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Diego Garcia: Paradise Isle or Britain's Shame?

Linda S. Heard

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Looking for beautiful beaches, gentle tropical breezes, potential tax-free income and a challenging job?” reads the website of DG21 BOS contractor, Diego Garcia island.

“Look no further . . . and send us your resume,” goes the blurb, neglecting to point out that the island’s indigenous people need not apply, and only British and American former military personnel with high security clearance are in with a chance.

For those of you who have never heard of this beautiful but tiny Indian Ocean coral and limestone atoll, it is “the property” of Britain.

British ?justice? never did, and doesn?t now, extend to the ?Tarzans? unfortunate enough to have been born in its ?proud? and ?glorious? empire.

British ?justice? never did, and doesn?t now, extend to the ?Tarzans? unfortunate enough to have been born in its ?proud? and ?glorious? empire.

After kicking out the island’s 2,000 inhabitants?described by a British diplomat at the time as being “man Fridays” and “Tarzans”?during the late 1960s and early 70s, Britain leased it to the United States military as a permanent base in return for a discounted American-manufactured Polaris nuclear weapons system.

Known as Ilois, the islanders were spirited away in boats and literally dumped on the shores of Mauritius, where they were abandoned to sort out their own accommodation and means of earning a living. Approximately 500 of the original exiles are still alive, and still struggling even to subsist as strangers in a foreign land.

Some four years ago, a British High Court judgment afforded the islanders the right of return, but not only were they barred from doing so by an unprecedented executive order issued by the Blair government last month, they were further forbidden from settling on one of Diego Garcia’s neighbouring islands.

These decisions were effected under the pretext that constructing the appropriate infrastructure and essential services for their re-settlement would be too costly.

In reality, Diego Garcia is a virtual aircraft carrier?and home to B52 and Stealth bombers?of immense importance to the Americans as they pursue their so-called “war on terror,” which, thus far, has resulted in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

During a recent Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Scottish MP Alex Salmon asked Blair whether he had made a secret pact with the USA concerning the setting-up of a secret detention centre. Rumours of such a facility abound, always denied by USA and British authorities.

The question being asked is whether a newly built camp, known as “Camp Justice” on the leased island is the Indian Ocean’s Guantanamo, where high profile detainees are being held without access to family members, lawyers and human rights groups.

A recent USA Supreme Court ruling has questioned the legality of Camp Delta in Guantanamo, Cuba, and gives detainees the right to challenge their incarceration and treatment in USA courts.

This could well spell the beginning of the end for this shameful detention centre, where over 600 men have been kept incommunicado for more than two years. It has recently come to light that Tony Blair has repeatedly asked his USA counterpart to send the remaining British prisoners home as Britain does not accept the premise that military tribunals is a just way forward. Despite the obvious friendship between Bush and Blair, so far the prime minister’s appeals have fallen on deaf ears.

It, therefore, seems inconceivable that Britain would be involved with secret detentions, and rumoured torture, on its own territory of Diego Garcia, especially since it is a signatory to the International Criminal Court and various human rights treaties, while the USA is not. Yet the signs are that Britain is just as mired in the human rights scandal as the Americans.

Gordon Thomas, investigative journalist and author of “Gideon’s Spies: the Secret History of the Mossad,” asserts that “high level leaders and operatives of al Qaida and the Taliban are held there (on Diego Garcia)” and “none are being protected by the Geneva Conventions”.

Thomas claims: “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 and Hypnosis.’”

He further suggests “the presence of the prisoners on Diego Garcia is so secret that a counter-terrorism official in Washington said President [sic] Bush ‘had informed the CIA he did not want to know where they were.’”

A recent report by Human Rights First, entitled “Ending Secret Detentions,” cites Diego Garcia as a suspected site for the detention of individuals, including the leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah, Hambali, otherwise known as Riduan Isamuddin.

Thomas suggests that private Lear jets regularly fly into the island with a new batch of prisoners, which, he says, have included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh and Abu Zubaida, kidnapped from Pakistan. He says this is done with the knowledge of USA Defence Secretary Rumsfeld and often with the approval of the White House.

It seems that the USA administration realises the Guantanamo experiment has failed. Rumsfeld has already admitted to “ghost” detainees who don’t show up in any official documents and who have no name. How many of these are being tortured on Paradise Isle, I wonder. According to various reports, others are being held on two USA prison ships?the USS Bataan and the USS Peleliu.

With reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo, isn’t it about time the British government kicked the USA off Diego Garcia, just as it did the islanders so long ago?

When the truth comes out, as it invariably will, Britain will not escape responsibility, both for its despicable treatment of the Ilois, consistently denied compensation, or for turning a blind eye to the forgotten and the damned on its island in the sun.

Published Tuesday, July 13th, 2004 - 12:30pm GMT

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

Article courtesy of Gulf News

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