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Context of 'January 8, 2003: British Official Claims There Are No Prisoners on Island of Diego Garcia'

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The US and Britain secretly agree to make the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) available “for the defense purposes of both Governments as they may arise” for a period of 50 years, and thereafter for 20 years during which time either government will have the right to terminate the agreement. [US Department of State, 12/30/1966; United Kingdom, 12/30/1966; Guardian, 9/1/2000; BBC, 1/10/2001; BBC, 11/11/2004]

Entity Tags: David Kirkpatrick Este Bruce, George T. Churchill

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

With the arrival of the first Americans at Diego Garcia, the largest atoll of the Chagos Archipelago, the island’s remaining residents are told they must leave. [BBC, 11/3/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003] Recalling the massive forced relocation, Marcel Moulinie, the manager of a coconut plantation on the island, tells CBS 60 minutes in 2003 that he was ordered to ship the people out. “Total evacuation. They wanted no indigenous people there,” Marcel Moulinie explains. “When the final time came and the ships were chartered, they weren’t allowed to take anything with them except a suitcase of their clothes. The ships were small and they could take nothing else, no furniture, nothing.” To make it clear to residents that there would be no compromise, Sir Bruce Greatbatch, governor of the Seychelles, orders the killing of the Chagossians’ pets, which are rounded up into a furnace and gassed with exhaust fumes from American military vehicles. [CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003; ZNet, 10/22/2004] “They put the dogs in a furnace where the people worked,” Lisette Talatte, a Chagossian, will later tell investigative journalist John Pilger. “[W]hen their dogs were taken away in front of them our children screamed and cried.” [ZNet, 10/22/2004] Marie Therese Mein, another Chagossian, later says US officials threatened to bomb them if they did not leave. [Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002; ZNet, 10/22/2004] And the Washington Post interviews one man in 1975 who says he was told by an American official, “If you don’t leave you won’t be fed any longer.” [Washington Post, 9/9/1975] The Chagossians are first shipped to the nearby islands of Peros Banhos and Salomon and then 1,200 miles away to Mauritius and the Seychelles. [BBC, 11/3/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003] Before the eviction, the Chagossians were employed, grew their own fruit and vegetables, raised poultry and ducks, and fished. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002; British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003; Tribune (Bahamas), 11/17/2003] On the island of Diego Garcia, there was a church, a school as well as a few stores. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975] But now, after being removed from their homes and dumped into foreign lands without compensation or resettlement assistance, they are forced to live in poverty. [CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003] The uprooted Chagossians find shelter in abandoned slums, which have no water or electricity. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; Church Times, 1/7/2005] Many commit suicide during and after the eviction campaign. [ZNet, 10/22/2004] Lisette Taleti loses two of her children. [Guardian, 5/12/2006] Describing the plight of the Chagossians at this time, the British High Court writes in 2003: “The Ilois [Chagossians] were experienced in working on coconut plantations but lacked other employment experience. They were largely illiterate and spoke only Creole. Some had relatives with whom they could stay for a while; some had savings from their wages; some received social security, but extreme poverty routinely marked their lives. Mauritius already itself experienced high unemployment and considerable poverty. Jobs, including very low paid domestic service, were hard to find. The Ilois were marked by their poverty and background for insults and discrimination. Their diet, when they could eat, was very different from what they were used to. They were unused to having to fend for themselves in finding jobs and accommodation and they had little enough with which to do either. The contrast with the simple island life which they had left behind could scarcely have been more marked.”

Entity Tags: Sir Bruce Greatbatch, Chagossians, Marcel Moulinie, Marie Therese Mein, Lisette Talatte

