It’s not often that Iceland gets to play with the big boys. We only ever seem to draw international attention when whale hunting season begins, but whaling will soon be drawing to a close. We’re in the Coalition of the Willing, but one fine day even the war in Iraq will come to an end. Our international presence is almost always fleeting, but events from the past month show Iceland involved in a movement that just might last for years to come – the war on terror.
On 16 November, a Casa CN-235 plane with the call number N196D landed at Reykjavík Airport at 13:57 on its way from Wick, Scotland, and departed at 8:00 the next morning. While the call number is linked to the company Devon Holding & Leasing, the New York Times recently brought to light that this is a front company for the US Central Intelligence Agency, and that these planes are being used to transport “enemy combatant” prisoners.
This isn’t the first time this has happened, either. According to the Danish government, such planes have been tracked coming to and from Iceland since August. Couple this with recent revelations from the Washington Post of “black prisons” in Poland and Romania holding these prisoners and US Vice President Dick Cheney’s latest efforts to exempt the CIA from a bill in Congress that would make torture of such prisoners illegal, and Iceland’s role in this goes from bad to worse: being used as a stopover point for “enemy combatant” prisoners being shuttled to and from secret prisons on behalf of an organisation that has already been accused of implementing torture in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantánamo Bay, an organisation that Cheney would like to fully exempt from any restrictions on the use of torture. In other words, Iceland’s in the big leagues at last.
The nation was understandably upset to hear this news. Amnesty International of Iceland expressed concerns about Iceland’s involvement in this shady business. Social Democratic MP Össur Skarphéðinsson called for a ban on any prisoner plane from landing in Iceland or using Icelandic airspace, prompting another MP from the same party, Helgi Hjörvar, to call on Minister of Justice Björn Bjarnason to investigate. Minister Bjarnason responded, in letter format, thusly:
“According to the basic rules in this country there cannot be a public investigation without witnesses or suspicion of wrongdoing.”
You want witnesses? If any proof were needed of the plane’s existence, it was quickly provided by local photographers, who simply walked to the airport and took photographs of the plane, its call number in plain view, and published them in daily newspapers. You want suspicion of wrongdoing? Just ask the European Union, which vowed that any country found involved in these operations face “serious consequences,” as EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini put it. Even the UK, possibly the US’s strongest ally, has demanded an explanation from the Bush administration. The only country that doesn’t seem to be the least bit worried about this fiasco is Iceland. The world is reeling over this news, sickened even, yet the Minister of Justice, along with the rest of Iceland’s majority coalition, remains as unflappable and insulated as the Bush administration.
Which may be part of the problem. It’s no secret that Iceland’s ruling coalition has long been out of touch with the country’s people. They dragged us into supporting the US-led war in Iraq despite at least 78% of the population being against such a move. They rejected a bill that would eliminate a statute of limitations on child rapists despite signatures from 15,000 people (and counting) supporting it. So this latest turn of events, and the government’s response, hasn’t come as much of a surprise, however disappointing the news may be. On the plus side, we need only put up with this cabal for another year and a half. The suspects being held by the CIA might have to wait much longer than that before they see the light of day.