Sunday, March 19, 2006

Irish PM voices concern to Bush over CIA flights

Irish PM voices concern to Bush over CIA flights
By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ireland's prime minister used a Saint Patrick's Day visit to hammer home to President George W. Bush concerns about secret CIA flights through his country and treatment of inmates at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo.

Prime Minister Bertie Ahern raised the issue of rendition, the controversial U.S. practice of moving terrorism suspects from one country to another, in White House talks on Friday, saying he had pressed for "more transparency".

Human rights groups accuse the United States of transporting suspects outside legal channels to countries where they could face torture under interrogation.

Washington says it sometimes transfer suspects without following normal extradition procedures but denies sending them to countries that use torture.

The allegations have sparked protest in European countries, with governments seeking explanations from Washington whether their airports have been used for flights carrying prisoners.

Ahern said Ireland's Shannon airport was a frequent landing site for CIA and military planes and the United States had assured his government it had not been used for rendition.

But Ahern told reporters, "There is concern about extraordinary renditions and concern about CIA flights and we've asked the president's understanding and cooperation."

"It's an issue we will just keep in touch about," he added." We'll do that over the next few weeks."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan called renditions "a valuable tool in our efforts to save lives and protect the American people," but insisted the process was carried out with respect for other nations' sovereignty.

Ahern also added his voice to criticism of the prison at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where hundreds of inmates have been held without trial as part of Washington's war on terrorism.

"We expressed our position that we support what (U.N.) Secretary-General Kofi Annan said -- that we believe people should be released or charged and that humanitarian issues should be fully followed," he said.

U.N. investigators said last month Guantanamo prisoners faced treatment amounting to torture, and Annan said the prison should be closed. The White House has called the detainees "dangerous terrorists" and insists they are humanely treated.

Of the roughly 500 prisoners in Guantanamo, only 10 have been charged with any crime.

Ahern spoke after a ceremony with Bush marking St. Patrick's Day. The day honoring the patron saint of Ireland has special political resonance in the United States where politicians often use the day to curry favor with blocs of Irish-American voters concentrated mostly in major cities.