep and monopolisation of perception.
Regarding the effects of torture on the victims, survivors of torture often suffer from a combination of physical and psychological effects. Physical effects may include scars, broken bones, muscle swelling, stiffness or atrophy, chronic pain, headaches, deafness, blindness and loss of teeth. Victims often suffer from psychological symptoms such as lack of sleep, nightmares, problems with concentration, anxiety, depression, irritability, adjustment disorders, impotence and feelings of powerlessness, shame and guilt.
Anyone who has read the sufferings of the young Canadian man who was wrongly taken while transiting through the United States of America to Syria and there tortured will understand that these effects are ongoing and deprive people of what can be described as a normal life.
When I marched against the invasion of Iraq I felt sure that the proposed war would go badly but I did not think it would go as badly as it has done. Death and the destruction of Iraqi citizens is everywhere and displacement of communities on a sectarian basis is now following. Life is intolerable for many people, women in particular being singled out for rape and kidnapping. The Chaldean Christians have mainly fled the country.
In the Seanad I have called for the release of two women scientists, Dr. Huda Ammash and Dr. Rhab Taha. The former obtained her doctorate in Missouri University, the latter in East Anglia. These women were portrayed as high profile producers of biological weapons of mass destruction and members of the infamous "Pack of Cards" by the discredited people in the Pentagon who had decided they were important members of Saddam's regime. Calls for their trial or release were ignored. Dr. Ammash had breast cancer. Surely she could have been released on humanitarian grounds. Even when their release was sought by those insurgents who kidnapped and subsequently beheaded Ken Bigley, a British hostage, it was ignored. Perhaps their release would have helped in securing his release. After two and a half years, they were quietly released six months ago but did anyone see that reported widely? No, because it was not.
What has all this done to the standing of the United States in the world? It has diminished it greatly. In a recent survey, 60% of people questioned in the United States and in Europe felt the invasion of Iraq and its consequences had made the world more dangerous. Under-Secretary Karen Hughes is touring the world in an attempt to improve this serious change in the view of the citizens of the world of the United States. She has an uphill task.
The war has also diminished Americans themselves. When I was there last autumn, I met a woman who told me that as the mother of a young serviceman, she feared for what this war is doing to America's young people. What does it do to young people to be told they are to run down children in the path of one's truck in case they are slowing the trucks for a roadside bomb? The effect on the people of America will be horrific too.
I would be grateful if Senator Norris would exclude me from the allegations he has made repeatedly in this House about councillors having a direct influence. I want to record that any decision I have taken on this matter, going back over a number of years, as it pertained to debate in this House, both in regard to the proposed motion and otherwise, was reached after conclusions I came to independently, based on the available information and on my own preferences.
——as were many of my colleagues within the Fianna Fáil parliamentary group but that is a separate issue.
Having said that, the carefully constructed building the Government presented to the Irish people and that I supported was destroyed in the dust of Shannon Airport last Sunday morning by, I understand, a flight crew member and not a cleaner — that has since been clarified — who reported the matter to the duty manager at Shannon Airport who, in turn, contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs.
In the past decade we talked in this House and the other House about building trust. The basis on which this Government has operated since 1997, and the new Administration in 2002 between the two parties, has been built on trust. The relationship between Ireland and the United States of America has been built on trust. I strongly suggest that as a result of what happened last Sunday, that trust has been seriously eroded. I regret to say that because I am, and always have been, a strong supporter of America. I am not a supporter of the Iraq war. I believe it was a mistake and that subsequent events have proven that but that is not what this debate is about. The fact that the USA breached Irish law last Sunday, either inadvertently or deliberately — we do not yet know which — is a matter of grave concern. I am grateful that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern — I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, will address this issue in his reply — has immediately taken action by calling in the US ambassador and explaining to him, I believe in robust terms, the unacceptable nature of what happened last Sunday in Shannon.
It is rather ironic that in doing some research for this debate I selected an article in last Sunday's Sunday Independent by John Clarke, a writer on security issues and a contributor to Jane's Defence Weekly, the leading and very credible defence magazine in the world. Reading the article now it is somewhat ironic to read some of the quotes he used to suggest there would be no reason the CIA would use Shannon for prisoners because it does not make any sense when the UK, a NATO member with secure military bases, is close by. In light of what happened on Sunday, some of the quotes have a certain resonance. For example, he states:
Do people really think we Americans are that stupid? Why would we use Shannon for transferring prisoners? It doesn't make sense.
They have been stupid or else they are being conspiratorial, and that is a matter for this Government to investigate and establish the reason. It makes it even more serious in light of what was written in the article in justifying why there would not have been any rendition of prisoners through Shannon Airport. He states:
[For a start], look at the proximity of Shannon to the UK. Why would the CIA use a civilian facility in a neutral, albeit friendly country when, a short hop away across the Irish Sea, they have access to secure military air bases used by the US Air Force? The UK is a fellow member of NATO, fully signed up to Washington's "War on Terror", and America's most important ally among the multinational forces in Iraq.
I might add that there is one element of the article with which I agree and which perhaps might be worthy of reflection. It states:
. . . CIA [agents] use private jets nowadays like other people use taxis, just to get from A to B. Uncle Sam has deep pockets, and is pulling out all the stops in the "War on Terror". Those aircraft are likely to be carrying intelligence agents on various missions, or security guards being transported to carry out protection duty at some US installation abroad, rather than prisoners.
I have to accept that in most cases, and perhaps in all cases up to Sunday, that is the case but it does not necessarily follow that because it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it is a duck. What has plagued this debate on both sides for the past while is that there is an absence of specific evidence. I am aware that those who are proposing that the Government should have taken a more proactive role have been reinforced by the events of last Sunday. I am pleased that the Minister, Deputy Ahern, in the course of a radio interview yesterday evening, said that in bringing proposals to Cabinet on what happened on Sunday, that left open the question of random checks by the gardaí on aeroplanes landing at Shannon. I would welcome that. I have never been opposed to that view. All I ever suggested was that as the United States Administration had repeatedly and consistently said, not just to the European Union, as the Minister again pointed out yesterday in the contextual history he presented of this whole issue, but to the Government in response to specific questions from it, namely, whether they were in violation of Irish law and indulging in extraordinary renditions through Shannon Airport or other Irish airports. The answer was a resounding "No". In view of the close relationship between this country and America I was very happy to accept that. To have accepted otherwise would have been seen as a hostile act by a friendly nation. In light of what happened on Sunday, however, I now fully support the Government if that is the role it wishes to take — to carry out random checks not just on US aeroplanes landing at Shannon Airport but on all aircraft coming through that airport where there is any question of a violation of Irish airspace. That is what has happened in this case.
According to the article by Mr. Clarke, the law on transit applies to a prisoner being transported on a private jet, which it was in this instance, which lands in an Irish airport for refuelling, which it did. He said that without permission the detention of the prisoner on Irish soil would be in violation of Irish law. The law also applies to the transport through an Irish airport by another state of a prisoner on a military aircraft.
In light of this and because of my genuine concern that there should not be any dismantling of the strong and close relationship between this country and America, which allows us to be critical among friends, I would hate to believe that what happened last Sunday was the tip of the iceberg and that, in fact, this was just the latest in a series of violations of Irish law and airspace, which happened to have been discovered by chance by a flight crew member.
I am glad of the opportunity to say a few words on this motion. The call, by the movers of the motion, for Seanad Éireann to establish a select committee on the use of Irish airports to investigate the use of Shannon by American military authorities is a modest and very fair request. It is something that we have——
I want to reiterate that this call for the establishment of a select committee to examine the use of Irish airports to investigate the possible misuse of Shannon is a very modest and reasonable request, one that we have debated in this House on previous occasions. We had almost reached a point where an all-party group in the Seanad was about to be established on this issue. Some preliminary meetings had taken place, it appeared to have the support of all sides and we felt that such a committee would serve a very useful purpose.
