Senator David Norris's Private Members Time Debate - 23rd November 2005
Private Members Time Debate
23rd November 2005
^ Iraq War: Motion. ^
Mr. Norris: I move:
That Seanad Éireann concerned at the progress of the war in Iraq, and in light of recent revelations and admissions by the United States authorities:
----condemns the use of chemical agents such as white phosphorus, MK77, by US forces;
----expresses its revulsion at the discovery of 170 persons apparently victims of torture in the basement of the Iraqi Interior Ministry;
----calls upon the Irish Government to review its policy on the use of Shannon Airport and to make a definite and credible statement concerning the nature of this traffic, in particular, the use of the airport by the Gulfstream Five jet aircraft which has been implicated in the policy of extraordinary rendition;
----calls for restrictions on the international media in the reporting of the Iraqi war to be lifted and for full access to be granted to international agencies such as the Red Cross, Red Crescent, etc., in order to allow them to assess the impact of military operations on the civilian population of Iraq; and
----calls for the establishment of an international inquiry into the attack on Falluja.
I do not envy the Minister his position of having to defend an indefensible Government amendment. The reason I will oppose it so vigorously is that my motion was intended to cause discomfort to the American regime in its criminal activities. The Government's amendment is anodyne; it is an attempt to soothe the discomfort. I agree with the Dalai Lama that even though there is a great disparity between the size of a flea and that of a human, it is sometimes good to be the flea in the bed that keeps people awake and awakens their conscience.
It is becoming clear now that, despite President Bush's vainglorious boasts during an electioneering stunt on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on 2 May 2003 in front of a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished", American and British troops have not prevailed in Iraq. The truth is as a correspondent in the British newspaper The Independent wrote on Monday this week: "The endgame in Iraq is nigh." Some of us foresaw this. I was not alone in predicting that the Iraqi adventure would end in tears. Militarily, I believe the war is in the process of being comprehensively lost despite whatever face saving spin is put upon it. I take no pleasure in this for, unlike Bush and Blair, I do not gloat in death - the death of Iraqi civilians, the so-called insurgents or, indeed, the unfortunate and misled coalition troops.
However, there is still time to rescue something vital from the debacle. I refer to those standards of decency and humanity that underpin the fragile moral order of the world and the two words that have been so violently misused by Bush and Blair, "democracy" and "Christianity".
It is now a clearly established fact that the assault on Iraq was planned well before the attack on the World Trade Centre. The events of 9 September 2001 merely provided a convenient catalyst which could be supported by a tissue of lies about weapons of mass destruction and posturing about an interest in humanitarian issues. Indeed, the media driven emphasis on the al-Qaeda inspired attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon failed to put this in the perspective of the activities of Western countries, led by the United States in South America where death squads and torture were orchestrated by US operatives and in Asia where the wholesale employment of the chemical warfare weapon Agent Orange and napalm led to the annihilation of hundreds of thousands of neutral civilians in places such as Vietnam and Kampuchea.
Did they think it would never come home to roost? Despite the appalling nature of the carnage in New York and Washington and the tragedy and horror visited upon the innocent victims, to whom my heart goes out, the number of casualties was but a pinprick compared with what has been done to the subjugated people of this planet in the name of the West. If the disaster of the war in Iraq can be said to have any positive aspect it is that it must force us to reassess and reassert our values in the face of those wicked leaders who have deliberately subverted them.
It is ironic that last Sunday marked the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Nuremberg war crimes trials. The US played a righteous and leading role in this, contrasting dramatically with its current attempts to evade the remit of the newly-established International Criminal Court. We are repeatedly told that this war is being fought in the interests of Western values. My values as a Westerner do not include the waging of aggressive warfare, the wholesale use of torture, the bombing of civilian targets and the use of chemical weapons.
We had many warning signals that we were on a moral slide, and some of us tried to speak out but we were not heeded. We witnessed the systematic undermining of the United Nations, the decrying of the Geneva Convention, the targeting of the independent news agencies - particularly troubling are yesterday's reports that Tony Blair had to fight hard to dissuade President Bush from bombing the al-Jazeera studios in Qatar - the killing of journalists, the embedding of reporters with armed forces to prevent independent reporting, and the defence of the use of torture, at first insidious and anonymous but now reaching to the very top through the discredited agencies of the law, right up to the leaders of the Untied States and Britain. All this has been accomplished to the accompaniment of a cynical abuse of language the like of which has not been seen since the Third Reich. I could give many examples of that but I will give only two. Extraordinary rendition, the euphemism to cover the kidnapping of individuals and the illegal transfer of persons to third states for the purpose of torture and interrogation, and the appalling concept of targeting human beings with chemical weapons such as white phosphorous, a corrosive substance that burns through the human flesh to the bone, in an operation described as "shake and bake".
