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Shannon used for 'secret' CIA flights, says Amnesty

Gene McKenna and Conor Sweeney HUMAN rights group Amnesty International yesterday claimed it had information which proved detainees had been flown through Shannon on "secret" flights.

Amnesty claimed in Brussels yesterday that at least 50 flights by up to six CIA chartered planes had used the airport.

"According to the US Federal Aviation Administration over this period, these planes landed 50 times in Shannon and took off 35 times, suggesting that some flights were kept secret," states Amnesty.

It claims this "contradicts assurances" given by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice last week that the airport had not been used for "untoward" purposes or a transit point for terror suspects.

The human rights organisation specifically focussed on the role of Shannon in its latest update over the controversial "rendering" of the so-called "ghost detainees" to countries where they face torture.

"Amnesty International is publishing the information after a challenge by Dermot Ahern on Thursday when, asked about CIA planes using Shannon airport, he said: 'If anyone has any evidence of any of these flights please give me a call and I will have it immediately investigated.'"

"On 17 February 2003, for instance, the Gulfstream IV, N85VM took Abu Omar from Ramstein to Cairo, then turned around and flew to Shannon, arriving at 0552 on the 18th," said Amnesty.

"Flying detainees to countries where they may face torture or other ill-treatment is a direct and outright breach on international law," claimed Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International's Senior Director of Regional Programmes.

Meanwhile, according to information obtained by RTE under the Freedom of Information Act, there may have been a total of 38 landings of CIA flights at Shannon Airport, mostly since 2002.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern said last night that as recently as last Thursday in Washington, he had told Ms Rice "that it would be illegal to transit prisoners for rendition purposes."

He said: "The US Secretary of State confirmed their previous assurances that they have not done so and would not do so.

"These assurances have been regularly received through our diplomatic channels in Dublin and Washington.

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"The Government will continue to follow the long-standing practice over many years whereby information provided by the US authorities is accepted in good faith as being accurate.

"However, let me make it clear, if anyone has credible evidence that Shannon Airport, or indeed any other Irish airport, has been used for prisoner rendition, this should be brought to the attention of the Garda authorities."

He said any such development would be viewed "with the utmost seriousness" by the Government.

Mr Ahern added: "I would also stress our continuing concern regarding allegations about breaches of international law outside our jurisdiction elsewhere.

"I made it clear to Secretary Rice these allegations are a matter of serious public concern in Ireland."

In another development yesterday, former President and UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson said Ireland must carry out a proper inquiry into claims of CIA flights passing through Shannon on their way to alleged secret torture prisons.

Ms Rice said yesterday the US did not permit, tolerate or condone torture under any circumstances.

"Moreover, in accordance with the policy of this administration, the United States has respected, and will continue to respect, the sovereignty of other countries," she said.

"The US does not transport and has not transported detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture."

Former President Mrs Robinson said each country had to have a proper investigation. "The words chosen by Ms Rice appear to be very carefully framed," said Mrs Robinson.

"She spoke of 'not transported for interrogation for torture' but what now constitutes torture in the US, especially when acts are carried out outside the US?"

This was She described what was happening as "another potential serious dipping of standards post-9/11."

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