At the very core of the argument about Shannon, rendition, the use of Irish airports and the knowledge or lack of it by the Irish authorities, there is serious doubt and grave concern. I concur with what Senator Mooney has said as regards absolute clarification being urgently required. The Council of Europe report needs careful study. I attended the first session of the Council of Europe where Senator Marty presented his interim report. On that occasion he conceded that there were as many questions as answers. He has now come forward with further work and serious questions are raised. We look forward to the next meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in a fortnight's time for a full debate on that report on rendition.
The practice of rendition is something about which we must express serious political objections, on moral and political grounds, and I am sure it is opposed by every Member of this House. That can be stated without fear of contradiction. The issue before the House, however, is the question of setting up a select committee, which was a source of political debate and division among the Government parties in House on the previous occasion. In light of the most recent events, however, it is in everybody's interest to have a full and clear picture of what is happening in Shannon.
Senator Mooney is correct in saying that in these types of issues it is important that we can lodge our complaints, concerns and where necessary, our objections, to the American Administration. A very close political relationship has always existed between the United States and Ireland and hopefully will continue. It is in our mutual interests that this should be so. However, where practices occur to which we fundamentally object, there is no point in Ireland hiding its head in the sand. We must call a spade a spade. When there is serious doubt as regards what is happening at Shannon, there is an obligation on the Government to investigate and react. It will certainly be supported by all Members of this House. That is why, as a first step, we need to have our own sources of information. The Marty and other reports, including rumoured reports, statistics, etc., are helpful, but it would be very useful to us, politically, if a committee of this House was able to launch its own investigation and use its resources to try to get the answers we seek.
If there is evidence, as appears likely, that Shannon is being used for rendition purposes, we must be profoundly concerned. The use of rendition and the practice of torture is unjustifiable and immoral. It is in every respect counter-productive in the long-run. There was a debate earlier in the House today about the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union. A number of speakers made the point as regards the type of society Romania and Bulgaria were previously, under totalitarian communist rule. It is our desire that this type of administration, rule or society should not exist any longer.
Unfortunately, practices such as rendition and torture have more in common with the old Soviet Union than what one might expect from the standards of the United States of America. It is of major concern to us all that practices seem to be occurring, arising from the war in Iraq, which are unethical, immoral and illegal. Our Government must be prepared to speak out against those practices. If there is any possibility of a resolution to the enormous problem in Iraq, if there is to be progress in the Middle East and if those types of political flashpoints in the world are to have their problems addressed, the United States has a significant role to play. The credibility of the United States, however, and its usefulness as an arbitrator of international disputes are severely lessened when questions such as rendition and torture are being discussed and even more worrying, practised. We need to clarify these issues urgently.
The select committee would have a useful role to play, in investigating, asking questions, being prepared to seek the truth and to reach a conclusion. I appeal to the Minister of State in his response to take on board the events of recent weeks. A Government response was given four or five months ago, but matters have moved on, not just as regards the Marty report and other pieces of evidence, but in the context of the events of last weekend in particular. It requires a new response, fresh thinking and flexibility on the part of the Government to allow this House of the Oireachtas, a senior part of Irish public life, to play an investigative role, which it is more than willing to do if given the opportunity.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and the contributions of other Senators. This is an issue that often gets debated in this House. Sometimes it is fraught with more hysteria than fact. I can understand that because at times we all become concerned about the issues as we perceive them. Coming from County Clare, it can also be an emotive issue, not just in monetary terms but also because there is a focus put on our county and on our airport for all the wrong reasons. I do not refer to anybody in this House, but people seek to make political capital or public comment on the back of what we believe is a very good piece of infrastructure and a benefit to the west of Ireland. They do so in a way that commingles fact with fiction, involving a level of hysteria, misinformation and downright lies at times.
There is no doubt that what happened over the weekend has focused many minds on this issue. I have done the best I can to come to terms with the facts, based on information that I have tried to gather over the last few days. In doing so, I have ignored the statements from all sides and tried to talk to people on the ground at the airport. It seems to me that there is not a major crisis, although others might say that I would say that. My understanding was that a member of the cleaning staff became concerned when she saw someone on the aircraft in the company of police officers, while others had disembarked. In reporting that to a supervisor, a decision was taken to contact the American Embassy. The embassy was quick to establish the facts of the situation and ascertained information from personnel at the airport. I believe it got the co-operation of airport staff in trying to establish the facts. I welcome that and the pro-active manner in which the embassy dealt with the situation. It is a difficult issue for a foreign mission, dealing with what it sees as a war situation, the army, intelligence agencies and their work.
A further mitigating fact was that the civilian airline flying these soldiers home does not normally transit through Shannon Airport, but through Frankfurt-Hahn in Germany. That airline has done a deal with Shannon Airport to fly the troops via Shannon during the World Cup and in doing so, may not be as clear on the protocols in dealing with the Irish situation. That does not relieve the US Government of its obligation to observe the laws of this land, which we as legislators are proud to enact. The efforts made by the embassy to acknowledge the fact and to try to deal with the information deficit that was there has been welcome. That does not take from the fact that it was unacceptable that our laws were ignored, albeit inadvertently in my view.
There has been an effort to mix this information up with Senator Marty's report released last week. It was unfortunate that the two issues collided. I believe that his report is largely baseless. It is devoid of hard fact and in my view is biased. Senator Norris stated that we were categorised as "category A". The use of a term such as "category A" denotes a level of seriousness in our involvement, but it is quite the inverse. Category A represents a group of airports that only have a minor involvement as a refuelling stop on the return journey from these so-called "missions". There was no major evidence provided, albeit that there is a map that does not look like a spider's web in my view, but more like the map that Ryanair has on its website.
My concern is that there has been an effort to confuse Ireland with being involved in the worst category. The lowest category, D, is where the greatest complications take place, if weight is to be given to that report. I know that many people in this House have spoke on this issue in a genuine way, but I am concerned that an effort is being made to damage the name of Shannon Airport.
A point was made on how we came to our views as part of the Fianna Fáil Party in the Seanad on the establishment of such a committee. I share the sentiments of my colleague, Senator Mooney, as I too have come to my own view on this. I also share the views of the Clare councillors on this issue and I help to inform their attitude from time to time as they look to us for our views as national legislators. We meet regularly and we discuss a range of issues and topics. We agree on some of them and we do not agree with others. They will make their voice heard on issues with which they do not agree. Anybody that has an ongoing relationship with county councillors will recognise that it is often difficult to satisfy their issues on all occasions. We form our own views, but their involvement was helpful in highlighting what they perceived were problems. It would be unfair to suggest that local representatives should not have the right to talk to their national parliamentarians, after all, they are the electorate of the Senate.
I am proud to have been elected a member of the Seanad by the councillors throughout Ireland, especially in County Clare. I will continue to represent my own views, in consultation with their views, as long as I am here. I hope that is for some time to come.
There have been references to blood money. It is ironic to discuss it in that context when one considers that Germany was very opposed to the war in Iraq, yet it is now receiving more troops than any other country. In more recent times, troops going through Shannon Airport are part of the multinational force in Iraq that is there at the request of the Iraqi Government. They are backed by the UN Security Council Resolution 1637, which was passed on 8 November.
