Monday, December 05, 2005
Sun Dec 4th, 2005 at 09:41:21 PM EDT
Jack Straw asking a question must be a surprise for the Americans. After all, questions about British territory being used for holding suspects before onward rendition and more permanent detention were being asked in Parliament over two years ago. Baroness Amos, then a Foreign Office minister, made the response on behalf of the Government - "The United States government would need to ask for our permission to bring any suspects to Diego Garcia. It has not done so." This new version of "don't ask, don't tell" failed to convince many, especially in the light of comments in the US MSM!
Diego Garcia may not be in Europe but it is British territory, even if it is leased at no charge to the USA for a base, now rather ominously named "Camp Justice". The inhabitants of the chain of islands it is part of were forced out of their homes and moved to Mauritius more than 30 years ago. The promised return never happened and will soon be the subject of another legal attempt to force the British Government to let them return. I intend to do a separate diary about this long history of Labour governments trampling on their rights.
More about Diego Garcia and what appears to be a satellite picture of the detention facilities below the fold..
Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean is one of those hang-overs from the British Empire. Ceded to Britain after Napoleon's defeat, it was previously administered by Mauritius as the nearest large colony. After they became independent the "British Indian Ocean Territories" were established. Directly governed by the Brisih Foreign Office, the day to day administration is carried out by a small contingent of British Navy personnel. A tropical paradise, the ring of islands surrounding a large central lagoon makes it an idea place to pre-position ships but nowadays the huge airstrip that dominates the island is of more interest.
The tropical climate, alleviated by cooling winds, makes the place lush and idyllic. Prior to 1971 it provided huge quantities of coconut oils and copra. For personnel posted there it is hardly a paradise playground. Strict ecological conservation measure mean that they cannot explore the coral reefs. As a briefing on the US Navy Military Sealift Command site explains:
The British make every effort to maintain the ecological integrity of Diego Garcia. As a result, all life forms--other than swimming fish--are protected by British law. Violators may be taken before the British court and can be heavily fined.
It is a little difficult to see how the "ecological integrity" of the island has been maintained by building over a large proportion of it. The conditions for the US military are made worse by there being no married quarters and few medical facilities. Any serious illness or injury has to be treated in Singapore after first aid. American personnel may also find these restrictions somewhat alien to the base's earlier description as a "footprint of freedom"
In accordance with current regulations, no type of attire with degrading or obscene comments may be worn on or brought to Diego Garcia. This includes pictures, phrases or slogans depicting drug paraphernalia, anti-war slogans, ethnic slurs or issues of a sexual nature. Biker, hippie-culture or mercenary magazines will be confiscated. All obscene or pornographic publications including pornographic videos will be confiscated. All videotapes brought to Diego Garcia will be retained by British Customs for screening. Tapes will be returned within 10 days. Prohibited material will be burned by British Customs.
In an article for the Independentin December 2003, Mark Seddon explained:
Time magazine has recently claimed that Riduan Isamuddin, otherwise known as Hambali, who is believed to be operations chief of Jemaah Isalmiyah - the group behind the Bali bombing - has or is still being held on Diego Garcia. Meanwhile, Mauritius-based campaigners Lindsey Collen and Ragini Kistnasamy, who seek the closure of the US military base on the island, had this message for campaigners in Britain: "Now there is the whole Guantano-isation of Diego Garcia, with people on terrorism charges and members of the Iraqi leadership being held there."
Since then, there are suspicions that many of the senior former Iraqi government members, inducing Saddam Hussein, were held on Diego Garcia. This may provide the cover for the transfer from the airport to a detention facility under the noses of the British customs officials (AKA Royal Marines). You can imagine the scene- "What you go there gov? Oh just a couple of towelheads you are going to put in jail. Fair enough but you have got to leave those videos of Paris Hilton here."
So once you have persuaded the British to keep those pesky islanders away and diverted the four dozen or so Brits on the island chasing snorkel divers or watching porn videos, you would think that you could make sure no-one knows where you are burying the bodies. That is until one of your friendly organisations, Global Security, gets to publish satellite photos. No real harm in that either until you stop to look at what they have published. One set from 2002 is referenced in the Mark Seddon article but since then there has been an increased need for facilities for the Iraqis presumed to be held there. Unfortunately Global Security has been gloating about how the December 2004 tsunami failed to affect the facilities and has published another set of pictures so you can directly compare the two. Conveniently these cover most of the main island.What of course you do not want to do is build a completely new set of facilities or even the Brits might start to ask questions. Far better to expand an existing set of buildings as a cover. Has there been anything like this. Well one fits the bill, it's the site described on this map as a "contractor camp". This is the post-tsunami 2005 picture. What you are looking for is the set of white buildings in the centre of the picture about two thirds down.
In the 2002 picture, the site is slightly obscured by cloud but you can clearly see that most of the buildings now on the west of the site had not been built.