Maintaining a Veil of Silence

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The veil of silence that surrounds the U.S. military and CIA use of Shannon Airport is highlighted in a recent article in National Security Watch. It says

The private Dublin Airport Authority, which owns and runs the airport, will not discuss America’s use of the airport and refers all press queries to the Irish government.  The Irish government refuses to comment or answer any questions in writing. The U.S. government will not respond to written questions about American involvement in Shannon submitted to it.

The correspondant goes on to ask the very pertinent question: what is all the official silence about? It is something that has intrigued Shannonwatch too ... if the activities at the airport are legal under international and national law, and if they are justifiable, then why not acknowledge and explain them?

Its never been easy to get official information about the U.S. military use of Shannon. The stock answer to questions about it is that information cannot be provided for security reasons. Government ministers use the excuse. Department officials use it. The local Gardai use it. Indeed it seems none of them can say much the troops travelling through the airport (they even maintain a pretence that they don't know where they are going), or allay local people's concerns about dangerous explosives and weapons sitting a short distance from their homes, or discuss the inspection of cargo planes for illegal and harmful material (like cluster bombs and depleted uranium). All for security reasons.

Maybe they are worried that if they told anybody anything, word might filter through to Al Qaida and the airport would be attacked.

Or maybe they just don't want the 4.5 million people who think they live in a neutral country to know that we really aren't neutral. Its now almost exactly eight years since a High Court judgement, Horgan v An Taoiseach and others, stated that Ireland was in breach of the Hague Convention (V) by allowing US troops to use Shannon airport on their way to and from a war in Iraq. The judgment noted that

there is an identifiable rule of customary law in relation to the status of neutrality whereunder a neutral state may not permit the movement of large numbers of troops or munitions of one belligerent State through its territory en route to a theatre of war with another.

The case which was brought by a member of Shannonwatch was unsuccessful in its attempts to have the Shannon troops' stopover deemed unconstitutional (the judge rejected it on the basis that it was not for the judiciary to determine the degree to which the Shannon stopover constituted "participation" in the Iraq war). But since then the State has been keeping very quiet about allowing tens of thousands of U.S. troops a month to pass through an Irish airport.

That might just be because, as none other than the U.S. ambassador, quoted in a released Wikileaks cable, said:

For segments of the Irish public ... the visibility of U.S. troops at Shannon has made the airport a symbol of Irish complicity in perceived U.S. wrongdoing in the Gulf/Middle East ...

Best to keep very quiet about it then, isn't it.

Of course there is also the matter of CIA rendition flights through Shannon. Here the security excuse cannot be trotted out as the aircraft being used are operating as regular civilian planes. So the government resorts to outright denials of any wrongdoing, based on what the National Security Watch correspondent calls an "honor code":

Officially, the Irish government denies that such flights occur because under effectively an honor code, the U.S. government has assured the Irish government that extraordinary rendition via Shannon does not happen and never has happened, so there has been no need for the police or army to inspect the suspect aircraft.

So the official line is that we're still neutral and there is no wrongdoing at Shannon. And in any case, the arrangements we have with the Americans are making lots of money for the local economy, keeping the airport afloat.

But now we find out that even this is a lie. Shannon airport lost in the region of €5 million in 2010 according to a draft financial report obtained by the Irish Times. So supporting the U.S. war efforts isn't even enabling the airport to cover its costs. There are some local jobs depending on the military presence of course, but if/when Shannon has served its useful role for the U.S. military's Air Mobility Command people, these will inevitably disappear faster that the time it takes to tear up all the temporary employment contracts.

So we still don't know why "neutral" Ireland is breaking customary law to support invasions and occupations by a another belligerent State.

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