[Ppnews] Guantánamo's Ghosts - the shame of Diego Garcia

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Oct 20 16:11:51 EDT 2007

Weekend Edition


October 20 / 21, 2007
Guantánamo's Ghosts
The Shame of Diego Garcia


One of the more sordid and long-running stories in Anglo-American colonial
history -- that of Diego Garcia, the chief island of the Chagos
Archipelago in the Indian Ocean -- reared its ugly head again on Friday
when the UK's all-party foreign affairs committee announced plans to
investigate long-standing allegations that the CIA has, since 2002, held
and interrogated al-Qaeda suspects at a secret prison on the island.

The shameful tale of Diego Garcia began in 1961, when it was marked out by
the US military as a crucial geopolitical base. Ignoring the fact that
2,000 people already lived there, and that the island -- a British colony
since the fall of Napoleon -- had been settled in the late 18th century by
French coconut planters, who shipped in African- and Indian-born laborers
from Mauritius, establishing what John Pilger called "a gentle Creole
nation with thriving villages, a school, a hospital, a church, a prison, a
railway, docks, a copra plantation," the Labor government of Harold Wilson
conspired with the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon to
"sweep" and "sanitize" the islands (the words come from American documents
that were later declassified).

Although many islanders traced their ancestry back five generations, a
British Foreign Office official wrote in 1966 that the government's aim
was "to convert all the existing residents ... into short-term, temporary
residents," so that they could be exiled to Mauritius. Having removed the
"Tarzans or Men Fridays," as another British memo described the
inhabitants, the British effectively ceded control of the islands to the
Americans, who established a base on Diego Garcia, which, over the years,
has become known as "Camp Justice," complete with "over 2,000 troops,
anchorage for 30 warships, a nuclear dump, a satellite spy station,
shopping malls, bars and a golf course." So thoroughly were the islands
cleared, and so stealthy the procedure, that in the 1970s the British
Ministry of Defence had the effrontery to insist, "There is nothing in our
files about a population and an evacuation."

Suffering in exile, the Chagos islanders have struggled in vain to secure
the right to return to their ancestral home, winning a stunning victory in
the High Court in 2000, which ruled their expulsion illegal, but then
suffering a setback in 2003, when, with typically high-handed
authoritarianism, Tony Blair invoked an ancient and archaic "royal
prerogative" to strike down their claims once more. Although the appeal
court reversed this decision in May 2006, ruling that the islanders' right
to return was "one of the most fundamental liberties known to human
beings," it remains to be seen how this belated judicial recognition of
their rights can be squared with the Americans' insistence that their
military-industrial archipelago must remain unsullied by outsiders.

In their resistance to the islanders' claims, Blair and the Foreign Office
were clearly protecting the interests of their American allies, for whom
the geopolitical importance of Diego Garcia as a strategic base had
recently been augmented by its use, and the use of some of the ships
moored there, as fabulously remote offshore prisons in which to hold and
interrogate "high-value" al-Qaeda suspects.

The suspicion, which the foreign affairs committee has pledged to
investigate, is that on Diego Garcia the Americans found a far more
compliant partner in torture -- the British government -- than they found
in most other locations chosen for secret CIA prisons. According to
various reports over the years, the Americans' other partners in the
offshore torture game -- Thailand, Poland and Rumania, for example -- were
only prepared to be paid off for a while before they got cold feet and
sent the CIA packing.

Whether the committee will probe deeply or not remains to be seen. The
British-based legal charity Reprieve, which has called for such an
investigation for some time, has already told the committee in a
submission that it believes that the British government is "potentially
systematically complicit in the most serious crimes against humanity of
disappearance, torture and prolonged incommunicado detention." Clive
Stafford Smith, Reprieve's legal director, told the Guardian that he is
"absolutely and categorically certain" that prisoners have been held on
the island.

When questioned by diligent MPs like Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP for
Chichester, who is a staunch opponent of the CIA's use of "extraordinary
rendition," the British government has persistently maintained that it
believes "assurances" given by the US government that no terror suspects
have been held on the island, but there are several compelling reasons for
concluding, instead, that the government is actually being economical with
the truth.

Studies of planes used by the CIA for its rendition program have
established that on September 11, 2002, the day that 9/11 plotter Ramzi
bin al-Shibh was seized after a firefight in Karachi, one of the CIA's
planes flew from Washington to Diego Garcia, via Athens. Bin al-Shibh did
not resurface again until September 2006, when he was moved to Guantánamo,
and he has not spoken about his experiences. Unlike his supposed mentor
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he refused to take part in his tribunal at
Guantánamo earlier this year, but this is not the only piece of the
torture jigsaw that has been reconstructed by diligent researchers.

In June 2006, Dick Marty, a Swiss senator who produced a detailed report
on "extraordinary rendition" for the Council of Europe, also concluded
that Diego Garcia had been used as a secret prison. Having spoken to
senior CIA officers during his research, he told the European Parliament,
"We have received concurring confirmations that United States agencies
have used Diego Garcia, which is the international legal responsibility of
the UK, in the 'processing' of high-value detainees."

Anecdotally, Marty's findings have been confirmed by other sources.
Manfred Novak, the UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture, declared that he
heard from "reliable sources" that the US has "held prisoners on ships in
the Indian Ocean," and detainees in Guantánamo have also told their
lawyers that they were held on US ships ­ in addition to those held on the
USS Bataan and the USS Peleliu, which are discussed in my book The
Guantánamo Files. One detainee told a researcher from Reprieve, "One of my
fellow prisoners in Guantánamo was at sea on an American ship with about
50 others before coming to Guantánamo. He told me that there were about 50
other people on the ship; they were all closed off in the bottom. The
people detained on the ship were beaten even more severely than in

The most incriminating evidence of all, however, has come not from
opponents of Guantánamo, or, indirectly, from those subjected to some of
the regime's most horrendous abuses, but from an upstanding insider. Barry
McCaffrey, a retired four-star US general, who is now professor of
international security studies at the West Point military academy, has
twice let slip that Diego Garcia has, as the administration's opponents
have struggled to maintain, been used to hold terror suspects. In May
2004, he blithely declared, "We're probably holding around 3,000 people,
you know, Bagram air field, Diego Garcia, Guantánamo, 16 camps throughout
Iraq," and in December 2006 he slipped the leash again, saying, "They're
behind bars ... we've got them on Diego Garcia, in Bagram air field, in

Do we need any further proof?

Andy Worthington is a British historian, and the author of 'The Guantánamo
Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison' (to
be published by Pluto Press in October 2007).

He can be reached at: andy at andyworthington.co.uk

Claude Marks
Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977

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