President Obama's Visit to Ireland is Not Something To Celebrate

As Ireland prepares to welcome U.S. President Barack Obama to its shores, we should remember that he is the active commander in chief of a military that has engaged in prolonged and unjust wars and violated international law.  He has reneged on his clear and unequivocal promise to close Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre. In using Shannon Airport as a transit depot for his military and CIA activities he has colluded with successive Irish governments to continue our complicity in human rights abuse, to undermine our proud record as peacekeepers, and to erode Irish neutrality.  Instead of welcoming him with open arms, the Irish government should be addressing the shameful decline in Irish foreign policy standards. In particular they should immediately end U.S. military use of Shannon Airport.

While President Obama’s decision to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq was a welcome move, his boosting of U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan has resulted on ongoing instability and suffering. By any measure the occupation is an abject failure. The insurgency continues to grow, violence is rife in the country, and more U.S. troops than ever are being killed. Despite its economic problems and unemployment crisis, the U.S. is estimated to spend $2 billion dollars per day on the war. Overseeing such a grotesque misuse of his nation’s resources makes President Obama a major contributor to global poverty and suffering.

To its shame, Ireland continues to support the unjust occupation of Afghanistan by making Shannon Airport available to the U.S. military. Shannonwatch recorded an average of three U.S. military flights a day through Shannon in 2010. This pattern is continuing in 2011 with close to 90 U.S. troop carriers landing at the airport in April alone.

“The movement of around 600 foreign troops and their weapons through Shannon every day is in direct contravention of our neutrality” said a Shannonwatch spokesperson.  “The current Irish government has so far failed to address this, or to investigate possible breaches of international law resulting from what is in effect an “open runways” policy towards the U.S. military and CIA. Treating the U.S. president as a visiting dignitary is reinforcing Irish support for unnecessary and unjust wars. What we should be doing is holding him to account for the suffering of millions of ordinary people and for possible war crimes committed by his armed forces.”

The use of Shannon Airport by CIA rendition crews and aircraft over the last decade has also been well documented. “The diplomatic assurances received from the U.S. in relation to these have been proven to be worthless. Furthermore President Obama’s failure to live up to his pre-election promises regarding Guantanamo Bay, and his condoning of the cruel and torturous treatment of Bradley Manning (the man accused of providing information to Wikileaks), shows he is not committed to ending torture” according to Shannonwatch. “For all we know, Shannon may still be used by illegal CIA kidnap crews.  The Irish government’s failure to put in place proper inspection and documentation procedures means they are continuing to turn a blind eye”.

“The recent assassination of Osama Bin Laden by U.S. Navy Seals is further cause for concern. By extrajudicially executing opponents instead of arresting and having them tried in a court of law, our guest, President Obama, is showing a flagrant disregard for international law”

In addition, missile attacks by US drones in Pakistan have more than trebled under President Obama's presidency. In 2010 alone, 929 casualties were reported in Pakistan’s FATA region. According to Washington-based New America Foundation, one in every three killed in these drone attacks is a civilian. “The taking of these innocent lives under President Obama’s command is an ongoing outrage” said the Shannonwatch spokesperson. “And Shannon Airport may be facilitating it.”

Ireland has been dragged into several wars and has been complicit in breaches of international law as a result of the U.S. military use of Shannon Airport. Extending an uncritical welcome to U.S. president draws us deeper into these wars, and further removed from the principles of peace and human rights that Irish people hold dear. In these circumstances his visit is not something we should be celebrating.


Shannonwatch are a group of peace and human rights activists based in the mid-West of Ireland. Website: www.shannonwatch.org.  For interviews phone +353 87 8225087 or +353 86 3539911.

A Shannonwatch spokesperson will speak at the PANA press conference in Buswell's Hotel, Dublin at 11am on Thursday 19th May.

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