Nor will I be intimidated by those who would accuse me of being anti-American. In this morass the best friend America has is the person who will them the truth to their face and among those I number a former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, who stated:
In recent years I have become increasingly concerned by a host of radical Government policies that now threaten many basic principles espoused by all previous administrations, Democratic and Republican. These include the rudimentary American commitment to peace, economic and social justice, civil liberties, our environment and human rights. Also endangered are our historic commitment to providing citizens with truthful information ...
In this article entitled "This is not the country that I once knew", recently commissioned and published by the Los Angeles Times, President Carter continued:
Of even greater concern is that the US has repudiated the Geneva Accords and supported the use of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, Quantanamo and secretly through proxy regimes else where with the so called Extraordinary Rendition programme. It is embarrassing to see the President and Vice President insisting that the CIA should be free to perpetrate "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment" on people in US custody.
In light of these circumstances, it is difficult to see how the trial of Saddam Hussein can proceed. He is charged with waging aggressive war, using chemical weapons, involvement in torture and other human rights abuses. This is an exact description of what the United States and Britain have done in Iraq. How can they possibly be taken seriously when they are accused of another of those crimes of which they themselves are guilty? This is just one of the ironies with which this situation is replete. The tyrannical monster, Saddam Hussein, may ultimately escape justice because of the moral bankruptcy of those forces led by Bush and Blair.
Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a tyranny but it was functional. It was held together by a central authority. It now looks as if the outcome of the west's intervention will be to leave behind a fragmented and shattered society dominated by a religious clique whose strings are pulled from Teheran. Meanwhile, the people suffer ever more intensely. One hundred thousand civilians have been killed, according to figures published by the Lancet, which the British and American Governments dishonestly tried to undermine. The provision of electricity and sewerage services are worse than it was under Saddam, and the people are subject to terror not just from the allies but from roving bands of militia and death squads. It is a comprehensive reign of terror.
I want to examine the question of the use of chemical weapons, which is a contentious issue. What is referred to here is a new generation of incendiary weapons code named MK77. These are the linear descendants of weapons widely used in Korea and later in Vietnam. Their use was denied last June in response to a question in the House of Commons by Mr. Adam Ingram, Defence Minister. However, later Mr. Ingram was forced to admit to Labour MP Harry Cohen that he had misled Parliament because he had been lied to by the US. He told Mr. Cohen:
The US confirmed to my officials that they had not used MK77s in Iraq at any time and this was the basis of my response to you. I regret to say that I have since discovered that this is not the case and must now correct the position.
I spoke last weekend to Mr. Cohen in Edinburgh and he confirmed these facts.
In light of this and the American doctrine of plausible deniability, why should the Minister for Transport or the Minister for Foreign Affairs believe, for example, the denial concerning the Gulfstream V jet given by unnamed officials of unknown rank within the Bush Administration. I have since spoken to our Foreign Minister. It was not even at that level. It was junior officials in the American Embassy in Dublin.
The 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons appears to permit the use of this kind of material but only for illumination purposes and only against military targets. MK77 is a napalm canister munition. The containers lack stabilising fins and consequently acquire a tumbling motion on being dropped that contributes to the scattering of the combustible gel over a wide area. Its use is a violation of the Geneva Protocol Against the Use of White Phosphorus "since its use causes indiscriminate and extreme injuries especially when deployed in an urban area". The effect of this material was certainly known to the United States army before its use. The Marine Corps Gazette, an official organ of the American army, contains the following description of so-called thermobaric or fuel air weapons:
Such weapons on ignition form a cloud of violent gases or finely powdered explosives. This cloud is then ignited and the subsequent fireball sears the surrounding area while consuming the oxygen in this area. The lack of oxygen creates an enormous overpressure. Persons under the cloud are literally crushed to death. Outside the cloud area the blast wave travels at some 3,000 metres per second. As a result a fuel-air explosive can have the effect of a tactical nuclear weapon without residual radiation. Those personnel caught directly under the aerosol cloud will die from the flame or overpressure. For those on the periphery of the strike, the injuries can be severe. Burns, broken bones, contusions from flying debris and blindness may result. Furthermore, the crushing injuries from the overpressure can create air embolisms within blood vessels, concussions, multiple internal haemorrhages in the liver and spleen, collapsed lungs, rupture of the eardrums and displacement of the eyes from their sockets.
