A bird's eye view of the vineyard
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Report of Oireachtas Committee Debate on Extraordinary Rendition
anti-war / imperialism |
Thursday December 20, 2007 08:30 by Seán Ryan
CIA Rendition Plane N71PG at Shannon 3 Dec 2007
A first-hand account of a meeting of the Department of Foreign Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday 19th December to discuss the issue of Extraordinary Rendition (the transport of abducted prisoners for the purpose of torture in another country) through Irish air-space.
Related Links: Wikipedia Article on Extraordinary Rendition —
Extraordinary Rendition stories on Indymedia Ireland
I found myself in good company today as I made my way to Leinster House to attend the Debate on Extraordinary Rendition by the Department of Foreign Affairs Select Committee; I attended in the company of Conor Cregan and Edward Horgan.
At the Gates of the Dáil we met many protesters who’d gathered to have a last say before the Government took their seasonal break for Christmas. Many politicians who wanted to earn some ‘street cred’ and others with their ‘street cred’ well established, were to be found mingling with us the malcontents and proles.
As ever, the tireless Colm Roddy was to be found in his Guantanamo jumpsuit, with his plethora of signs spelling out Ireland’s complicity in Crimes against humanity. The seasoned activist was making the most of the last day and the fact that the politicians were out and about.
Eamonn Ryan, at one point came out the gates and literally ran across the road before anyone could shove a mic, a camera or a question in his face. I guess he was off to deal with the concerns of the fearless Shell to Sea activists, who’d scaled the walls of his office earlier. Happy Christmas Eamonn and way to go Shell to Sea - I think you got his attention.
John Gormley rode into the Dáil on his ministerial bike at one point. He was all kitted up in the latest of fashionable gear, and the black helmet completing his costume put me in mind of the creature designed by Giger for the ‘Alien’ films. I was tempted to remark to about the coincidence of the ‘alien’ having two mouths too, when he joined us some minutes later, having divested himself of the cycling gear in the Dáil - I held my tongue, reckoning that more important issues were the order of the day.
Ed Horgan greeted Mr. Gormley by way of informing him that Rendition flights were still landing and passing through Shannon. Mr. Gormley decided to play the thicko at this point by asking Ed if it had been proven that a person had actually been rendered through Shannon. I was sorry I’d not made the two mouths comment at this point. Ed followed up by ignoring Mr. Gormley’s answer by informing him that we were facilitating torture. At this point, I asked two questions of my own. I suggested to Mr. Gormley that the USA had admitted to Extraordinary Rendition and that it was considered a crime in Ireland. I said that the rendition planes passing through Shannon were evidence of this crime and that the State and particularly the Gardaí should treat them as such - I asked him if he agreed. Before he could fob me off, I asked him to comment in light of the fact, that even though there was no evidence of a kidnap victim on display, that there was plenty of evidence to prove that kidnap victims had crossed Irish airspace, I asked him if Ireland as a sovereign nation had anything to say or indeed to do with regard to this. He started to say something about our airspace being hard to control when he noticed two tara protesters waiting patiently for his attention. He apologised for not having the time to answer anything whatsoever but that he had to try to make himself available to everyone (for what he didn’t elaborate on) he then turned and spoke to the folks from tara and actively ignored us. Conor remarked that Mr. Gormley had never been so happy to see a tara protester before (except when looking for votes that is).
Eventually we made our way into the Dáil. Mr. Woods the chairman of the Committee welcomed all who attended including, the Department of Transport, the Justice Department, a delegation from the Irish Human Rights Commission and various TD’s and Senators. Chairman Woods apologised on behalf of the few folks who were unable to attend.
Mr. Woods started the proceedings by informing everyone that members of the Dáil were covered by Dáil privilege and that everyone else was legally responsible for what they had to say.
Michael Woods then began to summarise the meaning of “Extraordinary Rendition” and was interrupted by an outraged Senator David Norris when he used the words: “allegedly abducted” as part of this definition. Mr. Norris pointed out to the chair that there was nothing alleged about rendition. He said that rendition was a fact and that there was no question with regard to the existence of it. Chastised and corrected, the chairman went on to say how repulsive the Government and he considered rendition to be.
