Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5 Pacifica Radio
New York City
John McDonagh and Malachy McCourt speak to two US veterans, Tarak Kauff and Ken Mayers, via cell phone from a street corner in Ireland. The vets are both members of Veterans for Peace and were arrested on Saint Patrick’s Day at Shannon Airport for attempting to inspect a US Omni plane. (begins time stamp ~ 02:34)
John: Now, on today’s show, if you’ve been listening to WBAI every Wednesday and Saturday, we’ve been following the case of two American citizens, both of them United States veterans, and they’re with the group, Veterans for Peace, of which I am a member. They were arrested at Shannon Airport when the went on the tarmac there to inspect a US military plane to see if it was carrying munitions and weapons on that so they were charged with trespassing even though Ireland claims to be a neutral country it’s really – Shannon Airport’s become a military base for the United States where millions of US troops come through Shannon on their way to invade countries in the Middle East. And on today’s show, and we’ve been covering it, we’re going to have on Tarak Kauff, he’s from Woodstock, New York, seventy-seven years old and eighty-three year old Ken Mayers, a major, retired major from the United States Marines. They just got bail yesterday in Dublin at two thousand five hundred euros.
Now there hasn’t been that much coverage of their plight. Now had these two American citizens that are from US military, the Army and the Marines, had been arrested in North Korea, Iran, Russia or Venezuela – you might have heard about them. But No! They were arrested in the Emerald Isle – Oh! You know, why would they be arrested there? And how come there was no, as they say, kerfuffle about them being arrested? But I don’t know if I have Ken or is it Tarak on the line? Who’s on the line?
Ken: You have Ken and you have Tarak.
John: Oh, Tarak. Well listen, it’s great that you both got out of Limerick Prison there yesterday for a bail of two thousand five hundred. I believe your passports were taken away. But I want to give some background. Why were you over in Ireland? And how did the arrest come about?
Ken: Well, we were there because we recognise the insanity of our military adventures abroad and the Irish, with their long history of neutrality, should be allowing us to use a civilian airport as if it were a military airbase for transferring these troops and weapons was just outrageous, you know? And as former military we’ve seen what the United States does around the world and we hate to see the Irish succumbing to American pressures to be complicit in this kind of activity.
John: So, Tarak, what exactly did you do at Shannon Airport?
Tarak: Well we, that was Ken who was just speaking.
John: Oh, okay.
Tarak: We got ourselves into the airfield and we walked down the runaways.
We were headed for an Omni plane which we knew was carrying US troops with their weapons and that’s what we were doing – ostensibly to inspect the plane but mainly to bring attention to the issue. And we were out there for about fifteen or twenty minutes before we were arrested and we were eventually charged with destruction of government property (that was the fence) and trespassing and we just got released the other day, yesterday, from thirteen days in Limerick Prison. I will tell you that most of the guards in the prison were extremely sympathetic and actually favourably inclined to what we had done. They know about the situation, as do most of the prisoners, and they had heard about us and you know supported, basically supported what we were doing and many of them were encouraging us to keep doing it.
John: And Tarak and Ken, being both US citizens and veterans of the US military, did the US Embassy get involved or did they come to see you as Americans being in a foreign jail?
Ken: We haven’t requested a visit. There’s been lots of support actually from the United States, not necessarily from the government although Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, has supported us and has actually contributed to our bail fund and Michelle Lujan Grisham, the current governor of New Mexico, has offered her support so that in various parts of the United States there is significant support among those who’ve heard about the issue but of course at the federal governmental level – no. In fact, some of our fellow prisoners were saying: We think that Donald Trump heard you were there and said to keep you!
John: You know what, Ken, I wanted to ask you, you were a major in the United States Marines and I’m just going to read a sentence from Smedley Darlington Butler in a poem or an essay that he did, War is a Racket. And in that essay he says:
I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.
– Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, USMC, from his 1933 speech on Interventionism
When did you get involved and sort of saw what our foreign policy was doing around the world?
Ken: Well, in my eight and a half years of active duty the Marine Corps was steadily showing me what the United States does around the world and it was actually the most important part of my educational process. So I resigned my commission in disgust with American foreign policy at the end of 1966 and I’ve been doing this kind of work ever since – so it’s thanks to the Marine Corps. And of course, Smedley Butler – Smedley Butler is a saint to Marines.
Malachy: This is, – my name is Malachy McCourt and congratulations on the great work that you’re doing in the cause of peace and decency and humanity. I grew up in Limerick and so I know exactly where you are. That’s on Mulgrave Street – there’s a mental hospital, there is a hospital, there is the prison and there’s the graveyard, Saint Lawrence graveyard, there. So we always called that section of town ‘the last mile home’. And so there you are in that grey, dingy place but I’m glad to hear that the folks were sympathetic to you. I, over the years –
I knew The Berrigans and various people who – I protested wars as long as I can remember but this whole business of Irish neutrality is – can you be neutral where there is no war declared? That’s the – Congress has not declared a war since – and they’re the only ones that are supposed to be able to declare a war – the only last war declared was the Second World War. How is it that all of the – what are these troop, military actions? What are they calling them?
Tarak: Was that a question?
Tarak: Could you repeat, not the whole thing – but it’s hard to hear. If you could speak a little louder and repeat the question.