We had an interesting debate on Iraq last November. I am on the board of an organisation in the US and when there in December, I found myself talking to a number of Americans about events in Iraq. I was surprised that they did not seem to understand that the steps they were taking were working against their long-term interests.
I admire Senator Mooney for what he said today and we are both friends of the US. When I spoke last November, I spoke as a friend of the US, even though I was very critical. In January, I circulated that speech to Americans and many of them came back to me to talk about it. They were surprised at the strength of feeling I had expressed. However, I found that many of them were supportive of what I would regard as torture. That surprised me because my memory was that they would not have done so before. One of them sent me an article to which I will refer.
What happened last Sunday at Shannon Airport has shaken me, because until then I believed the Americans. I believed what they said, although some other Members of this House did not. I was surprised by what was discovered last Sunday. I am shaken by that. If a person lets me down by misleading me once, I will give him or her a second chance but if that person misleads me a second time, he or she loses my trust. The Americans are in danger of losing our trust because they seem to have misled us about what was happening with those aeroplanes that were passing through Shannon Airport in recent times.
I was surprised by the lack of understanding among Americans that they have no chance of winning this war on terror by using the same tactics as those used by the terrorists. Their only way of winning it is to change the hearts and the minds of those terrorists, but instead they seem not only to be losing out on the fight to change the hearts and minds of those terrorists but to be creating many more who have become associated with the aims and objectives of those terrorists.
When I circulated a copy of what I had said on that occasion, I was surprised by those who came back to defend the areas of torture. One of the comments made was as follows:
It didn't take long for interrogators in the war on terror to realise that their part was not going according to script. Pentagon doctrine, honed over decades of Cold War planning, held that 95% of prisoners would break upon straightforward questioning. Interrogators in Afghanistan, and later in Cuba and Iraq, found just the opposite . . .
In particular, torturous interrogation methods, developed at Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan in illegal disregard of Geneva protections, migrated ... [later to Iraq] and were manifest in the abuse photos [that we saw].
It appears that this was binned on with the approval of very high ranking Americans. Chris Mackey a co-author of the book "The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against al Qaeda" wrote a gripping account of the interrogation methods used in Iraq. I will refer to one of two of them, one in particular caught my imagination. It states:
Battlefield commanders in Afghanistan and intelligence officials in Washington kept pressing for information ... The frustrated interrogators constantly discussed how to get it. The best hope, they agreed, was to re-create the "shock of capture" — that vulnerable mental state when a prisoner is most frightened, most uncertain, and most likely to respond to questioning. [However, it was not working for them.]
The question was: Was such treatment consistent with the Geneva Conventions?
President Bush had declared in February 2002 that al-Qaeda members fell wholly outside the conventions and that Taliban prisoners would not receive prisoner-of-war status — without which they, too, would not be covered by the Geneva rules. [I had not been aware of that.]
What emerged [from this] was a hybrid and fluid set of detention practices. As interrogators tried to overcome the prisoners' resistance, their reference point remained Geneva and other humanitarian treaties. But the interrogators pushed into the outer limits of what they thought the law allowed, undoubtedly recognising that the prisoners in their control violated everything the pacts stood for.
This is what frightens me. It seems the American are now defending the steps they took. They say the terrorists do not stick to the rules, therefore, why should they do so. They treat the soldiers who fight them on a battlefield differently because they could receive the same treatment from the soldiers, but they say the terrorists act differently and, therefore, they do not have to adhere to the Geneva Conventions.
The reason I have gone to some pains to outline this is that I believed the Americans were not involved in torture other than those who had stretched the limit beyond what they should have done. When we heard the outcry against the Abu Ghraib prisoners and we saw those photographs, we said that was not acceptable, and we thought it was not acceptable to the Americans. However, now it seems that is not correct.
I am not sure that the proposal in the motion to establish a select committee to investigate this matter is the correct way to address it, and I would like to hear the Minister of State's view on this. I notice that the Government has not tabled an amendment to the motion and, therefore, I assume it is likely to accept Senator Norris's proposal to establish a select committee.
Perhaps there is another way to deal with this matter, but it seems the Americans abused the reception opportunities we allowed at Shannon Airport. There was no doubt as to whose side we were on when the war commenced in Iraq. I was opposed to that war, but on the day it started there was no question as to whether we were on the side of Saddam Hussein or on the side of those who had gone into Iraq. We had hoped the fighting would be over as quickly as possible, but that did not happen and it appears highly unlikely it will happen. However, we must now help the Americans who invaded Iraq to get out by way of some mechanism. The manner in which we can do that is by urging them to change the hearts and minds of the terrorists and of those who support them and not to begin acting like terrorists.
A step taken which ignores the Geneva Convention is unacceptable. It is unacceptable if Shannon Airport has been used in some form or other in that respect. To take up Senator Dooley's point, I read Senator Marty's report and there is little doubt that the category A level is the very least objectionable of the levels, but it still is beyond what we understood was happening. I hope the Minister of State will give serious consideration to accepting this motion tabled by Senators Norris and Henry.
I welcome the Minister of State and his officials to the House. I am grateful to have this opportunity to speak again on this important topic. It is less than four months since this issue was the subject of a Private Member's motion in this House and the reality is that not much has changed in that time. What is new is the publication of the Council of Europe Report on CIA Rendition Flights, referred to in the Independents group's motion. That report and the motion's reference to the establishment of a special committee are the two elements on which I will focus.
Before doing so, I wish to mention the incident at Shannon last Sunday, when a serving marine and US citizen, subject to military law, tried and convicted of an offence, was being transported back to the US to serve his sentence. Although it has no connection with allegations of extraordinary rendition and, thus, this motion, it is right the Government treated even an inadvertent administrative error as unacceptable and with the gravest concern. The Minister correctly summoned the US ambassador and left him in no doubt as to Ireland's position on the failure to inform and secure consent.
Importantly, in the context of this evening's debate, the Government did two things. First, to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to prevent any recurrence of the incident, the Government is to engage with the US authorities on arrangements for notification and information sharing, and the strengthening of verification procedures, as necessary. Second, the Minister took the opportunity to reiterate the consistent position of the Government that no aircraft can use Shannon for extraordinary rendition and that Ireland will not facilitate and has not facilitated extraordinary renditions. That is, and remains, the Government's policy.
The Minister made it crystal clear that if the Government at any stage receives hard evidence of extraordinary rendition it would act upon it and expect the Garda Síochána to act upon it also.
Returning to my two points on this motion, I said in the House on 8 March last that DickMarty's report for the Council of Europe was very careful and precise in its use of language. It is fair to say that Dick Marty's decision to adopt the metaphor of a global "spider's web" for his report represents a regrettable move away from careful and precise use of language. Speaking as he does of "a web that has been spun out incrementally over several years, using tactics and techniques that have had to be developed in response to new theatres of war" in my view does little to help any argument he wishes to make.
In any event, my first point is that Dick Marty found no evidence of terrorism suspects being "rendered" through Shannon. I am not surprised. I do not believe that the US would use Shannon for such activity. Senator Norris may have strong views on the US military but I do not think he would think it stupid in this regard. I draw attention to the sensible questions posed by the media in this regard and questions that I posed here previously. Would the United States be so stupid as to use a civilian facility in a neutral, albeit friendly country when across the Irish Sea, it has access to secure military airbases used by the US Air Force? Would it be so stupid as to use a civilian facility when its air force has no shortage of long-range aircraft with mid-air refuelling capabilities that can travel around the globe or stay in the air for extended periods without landing for refuelling at Shannon or anywhere else?
I have often wondered, as a former officer, what military principles would be going through the mind of a commanding officer who would risk such activity at Shannon, when there is the possibility of a technical fault, bad weather or numerous other reasons which would ground the aeroplane and risk uncovering activity he or she needs to keep covered, when there are NATO bases a mere skip away in the United Kingdom or Germany.
