UK COMPLICIT ‘IN THE MOST SERIOUS CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY’ – by supporting illegal imprisonment and torture in Diego Garcia

Chagos Islanders celebrate their victory outside the Court of Appeal in London on May 23
Chagos Islanders celebrate their victory outside the Court of Appeal in London on May 23

THE Chagos islanders were thrown out of their Indian Ocean home in the mid 1960s by the British Labour government of Harold Wilson in order that the US could build a huge base on the island of Diego Garcia for making war on Asia.

The islanders recently won a legal action against the Labour government that they should be allowed to return to the outer islands.

The Brown government is now making what is a second appeal to the House of Lords against that verdict.

It is determined that the US will have its base and that it will be well away from all prying eyes.

We now know why. It is not just a question of having security for the war materials on the island.

Diego Garcia is being used as both an illegal prison and torture centre for those people who are being rounded up by the US from all over the world as part of Bush’s ‘war on terror’.

The US is using the island not only for the ‘rendition’ of alleged terror suspects but it has constructed a large prison camp on the island, a lawyers’ submission states.

This has come to light in the wake of the outrage over the CIA rendition scandal.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee is taking submissions for an inquiry ‘into the exercise by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of its responsibilities in relation to the Overseas Territories’.

These include the Chagos Islands, known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

Legal charity Reprieve’s submission to the inquiry focuses on the protection of human rights in Diego Garcia and Turks and Caicos islands.

Reprieve notes in its introduction to its submission: ‘The island of Diego Garcia is home to a military base operated for the “joint defence purposes” of the US and the UK, and was used as a major military staging post in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

‘The relationship between the UK and US with regard to Diego Garcia is governed by a series of agreements known as the “Exchange of Notes”.’

It continues: ‘Diego Garcia has been the subject of repeated, credible and concurrent claims that the island has played a major role in the US system of renditions and secret detention.

‘The UK government is therefore potentially systematically complicit in the most serious crimes against humanity of disappearance, torture and prolonged incommunicado detention.

‘The UK’s failure to conduct a prompt, independent and effective inquiry into these claims is a further clear breach of its duties under international and domestic law.

‘This submission brings together the information currently available to researchers, and points to further questions to be answered.

‘This submission constitutes sufficient notice to the UK government that it must conduct an independent and effective inquiry into these serious allegations.’

The submission begins with a ‘SUMMARY OF AVAILABLE EVIDENCE’

It states: ‘I. Publicly available statements by officials and institutions, expressly linking Diego Garcia to the US Secret Detention Programme

‘US Military General Barry McCaffrey has now stated twice on US National Public Radio that Diego Garcia has been used by the United States to hold prisoners in the “War on Terror”. . .

‘Senator Dick Marty, Rapporteur for the Council of Europe’s investigation into illegal inter-state transfers involving Council of Europe member states, has made strong statements regarding allegations of rendition involving Diego Garcia, and the related obligations of the UK government to investigate the matter.’

It continues: ‘The Council of Europe’s June 2007 report stated: “We have received concurring confirmations that United States agencies have used the island territory of Diego Garcia, which is the international legal responsibility of the United Kingdom, in the ‘processing’ of high-value detainees” . . .

It adds: ‘Prisoners credibly reported to have been held on Diego Garcia

‘As well as statements alleging that Diego Garcia forms a crucial part of the US global “renditions system”, there have been numerous allegations and reports that specific prisoners have been held on the island.

‘Those prisoners credibly alleged to have been held on Diego Garcia are: i. Hambali aka Riduan Isamuddin; ii. Abu Zubaydah; iii. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

‘All three of these men are now being held as “high value detainees” (HVDs) in Guantanamo Bay.

‘It has been admitted by the US government that prisoners in its HVD programme have been subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including water-boarding, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation, in the context of prolonged incommunicado detention.’

The Reprieve submission goes on to consider: ‘Possible detention facilities on and around Diego Garcia.’

It states: ‘Allegations of detention involving Diego Garcia have focused on the possibility that prisoners have been held in conditions including: a facility on the island, on ships moored within the three-mile territorial waters limit and on ships serviced/supported or commanded from the island base that may be operating outside of the three-mile territorial limit.’

It further adds: ‘Prison facilities on the island of Diego Garcia

‘There is a prison on Diego Garcia. It is both documented and admitted that construction work has taken place in relation to prison facilities on the island, the last construction work believed to have been ordered in December 2001.

‘In 1984, the US General Accounting Office undertook a review on construction work carried out by several private contractors on Diego Garcia between 1981 and 1984.

‘The GAO Report to the Secretary of Defense lists the following two items: “Detention facility” (completed 3 months late, December 1983). “Internal security/dog kennel” (also built in 1983, though not by any contractor but by “Naval Construction Force”).