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

US military officials tell Congress that the US needs to develop naval support facilities on the island of Diego Garcia. The Pentagon wants to lengthen the runway at Diego Garcia from 8,000 to 12,000 feet, increase the available petroleum, oils, and lubricants storage, and dredge its harbor. It would also like to build additional barracks, a pier to facilitate cargo handling, as well as additional utility and recreational facilities. The officials argue that expanding the base at Diego Garcia is needed to safeguard US oil interests in the Persian Gulf and to counter the Soviet Union’s presence in the region, which the military claims is increasing rapidly. They attempt to allay Congress’ concerns that expanding the base would provoke competition in that region with the Soviet Union. At one point during the hearing, George Vest, Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs of the Department of State, says the island is “uninhabited,” making no reference to the fact that it had been made so by the US and British only a few years before (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). When further questioned on the subject, Vest repeats that there are “no inhabitants” at all on the island. [US Congress, 6/5/1975; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, George Vest, US Congress

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

The Washington Post is the first Western newspaper to report about the forced relocation of the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands. US officials had previously claimed that the island of Diego Garcia was “uninhabited,” (see June 5, 1975) and (see March 6, 1975) conveniently ignoring the fact that the island had been depopulated by Britain and the US (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). [Washington Post, 9/9/1975; Washington Post, 9/11/1975]

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

A congressional subcommittee of the Committee on International Relations holds a hearing on the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the US military facility at Diego Garcia island. The hearing focuses on the forced eviction of the archipelago’s inhabitants (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973).
Testimony of George T. Churchill - In his statement to Congress, George T. Churchill, director of International Security Operations at the Department of State, attempts to defend the State Department and Pentagon from accusations that they misled Congress about the inhabitants of Diego Garcia. He asserts that the island’s population had consisted mainly of “contract laborers and their families whose livelihood depended on the coconut plantations and whose ties to the island were tenuous.” Their settlements, he says, “appear to have been something more than work camps but considerably less than free indigenous communities.” Churchill argues that resettlement was necessary because the islanders would not have had work once the plantations were replaced by US military facilities. When it was time to go, he claims, the residents “went willingly.” He also contends that he could find no evidence in government files that there was a “lack of concern for the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands.” He admits that his report is based entirely on US and British sources and that no attempt was made to interview the former inhabitants or request information from the Mauritius government—despite his acknowledgment that on many issues, there “simply wasn’t enough data.” Churchill argues that it was Britain’s responsibility to see to the islanders’ welfare after resettlement and denies that the US has any obligation—moral or legal—to the islanders, even though their eviction had been a condition of the US’ 1966 agreement (see December 30, 1966) with Britain to use the island. [US Congress, 11/4/1975]
Testimony of Commander Gary Sick - Pentagon official Gary Sick addresses accusations that the military has misled Congress about Diego Garcia’s population. In his testimony he cites instances where passing references were made about the islands’ population, including a 1964 Washington Post article mentioning the possibility that an “indigenous population” might exist on the island; a 1969-1979 Pentagon spending proposal which referred to the islanders as “rotating contract personnel engaged in harvesting copra”; and a 1970 congressional hearing in which it was stated that the “British [had] gone a little farther about removing the population from there now.” [US Congress, 11/4/1975]

Entity Tags: Gary G. Sick, US Congress, George T. Churchill

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

The US Senate ratifies the international Convention Against Torture, originally proposed by the United Nations in 1985. The treaty bans any officials from signatory nations from inflicting “torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” on prisoners in order to gain information. It also establishes the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT). The ban is absolute and cannot be waived: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12/10/1984; Savage, 2007, pp. 155] The treaty also forbids signatory nations from sending detainees to other countries if there is a reasonable expectation that they may be tortured. [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12/10/1984; Human Rights Web, 1/25/1997]