The Independent Senators' motion mentions the establishment by this House of a select committee to investigate the use of Shannon by American military authorities, especially the CIA. May I remind them of the words of Dick Marty, to whom they refer to with great admiration. He stated, "It is paradoxical to expect bodies without any real investigatory powers to adduce evidence in the legal sense". This House could fit into that category. He goes on to state, "a lack of willingness and commitment on the part of national institutions that could, and should, have completely clarified these allegations which from the outset did not appear to be totally unfounded".
The Government co-operated fully with the Council of Europe investigation, and its explanation of its law and practice to the Council of Europe was one of only nine, out of 45 received, that the Secretary General of the Council of Europe judged to be sufficiently comprehensive not to require further clarification. This exemplifies the "willingness and commitment" of our Government.
As for the "willingness and commitment" of this House, I was delighted to work on drafting the terms of reference for a proposed select committee. I made this point in March but obviously must make it again: the reason for not convening the select committee was that a majority in this House did not support it, not that a majority thought there was nothing to examine, or any other surreptitious reason. It was not my wish that the issue end in that manner. Pursuing so far and so publicly a process towards establishing such a committee did this House no service.
I am not inclined to undermine this House by proposing defiance of its determination, the will of the majority. One should be careful about where one's logic leads. I refer to the claim that Ireland colludes in rendition, that aircraft landed at Shannon after rendition operations, and that Ireland colludes by allowing an aeroplane to land at Shannon, that has transported a person illegally, or may do so. Our logic may be applied only to the use of the aeroplane while it is in the country. Were Ireland to cease engagement with entities or operations that in any way facilitate the running of a military operation, that could have serious and unforeseen consequences. Do we ask Intel, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft to cease operations here because armies employ their technology, microchips, computers and operating systems? Should we ask Pfizer, Abbott and Wyeth, all the pharmaceutical companies, to pack up because soldiers in combat situations might use their medicines?
I welcome the raising of this issue by the Independent Senators, notwithstanding my two main reservations. Everyone must be concerned about military action, capture, transportation, torture, the abuse of human rights, or any dilution of what every right-thinking person considers to be torture or inhumane treatment. We cannot suspend our reason or logic. That would serve neither this House nor any belief, no matter how passionately held.
I welcome and support this motion tabled by the Independent Senators. Last March the Labour Party tabled a similar motion with cross-party support on this side of the House, which Senator Norris seconded. We likewise proposed an appointment to a select committee of Senators, one of whose main purposes was to establish what mechanisms are in place, and whether our laws and practices ensure adequate safeguards to prevent a breach of the various international human rights instruments to which we have signed up, and our own laws.
Ireland, like other European countries, has a responsibility to make sure that use is not made of our airspace because of our obligations under national and international law, including the European Convention on Human Rights. During that debate in March, the Minister of State said the Council of Europe was looking into this and the European Parliament had set up a committee. I made the point that the document establishing the brief of the European Parliament committee foresaw that there would be national parliamentary committees set up with which the European Parliament committee would liaise. I am glad that Senator Minihan seems to support the idea of the establishment of this type of committee. The Seanad would be the ideal forum for that.
The Government has put its head in the sand on this issue. In the last report of the Council of Europe, Mr. Terry Davis said that accepting diplomatic assurances was not enough but that is what the Government has done.
While I am aware that there is no evidence as yet that Baldonnell Aerodrome has been used for this type of activity, general points made by the Council of Europe apply to it. We must establish that the procedures for overseeing the use of Baldonnell, Shannon and other airports for the various aircraft are sufficient to make sure that we are meeting our obligations under international human rights law. An Oireachtas committee would establish what we need to do and what procedures should be in place. There is plenty of documentation available for it to examine. We can examine our procedures and our legislation.
That is not the case. Senator Marty found plenty of evidence that on the balance of probability we should be taking greater care than we have done.
The Council of Europe report and Terry Davis, the Secretary General of the Council, concur that laws will need to be put in place. For example, we may need to introduce a criminal offence covering the process of extraordinary rendition. I read on the Council's website that Mr. Davis issued a report today detailing further information. He will soon make proposals for action to the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe on the legislation that needs to be put in place, including in Ireland. This applies to all member countries of the Council. Hungary is the only country he specifies because it has the strongest oversight measures. He will make proposals in terms of legislation we need to put in place and the European Parliament will look for information on what we are doing. That is the reason we need a committee. We need it so we will have the information available to hand as to the mechanisms we have in place and those we need to put in place to bring about improvement and as to how we can use our current laws better and whether we need to introduce new laws. A committee would help us deal with these matters and help us use our sovereignty to work with the Council of Europe and the European Parliament committee to do what is necessary.
There is no point in waiting for the bad news or for the announcement that we have not been dealing correctly with the matter. We should not just wait like Senator Mooney suggests until we are told "Here is the evidence." We should be proactive on the issue and be ready to do whatever is necessary and implement whatever laws are required. It is not about waiting to be told we are not dealing correctly with the matter like with the recent Supreme Court judgment and then panicking. We must try and do something now. We must get as much information as possible and do what we can to improve procedures.
It is clear from the incident at the weekend that we do not have even the basic procedures in place to deal with the issue. We would not have heard the different stories about what happened at Shannon at the weekend, if we had proper and adequate procedures in places. There is much preparatory work we can do now to deal with these matters.
I was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for a number of years and a member of its legal affairs committee and a colleague of Senator Marty. I am aware of the concern in the Council of Europe and the European Parliament at the practice of extraordinary rendition and of the objections to it by various people. I am also aware of the publicity surrounding the issue which was initiated by Human Rights Watch, The Washington Post and other concerned commentators and correspondents several years ago when the initial reports on the practice of extraordinary rendition were raised by them.
I recommend that people interested in the matter read Senator Marty's report in full. He makes it very clear that in so far as we in Ireland are concerned, Shannon's involvement was merely as a stopover for aeroplanes which had been used in rendition flights in Europe. He made it very clear that we should not lose our sense of proportion in this regard. He stated clearly in his report that of all the investigations he had carried out, he was talking of extraordinary rendition in only ten flights in all over a period of years — not thousands or hundreds of flights. Those ten flights involved 17 prisoners in total, all of whose cases were fully examined by the Senator and detailed in the report. We should not lose sight of the fact that none of those cases was in any way even remotely connected with Shannon or Ireland. If we lose our sense of proportion, we will confuse the public and create enormous confusion generally on the issue. The objective should be to find ways in which pressure can be brought on the United States and governments involved in the practice of extraordinary rendition to desist from it.
Senator Marty's report focused also not so much on flights but on allegations made that certain countries in Europe had secret detention centres. Romania and Poland were singled out in particular. It had also been suggested there might be similar detention centres for the carrying out of torture in other member states of the Council of Europe. Senator Marty's report confirms there is no factual evidence to link either of the countries mentioned as having secret detention centres and there was no formal evidence that any such detention centres were established in any member state of the Council of Europe.
The Senator also makes it clear — the Parliamentary Assembly had already unreservedly shared the view of the United States Government — that there was a determination on the part of the US and all countries in Europe to combat international terrorism. International terrorism which is now highly mobilised and avails of modern telecommunications and technologies is a major threat to the international community. Therefore, there is a responsibility on all of us to work with the United States to end international terrorism, an example of which we saw on 11 September 2001 in New York.
