Independent Media Centre Ireland

The Ploughshares Trial - Day 3

category dublin | anti-war / imperialism | news report author Wednesday July 12, 2006 06:02author by Seán Ryan

Day two sees the prosecution finish presenting its case

The second day of court began today with the names of the defendants being read out.

Niall Maloney was called first. A map was handed to him and he identified it as a map of the Warport facility at Shannon. He identified an area on the map as being the SRS hangar where the plane in question was housed.

He told us he was an Operations Manager for Aer Rianta.

He was asked did he remember the plane that was damaged. He replied, ‘yes.’ He told us that the plane had been towed into the hangar for repair. We were informed that only Gardai, US maintenance personnel and airport security had access to the hangar. Nobody else had access.

When asked if the plane had looked like a commercial plane, he replied that it had.

He’d had cause to visit the hangar on the 9th of February 2003 and had seen that 2 glass panes and a door had been damaged. A perimeter check had been done to make sure there were no other persons were at the airport, and that it had been discovered that a fence had been damaged (cut) at the southwestern area.

He did not see inside the plane.

He was asked if the plane was a 737 and he replied that it was and that it was a commercial look-alike except for the markings on it. They were military markings.

He accepted that May 2nd was a critical time and that there had been a build up of American forces approaching 90,000.

It was established that Aer Rianta does not count troops, but that individual aircraft tell the Airport authorities the figures.

This was described as an ‘Honour System’ and Niall accepted this.

Aer Rianta accept these figures with no checking whatsoever.

When asked did the whole system operate on trust he replied, ‘yes.’

Of the 90,000 approximately 5,000 were carried on military planes, as opposed to the commercial flights that ferried the rest. Niall agreed that this military plane was suited for carrying personnel and equipment.

When questioned as to whether there was any mechanism for checking the contents of these planes, Niall insisted there was but that he and Aer Rianta didn’t have a clue about them or whether they were carried out.

Niall told us that it was correct that planes had weapons on board, but that he was not aware of any checks to verify this. He told us that the Department of Transport was responsible for commercial plane carrying American personnel and that the department of Foreign Affairs was responsible for military flights. He told us that he was not aware of any checks performed by these two government bodies.
Niall was asked if he was aware of Munitions of War regulations – he had heard reference made of them, but that he didn’t know how they worked. He was asked if he would have been aware if the relevant government bodies had checked these planes with reference to the Munitions of War regulations. He answered that he would have been, but that no check had taken place.

He was asked if he was only interested in landings and take-offs. He answered that this was correct. This was followed up by a question that asked whether he had an interest in military or any other considerations. He replied, ‘I haven’t.’

He was next asked if he’d been aware of an unprecedented military build up in Shannon around this time. After much humming and hawing he admitted that he was.

The barrister next asked about Shannon being a major hub in the war effort, suggesting that everybody else was – pointing out other hubs like Sigonella in Sicily. Niall said that he had no knowledge of or about hubs.

Before the next barrister questioned Niall, it was ascertained that Niall was aware of weapons onboard commercial flights.

The next barrister began by making sure that Aer Rianta’s knowledge of passenger numbers were supplied by the Americans – the ‘honour system.’ Niall agreed.

After being reminded of Special renditions, statements made by the American Ambassador, and our ‘friendly system’, Niall was asked whether he still felt that the ‘honour system’ was intact. Niall did. Asked about the shackled prisoner that was ferried through Shannon a few weeks back, Niall still reckoned the ‘honour system’ was intact, but corrected the barrister by saying that it was a ground attendant that had seen the prisoner, not a cleaner. And he added that this was a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs to worry about. Not him or Aer Rianta.

He told the court that he sometimes boarded planes – to speed up the service offered to the Americans.

Niall admitted next that Shannon had not been a stranger to troops of foreign nationalities over the years, including the Saudis and Soviet troops. He also agreed that the plane was a C40. He told the court that the runway was big enough to take a six engined plane and that these came through Shannon once or twice a year.

When asked again did he ever see the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Department of Transport check planes, he answered no.

The next Barrister asked Niall about the ‘honour system’ again. Niall replied that this system worked but could not answer about this in the broader sense it was asked – meaning he didn’t want to answer on behalf of the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Department of Transport.

When asked whether the build up was a huge story, Niall replied that it was but not prior to 2003. At this point he was again asked about troops carrying weapons. He replied that they did but that they required permission from the two Government bodies. Military planes requiring permission from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Commercial Aircraft requiring it from the Department of Transport. He didn’t know whether either department had ever given permission.

