Shannon Airport may still be a Stop-off for Illegal Rendition Flights

Shannonwatch are concerned at the ongoing use of Shannon airport by companies and planes associated with the illegal US rendition program. Since March 2009, five aircraft that have been identified by Amnesty International, the EU Parliament or other sources have been recorded there. One of these planes, a Gulfstream IV with registration N478GS made news in early October when it was met by British military helicopters on a runway at Birmingham International Airport. Six days later it was at Shannon, thus reawakening the possibility that the airport is still facilitating illegal kidnapping and torture.

N478GS is registered to L-3 Integrated Systems, a Montana-based subsidiary of a US defense corporation. The parent company, L-3 Communications, is a multi-billion-dollar defense corporation based in New York  whose clients include several US government departments. It is known that this Gulfstream jet, which was identified in a European Parliament report into the ‘extraordinary rendition’ of terror suspects, is still very active around Europe. A report in the Guardian newspaper on 1 November of this year confirmed that it has been spotted at Glasgow Prestwick Airport and Stuttgart Airport in Germany, as well as Shannon.

Other rendition planes recorded at Shannon this year include N475LC which is also owned by L-3 Integrated Systems, and a Gulfstream IV with registration N404AC which was identified by the Amnesty International report, Below the radar: Secret flights to torture and 'disappearance'. N404AC visited Shannon on no less than four occasions in 2009 (2nd April, 2nd and 4th September, and 23rd October). A Learjet with registration N54PA which has visited Guantanamo Bay on numerous occasions also continued to use Shannon in 2009. So too did N71PG, a plane registered to Phoenix Air Group, Inc. This is a private company permitted - until recently at least - to land in US military bases worldwide (the list of companies with these permits has not been made public in the last 3 years). N54PA is also operated by Phoenix but its registered owner is a company called VPC Planes of Wilmington, Delaware.

Many of these aircraft land frequently at US military bases. N54PA left Shannon on 12 December, for example, on its way to Ramstein Air Base, which is a US Air Force base in Germany. 

The term “rendition” is used to describe the transfer of individuals from one country to another by means that bypass all judicial and administrative due process. The practice has been used mainly (although not exclusively) by the US in its so called "war on terror", and has been carried out with the complicity of other governments, including the Irish government. Amnesty International has confirmed that the CIA systematically used civilian planes to circumvent the constraints of official flight information while transferring prisoners to countries where they have been tortured.

In January 2009 the Obama administration announced that the CIA's torturous interrogation program was to end and that its secret prisons were being shuttered. However the CIA is still permitted by the US administration to carry out renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the US.

Irish complicity in renditions was confirmed in several cases over the last few years. Aircraft N379P landed at Shannon on 22 July 2002, for example, on its return journey to the US after depositing Binyam Mohammed in Morocco where he was tortured. And on 18th February 2003 NV85VM landed in Shannon directly from Egypt where it had deposited a Muslim cleric known as Abu Omar. In November of this year an Italian judge convicted 23 CIA agents and two Italian agents for their role in the kidnapping of Abu Omar, and sentenced them to serve prison sentences for this unlawful and inhumane act. It is most likely that these convicted men traveled through Shannon in February 2003.

Even though these aircraft were not carrying the detainees while in Irish territory, as far as is known, they were in contravention of the Criminal Justice (UN Convention Against Torture) Act 2000.

At least 15 aircraft identified by the EU parliamentary investigation, Amnesty International and others as being involved in renditions have landed at Shannon since 2002. These are the known torture planes, and there may be many more not yet discovered. Up to 40 aircraft in total have been identified as being involved in the renditions program, with many more planes suspected of playing a part.

Given Ireland's known complicity in renditions, and given the continuing stop-overs of suspect rendition planes, there is every reason to be concerned that Shannon Airport may still be facilitating kidnapping, disappearances and torture.

Shannonwatch is calling on the Irish authorities to put procedures in place to determine if known rendition aircraft like N478GS, N404AC and others are still being operated as state aircraft taking detainees to be tortured or illegally detained. It is imperative that the operators and crews of non-scheduled commercial flights provide sufficient information to ensure the true identity and status of all persons on board, and to identify the true purpose of the flight. This information should be made public in order to allay concerns over Shannon's possible ongoing involvement in torture.

Attempts by human rights activists at Shannon to have suspected rendition planes investigated are dealt with inappropriately by the Gardai. Two activists have been arrested while making such complaints and charged, but found not guilty by the District Court. And even though the Irish Government set up a Cabinet Committee on Aspects of International Human Rights to review and strengthen legislation governing the search and inspection of such planes, nothing has been done to end Ireland's cover up of serious human rights abuse. After a full year of inactivity on the part of this committee, Shannonwatch is calling on it to do what it was set up to do without delay, and to make the outcomes of its review public.

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