Veterans Ken Mayers and Tarak Kauff will begin their ‘Walk for Freedom’ outside Limerick Prison on Saturday morning over alleged human rights abuses.
Two elderly US military veterans are to begin a marathon three-week walk from Limerick to the most northerly point in Ireland this weekend to protest against what they claim are human rights abuses by the Irish authorities.
Veterans Ken Mayers (82), from New Mexico, and Tarak Kauff (77), New York, will begin their ‘Walk for Freedom’ outside Limerick Prison on Saturday morning to highlight the fact that they have been unable to travel home to their families for the past six months.
They have been awaiting trial for non-violent action at Shannon Airport in the West of Ireland on St Patrick's Day.
The two men were arrested at Shannon on March 17 when they tried to inspect an Omni International aircraft, which was on its way to Kuwait. The veterans believed it was carrying US troops and weapons in violation of international law.
They have been charged with trespass and causing €2,500 ($2,700) worth of criminal damage to the perimeter fence of the airport and have had their passports taken away as part of their bail conditions.
The families of the two men began a campaign to highlight their case in the United States and are due to hand in letters to the Irish Consulate in New York early next week, where Kauff’s partner and one of Mayers’ grand-daughters live.
Mayers and Kauff have decided to walk from Limerick Prison, where they were detained for 12 days in March, to Malin Head in Co Donegal to raise awareness of their case and to ask people along the way what they really think of Irish neutrality.
Malin Head has a special significance for the two men, as it was the location of a famous Irish “neutrality” sign to deter German bombers during World War Two, and has recently been restored.
Their case has been highlighted by a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Clare Daly, who claims the two elderly American men have faced worse treatment than Irish people who staged similar protests at Shannon Airport in the past.
The civilian airport, near Limerick, has been used as a stopover by US troops on their way to and from wars in the Middle East since then-President George Bush asked the Irish authorities for permission to use Shannon following the 9/11 atrocities in 2001.
“Their human rights are being abused, as they have been refused permission to fly home as they await trial in Ireland,” said Daly.
“Instead of allowing the case to go to trial, we had the judge denying them bail which is an absolute violation of human rights. It’s an appalling treatment of two elderly gentlemen to take their passports, effectively almost interning them in Ireland.”
Daly, then a member of the Dáil (the Irish parliament), faced similar charges after attempting to search a US military plane in 2014. She did not have her passport taken away and only served about two hours of a one-month sentence.
Both Mayers and Kauff told IrishCentral on Wednesday that they fully intend to turn up for their trial, which could be delayed by up to three years, but that it was a hardship on their families as they have been unable to travel outside Ireland since March.
“We didn’t expect to be here this long. We do think we are not being treated fairly. We think both the prosecution and the judge know that we fully intend coming back for the trial. It’s pretty obvious that we really want to come back. In fact, we would have to be prevented from coming back,” said Kauff.
“We do have families back in the United States, people who would like us to be back. We would like to have the freedom to go back and to have people trust us. We are not politicians. If we say we are coming back, we will come back.”
Kauff pointed out that the men have paid bail of $5,500 (€5,000) for allegedly causing $2,750 (€2,500) worth of criminal damage to the perimeter fence at Shannon. He said that the Irish State would make a profit from them if they did not return, but they fully intend to turn up for the trial.
Mayers said his partner in New Mexico and his three grand-daughters, who are in their 20s, are anxious that he returns home to the US. One of his grand-daughters has arranged with Tarak’s partner, Ellen, to hand in a letter of protest at the Irish Consulate in New York.
The two men, who are members of Veterans for Peace, are relying on the goodwill of Irish peace activists for accommodation and food as they await their trial.
Mayers is a former Marine Major and Kauff is a former US Army paratrooper. They are in good health and say they are looking forward to the walk, which will give them a chance to engage with ordinary Irish people about Irish neutrality and the US military’s use of Shannon Airport.
“The idea behind the walk is to promote our freedom to return home to our families, freedom from war, and the freedom to respect and to affirm a strong and peaceful Irish neutrality,” said Mayers.
"The US military is using this civilian airport as a U.S. base, thereby contributing to death and destruction throughout the Middle East and North Africa. What I find particularly heart-rending is that some of this material goes to support the Saudi attack in Yemen, where there are over a million people on the verge of starvation.
“After the starvation that devastated Ireland in the 19th century, it is particularly tragic and bitterly ironic that this nation should be complicit in the starvation of over a million people.”
Retired Irish Army Commandant Edward Horgan said the two US veterans did not commit a crime but were trying to prevent crimes from being committed.
“The very next day after they did their action in March, ten children from one extended family were killed in a US airstrike in Afghanistan. According to our research, up to one million children have died as a result of these wars,” he added.
Ciaran Tierney won the 2018 Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award. Find him on Facebook or Twitter here. Visit his website here - CiaranTierney.com. A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in the digital world.
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