The floor was given to the members of the Irish Human Rights Commission and they outlined their position with regard to the report that they’d produced. To summarise, they maintain that assurances from the US government, because they have no legal accountability attached, are not enough to ensure that the State has complied with its duties, both domestic and foreign, with regard to protecting human rights and ensuring that the State was not complicit in torture. They recommended that Ireland either ban all CIA and rendition related flights or that they instigate a competent and comprehensive policy of investigations and inspections of these planes. In particular Commissioner Suzanne Egan put forward most of the Commission’s findings and recommendations and did so in a reasonable and coherent manner.
Rory Montgomery batted for the beleaguered government. He argued that we were special with regard to our relationship with the US and that nobody else in Europe had had the quantity and quality of assurances from the US that we’ve had. He conveniently forgot that these assurances have no legal weight behind them and that if they are eventually found to be the shite that we know they are, that there will be no legal comeback with regard to them. He waxed poetical on the alleged seven inspections that the State had made with regard to suspicious flights in Shannon. He didn’t point out that none of these ‘inspections’ had included an actual inspection of a suspicious plane. He did however correct another speaker later on when the speaker assumed that ‘inspections’ had meant ‘inspections.’
It was very much the same with all the anti-recommendations speakers. Though Fine Gael’s Alan Shatter did single himself out in my book for special mention. Mr. Shatter began his rhetorical soliloquy by saying that Rendition is a horrible crime and that there are no excuses for it. He then excused this horrible crime by talking about 9/11 and saying that the US was afraid etc. He then went on to assassinate the characters of the activists, like Ed Horgan, Conor Cregan and Tim Hourigan who’ve brought this national disgrace into the light of day - though in fairness to Mr. Shatter he was not rude/or brave enough to mention names. Yup it’s all got to do with folks being anti-American. He said he’d never seen protesters at the Iranian embassy for example. Senator Norris interjected at this point to inform the assassin that he’d protested outside the Iranian embassy and that he’d not seen Mr. Shatter there.
Mr. David Norris was the hero of the day. He pointed out that the Government was not about ensuring human rights - it was about saving its own neck. He said it was “disgusting.” He demanded from Mr. Montgomery that they answer a question that he’d asked many times. He said that the evidence of a person being rendered through Shannon was a massive red herring and was being used by the State to avoid admitting its complicity in rendition. He asked that a direct admission by the State be given and that this admission consist of an agreement that rendition flights had refuelled in Shannon and that the State were aware of this and comfortable with it. He still awaits his answer, having been thrown the crumb that Ireland admits that at least four flights associated with rendition landed in Ireland. Mr. Norris defended both Ed and Conor to the Select Committee, having taken particular offence at the comments of Alan Shatter. Senator Norris informed those present that it was people like Ed Horgan and Conor Cregan who’d been responsible for this becoming an issue in the State to begin with. He demanded to know if arresting Mr. Horgan and Mr. Cregan were an example of the States efforts to ensure human rights abuses were not perpetrated in or facilitated by Ireland. There was no answer forthcoming on this - no big surprise there.
Mr. Michael D. Higgins put in an appearance after a short break around four o’clock. He apologised for not attending earlier, explaining that he had to take part in a vote on a motion issued by him in the Dáil. Michael D was a sea of calm to Senator Norris’ outrage and in patient tones pointed out to the Committee that the Government was acting in a very vague manner with regard to its exercise of its duties and laws. He said that the Government had been quick to point out to the world at large that the Government had laws to facilitate it upholding its national and international commitments, but that it had not pointed out that it had never exercised these laws. Michael D and Senator Norris both pointed out that they had had discussion with representatives of the Garda Commissioner. They had told the two politicians that they had not the power to search the suspect planes at Shannon. Both politicians demanded to know if the Attorney General had sent a letter to the Gardaí instructing them not to search planes. The State responded that the Gardaí might have been confused with regard to their duties as they are most certainly not allowed to search military or State aircraft. It was suggested that this might be what the Gardaí had meant when they dealt with the two politicians. So we still don’t know if the ‘letter’ exists for sure and we’re not about to be told any time soon.
Chairman Woods closed proceedings by declaring the meeting to be a fruitful one and wishing everyone a happy Christmas.
All in all, a good day. The State’s mask isn’t as solid as it was yesterday.