In 2004 more than 158,000 US Troops flew through Shannon Airport, most on their way to Iraq. During much of that same period of time approximately 5,500 US Troops have deserted, gone into hiding, sent to jail and some have escaped to Canada.
What if the funnel to Iraq, called Shannon Airport, were to be transformed into a sanctuary for US Troops resisting the Iraq War by requesting asylum in Ireland?
Audio of the press conference on launch of invitation to make Shannon a Sanctuary of Peace for US Military Resistors.(32/2005)
This is the new effort by the Dublin Catholic Worker and other anti-war activists and politicians announced in Dublin on Feb 3rd - the second anniversary of the Pit Stop Ploughshares disarmament of a US Navy Plane at Shannon.
Damien Moran of the Dublin Catholic Worker said ''We encourage members of the US Military refusing to participate in this illegal war to seek asylum in Ireland. We encourage members of the US Military landing at Shannon Airport to refuse to reboard the planes bound for Iraq.''
Irish activist Michael Birmingham, back since last May after 20 months in Iraq, believes that the Irish people can use their close connections with Americans to help end the war: ''It is very important that we here in Ireland do what we can through our many contacts in the United States to get the message out to the soldiers that there is an opportunity for them not to go to Iraq.''
Ed Horgan, former Irish Army Commandant and anti-war activist explained, ''As a former soldier I am very slow to recommend that any soldier should desert his army or his country. But this is an exceptional case, the war in Iraq is unlawful and it is immoral.''
The Dublin Catholic Worker will be coordinating with groups such as the Limerick based Midwest Alliance Against Military Aggression and Dublin based Residents Against Racism to connect them to legal assistance, housing and help in escaping from Shannon Airport. Offers of pro-bono defence have also been offered by a number of lawyers.
North-Central TD, Finian McGrath, speaking at the press conference, said ''It is incumbent on Gardaí to respect the asylum requests by US Soldiers at the airport. We need to have the follow up support, legal advice to ensure that that person is well after when he's here and going through the asylum process.''
Ed Horgan was optimistic and believes there will be popular support for US Soldiers staying in Ireland: ''Obviously, the Irish Government shouldn't allow US Troops to pass through Shannon, at all. But the Irish people and those in this effort will provide facilities and contacts and help for US Soldiers that jump ship at Shannon.''
Senator David Norris agreed but predicted difficulties for the Irish Government if US Troops apply for asylum in Ireland, ''I guarentee you that the Irish Government will be leaned on in an unmerciful way by the Pentagon and the US State Department.''
Furthermore, Norris believes there will be strong support from many politicians but would be afraid to say so publicly, ''A large number of party members who would be sympathetic to what we are saying on an individual basis but they are 'whipped in' from the top [of their parties] and the impetus is shamefully a financial one.''
''This is not in any way an 'Anti-American' suggestion.'' Michael Birmingham explained, ''This is very much about showing solidarity also with young American men who, as soon as they leave Shannon Airport and land in Baghdad Airport and drive down 'Route Irish' - will be in a war zone with no way out and will be forced to do things that they and their families would be absolutely apalled by if the knew the truth of it.''
Damien Moran, following up, stated ''As St. Patrick's Day approaches we appeal to the Irish government to extend a 'Céad Mile Fáilte' to the brave military resisters in the U.S. refusing to participate in this illegal war.''
American Refugee Claimants and US Prisoners of Conscience
Brandon Hughey - Applied for refugee status in Canada.
Jeremy Hinzman - Applied for refugee status in Canada
Camilo Mejia - On May 21, 2004, 28-year-old Sgt. Camilo Mejia was sentenced to one year in prison for refusing to return to fight in Iraq.
Pablo Paredes - On December 6, 2004 he reported to for duty and refused to board the ship to protest the current US war.
Kevin Benderman - faces a possible court-martial after failing to deploy with his unit.