This is the material that was used in Falluja. There is no doubt that it caused a holocaust. I would put those who deny it in the same category as those who denied the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.
It must be remembered that the United States and British Governments have steadfastly refused to keep or release statistics concerning the number of civilian casualties. Indeed, in December 2003, the Iraqi health Minister, under pressure from Washington and London, ordered a halt to the count of civilians killed during the war. Moreover, when United States soldiers stormed Falluja their first action was to seize the general hospital and arrest the doctors. The New York Times reported: "The hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was a source of rumours about heavy casualties".
Were civilians killed in addition to military personnel? We know that before attacking the city the Marines stopped men of fighting age from leaving. They were categorised according to age, not according to military occupation. In addition, many women and children stayed. A correspondent with The Guardian, for example, estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians were left.
In the March 2005 edition of the American army magazine, Field Artillery, officers from the second infantry fire support element boast about their attack on Falluja. It states:
White Phosphorus. WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breaches and later in the fight as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes where we could not get effects on them with high explosive. We fired "Shake and Bake" missions at the insurgents using White Phosphorus to flush them out and high explosive to take them out.
There is a further eye witness account by an embedded reporter, published in California's North County Times, which confirms the matter. I note in that account the use of the phrase "insurgents". Who are these insurgents? I will give an example of the way this phrase is used.
On 16 October 2005, a group of adults and children gathered around a burnt out American vehicle on the edge of the city of Ramadi. There was some horse-play from the children. The group was attacked by a US F15 fighter jet. Subsequently, the US military released a report saying it had killed 70 insurgents and knew of no civilian deaths. Among the "insurgents" killed were six year old Mohammad Salih Ali, who was buried in a plastic bag after relatives collected what they believed to be parts of his body, and four year old Saad Ahmed Fuad and his eight year old sister, Haifa, who had to buried without one of her legs as her family were unable to find it. It is very necessary although harrowing to put human faces on these victims, so easily dismissed as insurgents. It is also useful to remind ourselves that according to a 1978 United Nations General Assembly resolution, armed resistance in the case of occupation is legitimate. So insurgency is legitimate but what about the murder of children? Is that legitimate?
We have, in addition, accounts from an embedded reporter, Darrin Mortenson, describing the firing of "round after round of high explosives and white phosphorus charges into the city of Fallujah Friday and Saturday never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused". Another reporter, Dahr Jamail, reports speaking to a doctor who had remained in the city of Falluja and encountered numerous reports of civilians suffering unusual burns. One surviving resident of Falluja described "weird bombs which put up smoke like a mushroom cloud" and described watching "pieces of these bombs explode into large fires that continue to burn on the skin even after people dump water on the burn". A physician at a local hospital said that the corpses being brought in were "burnt and some corpses were melted".
Further eye witness accounts include that of Jeff Englehart, a former marine, who spent two days in Falluja during the battle. He has since said in an interview:
I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorous on Falluja. In military jargon it is known as Whiskey Pete. Phosphorous burns the body; in fact, it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone. I saw the burnt bodies of women and children.
Moreover, even if one accepts an argument on technical and legal bases for the use of white phosphorous as an illumination, the United States army's own regulations, as contained in the US Army and General College Staff Battle Book indicates that its use as described above is illegal. Burster-type white phosphorous rounds burn with intense heat and emit dense white smoke. They may be used as the initial rounds in a smoke screen to rapidly create smoke, or against material targets such as class five sites or logistics sites. It is against the law of the land, however, to employ white phosphorous against personnel targets. Many of us were already worried about the use of cluster bombs, which particularly target children, and depleted uranium with its consequent impact on civilian health.
With regard to torture, there has been a consistent attempt by the United States Government and its agents to legitimise the use of torture in a manner that has completely shocked most European nations. An enormous number of people have been arbitrarily detained. A Pentagon report released in the last week reveals that 13, 814 persons are held in United States custody in Iraq out of a total of more than 80,000 detained in facilities there and in Afghanistan and Cuba since September 11 2001.
One of the major problems in Iraq is that the coalition forces have largely abdicated the responsibility for policing in favour of local sectarian militias. The result has been the emergence of death squads and the phenomenon of disappearances. There have been repeated unsuccessful attempts to persuade the allies to investigate the persistent stories of torture being carried out under the aegis of the Minister of the Interior.
