b | 31.10.2004 11:05
According to the Washington Post, there is a Guantanamo Bay-type
'facility' on Diego Garcia. The Blair government has denied this. The
author of the Post investigation said: 'What we have from our sources is
that some al Qaeda suspects are indeed being held and questioned at
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Blair's Torture Island
BRITAIN'S ISLAND IN THE SUN
BECOMES BLAIR'S LATEST PROBLEM
IN TORTURE SCANDAL
Tony Blair will face further embarrassing questions over the torture
scandal as to why the government permitted the CIA and the US Department
of Defence to operate a top-secret interrogation centre on Diego Garcia,
a tiny and remote British Crown colony in the Indian Ocean.
High level leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and the Taliban are held
there. None are protected by the Geneva Convention. Last week, FBI
director Robert Mueller said the interrogation techniques used by the
CIA interrogators "violate all American anti-torture laws and would be
prohibited in criminal cases of the most serious kind".
The interrogation techniques used on Diego Garcia are contained in a
secret CIA manual on coercive questioning. It contains sections headed
"Threats and Fear", "Pain", "Narcosis" and "Heightened Suggestibility
The presence of the prisoners on Diego Garcia is so secret that a
counter-terrorism official in Washington said President Bush "had
informed the CIA he did not want to know where they were".
The American interrogators have unfettered access to prisoners kept on
board prison ships in the island's deep-water harbours. They are brought
ashore for questioning in a custom-built concrete cell-block near the
island's air field. From there, US Air Force B52s took off to bomb
Afghanistan and then Iraq.
Now private Lear jets regularly fly in with new prisoners. Highly placed
intelligence sources in Pakistan and Washington have revealed that over
thirty al Qaeda suspects have been kidnapped by CIA snatch squads and
flown to Diego Garcia in the chartered Lears.
Among them are Osama bin Laden's senior lieutenants, Khalid Sheik
Mohammed Ramzi Binasshibh and Abu Zubaida, kidnapped from Pakistan.
One intelligence source said: "These operations are sanctioned in
Washington from the top. Rumsfeld knows. Sometimes the snatch flights
are approved by the White House".
Alberto Gonzales, President Bush's in-house counsel, confirmed that
"many key decisions about detainees and their status are made by the
Last week, Amnesty International wrote to William S Farish, the US
ambassador to Britain, to seek a meeting over claims that "stress and
duress tactics" are being used on Diego Garcia prisoners. And he wanted
to know the role of "various foreign intelligence services known to
torture detainees who are also involved in the interrogations".
Both MI6 and Mossad agents are known to have visited Diego Garcia to
question "high value" suspected terrorists.
Both Amnesty and the International Red Cross have been refused
permission to visit the island under a secret deal made between London
Secret legal opinions from US Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers
have concluded that the CIA was "safe from scrutiny" if it conducted its
interrogations on places like Diego Garcia.
It is not known if those opinions were known to the UK government when
the use of Diego Garcia as an interrogation centre was decided upon.
A key ruling states violations of American statutes that prohibit
torture, degrading treatment or the Geneva Convention will not apply "if
it can be argued that the detainees are formally in the custody of
"As Diego Garcia is a British colony, it could mean that the prisoners
there are entitled to British protection", said a counter-terrorism
officer in Washington. He is one of those who has expressed concerns
inside the CIA over what is happening.
"If the Administration has nothing to hide, it should immediately end
incommunicado detention and grant access to independent human rights
organisations", sad Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty
Human rights organisations fear that there are similar physical abuses
at Diego Garcia as were revealed in Baghdad's now notorious Abu Ghrain
Since February 1964 - following a still secret Anglo-American conference
in London - Diego Garcia has increasingly become what Washington calls
"a staging base for the security of the West".
Hundreds of islanders, all British passport holders - who a Foreign
Office official noted in 1955 "are lavish with their Union Jacks" - were
thrown off Diego Garcia at short notice. But the coral limestone island
is still one of the British Indian Ocean Territories.
There are now 6,000 US military personnel living on the island - along
with their "high value" al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.
They are part of more than 9,000 other detainees who are held in US
military controlled prisons specially set up for the purpose.