Malachy: Surely. What are they calling these military, what is the United States calling these military actions in various places, Iraq and Vietnam, Korea? There’s no declared war. Congress is the only authorised section of our government that authorised to declare war. What are we doing invading places purely on the say-so of a president?
Look, the whole thing from 2001 on – going to back to Vietnam, going back to Korea – it’s all illegal. The United States has been breeching and going against international law for a long time. They do it with impunity. They do it because they can. It’s gangsterism. It’s murder. And children are dying – and this is one of the main reasons why we were out there and why we are out there often you know, protesting and doing stuff against it. Children are dying, people are dying, innocent people are dying. It’s not like soldiers fighting against soldiers, you know? It’s just mass destruction not to mention the environmental destruction that the US military does all over the world, you know? So it’s incumbent upon us to take a stand. It’s incumbent on us to do something. And we’re not heroes we’re just ordinary people doing what we feel is right – not being silent in the face of all this murder and destruction.
Malachy: Well, you’re a great example to all the young folks. Now does this, do your actions, do they affect any sort of benefits that you may be getting from your military service?
Tarak: Well, the benefit is people waking up. And the benefit is to us, personally, is that it’s a question of integrity – we don’t know if we’re going to change anything, we don’t know if we’re going to stop wars but we don’t want to be silent in the face of it and if enough people wake up, if enough people start taking a stand – maybe there is a possibility of stopping it. But we don’t measure it by the benefit that we do. We measure it by what is right to do. And we’re guided by our conscience.
Malachy: Will you get punished, though? This is what I’m saying.
Tarak: Oh, oh, – it affects our benefits, I see. Okay. Yeah, I’m sorry, I misunderstood you. I still get veterans, VA benefits. It hasn’t yet affected that. At one time Ken’s benefits were affected but that changed. Is that what you were asking?
Malachy: Yes, thank you, that’s exactly what I was asking. But what, now is there, for a long time there was no extradition treaties between the Republic of Ireland and the United States. Is there, have you investigated that now? Extradition between our…
Tarak: …There is an extradition treaty and one of the reasons why the judge here in Ennis last week decided not to give us bail at that time because he felt if we went back to the United States they would have difficulty getting the extradition although there is an extradition treaty but that it would be an obstacle for them – that’s one of the reasons why they kept us in jail. And now, of course, they’ve taken our passports so that we can’t return…
Malachy: …to the United States…
Tarak: …so they’ll be another appeal. We’ll be making another appeal to get home released but we want to come back. We want to face a jury. We want to get a chance to make our statement because the whole reason we did this is to increase the awareness, the public awareness, of the issue about the violations of Irish neutrality.
Malachy: Is that, are the charges, are they felonious or are they just misdemeanors?
Tarak: No. They’re more than misdemeanors.
Malachy: I see.
Tarak: Destruction of government property is a felony.
Malachy: A fence?
Malachy: Okay, Well they’re building fences and walls all over the bloody place.
John: And Ken and Tarak, what are your now bail conditions? Because I know when you came over you came over to Ireland with Ray McGovern, a great Bronx guy, former CIA agent, and you spoke up in Belfast. But now going to Belfast – it could be a restricted area. You’re not allowed to leave the Twenty-Six Counties so you probably cannot go up to the Six Counties so you’re restricted to the Twenty-Six County area. Would that be right? What are the restrictions on your bail?
Tarak: That’s correct. Aside from that there’s no restrictions. We just can’t leave the Republic of Ireland and we cannot go back to Shannon Airport and, you know, engage in any activity at Shannon. By the way, our bail was five thousand euros.
Tarak: For the both of us. It’s twenty-five hundred each.
John: Yeah, twenty-five hundred. So what are your plans now? How long do you think you’ll have to stay in the country? And how will you finance yourself?
Well, we have support here and, you know, we have a place to stay and our plans are to keep speaking about this. We had an interview with the Irish Times yesterday and they did an article on it so we will keep speaking out, we’ll probably get a few chances to do that and we’ll be here. We’ll just take it day-by-day.
Ken: And incidentally the reason why we’re having a little difficulty hearing is that we’re out at a street corner protest supporting Palestinians rights with other fellow supporters of Palestinian rights. So we keep at it.
Malachy: And is there a fund that we could announce here that you, people could contribute to – peace-loving people could send a contribution?
Tarak: Yes, yes, actually there is. Let’s see, I’m just trying to think of how to get in touch with it. If people go to veterans for peace dot org…
Malachy: …Veterans for Peace…
Tarak: …there will see a page set up. Veterans for peace dot org – that’s our homepage. They will see information about it and they can make a donation online to Veterans for Peace mentioning that this is for Ken and Tarak.
Malachy: And when is your trial?
Tarak: Well, we have another hearing on April 3rd but that’s just a local hearing – sometimes these things can drag out for years.
Malachy: And is that in Limerick or Ennis or Dublin? Where is that?
Tarak: This is…repeat that again?
Malachy: Will you be in court in Ennis or Dublin or Limerick?
Malachy: In Ennis. Okay, that’s the district court there.
John: Alright, Ken and Tarak. Thanks for coming on. ‘BAI will stay on top of this and keep giving everyone an update. I know I was talking to Bob Keilback about things that’ll be done here in the city on your behalf so we’ll be giving updates every Saturday and Wednesday here on WBAI.
Tarak: Thanks so much for all the great work that you and ‘BAI does to illuminate these issues. Appreciate it. (ends time stamp ~18:35)