Recent evidence coming to light suggests that the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, owned by the UK but leased to the United States, has been used as a detention and rendition facility or ‘black site’ in the War on Terror. Despite the accusations, the island was not mentioned once in the CIA Torture Report released in December. Successive British ambassadors to the US are known to have lobbied US senators involved in the report to redact any mention of Diego Garcia in order to avoid any implication of the UK in the torture program. Al-Jazeera claims that the island was used for extraordinary rendition ‘with the full cooperation’ of the UK.

As disturbing as these claims may be, the history of the last fifty years of the Chagos Islands is equally disquieting, and demonstrates the lengths to which the government of the UK has been, and remains, willing to go in order to maintain its role as lackey of the United States, as well as both countries’ complete disregard for human rights and the UN Charter.

The Chagos Islands, of which Diego Garcia is one, are part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) which was bought from Mauritius for $3 million after that country was granted its independence in 1965. Much of the native population of the BIOT held British citizenship, yet were forcibly removed between 1967 and 1973 in order to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia. In return for Britain’s leasing of the base, the US gave Britain a discount on its Polaris missile system. In removing the native population, Britain violated the UN Charter and utterly neglected its own citizens in return for cheaper nuclear weapons.

After Britain’s negotiation of the lease in 1966, it then went to remarkable lengths to create the illusion that a native population had never existed on the islands at all. The Foreign Office falsely depicted them as ‘uninhabited’ and called the Chagossians ‘transient workers’ under US direction, who desired ‘exclusive control (without local inhabitants)’. An official at the Foreign Office said ‘the object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours’. During the deportation of the islanders, 1,000 pets were rounded up and gassed using the fumes from American military vehicles. Many Chagossians who had travelled to Mauritius for medical treatment were prevented from returning, and the remainder (approximately 1,800 people) were deported in awful conditions aboard ships to the slums of the Mauritian capital, Port Louis via the Seychelles. Hundreds died as a result of poverty, suicide and ‘sadness’, only receiving a pitiful amount of compensation from the British government for the theft of their nation over a decade later.

Successive British governments have denied the  Chagossians, the majority of whom now live in abject poverty in Mauritian slums or the English town of Crawley, the right to return to their home. In 2000, the High Court ruled that the expulsion was illegal, and the islanders must be allowed to return home. The Foreign Office immediately contradicted this, citing treaty obligations with the US. A feasibility study, since discredited as ‘worthless’ and ‘an elaborate charade’ concluded that the islands were not fit for inhabitance, despite the existence of a US base there, home to 1,000 military personnel and 2,500 civilians. In 2003, the islanders were denied any further compensation and the Blair government invoked an ancient royal prerogative to ban the islanders from ever returning. More than half of the originally deported population of the Chagos Islands have now died.

In the meantime, Diego Garcia has been used for heinous means, including the bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan by B-2 and B-52 bombers, and the detention and rendition of suspected terrorists. The shameful episode of the CIA Torture Program only compounds the original injustice; that Britain aggressively and illegally expelled its own citizens from the island paradise so that the United States could use it to bomb and torture people.

Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, told Vice News that Diego Garcia was used as a ‘transit location’ for the US government’s ‘nefarious activities’ post-9/11. Others, including a retired American general and a former UN special rapporteur on torture, have voiced similar claims. It is suspected that the al-Qaeda operative Riduan Isamuddin was detained there. It is known that there has been an American detention facility on Diego Garcia since 1983, while the Foreign Office has been forced to confirm by a Freedom of Information Act that a separate British detention facility was constructed in 2001 and came into use in 2007. The omission of any reference to the island in the Torture Report is suspicious and reeks of foul play. What use can such investigations truly be when their most sensitive, damning and relevant content is redacted by those whose reputations would suffer by its release?

Since 1966, the British government has used every possible technique to deny the Chagossians their rights: illegally deporting them, ignoring legal rulings, using excuses of safety and US-UK relation commitments. Comparisons must be drawn with the Falklands, a small set of islands that Britain went to war to protect, costing hundreds of millions of pounds and over 900 lives. The lives of the Chagos islanders, in contrast, were not seen as important enough to protect. Instead their land was stolen and sold and is now used for illegal, deplorable activities while the Chagossians are still denied justice. Such is the importance of its citizens to the British government.

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