Mr. Norris: I distance myself from the remarks made by Senator Ryan and exonerate the Minister of State for any inappropriate attitude. I did not attack him personally but simply placed a factual legal matter on the record of the House. It would be easy for me to try to embarrass my colleagues on the Government benches but I will not do so. Instead, I salute them on their moral courage in saying what they said. I am proud of them and thank them from the bottom of my heart for the position they have taken. My colleague, Senator O'Toole, made the very good suggestion that this matter be taken back to their party for discussion - that is the democratic way to do it. I am not bothered about the vote. It is now perfectly clear that it is a farce because the House has spoken with a unified voice, which is terribly important.
I pay tribute to the decency of some of the American troops. It was as a result of their activities in searching for a missing teenage boy that the torture victims were found beaten and starved in an Iraqi Government bunker last week. We now know that 173 detainees were arbitrarily arrested and held without charge in the basement of the Interior Ministry building, after which they were held in an underground bunker. The sectarian nature of the detentions is clear from the fact that all the detainees were Sunni Muslims. Mr. Abdul-Hamid, head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said in a statement, "According to our knowledge, regrettably all the detainees were Sunnis. In order to search for a terrorist, they used to detain hundreds of innocent people and torture them brutally."
Reports printed in reputable newspapers such as The Guardian include the information that, in addition to live persons, mutilated corpses - including some with electric drill holes in their heads - and torture instruments had also been found at the underground bunker. Another paper of record, The Observer, stated that its reporters had seen photographic evidence of post mortem and hospital examinations of alleged terror suspects from Baghdad and the Sunni triangle which demonstrates serious abuse of suspects, including burnings, strangulation, the breaking of limbs and, in one case, the apparent use of an electric drill to perform a knee capping. This is all part of a pattern.
One could take the case of an imam, Mr. Hassan an-Ni'ami, at a suburban mosque in Baghdad. He was arrested by paramilitary police commandos and taken for interrogation. His capture was reported on television as that of a senior terrorist commander, which was untrue. Twelve hours later, his body was in the city morgue. The Observer states:
What happened to him in his twenty four hours in captivity was written across his body in chapters of pain, recorded by the camera. There are police-issue handcuffs still attached to one wrist, from which he was hanged long enough to cause his hands and wrists to swell. There are burn marks on his chest as if someone had placed something very hot near his right nipple and moved it around.
A little lower are a series of horizon welts, wrapping around his body and breaking the skin as they turn around his chest, as if he had been beaten with something flexible, perhaps a cable. There are other injuries: a broken nose and smaller wounds that look like cigarette burns.
An arm appears to have been broken and one of the higher vertebrae pushed inwards. There is a cluster of small, neat circular wounds on both sides of his left knee. At some stage an-Ni'ami seems to have been efficiently knee capped. It was not done with a gun - the exit wounds are identical in size to the entry wounds, which would not happen with a bullet. Instead it appears to have been done with something like a drill.
This kind of behaviour happened under the gaze and with the tacit complicity of elements within the coalition forces. One international official stated:
What is so worrying is that allegations concerning the use of drills and irons during torture just keep coming back. And we have seen precisely the same evidence of torture on bodies that have turned up after they have been arrested. There is a dirty counter-insurgency war, led on the anti-insurgency side by groups responsible to different leaders.
America is at last waking up to this horror. It is for this reason that Republican Senator John McCain made an amendment to a military spending Bill in the Senate in which he proposed prohibiting the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by US personnel anywhere in the world. The amendment was passed - 90 voted in favour and nine against. It was then incorporated into the Senate Bill, which was eventually passed with some other modifications. However, the House of Representatives passed its own version of the Bill in the past week, without any of these provisions relating to the treatment of detainees. Vice-President Dick Cheney has recently spent a great deal of time lobbying Republicans to make an exemption from the McCain amendment for the CIA. On top of this, President Bush has come into the open, supported torture tactics and threatened to use his presidential veto to strike down any proposal that includes a blanket ban on mistreatment.
It is a matter of shame that the Irish Government, despite repeated questions from me, the Leader of this House, members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and members of many parties in the Lower House, has made no qualification on the use of Shannon Airport for military traffic of all kinds. The Minister for Transport is responsible for civil aircraft while the Minister for Foreign Affairs is responsible for regulating the activities of foreign military aircraft. The carriage of weapons and munitions on civilian aircraft requires an exemption from the Minister for Transport. Up to and including 17 November 2005, a total of 1,287 exemptions had been granted by the Minister for Transport. Up to 31 October 2005, the number of US military troops passing through Shannon was 268,963. This makes us shamefully complicit in the waging of an illegal war.
A deeply worrying question arises regarding the Gulfstream V jet aircraft that has been permitted to continue using Shannon Airport's facilities. Other countries are not so pusillanimous and some ban the flights. Denmark had fighters intercept a suspect craft to get it out of its airspace. Austria searches aircraft on the ground. Hungary has also taken such measures.
