Chelsea Manning & Shannon Airport

Correction and apology

The article below makes reference to Chelsea Manning passing through Ireland’s Shannon airport en route to Iraq.

We now know from direct communication with Chelsea that this was not the case and that she did not pass through Shannon airport at any time, although nearly 2.5 million other US soldiers have done so. The use of Shannon by the US military is an ongoing and contentious issue in Ireland.

The information apparently came from a member of Manning’s Unit and was passed onto us in good faith by a trusted source. We apologise for this error and any confusion it has caused.

PMFF, May 2015

Chelsea Manning has Irish roots on both sides of the family and we know she passed through Shannon airport en route to Iraq. The use of a civilian airport in supposedly ‘neutral’ Ireland by the US military to facilitate its wars has long been protested and some of the cables released by Manning shed light on this use, which includes rendition flights, and on the diplomatic machinations that followed the acquittal of the Pitstop Ploughshares activists who caused $2.5m damage to a US Navy aeroplane at Shannon in the run up to the Iraq war in February 2003.

donal shannon

Joe Murray of Afri writes:

Chelsea’s only time on Irish soil was as one of the two million U.S troops who have visited Shannon airport on a refuelling stop en route to the war in Iraq. Chelsea has shone a light on war crimes and we want to honour her for that. We also want to continue to highlight the ongoing military use of Shannon airport. This is particularly important given the new revelations that Ireland has facilitated illegal CIA torture flights.

Two of the TDs who attended the Dublin vigil for Chelsea Manning on her birthday – Mick Wallace and Clare Daly – were arrested at Shannon Airport back in July 2014 after attempting to inspect two US military aircraft on the runway to establish whether they were involved in military operations, carrying arms or engaged in other activity that contravenes the Irish Government’s stated policy of neutrality. At a court hearing in December, the case against Wallace and Daly was adjourned to 21 January when the TDs intend to contest the charges against them [Update needed].

There is an ongoing and longstanding campaign against the use of the civilian airport at Shannon for US military purposes and the more evidence that comes out about CIA torture and rendition flights, the worse it looks in terms of Irish complicity and facilitation. In December, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan was forced to apologise and admit that his answers to four previous questions tabled in the House by Clare Daly, in which he had denied the presence of a military aircraft at Shannon in October, had been wrong and that the aircraft was at Shannon as claimed.

A number of the US diplomatic cables released by Manning and published by WikiLeaks refer to the use of Shannon by US military as this article by Harry Browne explains. From the cables, we learn that in the wake of the Pitstop Ploughshares acquittals, the Irish government was publicly supporting the independence of the judicial system while later privately telling the US it was prepared to change the law to prevent future acquittals for similar actions.

Pitstop Ploughshares activists were acquitted by a jury of charges relating to $2.5 million damage to a US Navy warplane

Pitstop Ploughshares activists from the Dublin Catholic Worker including Manning supporter Ciaron O’Reilly (left) were acquitted by a jury of charges relating to $2.5 million damage to a US Navy warplane

Other of the cables show Irish officials bending over backwards to assist the US in its military use of Shannon and even seeking advice on legal arguments as to why they should not subject US military planes to police inspection as they pass through Shannon; these arguments might be coming under public scrutiny soon in the forthcoming court case against TDs Wallace and Daly which is all about the need for inspections.

Thanks to Chelsea Manning, we know that Irish politicians were turning a blind eye to the possibility that Shannon was being used for rendition flights. Although privately worried they might be caught lying if evidence of rendition flights was uncovered, they were paying more attention to how they could manage the PR situation than ensuring that they didn’t need to.

In some cables, US diplomats are complimentary about the efforts of the Irish government, in the face of public condemnation, to nevertheless assist the US in its military use of Shannon. Underlining the importance of Shannon to the Americans, in a 2006 cable following the Pitstop Ploughshares acquittal, US Ambassador to Ireland James Kenny described Shannon Airport as

a key transit point for U.S. troops and materiel bound for theaters in the war on terror

and access to Shannon Airport for military purposes as

among the most tangible benefits of traditionally strong U.S.-Irish relations.

However, it is clear from the same cable that, as a result of the increased scrutiny of US activities at Shannon in the wake of the acquittal, officials came very close to pulling out altogether, as expressed here by Kenny:

Embassy will diplomatically pursue the most workable arrangements possible with Irish officials, but we would appreciate Washington’s judgment as to whether the process of notification of almost everything of a military nature (including by contract carriers) through Shannon is becoming too difficult to make the airport a preferred transit stop.

So the Pitstop Ploughshares action very nearly put a stop to the military use of Shannon once and for all. Without Manning’s disclosures, we might never have known any of this, and having the information in the public domain makes it harder for the wool to be pulled over the eyes of the public next time round, as we are now seeing.

postcard updated

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