Sunday, June 08, 2008

Our 'Secret' Guantanamo Bay

Guantanamo Bay sparks outrage in the west as the US government uses a leased base in Cuba to hold and interrogate terrorist suspects. The UK's own GITMO at Diego Garcia would cause equal concern, if only more people knew or cared.

Diego Garcia isn't a Brazilian footballer. It's a tiny island in the Indian Ocean which belongs to the UK. But we've leased it out to the US since the 1970s because they never had an Empire. 

The locals were forced out, so that the island could be turned into a US military base. Now the islanders live in poverty in Mauritius, more than 1,000 miles away. 

The New Labour government is happy to voice concern over Guantanamo Bay and how it's used to get round international law. 

And it still seems strange that the US has a military base in Cuba, when it spent years trying to kill Castro and wreck the economy . 

But unlike Dieigo Garcia, you can easily get to Guantanamo Bay and look at the eerie barbed wire and fences from a distance. 

But you can't drop by Diego Garcia, even with a UK passport, which should give you a right to visit all Crown Territories. 

The UK has a token force on island, which has a huge airstrip but it's mainly full of US military and an army of migrant workers to do the dirty work for them. 

Displaced locals must have some rights under UK law. After all this is Crown Territory. 

But they've been forced out, so the US can use the island for refuelling and long range bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan, amid reports of notorious rendition flights and prison ships to the island, to hold and interrogate international terrorist suspects.

In 2004, Blair issued an Order of Council stopping the islanders from ever going back. This 'royal prerogative' was Blair's device to do what he wanted, without recourse to Parliament, the Crown or anyone. 

Through this Blair and New Labour have exiled a whole population from a British Overseas Territory. 

The plight of the islanders and with it the future of the UK/US military base is the subject of High Court and House of Lords appeals. But don't hold your breath on this one.

The case of Diego Garcia show just how hypocritical New Labour can be. What a waste of a beautiful island and what a shame for its people.

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