Torture Doesn't Matter Any More it Seems. shannonwatch blog

By Shannonwatch

Two things that happened this week demonstrate the Irish state's ongoing acceptance of torture. The first was a written correspondence we received from a Department of Justice and Equality official stating that assertions of complicity in torture did not warrant inclusion in a major human rights report. The second was a prime time interview on the state broadcaster, RTE, in which the U.S. use of waterboarding was presented unchallenged.


The correspondence related to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Ireland's human rights record. As was noted in a Shannonwatch press release, Ireland’s National Report failed to even mention the repeated use of Shannon by U.S. rendition aircraft and their crews, or the ongoing movement of troops and weapons through the airport and Irish airspace without investigation of their possible involvement in war crimes. The National Report covers among other things: combating domestic, sexual and gender-based violence; trafficking; rights of the child; right to education; and migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. It reminds us that the UN Convention against Torture has been incorporated into Irish domestic law by the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention against Torture) Act 2000, and that the Act creates offences relating to an act of torture by a public official or other person acting at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of, a public official, regardless of nationality, within or outside the State. But no mention of rendition flights, or the many reports linking Shannon to renditions.

Shannonwatch wrote to the department with responsibility for drafting the National Report, which is the Department of Equality and Justice overseen by Minister Alan Shatter TD. We noted that the press release accompanying the report launch stated that "[a]ll submissions received and issues raised at the public consultation meetings were considered and informed the preparation of the report". We reminded them that we had made an oral submission at their public consultation meeting in Limerick as well as a written submission, and we asked them why the points made in these were not covered in the National Report. (As an aside, our lengthy oral submission in Limerick was surprisingly reduced to two short lines in the Report of issues raised at the UPR public consultation meeting on 23 May 2011, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.).

The reply we got from a department official stated that "the written and oral submissions made were considered and a decision taken that the assertions made in both submissions did not warrant inclusion in the report". In other words a decade of reporting by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, Amnesty International, the Irish Human Rights Commission and others on the involvment of Irish airports and airspace in kidnapping and torture are being dismissed by Irish government officials, with claims that they do not justify inclusion in the hugely important UPR report.

It is worth noting that the government's report begins with the following inspiring lines:

The promotion and protection of human rights is central to Ireland’s domestic and foreign policies. Our historical experience informs our approach to human rights and our Constitution, through its recognition of fundamental rights, guarantees the individual person freedom, equality and justice. The Programme for Government, published in March 2011, requires all public bodies to take due note of equality and human rights in carrying out their functions.

Clearly all public bodies are not taking due note of human rights in carrying out their functions. If they were we would have had an investigation into the ongoing use of Shannon by CIA rendition aircraft. And we would not be ferrying armed troops and munitions through the airport every day.

Another man who seems to have few concerns about the use of torture is former U.S. Air Force General Michael Hayden. Hayden served as CIA director from 2006 to 2009 and was in Ireland this week at a conference in Dungarvan. The conference was promoted as focusing on "the intelligence needs of leaders in the public and private sectors as they navigate a world of increasing globalization". During an interview conducted by Myles Dungan on RTE Radio 1's Today with Pat Kenny show (which you can listen to here) Hayden's justification of waterboarding - a practice that involves immobilizing a person, pouring water over his/her face and breathing passages, suffocating him/her and leading him/her to believe he/she will die - went unchallenged. Waterboarding is torture and it is forbidden under both international and U.S. law. Yet it was being presented by Ireland's state broadcaster as though it were acceptable practice.

Naturally there there was no mention of renditions through Ireland in the interview, even though General Hayden was head of the CIA when they may have been going on.

Hayden also served as head of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) from 1999 to 2005. The NSA oversees phone-tapping and other electronic surveillance inside and outside the U.S. using the powers of the Patriot Act. It may well have tapped phones here in Ireland when Hayden was in charge - and may even continue to do so. But given the ongoing support of the Irish government for U.S. human rights abuse and warmongering it is not likely that this will bother them or their compliant employees.

In themselves these two occurrances are not hugely significant or surprising. But they are very worrying when considered alongside the failure of the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) to include torture/renditions and Shannon in its UPR submission, or the repeated failures by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) to take action in relation to any of the complaints made by peace activists at Shannon. Like RTE, the IHRC and GSOC are constituted by legislation and are funded by the Irish Government. As a result, the freedom of these bodies to challenge Irish complicity in illegal U.S. practices seem to be constrained, and their failure to act is hindering accountability instead of protecting against human rights abuse.

Finally the political significance of what is happening here is perhaps explained by a Human Rights Watch Report launched on Tuesday. This report says that the Obama administration has all but abandoned its obligations to investigate the top echelons of the Bush administration over crimes such as torture, abduction and other mistreatment of prisoners. "It's become abundantly clear that there is no longer any movement on the part of the Obama administration to live up to its responsibilities to investigate these cases when the evidence just keeps piling up" according to the report. Little wonder therefore that the Kenny/Gilmore administration in Ireland has also become a failure, as it trips over itself to please Obama.