Some time ago in this House I was able to demonstrate, by an analysis of replies given in the Lower House, that American officials had lied to the Minister, leading him to misinform the House that these flights had ceased. The CIA had merely changed the registration number of the plane. This plane is known to have been involved in extraordinary rendition - it has done nothing else. Why should one believe it is taking tourists through Shannon Airport? By extraordinary rendition, I refer to the kidnapping and transfer of suspected persons to third countries for the purposes of torture. On 21 May 2005, the foreign service of The Washington Post stated:
Stockholm -- the CIA Gulfstream V jet touched down at a small airport west of here just before 9 p.m. on a subfreezing night in December 2001 ... Swedish officers watched as CIA operatives pulled out scissors and rapidly sliced off the prisoners clothes, including their underwear ... At 9.47 p.m., less than an hour after its arrival at Bromma Airport, the jet took off on a five-hour flight to Cairo, where the prisoners, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed Zery, were handed over to Egyptian security officials.
The Taoiseach, in a reply to Deputy Michael D. Higgins last week, quoted an unsourced Human Rights Watch report, which is itself the subject of serious doubt, to suggest that it is unlikely that a major civilian airport would be used by the CIA for this traffic. However, the BBC radio programme "File on Four" broadcast a report from Stephen Grey which states:
This is Dulles Airport, Washington, within easy reach of both the Pentagon and the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Our flight logs showed that on almost every occasion when the Gulfstream jet leaves America, it passes through this airport.
The report further states that the Gulfstream jet also passes through Glasgow, Prestwick, Queen Ali International Airport in Amman, Jordan, and Kastrup Airport in Copenhagen. I am aware that citizens of this Republic have reported their suspicions and the detailed evidence from outside the State about the purposes to which this aircraft is put. The Garda has refused to take action and notification of these facts has been routinely ignored. As a result, I have written to Mr. Noel Conroy, the Garda Commissioner, as follows:
I am writing to you as a citizen and as an elected public representative to draw to your attention the fact that there is a clear prima facie case that a crime may have been committed by the landing of gulf stream jet, call sign N3 79P, at Shannon airport. I am also aware that a number of citizens have made complaints of a detailed nature to the police authorities in Limerick to no avail.
The aeroplane concerned has certainly been used by the American authorities for activities which are considered illegal under international law i.e. extraordinary rendition. You will be aware of the fact also that the Minister for Transport unintentionally misled the Dáil on the basis of misinformation supplied to the Government by unnamed American officials. You will be aware also that through the evidence of Harry Cohen MP the American authorities lied about the commission of parallel crimes by the employment of white phosphorus in Iraq a situation which led to Minister Adam Ingram MP misleading the House of Commons and having to admit this fact subsequently.
I have discussed this matter with members of the House of Commons at Westminster who are in possession of an opinion from international lawyers that the landing of such a plane if it is being used for such a purpose constitutes a crime under international law.
Ireland has already been reported because of this matter to United Nations Sub Committee for investigation. I am making this formal request that you fully investigate the matter and that this aeroplane is routinely subjected to garda investigation if and when it lands at Shannon airport. I should advise you that I will be making the contents of this message available to the international investigating authorities in the belief that further inaction by the garda authorities would be seriously regarded. I await a speedy reply.
Senator David Norris
I encourage every Member of the House to write a similar letter to the Garda Commissioner. American public opinion is changing. No longer will people tolerate the bluster of Dick Cheney, who never served in Vietnam because he was able to pull strings and achieved no less than five draft deferments, infamously saying that he had "priorities in the sixties other than military service". He was content to send other people's children out to die. For a man such as that to accuse others-----
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has exceeded his time.
Mr. Norris: May I finish?
An Cathaoirleach: I am very generous.
Mr. Norris: The Cathaoirleach has been very generous, which I acknowledge.
Mr. Coghlan: He is always very generous.
Mr. Norris: For a man such as Dick Cheney to accuse others of cowardice and treachery and losing their memories and backbones is intolerable. Americans will tolerate it no longer. It is significant that Representative John Murtha, a known hawk in defence matters, has stated that the war had obviously been a mistake and that the American people were misled because intelligence reports had been exaggerated.
Having been labelled by the Administration as a defeatist, he received enormous support from the American public. He told NBC's "Meet the Press", "It is not me, it is the public that is thirsting for answers."
I am proud of this House tonight because of the decent behavior of my colleagues on the Government side. I honour them for it and I ask them to take the action I have requested.