As if the United States didn’t
have enough to worry about with its Iraq policy, now it has to take
extra care for the safety of any equipment transiting through Ireland.
That’s the message from Tuesday’s acquittal in Dublin of five protesters who damaged a navy plane at Shannon airport.

The five, including an Australian, Ciaran O’Reilly,
admitted that they attacked the plane with hammers back in February
2003, immediately prior to the Iraq invasion. Their case had dragged on
through various legal manoeuvres, but it ended quickly: the jury took
only three and a half hours to return a unanimous verdict of “not
guilty”.

The protesters’ defence was that damage to the plane
was lawful because they were acting to protect lives and property: not
just those of Iraqis, but also the US servicemen and women who would
fight there, and the Irish who would be exposed to greater risk of
terrorism. The fact that a jury accepted this argument is striking
testimony to the unpopularity of the Iraq war in places like Ireland.

It
also reminds us that, despite the web of anti-terrorist legislation,
the jury is one element of the system that governments cannot control.
No surprise that Australia and the US are so keen to keep David Hicks away from one.

According to AAP,
“Shannon Airport is a major refuelling hub for US military transports”,
so the prospect of confronting hordes of hammer-wielding protesters
must be causing some angst at the Pentagon. The American embassy
in Dublin said it was “very disappointed” with the verdict, and the Irish Examiner suggests that the US may yet “launch a civil action against the protesters in an attempt to recoup the cost of the damage”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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