He was reminded at this point about a ministerial statement, where it was said that once it was discovered that soldiers were indeed armed, that permission had been sought often since then. Niall replied that he had never seen weapons.

He said that personnel had weapons but that these were unloaded. When again reminded that the Department of Foreign Affairs had had to write to the Americans to remind them of their obligations with regard to Irish Law and that carriers had not honoured their obligations until this happened, Niall told the court that this was not his business.

When asked whether handling staff ever entered planes, Niall said they did.

Next he was asked if customs ever searched planes or personnel. He answered no and told the court that this was a matter for customs.

Niall told the court that 3 to 4 days before the Ploughshares gained entry, that he had been on the plane in question. He said that he’d seen wheels and cans, but did not specify what was in the cans. He said he’d seen nothing untoward.

When asked if this aircraft had ever been inspected, he replied ‘no.’

The next witness Sergeant Michael O Connell was called next.

Michael said that he’d been attached to Shannon Garda station on the 2nd of February 2003 and had been assigned to guard the plane in question.

He told the Court that he’d relieved Desmond McCauley who’d guarded the plane from 2pm to 10pm. He said that he’d checked the security of the hangar often and that all entrances were locked, and added that it’d been raining heavily that night.

He was asked if detective Tierney had left and he replied that he had and that we was alone. He had secured the door the detective left by. Michael told us his car was in the hangar. He told the court that he was within 20 yards of the plane at 3.25am when the five defendants had entered.

The five had been lead by a large man with dreadlocks and a large axe he told the court. The large man had been followed by four others, carrying hammers, and that one had been carrying a large inflatable hammer in the Irish colours bearing the slogan, ‘Hammered by the Irish.’

The five had come at him fast and he had shouted ‘Stop!’ and had radioed for help.

Michael at this point lost his balance, and as he regained his feet, he’d witnessed one of the defendants (identified as Damien) hit the nose of the plane with a hammer. He told the court that Damien had not attacked him. He pulled the hammer from Damien after a short struggle. At this point he witnessed Ciaron ‘criminally damage’ the nose of the plane with the axe. The Barrister told Michael that this was a matter for the jury to decide.

Michael said he pulled the axe off Ciaron who didn’t offer much resistance. He said that the ladies had handed their weapons over.

He said that Damien had possessed a lump hammer, Ciaron an axe and that the ladies had had small hammers.

When the five had been disarmed, Michael said that they had knelt down and began to pray, and that Ciaron had tried to comfort him.

Garda McNulty and Garda Swift had arrived a short while later and had taken over.

Michael said that he had waited for the arrival of the Superintendent and had shown him the damage done to the plane.

The next barrister got Michael to admit that he had come back from a break when all this had happened and that the five had run in three different directions when they’d entered.

Michael said that he’d pleaded with the five to stop but that this had not happened. But, that when he’d disarmed the five, that they had desisted and didn’t interfere further.

He said again that he’d ‘had to pull it off him.’ Meaning the axe from Ciaron and again added that the the ladies had handed the weapons over.

He said that Ciaron had asked him to join them in prayer but couldn’t remember exactly what had been said other than Ciaron putting his arm around his shoulder in a comforting manner.

‘It’s ok this is non-violent, will you join us?’ the barrister offered. Michael said that this could have been what had been said. And he agreed that the five could have continued to damage the plane, had they chosen not to.

Michael said that it had been frightening but that he knew that the plane had been the target. He also admitted that the struggle to get the weapons had not been extreme.

The next barrister ascertained that the plastic hammer had not been used to damage the plane but had been used to strike it in a symbolic manner. He agreed that the Scottish defendant had honoured bail conditions at all times, often returning home from Scotland when required to do so.

Michael agreed that once the defendants had been disarmed, they knelt and prayed and that they had at all times been courteous and comforting. And he agreed that at no time had they tried to escape.

Michael said that after the arrival of his colleagues that Damien and Ciaron had been arrested.

Michael was then asked to step down from the witness box.

Next up we had Garda Swift.

He told the court that he’d been on duty from 10pm onwards. He said that he’d been patrolling the perimeter until he received a call at 3.52am.

At 3.55am he arrived at the scene and that he’d entered through a different door than the one the defendants used [remember Sergeant Michael saying that he secured the hangar – Swift got through a locked door]. He said that as he entered that he’d observed Sergeant Michael coming towards him in a distressed state [defendant told me that Garda Swift had not recorded that Sergeant Michael was distressed, in his notebook]. He said that he noticed a number of indentations on the plane and some weapons on he ground.