It has been established that 300 detainees are held in railroad box-cars
at Bagram, north of Kabul. Hundreds more are detained in prisons in
Afghanistan. But the majority are held in Iraq's thirteen jails.
Only what the CIA manual denotes as "the most difficult" are sent to
Diego Garcia. The island was described as "one of the sites in friendly
countries around the world where al Qaeda operatives can be kept quietly
and securely", said a Washington intelligence officer.
The number of detainees on Diego Garcia are not known. But a senior
intelligence officer said that "there are no more than several hundred
held there. Many have been on Diego Garcia for over two years. Unlike
the majority of detainees in Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, these
prisoners still have important information to give. Diego Garcia has
been designed as the place where that information can be obtained".
One of those believed to be held there is Abu Zubaida, a senior member
of al Qaeda. He was captured by Pakistani intelligence officers and
handed over to the CIA. Hours later he was on Diego Garcia.
On November 3, 2000, the Foreign Office issued a new Immigration
Ordinance order that ensured Diego Garcia island would remain "as secret
a place as can be found on the planet", according to a US official.
Though the island has the same status as the Falkland Islands, no
outsider is allowed to set foot on its soil. The islanders now live on
Mauritius, 1,000 miles to the south, most existing in shanty towns near
To ensure they have no "right of return", the 2000 edict states that
"nothing must place at risk vital military operations conducted on and
from Diego Garcia".
A clue to those operations is evident by the skyline of satellite
towers, space-tracking domes, oil and fuel dumps and the armada of
military ships in the harbour.
There is a growing concern among human rights organisations that the
"high value" prisoners are being interrogated under guidelines also
approved by US General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander at Camp X-
Ray in Guantanamo Bay. He is now in charge of Abu Gharib prison in
Shortly after the legal opinions were given on how the CIA could
interrogate, Miller was sent to Baghdad last August by the chairman of
the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers to "recommend
changes that would improve strategic interrogation".
Miller concluded that "detention operations must act as an enabler for
After that order was implemented, the abuses which have horrified the
world began. Will more abuses emerge from Britain's island in the sun?
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John Pilger: The theft of Diego Garcia
More than 30 years ago, the British expelled the inhabitants of Diego
Garcia so the US could establish a military base. Now the government's
dirty tricks are being challenged in court. John Pilger comments on the
In spite of its late hour, Stealing a Nation, a documentary of mine
aired on [Britain's] ITV on October 6 has drawn a public reaction that
suggests the invasion of Iraq has raised people's awareness as never
before. Indeed, this shocking story of British government duplicity and
lying, and what the Foreign Office called the "quiet disregard" of
international law, allows us to understand the tragedy of Iraq.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Labour and Conservative governments
secretly expelled the entire population of the Chagos islands, a British
crown colony in the Indian Ocean, so that the main island, Diego Garcia,
could be "leased" to the US for a military base. This base is now so
vast that it supports 30 ships, including nuclear-armed aircraft
carriers, a satellite spy station and two of the world's longest
runways, from which B-52 and Stealth bombers have attacked Afghanistan
What happened to the Chagos islanders is a metaphor for the behaviour of
"our" governments beyond the protective screen erected by much of
Western journalism and scholarship. Nearly 2000 people trace their
families back to ancestors who first lived on the islands in the 18th
century; they came originally from Africa and India and developed a
unique Creole civilisation with thriving villages, a school, a hospital,
a railway, docks, a copra plantation.
In 1964, a joint Anglo-American team surveyed the islands for a base
that would be the Pentagon's "platform" in the Indian Ocean. Foreign
Office cables emphasised the need for secrecy, worrying about the
"damaging publicity" should the plan become public. Documents found
recently show that, at a meeting between foreign secretary Michael
Stewart and secretary of state Dean Rusk in 1966, a conspiracy was
approved by the two governments whereby the deportation of the islanders
would be concealed both from parliament and the US Congress. No payment
was recorded for the "lease" of the islands; instead, the Royal Navy was
given a US$14 million discount on a US Polaris nuclear missile.
