Though the government of the United Kingdom has long maintained that it played no active part in the torture of prisoners subjected to extraordinary rendition by the CIA — beyond allowing planes to refuel at Diego Garcia — recent revelations from a senior U.S official entirely contradict those claims of innocence.
The comments were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, Chief Aide to former Sectary Of State Colin Powell throughout the Iraq War, in conversation with Vice News, and were reported by the Independent.
Diego Garcia lies within the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean and is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. Though it is technically owned by the United Kingdom, the United States operates a military base on the island, which features Naval Support, an air base, communications, and space tracking, as well as facilities for pre-positioned military supplies. The classified nature of its operations has led to long-held suspicions about its use by the CIA.
In 2008, then-Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom David Miliband admitted that on two separate occasions in 2002, rendition flights operated by the CIA transporting detainees landed at Diego Garcia for refuelling, but stated clearly that the prisoners never disembarked from the aircraft. Lawrence Wilkerson now paints a very different picture, however, as reported by the Independent.
“What I heard was more along the lines of using it as a transit location when perhaps other places were full or other places were deemed too dangerous or insecure, or unavailable at the moment.
“So you might have a case where you simply go in and use a facility at Diego Garcia for a month or two weeks or whatever and you do your nefarious activities there. No one has indicated there was a detention site there, not in so many words. What they indicated is that interrogations took place there.”
The Independent reports that the information relayed by Wilkerson in that interview is based upon four intelligence sources — one of which is a CIA official proven to have participated in the extraordinary rendition program operated by the United States. Wilkerson was Chief of Staff to Colin Powell throughout the Iraq War, but claims to have discovered these revelations only after he left his post in 2005. Having served on Diego Garcia himself during the 1980s, however, his familiarity with the site has reportedly led him to conclude that British liaison staff in command of the military base will almost certainly have had knowledge of any interrogations.
A director of the legal charity Reprieve, Cori Crider, highlighted to the Independent the seriousness of the allegations now being made, in light of the previous denials of the government of the United Kingdom.
“This suggests the U.K government has not told the whole truth about Diego Garcia’s part in the CIA’s torture programme. Ministers have consistently said that only two CIA rendition victims ever landed on Diego Garcia. Mr Wilkerson’s comments suggest that either they haven’t been honest with the public, or the U.S government hasn’t been honest with them.”
Gulf News reports that Reprieve formed part of a coalition of human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Justice and Liberty, which wrote to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, at the end of 2014. The communication constituted a request for the establishment of an inquiry to determine the real nature of the role played by the United Kingdom in torture and rendition, allowing “the meaningful participation of victims.”
Communications between Cameron and Reprieve prior to the revealing comments made by Wilkerson also regarded an investigation by the Intelligence Security Committee into claims that two opponents of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime — Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Sami Al-Saadi — were interrogated by United Kingdom intelligence officers despite their alleged knowledge of the fact that the detainees were being subjected to torture by their captors. The ISC investigation process has faced intense criticism over claims that it is not fully independent of the United Kingdom government.
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