Entity Tags: United Nations Committee against Torture, Convention Against Torture, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In London, Lord Justice Laws and Justice Gibbs rule that the US and Britain’s forced removal of some 1,800 people from the Chagos Islands (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) was illegal, thereby granting the islands’ former inhabitants the right to resettle the archipelago. [BBC, 11/3/2000; Guardian, 11/4/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; BBC, 10/31/2002; Church Times, 1/7/2005] The court also awards the Chagossians with the costs of resettling [Guardian, 11/4/2000] but does not order the government to provide them with compensation. [Guardian, 12/13/2000] The judges also find that the two governments deliberately misled the United Nations and their own legislative bodies when they claimed that the displaced population consisted entirely of seasonal contract workers from Mauritius and the Seychelles and had no right to remain there (see April 21, 1969). Additionally, the ruling criticizes the two governments for not seeing to the welfare of the islanders after they were evicted. [Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002] Within hours of the ruling, the British Foreign Office accepts the judgment but says that the islanders will only be permitted to resettle on the islands of Penhos Banhos and Salomon. No one will be permitted to return to Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, where most of the Chagossians once lived. The US is leasing the island until 2016 (see December 30, 1966) and is operating a very large naval base there (see March 1971). [Guardian, 11/4/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000] Commenting on the case, an unnamed US Defense Department official tells the Los Angeles Times: “The United States does have a strategic interest on Diego Garcia. But this is a matter between the British authorities and the individuals who brought the case. We have no comment on the merits of the case.” The official adds that Diego Garcia “has played a primary role in the support of naval and Air Force units operating in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

According to US military officials, the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu are used as prison ships to hold captives suspected of terrorist activities, including “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh (see December 14, 2001). Both vessels are operating in the Indian Ocean. The use of US naval vessels as prison ships is kept extremely secret; the press will not learn of the incidents for years, and even then, details will be sketchy. Questioned in 2004 about the use of US military ships as “floating prisons” (see June 2, 2008), Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem will say: “I don’t know the specifics. Central command determines for either medical considerations, for the protection of those individuals, for the isolation in the sense of not having forces that would try to come get somebody out of a detention center, for a security aspect, and obviously an interest to continue interrogation.” The US may also use ships in and around the British-controlled island of Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, to hold prisoners indefinitely and “off the books.” And the US may use its ships for what is called “extraordinary rendition”—the secret transportation of prisoners to foreign countries where they can be interrogated and tortured in ways proscribed by US law. US and British officials will repeatedly deny the use of Diego Garcia in any such “floating incarcerations” or renditions. [Guardian, 6/2/2008] One reason for the use of naval vessels as prison ships may be necessity: the US is capturing scores of prisoners in Afghanistan, but the first detainee facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will not open until January 2002 (see January 11, 2002).

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh, John Stufflebeem

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, captured by Pakistani forces six weeks earlier (see November 11, 2001), is handed over to US authorities at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Two FBI agents from New York are tasked with interrogating him. One of the agents, Russell Fincher, spends more than 80 hours with al-Libi discussing religion and prayer in an effort to establish a close bond. It works, and al-Libi opens up to Fincher, giving him information about Zacarias Moussaoui and the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 120] But despite this progress, he will soon be transferred to Egypt and tortured there into making some false confessions (see January 2002 and After).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard C. Reid, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Russell Fincher