At first, the islanders were tricked into leaving and prevented from
returning. By 1973, those who remained were herded onto ships, with the
women and children below deck with a cargo of birdshit. They were dumped
in the slums of Mauritius, more than 1000 miles away, where poverty,
suicide and drugs have blighted them. Lisette Talate, now in her 60s,
told me: "I lost two children, who died of sadness. Doctors cannot treat
The conspiracy revolved on the lie that the islanders were merely
transient workers from Mauritius and the Seychelles and therefore could
be "returned". This was the equivalent of "returning" the majority of
Australians, whose forebears had arrived in the same year, 1770, as the
first islanders settled in the Chagos. The evidence has long been
available at the Public Record Office. To my knowledge, no journalists
and only one academic, the historian Mark Curtis, bothered to look for
them. Moreover, the documents displayed in Stealing a Nation are merely
the top of a pile. Here is a selection:
A 1965 Foreign Office memorandum describes how Washington made expulsion
of the entire population "virtually a condition of the agreement when we
negotiated it". Another says that as the British government is open to
"charges of dishonesty" it is vital to "cook the books". As for the
islanders, wrote one official, "these people have little aptitude for
anything other than growing coconuts". They are, wrote Sir Bruce
Greatbatch, later governor of the Seychelles and responsible for
depopulating the islands, "unsophisticated . . . untrainable". In other
From 1965, British embassies around the world were instructed to avoid
all reference to "permanent inhabitants" in the Chagos. The islanders,
wrote one official, were to be "converted" to a "floating population"
who would vanish under a policy of "quiet disregard". In 1968, foreign
secretary Stewart wrote that "by any stretch of the English language,
there was an indigenous population, and the Foreign Office knew it".
Yet, on April 21, 1969, in a secret minute to Harold Wilson, Stewart
proposed that the government lie to the United Nations "by present[ing]
any move as a change of employment for contract workers . . . rather
than as a population resettlement". Five days later, Wilson gave his
approval, which was copied to senior members of the cabinet. "
A Foreign Office memo recommended: "Should a member [of the House of
Commons] ask about what should happen to these contract labourers in the
event of a base being set up on the island, we hope that this can be
brushed aside as a hypothetical question."
In 2000, following an epic struggle from the depths of their dislocation
and poverty, the "unsophisticated" islanders won a landmark victory in
the High Court, which ruled their expulsion illegal. The British Labour
government has since prevented them from going home with a filibuster of
nonsense about the island's "sinking" - perhaps under the weight of the
thousands of US service personnel and their bars, barbecues and bombers
in an environment that the US navy describes as "outstanding".
According to the Washington Post, there is a Guantanamo Bay-type
"facility" on Diego Garcia. The Blair government has denied this. The
author of the Post investigation said: "What we have from our sources is
that some al Qaeda suspects are indeed being held and questioned at
Diego Garcia. The British government could go some way to clearing this
up by permitting an unrestricted visit." Along with the population,
human rights groups and journalists are banned from the island.
On June 10, election day for local authorities and the European
Parliament, a politician called Bill Rammell, now a junior Foreign
Office minister, slipped a written statement in to the Commons
announcing that the Queen had approved an "order in council" banning the
Chagos islanders from ever going home. This was the same archaic royal
prerogative, or decree, used to deport them more than 30 years ago. In
August, Rammell told me that "the British taxpayer" cannot possibly find
the few million pounds that would fund the return of the islanders.
Instead, the British taxpayer pays for a lavish British diplomatic
presence in Mauritius, just a few streets away from the slums of the
Chagos islanders. I asked him if he felt any shame for the actions of
his government. No, he replied, unsurprisingly.
On October 7, however, the High Court agreed to a judicial review of
Rammell's royal decree; the Foreign Office will need to pull out new
tricks to win this one. The islanders and their London lawyer, Richard
Gifford, say that, if necessary, they are heading for the European Court
of Human Rights. All decent people should support them.
When the islanders came to Britain for the last High Court case, the
defence kitty could afford only pretty basic accommodation; some are
women in their 70s. If you would like to help, you can give to the Ilois
(islanders) Support Trust ( ). For those in
Britain, the bank account is National Westminster no 90213319; sort code
60-30-06. Stealing a Nation can be ordered by writing to: Video Library,
ITV1, Gas Street, Birmingham B1 2JT.
[This article taken from .]
From Green Left Weekly, October 27, 2004.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.
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