That event did not involve just ten flights carrying 17 people, but involved the indiscriminate slaughter of thousands of people by the activities of some of the people who would be loudest in their condemnation of rendition flights. They have no hesitation however in organising, through their cells and networks throughout the international community, renegades who are prepared to indiscriminately bomb, kill, slaughter or take any action they think necessary to undermine democracy and civilisation. Let us not forget that.
In the conclusion of his report, Senator Marty quotes the Parliamentary Assembly. He makes it clear that in so far as the responsibility of the international community is concerned, it has an equal responsibility with the United States to find ways to combat international terrorism in order to put an end to the type of situation we saw in New York on 11 September 2001.
It is important to recognise that both the European Parliament and the Council of Europe are continuing their work in this regard. In light of this, it is totally unnecessary for the Seanad to get involved in a committee to deal with matters that are being dealt with at the highest level of Government. Those matters have been dealt with through the Council of Europe, through the legal affairs committee under Senator Marty and through the European Parliament. These have sought the help and assistance of European satellite communications and international aviation regulatory authorities, such as the Irish Aviation Authority and other authorities throughout Europe. In that situation, it would not be useful for us to become involved in the type of activity that is already being dealt with at high international level.
The Parliamentary Assembly will also debate this matter. Senator Mooney is a member of the Parliamentary Assembly and the matter will be debated at the end of the month in Strasbourg.
It is only a draft report. However, the draft report makes it very clear that while there is concern about rendition, we all oppose the use of the type of rendition described in it. Senator Marty describes it vividly and does not paint a pretty picture.
There is another picture of which we must take account and we must not lose sight of some of the objectives some of us have, namely, to work through the international community to find ways to combat international terrorism, because nobody is immune from its activities.
I support the motion that has been proposed by the Independent Senators. I thank Senator Norris and his colleagues for giving us another opportunity to discuss this matter, which we debated at length some months ago. On that occasion, I joined my party's spokesperson in outlining Fine Gael's position on this issue.
Fine Gael strongly believes that a select committee of this House should be established to investigate this matter in line with Irish constitutional and judicial practice and to ensure that a report is laid before both Houses. The argument that was made by the Government the last time we considered this matter, in opposition to another motion that was supported by Senator Norris, his Independent colleagues and others on this side of the House, was that we should wait for either the draft or finalised versions of the reports of two outstanding investigations, which were being concluded by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe at that time, before we reached any ultimate considerations. A more dangerous side of that argument was that there was no need for us to engage in any investigations, given that other bodies were engaging in investigations. That seems to be the tenor of the opposition that has been expressed to this motion this evening, but I reject it.
As a sovereign Parliament, the Oireachtas should determine for itself, by means of an investigation, the level of disquiet that exists on this issue in Shannon and elsewhere in this country. This House has sought for many years to redefine its role, to make itself more relevant and to become more attuned to what the ordinary people of this country want. If ever there was an issue that necessitated the establishment of a select committee to report to this House and this sovereign Parliament within a set timeframe, it is this issue. I reject utterly the argument of those who oppose this motion that we cannot investigate this matter because other interests are investigating it. This is an important issue in Ireland and in many other EU countries. We should not leave it to others to investigate it or to come to conclusions on it. I am quite surprised that the Government has not proposed an amendment to this motion, setting out explicitly its reasons for rejecting the proposal to establish a committee of this nature, given the extent of the public disquiet that exists on this issue and the level of debate that followed the initial publication of both reports, one of which has been published in draft form.
Senator Daly is absolutely right when he points out that, as a democratic society that is friendly with other democratic societies, we have a responsibility to counteract the fanatical form of terrorism that now exists throughout the world. We should do whatever we can to ensure that justice is brought to bear in these circumstances. There is no set of circumstances in which the war on terrorism can conceivably be won by those who are using illegal practices such as extraordinary rendition. There is no doubt that such practices have been allowed in the United States and other friendly countries for far too long.
Countries like Ireland which have a long and historic tradition of friendliness and cultural ties with the people and Government of the US have a responsibility to be upfront and honest on this issue. I have said previously that I reject the Bush Administration's new approach to dealing with these matters. I refer to its blatant attempts to put to one side the legitimate concerns of many countries about the war on terrorism.
The great success of the US in the years after the Second World War was that it built a genuine multilateral approach to problems of this nature. The US and other countries helped to reconstruct Europe from the ashes of the Second World War, to establish the United Nations and to put in place an international code of law on the issues of human rights we are debating this evening. That code of law was fundamental to the development of a new world order after the Second World War. We should state honestly that there has been a reduction in such standards over the past seven years. All democrats who believe in an international order need to oppose that reduction strongly.
I understand that the Government is in a difficult position on this issue for economic, commercial and other reasons. We are far too slow to express to our friends in the US Administration that we have concerns like those which are outlined in this motion. Such concerns relate to many aspects of US policy in Iraq and other parts of the world over recent years.
We now have an extraordinary opportunity to bring the issue of Seanad reform to centre stage. We can show the relevance of this House by quickly coming to a conclusion on an investigative matter about which Irish people are concerned. The House should demonstrate that it can respond quickly to such issues rather than divvying them up among the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. Things that happen on Irish territory are matters for Irish sovereignty. That is the issue which is at the heart of this debate. We will be in dereliction of our duty if once again the Government fails to allow us to conduct an investigation of the type that is described in the motion tabled by Senator Norris and his colleagues.
We support that process again this evening as we did three months ago. We believe the Government should reconsider its position, even at this late hour, in light of the new disquieting revelations about what is passing through Shannon Airport.
I was glad to note that this motion was to be brought before the House, particularly when I saw that the names of Senators Norris and Henry were attached to it. They have been exceptionally forthright exponents of human rights in this House. We needed people to express the views which they expressed at various times to ensure that such matters were the subject of open and proper debate. I think Senators will agree that my views on the bigger question of the war in Iraq have been on the record from the first days of the invasion of that country.
I have always maintained that the invasion was illegal, unnecessary and immoral. I am not interested in saying "I told you so" but one cannot deny that I have been proved right. Nobody can suggest that the terrorist threat is any less now than it was just after the terrible and tragic events of 11 September 2001. It can be argued, in many ways, that such terrorism has been exported throughout the world. As I said on the Order of Business yesterday, we have seen many excesses in Iraq and other parts of the world where pre-emptive strikes have taken place. A number of countries now subscribe to that approach, which seems to be commonplace, and many other countries have suffered as a result. I honestly do not believe we have gained any understanding, support or empathy from the latter group of countries — the opposite is the case. Diplomacy has absolutely and utterly broken down.
One can only wonder what the future holds for us as a result of the damage which has been done. It was terrible and disastrous of one or two countries to ignore and undermine the United Nations, the unity of which had built up over the years and was so important to world peace.
The reason for some of this action has now been proved to be incorrect as there were no weapons of mass destruction. While I am aware that this point has been made 1,000 times, it must be made continually because this was the given reason for going to war. As there were no weapons of mass destruction, the premise on which the unilateral action of going to war was taken, which has endangered and engulfed the entire world in some ways, did not exist.
This means that at present, when I hear a statement coming from those same sources, my first reaction is disbelief, caution or doubt. In itself, this constitutes a danger, because it is vital for credibility to be part of any engagement or justification on behalf of people whom we would regard as our friends. I have nothing but admiration for America, which I know to be a sister nation. I am aware of the relationship which has built up. Members are aware that the relationship is not simply emotional or sentimental, but is much more pragmatic than that. As I noted on the Order of Business yesterday, it is unfair to criticise the people of America for the actions of their Administration.
In recent opinion polls, it is quite clear there is little more than 30% agreement or support for what America has done or is doing in Iraq at present.