He said that he’d spoken to Ciaron, Karen and Nuin and that they’d identified themselves. He said that Garda McNulty had spoken to the other two. Defendants were arrested for suspected criminal damage.

The judge explained to the jury at this point that nobody was contesting the arrests.

Garda Swift said that he noticed that the Southwestern door had been broken.

He described the shrine the defendants had built as being a square containing, a bible, Koran, Muslim prayer beads, pictures of dead and injured children, weapons, a rucksack and two video tapes.

When asked had there been anything threatening about the shrine, he replied ‘no.’ He then told the court that he’d removed the shrine as evidence. He removed the hammers too.

When questioned by the next barrister he told the court that he’d been present when detective Houlihan had interviewed Ciaron. He said that Ciaron had identified the contents of the shrine, including the two video tapes. He told the court that Ciaron had said that the hammers and axe were not weapons but that they were tools to disarm a weapon.

The next barrister established that when Swift entered that the defendants were praying and that two St. Bridget’s crosses and some candles were included in the shrine. He agreed that the evidence was indeed a shrine and told the court that Ciaron had said that he’d watched the two videos.

The court was shown the rucksack, the photos of injured and dead children, the mattock (called an axe to this point), a bible, a copy of the Koran, two videos – one titled “Hidden Wars of Desert Storm” and the other “Paying the Price” by John Pilger – prayer beads and two sets of rosary beads, two St. Bridget’s crosses, a candle holder, candles and a prayer leaflet.

The pictures were shown to the jury after a small legal argument with the judge who didn’t want this to happen at this time. The jury was told that there was writing on the backs of the photos.

The next barrister established that at the time of the incident that Garda Swift had not known what a mattock was or what it was for, that it was a farming tool. On the handle it contained the words, ‘Put a stop to the genocidal war.’ And also the words, ‘If they come for the innocent without stepping over your body, cursed be your life.’

Garda Swift agreed that the damage done to the plane was plain to see.

The jury were informed that the photos of the dead and injured children had information written on the backs of them that told about the circumstances in which they were taken in Iraq.

Garda Swift was excused and the court rose for lunch. The time was 12.25pm

A little after 2.00pm the court reconvened and Detective Sergeant Michael Houlihan was called to the stand.

Houlihan told the court that the five had been detained under Section 4 of the criminal Damages Act and that he’d interviewed Ciaron. When asked if Ciaron had been informed of his rights, he replied, ‘yes judge.’

Michael told the court that Garda Quinn had been present at the questioning and that he’d left the interview at 7.00am to obtain a Statement of Faith from the rucksack. He said Ciaron had identified the Statement of Faith and that it contained his signature.

The interview had started at 6.21am and the detective had ascertained that Ciaron’s full name was Ciaron Joseph O’Reilly and also his address in Dublin.

According to the detective, Ciaron had equated the Statement of Faith with high crimes against Iraq and that the1.5 million deaths of Iraqi children had been aided by a Garda coverup.

He had used the word ‘justified’ in his written notes to explain the relevance of the Statement of Faith with regard to the action taken on the plane, but that he accepted that Ciaron had said ‘explained.’

The jury were told that they would be given a copy of the Statement of Faith.

Ciaron was again interviewed at 9.05am and questioned in a similar fashion and that this interview had ended at 9.51am.

When asked if he’d understood why he was arrested, Ciaron had answered that he did. “I appreciate the seriousness of the actions I have taken.”

Ciaron had equated what the gardai had called ‘criminal damage’ with disarmament and had told Detective Sergeant Houlihan that his act had been a non violent one and that he’d had constitutional excuse and a divine mandate. Houlihan told the court that Ciaron had agreed that the interview notes were accurate.

Houlihan said that at 2.20pm that he’d made notes of a meeting between Ciaron and Garda Swift that had taken place at 4.00am. He said that Ciaron had objected to Swift’s use of the word, ‘weapons’ and that they had been tools to disarm weapons. Houlihan said that Ciaron had recognized pliers and spray paint.

When asked by Swift what weapon he’d disarmed, Houlihan said that Ciaron had answered that the plane was the weapon. And that this had been a part of an authentic search for the truth when he had been asked if he’d had anything further to add. Ciaron had compared the runway at Shannon to the railway tracks at Auschwitz and he spoke of 12 years of crippling sanctions in Iraq and said that the action on the plane could be seen as beating ‘swords into ploughshares.’ Houlihan told the court that Ciaron had told Swift that he’d hoped that the Gardai and other airport personnel would have joined them in their action. Houlihan reported that Ciaron had said that he’d been inspired by, St. Bridget, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King.

