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Thursday, February 21, 2008 

Rendition: the truth begins to seep out.

Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea. I do not think it would be justified.
Oral evidence given by Jack Straw to the Foreign Affairs committee on 13th of December 2005.

To those who lived there, it was a paradise. Living purely off the land, the islanders, despite having no modern amenities, had an incredibly tranquil existence. That was until their island was considered as the prime location to be leased to the US military for a naval base, as another island was considered unsuitable because it was home to the rare Aldabra tortoise. The deal was signed, and the Americans requested that the island be "depopulated" for security reasons. The 2,000 inhabitants of Diego Garcia had their island invaded, their dogs shot and then they themselves were finally rounded up and taken to Mauritius, where they were subsequently dumped. The compensation they were given, which amounted to £400 each, was paid directly to the Mauritius government for them to be re-settled. They instead pocketed the money and denied that they had any right to do so. Most still live in hovels and the most severe poverty as a result.

All of this occurred under a Labour government, and it is undoubtedly one of the most despicable and shameful scandals in British history. Even now, despite numerous court rulings, the government refuses to allow them to return to their home, which has been taken over by a monolithic American base from which planes bombed Iraq. They seem to be hoping that those originally displaced that didn't commit suicide in the first place will die, and then be able to claim their children have no right whatsoever to return.

It almost seems fitting that a second scandal, also involving a Labour government, has now also come along concerning Diego Garcia. In a pathetic statement to the House of Commons, David Miliband today admitted that despite all their furious denials, despite the abundant evidence that flights linked to the US rendition program had landed here to at the least refuel, despite MI6 being involved in the rendition of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna to Guantanamo Bay, that evidence has now emerged that rendition flights had indeed landed on UK territory without the US asking for prior permission. Two flights in 2002 refuelled on Diego Garcia, carrying two unfortunates who according to the CIA, who have not told the truth once about the rendition program without being forced to, were not part of the "CIA's high-value terrorist interrogation program" but who nonetheless were taken to Guantanamo Bay and to Morocco respectively. Presumably the one lucky enough to be taken to Morocco was flown there so he could sample the local culture and high quality hashish, and not so he could be tortured like Binyam Mohammed was in the luxury of Moroccan custody. (Newsnight alleges that the plane used to transfer the detainee to Morocco was N397P, a CIA jet that has landed at UK airports on numerous occasions.)

The CIA has denied that Diego Garcia has served as one of the "black sites" where those in the rendition program were taken to be tortured so that the CIA didn't personally get its hands dirty. This is despite Barry McCaffrey, a former four-star US general on a number of occasions stating that prisoners are being held on Diego Garcia, as well as in other five-star US hotels such as Bagram airbase and numerous sites in Iraq, not to mention Gitmo itself.

The Guardian reported last October that the foreign affairs committee was to investigate claims that Garcia had a black site prison, but the revelation today seems to have come about because of the dogged attempts by the all party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, led by the tenacious Tory MP Andrew Tyrie, who had used the freedom of information act to request the minutes of political military talks between the US and UK in September last, a claim denied by the government who said that to release such information "would prejudice the defence" of territory by "exposing plans to counter possible terrorist attacks". Instead, they and the US seem to have decided to try and buy the committee off by admitting that rendition flights did use Diego Garcia, but that the island itself is not being used to hold any detainees themselves.

All those involved then are either "sorry" or "regret" this "unfortunate" happening. Never mind that from the very beginning this government has either directly lied, misled or tried to move the debate on when questioned about rendition flights. Jack Straw tried to tell us it was all a conspiracy theory, and from then on they've feigned ignorance at every turn. Andrew Tyrie has described it as "obfuscation and cover-up", and that seems bang on. They've done the very bare minimum from the very beginning in trying to placate critics, refusing to hold anything approaching a proper inquiry, failing to engage with EU-led efforts to investigate the rendition program and not asking of the US even the slightest of searching questions about what the planes linked to the rendition program were doing stopping over at our airports. Miliband now states that he'll compile a list of all said flights concerns have been expressed over and ask the US whether they too have been conveniently forgotten about. It screams of a government being desperate to wait until the initial disquiet and questioning was over before releasing the unsavoury reality. The real question is why they didn't do that as soon as the allegations were raised, with there being no evidence whatsoever that the government even asked the US whether the flights were anything other than kosher. They simply accepted that the US would have asked first before doing so, something now proved to be of the greatest gullibility and naivete. It of course helps that today most of the media are going to be more interested in the conviction of Steve Wright, and then there's also the other whitewash of the day, the inquiry into the bugging of Sadiq Khan.

This is of course from a government that has repeatedly condemned Guantanamo in various terms, most memorably as "an affront to justice". This same government has been complicit in that affront to justice, complicit in the torture of the various individuals caught up in the rendition program, many of whom have never been found guilty of any offence, let alone the "terrorism" which they are accused of being involved in. Indeed, one of those who was rendered through Diego Garcia has now been released, presumably without any compensation and most likely scarred irrevocably by their experience, living in constant fear of their life and without the slightest idea whether they will ever be released, or even put before the "military tribunals" now being set-up to try the most notorious of those held as "enemy combatants". This, as I've written before, ought to be a front-page scandal. Ministers should have resigned. A full judicial inquiry ought to have been set-up to examine not just ministerial complicity, but also security service involvement. Instead we had the whitewash provided by the Intelligence and Security committee. How deeply sad that the Chaggosians, who were treated as more expendable than animals, now know that they were not the only ones to abused in such a way on their paradise home.

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Nice quote from Straw there up top. I remember how he used to be regarded as 'left-wing' in the Old Labour days; how people can change.

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