Diego Garcia

I’d like to take you around the world to a small island in the Chagos Archipelago of the Indian Ocean, a British colony by the name of Diego Garcia.

Diego Garcia

In the 1960s and 70s, the US and British governments collaborated to secretly expel the population of Diego Garcia in order to make way for an American military base.

First they made a policy decision to deprive the island of basic needs: salt, sugar, dairy products, oil, medicine. Then they rounded up and killed nearly one thousand of the pet dogs and warned the island of bombing, in order to encourage the native population to leave out of fear.

Those that left the Chagos Islands were not allowed to return home. Others that stayed were corralled onto boats, expelled, and dumped in the slums of the nearby island of Mauritius.

After living for years in intense poverty conditions, in 1982 the Chagos Islanders demonstrated in the streets of Mauritius. They managed to gain a small settlement of less than 3000 pounds per person, which would fail to cover their debts. In order to receive the sum, they were forced to thumb-print an English legal document that renounced their indigenous rights.

The British have falsely claimed that the islands were uninhabited when they first obtained them, that there was no indigenous population. Yet the British High Court has found this atrocity to be in defiance of the Magna Carta on three separate occasions and ruled the population to be returned to their homeland. But a royal decree during the Blair administration put those hopes to rest by ensuring the native peoples will never return home.

Today, the island of Diego Garcia (known as a British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) or Fantasy Island) is home to one of the United States’ largest military bases and part of the space surveillance network. It has been used as a launching pad for the bombing campaigns of Iraq and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda suspects are also rendered to “Camp Justice” on the island for “interrogation.” The Pentagon has referred to the island as “an indispensable platform for policing the world.

If you’d like to hear more about the experiences of the Chagossian people, you can watch this one-hour documentary.

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Extraordinary Rendition

Extraordinary rendition describes the kidnapping and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another. The term has become prevalent in the Bush administration’s prosecution of the “war on terror.”

Amy Goodman reports one of the many examples of this practice with the story of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen:

The U.S. government also engages in “extraordinary rendition.” This Orwellian phrase describes how foreigners are grabbed off the street or from their home and secretly delivered to some other place, outside the U.S. (in Arar’s case, Syria), where illegal and brutal interrogations can take place beyond the reach of Congress and the courts.

Arar’s Kafaesque nightmare began Sept. 26, 2002. He was returning to Canada from a family vacation, with a plane change at New York’s JFK Airport. There he was pulled aside, searched, questioned and imprisoned. Two weeks later, U.S. authorities sent Arar to Syria.

Arar spent the next 10 months enduring brutal beatings and psychological torture, kept in a cell the size of a grave. Arar was accused of being connected to al-Qaeda, and of having been to a training camp in Afghanistan. Neither was true, but after weeks of beatings, he admitted to everything. Worse than the beatings, Arar said on “Democracy Now!,” was how he suffered while isolated in the dank, windowless cell:

“The psychological torture that I endured during this 10-month period in the underground cell is really beyond human imagination. I was ready to confess to anything. I would just write anything so that they could only take me from that place and put me in a place where it is fit for a human being.”

As inexplicably as Arar was kidnapped to Syria, he was released home to Canada, a broken man. Canada just finished a thorough inquiry that completely exonerated him and supported his request for financial damages. Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Bush ally, has asked Bush to “come clean” on the Arar case.

Leahy is demanding action: “The Bush administration has yet to renounce the practice of sending detainees to countries that torture prisoners, and it has yet to offer even the hint of an apology to Mr. Arar for what he endured with our government’s complicity.”

Leahy also pressed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the issue back in January.

Maher Arar’s case is not an isolated incident. The procedure of extraordinary rendition, though not exclusive to the Bush administration, has become quite prevalent in the ‘war on terror’. Other cases include:

  • Abu Omar: kidnapped in Italy in 2003, rendered to Egypt for interrogation, held for four years before being released
  • Khaled Masri: detained in Macedonia in 2003, drugged and rendered to an American-run prison in Afghanistan for interrogation, held for five months, then released on a road in Albania, where he made his way home to Germany
  • Mamdouh Habib: detained in Pakistan in 2001, transferred to Egypt, then Afghanistan, tortured, transferred to Guantanamo and released without charge 3.5 years later
  • Muhammed al-Zery: arrested in Sweden in 2001, flown on American jet to Egypt, tortured and beaten, imprisoned for two years, then released without charge

In the case of Abu Omar, an Italian court has issued an arrest warrant for twenty-two CIA agents suspected of the kidnapping. Hopefully that will help to remind US authorities that these practices are in violation of international law.

Guantanamo: Standard Operating Procedure 2004

A few interesting documents have been published by Wikileaks this week.

One is a Standard Operating Procedures manual for guards at Guantanamo Bay from 2004. It details the operating instructions for treatment of detainees at Guantanamo’s Camp Delta. There was also one previously published from 2003.

Furthermore, Wikileaks also published a large document detailing instructions for extraordinary rendition procedures, involving the air transport of detainees.