Ahern defends Shannon security bill – but at what price?

RECENT Comments by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern (Irish Examiner, January 4) that the annual security bill at Shannon for US military traffic is justified shows scant regard for the lives or human rights of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bill of more than €3 million a year is spent to facilitate occupying forces who cause ongoing fear, suffering and violent civilian death.

And while the movement of troops is estimated to have been worth around €7m to the airport in 2009, for this we have abandoned all traces of neutrality, international humanitarian law and respect for human rights.

It is worth examining the real costs of Shannon airport’s military use. According to the Iraq Body Count, a nongovernmental organisation that documents violent deaths in Iraq, there have been more than 100,000 civilian deaths as a direct result of violence since the US invasion in 2003.

The US military who use Shannon do not protect civilians. In 2006, the US Air Force chief of staff, Gen T Michael Moseley, proudly declared, as he announced the latest in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, the MQ-9 Reaper: “We’ve moved from using UAVs primarily in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance roles before Operation Iraqi Freedom, to a true hunter-killer role (with the Reaper).”

These hunter-killers are indiscriminate bombing machines that kill innocent children, women and men. This was clearly demonstrated by a New England Journal of Medicine report last year which found that air strikes result in an average of 17 civilian deaths per incident.

The UAVs that hunt and kill in Iraq – as they also do nowadays in Pakistan – may have been transported via Shannon in any of the US Air Force cargo planes that regularly pass through.

It is also important also to note that a total of 4,282 US troops have lost their lives in Iraq since the 2003 invasion and 30,182 have been wounded in action. Further, the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan doubled in 2009 (to 318), and is likely to get worse.

Scant regard is shown for this high price paid by young American men and women as Shannon airport profits from their transit to a war zone.

The increase in US troop numbers in Afghanistan, and the 150,000 private sector war contractors employed by the occupation, will result in ongoing weak security and corrupt government.

The majority of Afghans want a withdrawal of the foreign troops – they know that the ongoing occupation serves US/British/NATO interests but not theirs.

The US “war on terror” is also spreading to Pakistan where there is a growing anti-western mood and a further grave risk to regional stability and human life.

A growing majority of Pakistanis distrust the US and the government in Islamabad has found it increasingly difficulty to support US actions.

Pakistan’s primary interest is having a friendly government rule Afghanistan – no matter who it is. For the Pakistani military, India is the key focus, and it maintains good relations with the Taliban with whom it worked when it fought the Soviets.

The millions that the US military use of Shannon costs the Irish taxpayer cannot be justified, morally or financially.

When will Minister Ahern ask the gardaí to ensure that all use of Shannon airport by the US military, their contractors and their CIA colleagues, is legal under Irish and international law and is in compliance with regulations governing the transportation of munitions of war?

There are cloaks of silence and security surrounding foreign military activities at Shannon which cannot be tolerated. As we start a new decade it is time for greater scrutiny of what we Irish taxpayers and paying for.

John Lannon

Shannonwatch

Raheen

Ballyneety

Co Limerick

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