Comments by the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern that the annual security bill at Shannon for US military traffic is justified (Irish Examiner, 4 Jan) shows scant regard for the lives or human rights of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill of more than 3 million euro a year is spent facilitating occupying forces that cause ongoing fear, suffering and violent civilian death in both countries. And while the movement of troops is estimated to have been worth around 7 million euro to the airport in 2009, for this we have abandoned all traces of neutrality, international humanitarian law and respect for human rights.
It is worth examining some of the real costs of Shannon Airport's foreign military use. According to the Iraq Body Count, a nongovernmental organization that documents violent deaths in Iraq, there have been over 100,000 civilian deaths as a direct result of violence since the US invasion in 2003. A 2009 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) analyzed 14,196 of the events in which 60,481 civilians were violently killed during the first five years of the conflict. The report, "The Weapons That Kill Civilians - Deaths of Children and Noncombatants in Iraq, 2003-2008", found that the causes of death ranged from gunfire, to improvised explosive devices used in roadside bombs, to precision-guided missiles.
The authors of the report described suicide bombers as a form of precisely targetable 'smart bomb' that shows disregard for civilian life when targeting opposition forces or civilians, which is a war crime. They also documented a high rate of civilian death from aerial bombs. They concluded that in order to protect civilians from indiscriminate harm, as required by international humanitarian law including the Geneva Conventions, "military and civilian policies should prohibit aerial bombing in civilian areas unless it can be demonstrated ... that civilians are being protected."
The US military that use Shannon do not protect civilians. In 2006 the US Air Force chief of staff General T. Michael Moseley proudly declared as he announced the latest in unmanned aeriel vehicle (UAV) technology, the MQ-9 Reaper: "We've moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role (with the Reaper)." These hunter-killers are indiscriminate bombing machines that kill innocent children, women and men. This was clearly demonstrated by the NEJM report which found that air-strikes result in an average of seventeen civilian deaths per incident.
The UAVs that hunt and kill in Iraq - as they also do nowadays in Pakistan - may have been transported through Shannon in any of the US Air Force cargo planes that regularly pass through the airport.
It is also important to note that a total of 4,282 US troops have lost their lives in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and 30,182 have been wounded in action. Furthermore the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan doubled in 2009 (to 318), and is likely to get worse. According to retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an adjunct professor of international affairs at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Americans should prepare to accept hundreds of US casualties each month in Afghanistan during spring offensives with enemy forces (Army Times, "Surge in Casualties Predicted in Afghanistan", Jan 4, 2010).
Scant regard is shown for this high price paid by young American men and women as Shannon airport profits from their transit to a war zone.
The recently announced increase in US troop numbers in Afghanistan, and the 150,000 private sector war contractors employed by the occupation, will result in ongoing weak security and corrupt government. As the Afghan MP and women's rights activist Malalai Joya put it in July 2009, "your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords". The majority of Afghans want a withdrawal of the foreign troops; they know that the ongoing occupation serves US/UK/NATO interests but not theirs.
The US "war on terror" is also spreading to Pakistan where there is growing anti-western mood, and a further grave risk to regional stability and human life. A growing majority of Pakistanis distrust the US and the government in Islamabad has increasingly difficulty supporting US actions. Pakistan'wws primary interest is having a friendly government rule Afghanistan - no matter who it is. For the Pakistani military, India is the key focus, and it maintains good relations with the Taliban with whom it worked when it fought the Soviets.
The millions that the US military use of Shannon costs the Irish taxpayer cannot be justified, morally or financialy. Given the crippling levies being imposed on public sector workers, and the increasing levels of poverty, unemployment, inadequate health facilities and flood damage in the country, we should not be spending money to support US war efforts. However even this cost pales into insignificance when one considers the individual and collective costs in Iraq and Afghanistan. When will our government ministers acknowledge these costs?
And when will Minister Ahern ask the Gardai to ensure that all use of Shannon Airport by the US military, their contractors and their CIA colleagues, is legal under Irish and international law, and is in compliance with regulations governing the transportation of munitions of war? There are cloaks of silence and security surrounding the foreign military activities at Shannon which cannot be tolerated. As we start a new decade it is time for greater scrutiny of what we as Irish taxpayers and paying for.