However, I will move beyond Iraq to consider the situation facing the Palestinian people. Undoubtedly, America would come to their support, were they in the club with America. However, Israel is in the club with America, has weapons of mass destruction——
—— and a strong economic position within America itself, as well as political clout.
However, instead of considering such issues, Members must consider that Ireland has always been an honest broker in the world and has always been looked up to in this regard. Although I do not state this merely because I am a member of a Government party, Ireland has always acted honourably since the days of Frank Aiken. I have read Deputy Cowen's address to the United Nations repeatedly, in which Ireland took a stand. Moreover, Charlie Haughey, go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire air, took a stand on Gibraltar. Ireland has always taken a conscientious stand for what is right, to give a voice to the voiceless, because this was also needed in its own history. Hence, I have always found it difficult to state that the Government has ever done anything that in any way justifies what is happening in these war-torn countries at present.
I have chosen to speak in this debate because some discussions took place on the Order of Business with regard to the committee which was to be established and it was suggested that Members were got at. I know that Senator Norris did not mean that in any derogatory sense, because he is extremely passionate about these issues, as are Senator Henry and many other Members. However, as for the issue of the committee, no one got at me. I was not aware of what was happening with regard to this committee until I heard that Members had been approached to join it, which surprised me.
As I stated at the outset, I am glad this motion was tabled because I believe that whatever is done should be done on the floor of this Chamber. I am not in favour of the committee because it would detract from this Chamber. It would detract from the Seanad as a House of the Oireachtas and above all else, it would sideline and minimise it. What would be the committee's job? Would it be of an investigative nature? Would it be equipped to investigate? Would it be independent? Would it bring forward its own ideas and views? I do not support the idea of a committee and if Members are to have a debate, it should take place on the Chamber floor.
Despite the most recent report that has been published regarding the use of the airport by American aeroplanes, I can put my hand on my heart and state that I do not know whether anything irregular is happening. While I am aware of the report, I do not know whether this is the case. Moreover, the isolated incident in respect of the American soldier on a flight a few days ago——
I would much prefer if Members united in this Chamber and continued to work for human rights. They should have confidence in the Government, which has provided leadership at all times. I genuinely believe that if they are forthright and put their heads above the parapet, Members will be providing the best service possible to those they wish to defend, protect and help.
I thank Senators Norris and Henry for tabling this motion. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I look forward to his contribution.
As for the issues raised by Senator Ó Murchú, I concurred with him until the final two minutes of his contribution. The Senator raised some valid points in an honest fashion. However, I refer to the point made earlier by Senator Brian Hayes, that this proposal is intended to adorn and give added value to the work of the Seanad. This proposal is what Members envisaged when discussing Seanad reform.
Senator Ó Murchú's point was that Members should not take this course of action because it would devalue and detract from the work of the House and that the debate should be conducted in the Chamber. He asked what the committee should do and whether it would be investigative. The answer is that as we speak, five hard-working Members are sitting on a committee, which was set up by the House to deal with a particular issue by sifting through the evidence and bringing the information back to it. I am the only Member who questioned whether this was an appropriate way forward and certainly no Government Member had a problem with it. I refer to the Committee on Article 35.4.1° of the Constitution. It is examining the evidence available and will present it to the House, where it will be discussed.
This is precisely what is proposed in this instance. It is not in any way different as it is concerned with collating information. What are Members afraid of? Information is being sought. A number of Members, including Senator Ó Murchú, made a point with which I agree. I do not know whether there is anything wrong going on at Shannon Airport. However, as Senator Mooney noted at the outset, my trust and confidence in what is going on there was demolished in his words, "in the dust of Shannon Airport last Sunday morning".
How should the allegations be answered? Neither I nor any other Member can do so, although they can entertain suspicions or be in favour or against a particular opinion. The way to deal with a problem is to accumulate as much information as possible. In this case, and I find myself in complete agreement with Senator Brian Hayes, rather than asking someone in Switzerland or anywhere else to do it, Members should examine what is taking place in their own backyard and should assemble the information.
A Government majority could be nominated to the committee, as this is not an issue. If evidence was put in front of them, I trust that all Members would make their own minds up. However, no Member in this debate has indicated why this proposal would be a bad thing. The issue of how people in the United States of America might react has been adequately dealt with by Members from all sides of the House. This proposal is not an indictment of the citizens of the United States, although it certainly denotes a questioning of its leadership. At the very least, a question mark exists in this respect, The events within Abu Ghraib took place within the past two years. Moreover, the House debated the International Criminal Court yesterday. For a long time, Members have been aware of the attitude of the present United States leadership towards the United Nations.
These are issues on which we have held different points of view and we need to remind ourselves of that. Although this opinion might not be shared throughout the House, any self-respecting public representative in a democracy must question what is happening in Guantanamo Bay. We need not question the guilt of the people, but the arrangement by which they are exiled onto foreign soil to ensure they have no access to the human and civil rights of the home state. I have a question about that. I do not expect people to agree with me. We know what has happened in the past week. If somebody tells me that people who go on hunger strike or die do so as a publicity lark I do not have trust and confidence in that suggestion. While I do not know what is happening in Shannon, there is doubt in my mind what I would like to have filled. There is a vacuum of information, and nature abhors a vacuum. I would like us to put the information together and have it available.
Another issue is that of military law. I listened to Senator Minihan's statement. What is the appropriateness of having two systems of law in a country? I followed closely last week's trial of members of the Irish guards in London and I conclude that the civil rights of soldiers, as citizens, are not being properly observed in the courts martial to which they are subject. Some military people feel they are in a parallel universe to the rest of a democracy and that they can run a different system of rights. We have always understood that to be the case in a war situation where people have to engage and summary justice has to be dealt. However, where we are examining the rights of people and how they are to be judged, military law is inappropriate.
In Senator Norris's mild and simple proposal we are asking to establish a committee to put as much information together as we can and after this to do what Senator Ó Murchú suggested, namely, bring it here and make our minds up. It is an intellectual exercise to come to the conclusion that it is better to make decisions based on information gathered by people we trust and know, our people, than to try and do so in a vacuum. I cannot answer the question.
I have been careful and have disagreed with Senator Norris on many occasions about Seanad business. I have listened to Senator Dooley and others talk about it from another point of view and I have not agreed with them either. I am in the middle. However, I know the issue raised here is appropriate in a democracy and would put together the process by which we would gather information to allow us to come to our own conclusions. Although we may not agree on these conclusions, it would move us forward. When we deny ourselves access to information it seems people see information as a Pandora's box, which is not always the case. When we have the information it will illuminate the problem and allow us to come to a conclusion. While I would trust Senator Ó Murchú to come to a conclusion no different to my own if he had the information on this issue, I cannot allow the House to vote to deny itself the opportunity to gain information and come to a conclusion. I support the motion.
I welcome this opportunity to address the Seanad again on this issue. As Senators may recall, in March I had the privilege of addressing this House on the subject of extraordinary rendition. I wish to place on record once again the Government's opposition to the practice of extraordinary rendition. This has been the Government's constant position since the existence of this practice was revealed. It has been made clear to the US authorities on numerous occasions, including at the very highest levels. As stated by my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in Dáil Éireann last night, the Irish Government was the first government to raise this matter with the US Government, just as he was the first Minister to raise it with our EU colleagues last autumn, under the British Presidency.
Extraordinary rendition is a subject in which Ireland has taken a leading, proactive role. We are in an unparalleled position regarding the unqualified, categorical assurances that we have received from the US authorities on this matter, both in terms of their specificity and of the level at which they were given. The United States authorities have declined to issue similar blanket assurances to most other member states. We are one of only three countries in this position in Europe. Those who speak of the Government's doing nothing wilfully overlook the fact that we acted swiftly and decisively to confirm the realities of the situation.
