Friday, 26 October 2007

The Shame of Diego Garcia

Totally digusting, not only is the government blatantly ignoring the rule of law on account of the exiled islanders but allowed the US government to torture people makes the whole thing utterly sordid. It makes you thoroughly ashamed to be British!

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.

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