'Rendition flights' escape investigation

by Democrat reporter

GARDAÍ cannot search US planes because the Irish government is accepting American assurances that it is not transporting 'torture prisoners' through Irish airports.

It has emerged that Gardaí officers who wish to investigate allegations of US illegality on military and state aircraft may not be able to do so because of the way the government is applying domestic Irish law.

Under Irish law, foreign state aircraft that have properly sought permission to land or overfly are immune from being searched, unless they have been granted permission on the understanding that they will wave this immunity.

When contacted last month, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs released a statement to the Irish Democrat acknowledging the government was still permitting US state aircraft to land in Ireland without asking them to waive this immunity.

It said the Department would accept US assurances that they were not transporting illegally held prisoners through Ireland to countries known to torture people - known as 'extraordinary rendition'. This effectively means Gardaí officers wanting to investigate allegations of illegality would not be permitted to do so.

The statement said:

"Permission is normally granted for state aircraft on certain conditions, such as that the aircraft is unarmed; is not carrying arms, ammunition or explosives; is not engaged in intelligence gathering; and is not taking part in military exercises or operations.

"The Government will continue to follow the long-standing practice whereby details supplied by the US authorities to the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding flights by state aircraft are accepted in good faith as being accurate."

The same principle of accepting US assurances, even though evidence of torture and illegality continues to mount against it, is also being applied to searching chartered civilian aircraft used by the CIA. Under the Republic's Air Navigation and Transport Act civilian aircraft may be boarded and searched by Irish authorities, which foreign minister Dermot Ahern was keen to point out in the Daíl in February.

However, Galway Labour TD Michael D Higgins told the Irish Democrat that, during a meeting with two chief Garda superintendents at Leinster House recently, he was told Garda had been advised that the Criminal Justice Act (UN Convention against Torture) 2000 did not allow Gardaí to carry out searches of US planes.

"Who advised Gardaí that this Act stopped them from searching the planes?" he asked?

It emerged recently that three complaints of illegality on US planes were reported to Garda and that two were sent to the DPP, which dropped the cases through lack of evidence.

"Was it the DPP or the Justice Department who told Gardaí they could not board these aircraft?"

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has criticised as "inadequate" the Irish government's response to the Council of Europe (COE) investigation on US "extraordinary renditions" through European territory, released in February.

"We do not believe that the information supplied is sufficient to allow the COE to make a full assessment of Ireland's meeting its obligations," said Seán Love, Executive Director of Amnesty International's Irish Section.

"Ireland is continuing to maintain its stance in going no further than seeking US 'diplomatic assurances' that prisoners have not been and will not be transported through Irish territory or airspace. These assurances are utterly and demonstrably meaningless."

"Whether a state is friendly or hostile has little relevance in circumstances where that state has a proven record of breaching international human rights law," he said.

The Amnesty official said that a failure to seek an agreement with the US to search its aircraft and as recommended by the Irish Human Rights Commission last December indicated that the government was not taking seriously its duty to prevent and investigate the practice of extraordinary rendition.

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed by the British government that airports in the six counties, including Aldergrove airport near Belfast, have been used by CIA chartered aircraft for 'stop-offs' over the last 12 months.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2006-04-06 19:27:26.
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