Before addressing the substance of the motion before us, I wish to emphasise one important fact. Since I last spoke in the Seanad, no new evidence has emerged to implicate Ireland in any way in this practice. A number of investigations are being carried out in Europe into this matter, analysing flight patterns, satellite photographs and other sources of intelligence. Nothing that has been unearthed suggests that prisoners may have been transported through Ireland as part of an extraordinary rendition operation.
I reiterate the point made in Dáil Éireann last night, that in his recent report Senator Dick Marty makes no claim that prisoners may have been subject to extraordinary rendition through Ireland. It is encouraging to see that Senator Marty follows the approach of the executive director of Amnesty International in Ireland, Mr. Seán Love, who wrote in February last that those who "continue to focus their debate about 'extraordinary renditions', on whether or not prisoners have been or are being transferred through Irish Airports...are missing the point".
This analysis is confirmed by numerous other sources, with last weekend's newspapers carrying headlines such as ''No reason CIA would use Shannon for prisoners". As Mr. Tom Clonan, formerly of our Defence Forces, said last week on the radio, "It's ludicrous to imagine that the Americans would land at Shannon with a (high-value) prisoner".
In opposing the motion before this House I will, in particular, address two points. The first is the publication of a recent report which is not, as is suggested by the motion before this House, of the Council of Europe, but of a rapporteur of one of its committees, Senator Marty. I will then address the State's fulfilment of its positive obligations to prevent torture and other abuses. In so doing I also hope to clear up the misunderstanding that has led to the erroneous suggestion made in the Private Members' motion that there is confusion about the Garda Síochána's right to investigate these aircraft.
I agree that, despite the pervasive lack of hard evidence, aspects of Senator Marty's report are deeply disturbing. In particular, detailed descriptions of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners make harrowing reading. The Government is, of course, completely opposed to torture, but that is not the issue. Senator Marty's report produces no evidence to implicate the Government in the practice. As was noted in the Irish Examiner over the weekend with respect to Ireland, "there is no proof of anything".
On top of the lack of evidence, there is a lack of a clear chain of reasoning. Instead there are cursory assertions, including one that Ireland "could be held responsible for collusion" for being a "stopover" for flights, involving the unlawful transfer of detainees. On behalf of the Government I reject this assertion, which seems to be based, as I will go on to explain, on an implausible, ill-founded analysis of what might conceivably have been possible for us to do.
Senator Marty fails to take account of our opposition to extraordinary rendition and the categoric assurances which we have received that it does not take place through Ireland. To allege collusion without addressing either of those points is grossly unfair. To compound this, neither Senator Marty nor anyone acting on his behalf approached the Government or our representatives on this matter. As I noted at the outset of my speech, the Council of Europe committee on legal affairs has not adopted Senator Marty's report. Senator Norris clearly implied that category A was the worst category.
The Senator tried to sustain a case by building up a story that if we were category A we were to be damned. The facts are, as we maintained, we are not in any category as would have been revealed had Senator Marty contacted the Government for clarification which his now released draft report requires him to do. These are the facts and Senator Norris is bending a story on a draft report that is inconclusive and has not been referred to the various agencies that are obliged to be consulted before a conclusion is arrived at on a final report to be presented before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
I certainly do. I may not have the same amount of education as Senator Norris, but I have some.
A draft resolution will be put before a plenary meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly on 27 June.
It has been the Government's consistent position that we will consider carefully with partners any specific and workable recommendations that may be made by either the Council of Europe or the European Parliament in this area. We have made this quite clear on every occasion. I anticipate that much of what both bodies will have to say will require coordinated action at a European level, if it is to be effective. The Government will, of course, maintain its position at the forefront of efforts to ensure that international law is adhered to in all aspects on this matter, and that any gaps identified in the existing regulatory regimes are filled with utmost urgency.
Some commentators, including some in this House, have claimed that every type of diplomatic assurance is now suspect or insufficient. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs explained yesterday, such a development would represent a revolution in international relations. In the Government's view, it is wholly unwarranted.
In its response to the questionnaire circulated by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Terry Davis, the Government outlined in very considerable detail its view of our international law obligations relating to our positive obligation to prevent torture. In his preliminary analysis of the responses received, the Secretary General made no indication that he had any objection to our Government's position on this matter, though it was clear from his analysis that he had read our response fully.
In essence, as Deputy Dermot Ahern made clear in a letter earlier this year to the Irish Human Rights Commission, it is the Government's view that there is a misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the relevant international case law. This does not in fact deal with assurances generally but rather, and explicitly, with assurances given about the treatment of particular individuals, extradited or expelled from one state to another.
Contrary to what has been asserted by some, the European Court of Human Rights has never held that a factual assertion by a state on a matter directly within its full control cannot be relied upon. It is highly relevant in this context to note that the court has stated its respect for the comity of nations, and has also held that the convention must be interpreted in harmony with other rules of international law of which it forms part.
Suggestions of collusion and failure to fulfil positive obligations may have some basis when applied to states which wilfully ignore potential illegality on their territory, but that is clearly not the case with Ireland. We were the first Government, when rumours of extraordinary rendition emerged, to raise concerns about the matter with US authorities. We were the first Government to demand assurances that our territory would not be used for such purposes. To speak of a failure to act, which is the essence of the charge on positive obligations, against such a background of pro-active intervention, is simply unreasonable.
The Government cannot agree with the suggestion that our positive obligations under international law may require that searches of aircraft be carried out. It has repeatedly been made clear that the Garda Síochána has the powers it needs to investigate all reasonable allegations of illegal activity. There is no legal bar to searching civilian aircraft of the type allegedly involved where there is a basis for doing so.
Regarding suggestions of deliberate ignorance and wilful blindness the issue of rights of search provides a useful example. Those who oppose the Government's position on this matter have suggested that no right of search exists, and that the Garda authorities have been instructed not to search aircraft. They suggest this despite having been provided with long and detailed documents outlining the relevant powers of search and in the face of Garda and DPP investigations into complaints that have revealed nothing. Their issue is not, if the truth be told, with the procedures used to investigate, but with the results.
Regarding the practicalities of search, identification by NGOs and the media of aircraft that are alleged to have been involved in extraordinary rendition has been possible only months, at the earliest, after such operations are said to have taken place. Furthermore, civilian aircraft of the type in question are not, under international law, required to apply for permission to land, meaning that a transited country may have very little notice of the arrival of such an aircraft.
In this context, a regime of random search and inspection would be of very limited value in achieving the desired goal. Moreover, given that at worst the allegations are that such aircraft passed empty through Ireland, it is impossible to see how even if such aircraft were to be identified and searched, the outcome of such searches would shed any light on the matter. It is far more effective, and in the Government's view better fulfils our positive obligations, to have sought and received specific factual and unqualified assurances in the manner that we have done.
The Government's approach to the subject of extraordinary rendition is one of continued engagement with the United States. This approach has allowed us to raise our concerns early, both bilaterally and in an EU framework, to receive considered responses, and ultimately the Government believes, to fulfil our obligations under both international and domestic law in the most comprehensive manner possible.
I would like to brief Senators on a recent, quite separate, incident at Shannon and on how the Government has reacted to it. The Minister for Foreign Affairs informed Dail Éireann yesterday evening that the Department of Foreign Affairs was contacted by the US Embassy and informed that last Sunday, 11 June, a civilian aircraft landed at Shannon for a technical refuelling stop en route from Kuwait to the United States. Among other unarmed military personnel, the aeroplane was carrying a US marine convicted of a minor breach of the US military code. He was in military custody and was wearing military fatigues.