‘Waging of war is total’
‘Waging of peace is partial’

Detective Houlihan next told of his interview with Damien at 8.15am. He said that Damien had given the same address as Ciaron and that he’d also signed the Statement of Faith, and that this statement was his answer to Houlihan.

Damien was interviewed a second time at 11.53am.

At 3.15pm Damien had asked to make a statement, according to Houlihan. Damien’s statement had been a single sentence. “I honestly believe I have a lawful excuse to protect the property and lives of myself and others.”

Detective Houlihan then testified that the items taken as evidence were only shown to Ciaron.

The mattock was handed to and identified by the detective at this point. He agreed that there was writing on all the tools.

On the red-handled lump hammer as Houlihan called it (it was actually a ballpein hammer) were the words, ‘the war ends here’ and ‘the B52 kills and intends to kill children.’

On the other tools:
‘Faith Jesus is freedom’
Peace symbol
‘Swords into ploughshares’
‘Put a stop to war’
‘Cuir stop na cogadh’
‘No more war no more war no never again – pope Paul 6th’
Pax symbol

Detective Houlihan next identified the now delflated inflatable hammer, but told the court that it had been inflated when it was taken as evidence. He also told the court that the pliers had been taken as evidence. He said that he couldn’t remember any spray paint. Indeed the spray paint wasn’t shown as evidence to the court.

Houlihan read from his notes that Ciaron had said, ‘We went to Shannon to stop crime, not to commit crime…’ prior to a subsequent hearing. Michael agreed that this had been the point of Ciaron’s acts.

It was put to Michael that Ciaron had asked why he should cooperate with the Gardai when they were not investigating our unconstitutional facilitation of war. Detective Houlihan accepted this.

The ‘justified’ vs ‘explained’ argument arose at this time again and Michael despite his notes saying otherwise accepted that Ciaron had said ‘explained.’

When asked whether this case was of an unusual nature, the detective replied that it was.

When asked whether feelings were running high at the time of the incident, Houlihan replied that he could not accept this. However when asked were people talking about the war at the time he replied ‘yes.’

The barrister next asked Michael about the widespread damage caused to the civilian population using terms like ‘war machine’ Michael again accepted this.

Michael agreed that the Gardai have the powers to prosecute acts within the jurisdiction of Dail Eireann and he agreed that some crimes like murder can be tried outside Ireland. He agreed however that only crimes inside Ireland were usually prosecuted.

The Geneva conventions were brought up next, the barrister describing certain acts that protect civilians and property, and got the detective to agree that violators of these acts could be tried and found guilty in Ireland.

The Jury was told to leave at this point and legal argument ensued.

The Judge after finding for the defense allowed the jury to return.

Detective Houlihan was asked if he was aware that breeches of the Geneva Conventions could be tried in Ireland and he replied that he was.

When asked was he aware that civilian populations shall not be the object of attack he replied, ‘yes judge.’

The detective told the court that he was not fully aware of the Geneva Conventions but accepted that they were all true.

When asked if people here in Ireland alleged violations of the Geneva Conventions, that they could and would be tried in Ireland, he accepted this.

When asked if complaints were brought to the attention of the Gardai before the 2nd of February 2003 he replied that he was not aware.

He was asked if he was aware of Ed Horgan and his High Court case and of Tim Hourigan and that they’d made complaints late in 2002 – he replied that he could neither confirm this nor had it come to his notice.

When asked if he’d been aware of any written complaints he replied that he hadn’t been aware of any.

He was asked if he was aware that the Oireachtas had extended the facilities at Shannon to the USA, he replied that he was.

He was next asked were the Gardai reluctant to follow complaints up. He replied no.

Michael told the court that he’d investigated 3 complaints subsequent to 2003 – rendition allegations.

When asked had he access to flights he replied no, and that he’d not attempted to board any flights. He said his investigations had been confined to the airport. When asked if there was any way to confirm these investigations he replied that files had been forwarded to the DPP.

The Jury was asked to leave at this point and legal argument again ensued.

When the jury returned it was put to the detective that the 7th of October 2001 had signified the invasion of Afghanistan.

Houlihan was asked about Guantanamo Bay and the possibility of prisoners being ferried through Shannon. He claimed that the first charges of this happening had occurred in early 2004.

On the 21st of March 2003 when charges of criminal damage were brought against Deirdre Clancy and she was invited to reply to them.

She replied that the charges accused her of reckless damage and she urged the Gardai to investigate the real crime.

This constituted the end of the prosecution.

Day three will start at 10.30am with Ciaron first onto the stand.

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