Gordon Thomas

Globe - Intelligence

January 5, 2005

Tony Blair will face further embarrassing questions over the torture scandal as to why the government permitted the CIA and the US Department of Defence to operate a top-secret interrogation centre on Diego Garcia, a tiny and remote British Crown colony in the Indian Ocean. High level leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and the Taliban are held there. None are protected by the Geneva Convention. Last week, FBI director Robert Mueller said the interrogation techniques used by the CIA interrogators "violate all American anti-torture laws and would be prohibited in criminal cases of the most serious kind".

The interrogation techniques used on Diego Garcia are contained in a secret CIA manual on coercive questioning. It contains sections headed "Threats and Fear", "Pain", "Narcosis" and "Heightened Suggestibility and Hypnosis".

The presence of the prisoners on Diego Garcia is so secret that a counter-terrorism official in Washington said President Bush "had informed the CIA he did not want to know where they were". The American interrogators have unfettered access to prisoners kept on board prison ships in the island's deep-water harbours. They are brought ashore for questioning in a custom-built concrete cell-block near the island's air field. From there, US Air Force B52s took off to bomb Afghanistan and then Iraq.

Now private Lear jets regularly fly in with new prisoners. Highly placed intelligence sources in Pakistan and Washington have revealed that over thirty al Qaeda suspects have been kidnapped by CIA "snatch squads" and flown to Diego Garcia in the chartered Lears ... One intelligence source said: "These operations are sanctioned in Washington from the top. Rumsfeld knows. Sometimes the snatch flights are approved by the White House".

Alberto Gonzales, President Bush's in-house counsel, confirmed that "many key decisions about detainees and their status are made by the President".

Last week, Amnesty International wrote to William S Farish, the US ambassador to Britain, to seek a meeting over claims that "stress and duress tactics" are being used on Diego Garcia prisoners. And he wanted to know the role of "various foreign intelligence services known to torture detainees who are also involved in the interrogations".

Both MI6 and Mossad agents are known to have visited Diego Garcia to question "high value" suspected terrorists.

Both Amnesty and the International Red Cross have been refused permission to visit the island under a secret deal made between London and Washington.
Secret legal opinions from US Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers have concluded that the CIA was "safe from scrutiny" if it conducted its interrogations on places like Diego Garcia ...

A key ruling states violations of American statutes that prohibit torture, degrading treatment or the Geneva Convention will not apply "if it can be argued that the detainees are formally in the custody of another country". "As Diego Garcia is a British colony, it could mean that the prisoners there are entitled to British protection", said a counter-terrorism officer in Washington. He is one of those who has expressed concerns inside the CIA over what is happening.

Human rights organisations fear that there are similar physical abuses at Diego Garcia as were revealed in Baghdad's now notorious Abu Ghrain prison.
Since February 1964 - following a still secret Anglo-American conference in London - Diego Garcia has increasingly become what Washington calls "a staging base for the security of the West" ...

There are now 6,000 US military personnel living on the island - along with their "high value" al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. They are part of more than 9,000 other detainees who are held in US military controlled prisons specially set up for the purpose. It has been established that 300 detainees are held in railroad box-cars at Bagram, north of Kabul. Hundreds more are detained in prisons in Afghanistan. But the majority are held in Iraq's thirteen jails.

Only what the CIA manual denotes as "the most difficult" are sent to Diego Garcia. The island was described as "one of the sites in friendly countries around the world where al Qaeda operatives can be kept quietly and securely", said a Washington intelligence officer.

The number of detainees on Diego Garcia are not known. But a senior intelligence officer said that "there are no more than several hundred held there. Many have been on Diego Garcia for over two years. Unlike the majority of detainees in Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, these prisoners still have important information to give. Diego Garcia has been designed as the place where that information can be obtained" ...

On November 3, 2000, the Foreign Office issued a new Immigration Ordinance order that ensured Diego Garcia island would remain "as secret a place as can be found on the planet", according to a US official. Though the island has the same status as the Falkland Islands, no outsider is allowed to set foot on its soil ... A clue to those operations is evident by the skyline of satellite towers, space-tracking domes, oil and fuel dumps and the armada of military ships in the harbour.

There is a growing concern among human rights organisations that the "high value" prisoners are being interrogated under guidelines also approved by US General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay. He is now in charge of Abu Gharib prison in Baghdad. Shortly after the legal opinions were given on how the CIA could interrogate, Miller was sent to Baghdad last August by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers to "recommend changes that would improve strategic interrogation".

Miller concluded that "detention operations must act as an enabler for interrogations". After that order was implemented, the abuses which have horrified the world began. Will more abuses emerge from Britain's island in the sun?











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