The Telegraph – by Peter Foster
It has long been known that Diego Garcia was used to refuel at least two CIA extraordinary rendition flights, but the British government faces a potentially much more serious charge: did it allow the CIA to use the British territory to detain, and even torture, leading terror suspects?
Anonymous US officials, quoted in a US media report earlier this year, claimed that classified CIA documents showed that the US had held high-valued detainees on Diego Garcia with the “full cooperation” of the British government.
This allegation, reported by Al Jazeera America, is purportedly contained in a still-classified 3,600-page US Senate report on the Bush-era kidnap and torture programme after 9/11, part of which is due to be made public this autumn.
The unverified claim was only the most recent in a series of assertions since 2001 that the US had used Diego Garcia for detention purposes, either housing detainees on the island or in ships anchored off its coast, as well as a stop-off on rendition flights.
In 2006 General Barry McCaffrey, a retired United States Army general and US television security analyst, said that Diego Garcia had been used to hold detainees, fuelling a wave of stories of CIA detentions on the island.
However Gen McCaffrey subsequently retracted the comments which he made during a television interview, explaining to The Telegraph last month that he had only been “referring to published reports” and had no independent knowledge of any such sites.
“It’s nonsense. I have no idea, I was simply responding to reports at the time postulating that it was one of a dozen sites around the world. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s 10,000 miles from anywhere and you have dozens of US and Brits who would report on it to their girlfriends.”
Manfred Novak, the former UN special rapporteur on torture, also told the Observer in 2008 he had credible evidence that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003.
Similar reports were made by Time magazine in 2008, citing an unnamed retired military source, and Richard Clarke, a former special adviser to George W Bush on counter-terrorism who was party to discussions over Diego Garcia, who said he found the report “entirely credible” but admitted having no direct knowledge of the island. Mr Clarke did not return a request for comment.
However claims of a CIA interrogation site on Diego Garcia are contested by two senior British army officers who served on the base between 2000 and 2003 and say they remain highly sceptical that the US could have used Diego Garcia as a physical detention site – as opposed to a clandestine refuelling point – without British knowledge.
Michael Blyth, the head of security on Diego Garcia for both US and UK forces in 2001-2002 said the size of the island and the extremely limited amount of office and accommodation space would have made it highly difficult to conceal a prisoner for interrogation.
“There was nothing closed off, no area we could not go. There was no hidden structure in the jungle that had a fence around it that no one could go into. It was a very, very small community,” Mr Blyth told The Telegraph in Washington.
“There was very little traffic, and there are only a couple of roads. There’s not really anywhere to hide. It would have been extremely difficult to hide something on the island without everybody knowing about it, to be honest, because it’s so open.”
Mr Blyth, a retired Major in the Royal Marines who now works as a security consultant in the US, added that even detaining a single terror suspect for a few days would have been difficult on an island as small as Diego Garcia.
In the months after 9/11, as the US ramped up air operations and prepared for its assault on Afghanistan, he recalled that the base’s limited accommodations were quickly filled up by arriving personnel, with the overflow being housed in tents.
“There was no spare space, and if somebody was going to be held in an isolated building you’d have to kick out the occupants, otherwise they would hear the screams or see people coming in and out all the time,” he added. “That would have got out fairly quickly.”
Mr Blyth did not absolutely rule out the possibility of a single incident, but said the regular use of Diego Garcia for holding and interrogating prisoners would have been impossible.
“Could somebody convert a room within the airbase and sneak one or two people in, beat them up and take them out again? Yes, I suppose so, if you did it in the dead of night and you only did it a couple of times.
“But eventually someone would spot it and the rumours would get out of control and everyone would hear about it. I suspect it wouldn’t be a good option. There were much better options to transfer through than Diego,” he said.
Adam Peters, the officer commanding British Forces on Diego Garcia from July 2001 to February 2003, was also sceptical about claims of the CIA using the island as a detention centre for high-value terror suspects.
“I’m 99 per cent certain that there was no way it would be possible for the Americans to set up any sort of detention centre on the island where they could have been kept for any length of time,” he said.
“I can categorically say that there was no centre like that during my time on the island. I would be amazed – absolutely dumbstruck – if there was any evidence of that [later] because there is almost no way the Americans could have done it.”
Mr Peters was also sceptical that non-military CIA rendition flights could have regularly landed, refuelled and taken off, without attracting attention or arousing suspicions.
“If we were aware of any flights that were out of the ordinary I would have become doubly suspicious,” he said.
“For a civilian aircraft to land without some people getting off or some people getting on, we would have been aware of that. We would have asked questions about any civilian aircraft that was out of the normal routine.”
2 thoughts on “Could the CIA have run a ‘black site’ detention centre on Diego Garcia?”
If they can put a ‘deep basement’ under DenverIA whats to say they couldn’t have done one there? Besides, how many people came in?(12-100) did they come in “empty” coffins? Did they walk in? If one was drugged they could sit on a tarmac for hours after landing. Possibly retrieved after the hubbub was over.
If you are relying on secrecy based on what a military person is likely to tell their “girlfriends”, how did you get such a high rank Gen McCaffrey?(if that is your REAL name)
Only the very most trust ‘worthy’ and the very ‘criminal’ go to Diego. Careers get made and people become ruined there. Plus they get tans and re-fuel aircraft. woo-hoo.
You know this is the dumbest question, don’t waste my time.