Thursday, January 06, 2005

Someone who won't be getting off the plane for a quick pint

It's already clear that when it comes to the use of Shannon airport by the US government for likely Geneva Conventions violations, the Irish government has no shame. When all else fails, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern can fall back on his favourite excuse, much used for Charlie Haughey's transgressions, that "it's all in the past" -- because of course the US is not going to let us know the next time they have a prisoner in transit at the airport.

So maybe this story from Thursday's Washington Post helps a bit, because it puts a name and some background to one unfortunate who could be passing through the airport sometime soon -- if he loses his court case to block his transfer from Gitmo to Egypt, where he was previously tortured after an earlier (and probably illegal) transfer there from US custody in Pakistan. Since he's an Australian citizen, the Australian government also has some "questions to answer" (another classic Bertie-ism) about why they are not protecting him. Anyway, here are the basics:

U.S. authorities in late 2001 forcibly transferred an Australian citizen to Egypt, where, he [Egyptian-born Mamdouh Habib] alleges, he was tortured for six months before being flown to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to court papers made public yesterday in a petition seeking to halt U.S. plans to return him to Egypt.

And in another utterly predictable detail, Dubya's Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales is implicated in the legal reasoning that is allowing all this to happen. Since he'll have to face real questions about these issues today in his confirmation hearings, the Post story is well-timed.

UPDATE 13 MAY: One belated item; we should have noted before that Habib was eventually released and thus spared a 2nd rendition to Egypt. His revelations have since become a source of embarrassment for the US and Australian governments. Second, in a seemingly procedural issue that adds to Irish government culpability in the broader practice, the Irish taxpayer may be subsidising these rendition flights. The Republic has a reciprocity agreement with the US that exempts military flights from fees for use of airspace; the traffic control authority gets reimbursed for each foreign flight by the Department of Transport. It's likely that the rendition flights are covered by this agreement, in addition to the regular military flights (including troop transport).

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