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni.Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni. [Source: Public domain]The CIA sends a request to Indonesia to arrest suspected 24-year old al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni and extradite him to Egypt. The CIA found his name in al-Qaeda documents obtained in Afghanistan. The agency believes that Iqbal, a Pakistani, worked with Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001), the Briton charged with attempting to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on December 22 with explosives in his shoes. A few days later, the Egyptian government sends Jakarta a formal request to extradite Madni in connection with terrorism, providing Indonesian authorities with a convenient cover for complying with the CIA request. On January 9, Iqbal is detained in Jakarta by Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency at the insistence of the CIA. He is flown to Egypt two days later (see January 11, 2002). [Washington Post, 3/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The US negotiates “status of force” agreements with several foreign governments allowing the US to set up CIA-run interrogation facilities and granting immunity to US personnel and private contractors. The facilities were authorized by a recent secret presidential directive (see After February 7, 2002). [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] The CIA-run centers are kept completely under wraps. Prisoners are secretly held in custody and hidden from International Human rights organizations. In these facilities, there will be several incidents of abuse, torture, and murder. [International Committee of the Red Cross, 2/24/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/11/2004; New York Times, 5/13/2004] These secret detentions centers will be operated in several locations around the world including:
Afghanistan - Asadabad, Kabul, Jalalabad, Gardez, Khost, Bagram, Kabul (known as “the Pit”). [First, 6/2004 pdf file; Human Rights First, 6/17/2004]
Pakistan - Kohat (near the border of Afghanistan), Alizai. [First, 6/2004 pdf file; Human Rights First, 6/17/2004]
Britain - Diego Garcia (British Possession in the Indian Ocean). [First, 6/2004 pdf file; Human Rights First, 6/17/2004]
Jordan - Al Jafr Prison. [First, 6/2004 pdf file; Human Rights First, 6/17/2004]
United States naval ships at sea - The USS Bataan and the USS Peleliu. [First, 6/2004 pdf file; Human Rights First, 6/17/2004]
Thailand - Inside an unknown US military base, which is the first to become operational in March 2002 (see March 2002). [ABC News, 12/5/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The alleged location of Camp Justice on the island of Diego Garcia.The alleged location of Camp Justice on the island of Diego Garcia. [Source: Public domain]The British Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Valerie Anne Amos, declares there are no prisoners at the US naval base on the island of Diego Garcia. [United Kingdom, 1/8/2003; United Kingdom, 3/3/2003] The island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was leased to the US in 1966 for an initial period of 50 years (see December 30, 1966). It now accommodates a US naval base (see June 5, 1975) employing approximately 1,700 military personnel and 2,000 civilian contractors. No one is allowed on the island except for military business. [First, 6/2004 pdf file; Diego Garcia, 1/5/2005] However, it has been reported several times in the press that detainees are being held at a CIA interrogation center on the island named “Camp Justice.” Pentagon officials have denied the existence of a CIA interrogation center on the island and the CIA has refused to respond to inquiries about its alleged existence. [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; First, 6/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 12/17/2004; Washington Post, 1/2/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Anne Amos

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is flown from Egypt to Bagram air base in Afghanistan and then taken to Guantanamo, where he provides the three Britons known as the Tipton Three with information on Moazzam Begg, whom he encountered at Bagram. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 pdf file] Madni had been sent to Egypt at the request of the US, presumably so he could be tortured and interrogated there (see January 11, 2002). Asif Iqbal, another inmate at Guantanamo, says Madni told him that in Egypt “he had had electrodes put on his knees and something had happened to his bladder.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 pdf file] As of early 2008, there have been no reports of his release.

Entity Tags: Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Aerial photo of Diego Garcia island.Aerial photo of Diego Garcia island. [Source: Department of Defense]British Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the all-party Parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, files a formal complaint with the government’s Information Commissioner over the government’s use of the island of Diego Garcia for the rendition of US prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation and possibly torture (see After February 7, 2002 and June 2, 2008). Diego Garcia is a large atoll in the Indian Ocean under British jurisdiction, and hosts a large British-American military base (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). Tyrie says he decided to make the complaint to learn if Britain was in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The British government has recently admitted that at least two US rendition planes used Diego Garcia as a refueling base in 2002 (see December 2001-January 2002). “The foreign secretary has been forced to admit that two rendition planes refueled at Diego Garcia, despite explicit US assurances to the [British] government that no such flights had taken place,” Tyrie says. “Clearly people will conclude that these assurances are worthless.… But in response to requests by me the government has twice refused to release the terms of these assurances. Their disclosure will allow for a legal assessment of whether or not [Britain] has breached its obligations under the convention against torture, both with respect to Diego Garcia and to rendition generally.” Tyrie’s complaint requests that Foreign Secretary David Milbrand name the prisoners rendered through Diego Garcia by the US. Milbrand has already apologized to Parliament about falsely claiming that no US rendition flights have ever used Diego Garcia as a refueling base; other British government officials have issued similar denials (see January 8, 2003). But Manfred Novak, the UN special investigator on torture, says that he has credible evidence that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003. Human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith says he believes two of the detainees were Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni (see Early January-January 9, 2002 and March 2004) and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After), though he cannot be sure since neither the US nor British governments are releasing the names of potential detainees kept at Diego Garcia. In 2007, a Council of Europe investigation into extraordinary rendition will learn that US agencies use Diego Garcia in the “processing” of “high-value detainees.” [Guardian, 6/2/2008; Guardian, 6/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, David Miliband, Manfred Novak, Andrew Tyrie, Clive Stafford Smith, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

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