Northern Ireland: Shannon Airport used for torture flights - Irish government must investigate

The Irish government must admit that Shannon Airport was used as a launching pad for rendition operations by the CIA and act to ensure this can never happen again. The call came from Amnesty International as it launched a new report, the organisation's most comprehensive examination yet of renditions in Ireland.

The report documents the cases of four men, Abu Omar, Khaled al Maqtari, Khaled el Masri and Binyam Mohamed, where CIA agents used Shannon Airport in the course of rendition operations.

The Irish government established a special cabinet sub-committee at the end of October 2008 whose brief includes reviewing the law on searching suspected rendition flights. It is expected that this committee will meet next week, but this will be only its second meeting since it was set up.

"The Irish Government has turned a blind eye to illegal rendition flights through Ireland," says Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International.

"It does not know what is going through Ireland's airports on secret CIA flights, because it does not want to know.

"CIA planes illegally claimed to be civilian aircraft while travelling through Irish airspace and using Shannon Airport, and yet the Irish government cannot be bothered to investigate.

"The fact is, as our report reveals, Shannon has been used by the CIA as a launching pad for kidnapping and torture. This is illegal under international law. The Irish government is losing credibility every day that it prevaricates on launching an investigation."

Amnesty's report identifies the key priorities a government review must examine to ensure a robust system to protect against renditions is put in place:

  • Proactive identification of aircraft and operators that have used Irish territory for renditions. Currently data is collected by concerned citizens, journalists or organisations like Amnesty International.
  • Irish authorities cannot identify foreign civilian aircraft that may be engaged in rendition. Current legislation does not go far enough and must be tightened up.
  • The review must result in a system requiring detailed information on passengers and flight plan from all aircraft operators travelling through Irish airspace.

Although President Obama's Executive Order 'Ensuring Lawful Interrogations' ends the CIA's programme of long-term secret detention it does not end the practice of rendition. The order allows the CIA to use detention facilities on a short-term basis, or to use foreign-controlled facilities to detain and interrogate individuals.

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