‘Jack Straw, responding to a question from Sir Menzies Campbell on 21 June 2004 regarding “what facilities exist on Diego Garcia for holding human beings against their will” stated that: “In exercise of powers conferred on him by the Prisons Ordinance 1981 of the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Commissioner for the Territory has declared certain specified premises in Diego Garcia to be a prison.

“This was done by orders made in February 1986 (which replaced an earlier order made in July 1982), July 1993 and December 2001.”

‘In December 2001, in the context of NATO Status of Forces Agreements for the support of the US in its war in Afghanistan, the US was negotiating secret multilateral and bilateral agreements with NATO member states for support in its fledgling system of interstate transfers for the interrogation of terror suspects.

‘At this time, Poland and Romania too were also “modifying” existing prison facilities on military bases that were to be leased to the United States.

‘Repeated and persistent allegations from numerous quarters centre for over two years have centred on the claims that these countries hosted sites that were used by the US to hold prisoners in the “high value detainee programme”.’

The submission continues:

‘Amphibious assault ships

‘Prisoners may have been held on one of the many US amphibious assault ships in the waters surrounding Diego Garcia.

‘In June 2005 the UN’s special rapporteur on terrorism spoke of “very, very serious” allegations that the United States is secretly detaining terrorism suspects in various locations around the world, notably aboard prison ships in the Indian Ocean region.

‘It is possible that the UK government believes itself absolved from responsibility for events on boats or other vehicles moored or otherwise operating outside the three-mile territorial limit of BIOT jurisdiction surrounding Diego Garcia.

‘This is not the case – the UK is clearly obliged in law to investigate allegations regarding vessels moored outside the three mile limit, if those vessels were commanded from or otherwise supported by, the island of Diego Garcia.

‘Ships believed by Reprieve to particularly require further investigation are:

‘The USS Bataan

‘The USS Bataan is known to have been used as a floating prison, and to have been in the Indian Ocean near Diego Garcia at some point. Sheikh al-Libi is amongst those believed to have been held at one point on the amphibious assault ship the USS Bataan.

‘A prisoner released from Guantanamo described another prisoner’s account of his detention on an amphibious assault ship to a Reprieve researcher: “One of my fellow prisoners in Guantanamo was at sea on an American ship with about 50 others before coming to Guantanamo…. he was in the cage next to me.

‘ “He told me that there were about 50 other people on the ship. They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on television. The people detained on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantanamo.”

‘The USNS Stockham

The USNS Stockham was deployed to Diego Garcia in July 2001 and has since been used in support of the ‘war on terror.’

‘Vice Admiral Brewer, commander of Military Sealift Command (MSC) from August 2001, to his retirement in early 2006, described the ship as follows: “That ship is off doing some real good stuff that we can’t talk about.”

‘Between March and July 2004 MSC modified the USNS Stockham with additional capabilities to support the “global war on terrorism,” including a 54-foot flight deck, a commercial-type aviation fuel system, a medical module, communications upgrades and watercraft. . . .

‘III. Suspicious flights

‘The UK government must make public all military, state and civilian aircraft records involving Diego Garcia. One example of a suspicious flight is that of known rendition plane N379P, which landed in Diego Garcia on 13 September 2002.

‘It was next logged in Rabat, close to Temara detention centre, a well-known destination for extraordinary rendition.

‘N379P visited the alleged detention sites in Poland and Romania on numerous occasions, and is believed to have been used for the renditions of Reprieve client Binyam Mohamed, and other prisoners including Khalid El-Masri, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed Al-Zeri.

‘The company providing logistical support for N379P in these operations – a subsidiary of Boeing called Jeppesen Dataplan – is the subject of litigation in the US by ACLU, Reprieve, and New York University Centre for Global Justice.

‘The Council of Europe alleges in its June 2007 report that Jeppesen systematically covered up the true routes of rendition planes, including, specifically, some routes of N379P.

‘Duty to Inspect Aircraft

‘Note that the 1976 Exchange of Notes, between the UK Government and the US Government requires that the UK keep these records, stating in paragraph 3 that:

‘ “The US Commanding Officer and the Officer in Charge of the United Kingdom Service element shall inform each other of intended movements of ships and aircraft.” ’

Reprieve concludes: ‘In light of the mounting evidence and long absence of a sufficient official investigation into the allegations of UK involvement in extrajudicial transfer, kidnapping, disappearance and torture at Diego Garcia, the UK is now under a clear legal duty to conduct an effective and independent official investigation into the above allegations that named individuals have been held for torture on or near or directly involving BIOT territory at Diego Garcia.’

Reprieve notes that: ‘As part of the militarisation of the island beginning in the late 1960s and continuing until the present day, the local Chagos islanders were expelled from the archipelago.