While the transfer of such a prisoner would have been lawful under both international and domestic laws, it requires the consent of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The US authorities did not seek such consent and this failure, though inadvertent, is unacceptable.
The US ambassador was summoned to Iveagh House, where the Minister outlined our very grave concerns. The ambassador confirmed the sequence of events and made clear that the failure to seek consent arose from an administrative error. He conveyed his deep regret for the breach of procedures and undertook to urgently advise his authorities in the US of the Government's views. He also confirmed his willingness to review the situation immediately, with a view to ensuring that there is no recurrence.
The Cabinet discussed the matter yesterday, and it was decided to make public our grave concern. We have asked for a full written report from the US Embassy. In addition, to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to prevent any recurrence of this incident, we will engage in further discussions with the US authorities on this matter.
While I would reiterate that this incident is unconnected to allegations of extraordinary rendition, it is essential, not least in the interests of public confidence, that the Government take appropriate steps in response to such a breach. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, already announced measures in this regard yesterday.
I have listened with interest to the debate and Senator Norris has already quoted from the Marty report. His quotes from that report regarding the inhumane treatment of prisoners are not connected with any incidents in this country. I share all Senators' views on reports of inhumane treatment and torture of prisoners. This Government abhors such practices and has made that clear regarding the use of extraordinary rendition. This point has been made in this country, in the US, in Europe and at the UN and other international fora. We are proud to do so and we are consistent on this situation.
The Government's consistent and long-standing position on the issue of extraordinary rendition is quite clear. We utterly condemn it, in no way do we facilitate it, and looking to the future we are willing, with our partners, to consider any practicable and specific proposals which the Council of Europe, the European Parliament or any other body may make to reduce the possibility of future cases occurring.
We utterly reject any allegation of collusion in this practice. Indeed we reject any suggestion, which I have shown by the facts, to be groundless, that we have failed to meet our obligations. Ireland's efforts in this area have been prompt, timely and effective. I urge the Senators to reject the motion.
That is one of the most shabby and disgraceful performances I have ever witnessed a Minister of State come out with in this House. I am astonished it has come from this man. I did not think the Minister of State would sink so low. I wish to correct some of his comments.
How dare the Minister of State suggest that I deliberately highlighted and stated that category A was the most serious category. Show me the record where it states that.
If the Minister of State did not bother to listen it is also his problem.
The Minister of State also made a comment which is deliberately, clearly and demonstrably untrue. Just five minutes ago he stated there was no single case in the Marty report which had any connection with Ireland. That is absolute tripe.
I present the case of Abu Omar. Senator Marty's explanatory memorandum to the report states:
At midday on 17 June 2003, Hassam Osama Mustafa Nasr, known as Abu Omar, an Egyptian citizen, was abducted in the middle of Milan. Thanks to an outstanding and tenacious investigation by the Milan judiciary and the DIGOS police services, Abu Omar's is undoubtedly one of the best-known and best-documented cases of "extraordinary rendition". Via the military airbases at Aviano (Italy) and Ramstein (Germany), Abu Omar was flown to Egypt, where he was tortured before being released and re-arrested. To my knowledge, no proceedings were brought against Abu Omar in Egypt. The Italian judicial investigation established beyond all reasonable doubt that the operation was carried out by the CIA (which has not issued any denials). The Italian investigators likewise established that the presumed leader of the abduction operation — who had also worked as the American consul in Milan — was in Egypt for two weeks immediately after Abu Omar was handed over to the Egyptian authorities. It may safely be inferred that he contributed, in one way or another, to Abu Omar's interrogation. The proceedings instituted in Milan concern 25 American agents, against 22 of whom the Italian judicial authorities have issued arrest warrants. Abu Omar was a political refugee. Suspected of Islamic militancy, he had been under surveillance by the Milan police and judicial authorities. As a result of the surveillance operation, the Italian police were probably on the verge of uncovering an activist network operating in northern Italy. Abu Omar's abduction, as the Milan judicial authorities expressly point out, sabotaged the Italian surveillance operation and thereby dealt a blow to the fight against terrorism. Is it conceivable or possible that an operation of that kind, with deployment of resources on that scale in a friendly country that was an ally (being a member of the coalition in Iraq), was carried out without the national authorities — or at least Italian opposite numbers — being informed? ... There has recently been a significant new development in the investigation by the Milan prosecuting authorities, however: an agent belonging to an elite Carabinieri unit has admitted taking part in Abu Omar's abduction as part of an operation co-ordinated by the SISMI, the military intelligence services.
That flight was refuelled at Shannon. Will the Minister of State listen to what has been said, and will he for once honestly respond?
I never stated I had any evidence that prisoners were being brought through Shannon Airport. I made the point, which has been clearly proved time and again in a number of cases, that the aircraft were refuelled. That constitutes collusion.
With regard to what was said about assurances, they are not worth a damn. Both the Minister of State and I know that. The Minister of State knows the definition of torture given by Condoleezza Rice, even with regard to the case of Guantanamo, where there is a degree of visibility, was that hooding, white noise and sleep deprivation were used. The Minister of State should be ashamed to sit there as a member of Fianna Fáil and a Government which took the United Kingdom Government to the European Court of Human Rights on those three grounds exactly and tried to defend it.
It is a shame on this House. I am disgusted. There is a case for reform of the Seanad. The reform should involve removing these rotten constituencies whose candidates are elected by fewer than 1,000 county councillors. We should have some real democracy, as is evident with the university seats. We are elected by a real number of real voters without vested interests.
I will give a further comment. The Minister of State quoted the business of assurances which were given. It has been made expressly clear by the Venice Commission that those assurances are not worth anything unless they are legally enforceable against the country giving the assurances. Paragraph 233 of the explanatory memorandum states:
The principle of trust has been invoked by other governments. This is the case with Ireland, for example: the government has stated there was no reason to investigate the presence of American aircraft, since the United States had given assurances.
The Government conveniently neglected to mention or give any reference to the attitude of the Venice Commission.
The view of the European Union was that it was absolutely essential that there be legally enforceable guarantees.
It is not surprising, and we are not the only country involved, and certainly not the worst offender. I never stated that and I bitterly resent that such a lie was told in this House. I demand it to be withdrawn.
I accept the Minister of State's withdrawal. Even the Swedes, neutral during the war and who did such wonderful work, collaborated in one of the worst examples of rendition.
There were many decent speeches on the Government side of the House. Even people whom I always thought were very much against what we say on this side of the House were reasonable to a certain point. Then there was a lack of logic. I was shocked and surprised by what Senator Minihan had to say. We are only allowed to take logic so far, and then it will be ignored. My old pal Senator Daly seemed to suggest that because there was an atrocity on 11 September 2001, the Americans could do what they liked as there was only a small number of people involved.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 19 (James Bannon, Paul Bradford, Fergal Browne, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Paul Coghlan, Noel Coonan, Maurice Cummins, Frank Feighan, Michael Finucane, Brian Hayes, Mary Henry, Derek McDowell, Joe McHugh, David Norris, Kathleen O'Meara, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Joanna Tuffy)
Against the motion: 28 (Cyprian Brady, Michael Brennan, Peter Callanan, Brendan Daly, John Dardis, Timmy Dooley, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Michael Kitt, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, Marc MacSharry, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Tom Morrissey, Pat Moylan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Mary O'Rourke, Kieran Phelan, Eamon Scanlon, Jim Walsh, Kate Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Henry and Norris; Níl, Senators Minihan and Moylan.
Question declared lost.