Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bring me the heart of Diego Garcia

In a way, WikiLeaks isn't telling us anything in this American Diplomatic cable that we didn't already know, particularly in the light of this story in 2000 on the BBC website. There were really nice quotes from the properly confidential Foreign Office along the following lines:

A telegram sent to the UK mission at the United Nations in November 1965 summed up the problem:"We recognise that we are in a difficult position as regards references to people at present on the detached islands.
"We know that a few were born in Diego Garcia and perhaps some of the other islands, and so were their parents before them.
"We cannot therefore assert that there are no permanent inhabitants, however much this would have been to our advantage. In these circumstances, we think it would be best to avoid all references to permanent inhabitants."
Sir Paul Gore-Booth, senior official at the Foreign Office, wrote to a diplomat in 1966: "We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours... There will be no indigenous population except seagulls..."
The diplomat, Dennis Greenhill, replied: "Unfortunately along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Man Fridays whose origins are obscure and who are hopefully being wished on to Mauritius."
As far back as 1965, Colonial Secretary Anthony Greenwood had warned that it was "important to present the United Nations with a fait accompli".
Subsequently began a long legal process that ended up in the House of Lords [2008] UKHL 61 whose judgement said in part:

16. On 3 November 2000 the Divisional Court (Laws LJ and Gibbs J) gave judgment in favour of Mr Bancoult: see R (Bancoult) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2001] QB 1067 (“Bancoult (1)“) They decided that a power to legislate for the “peace, order and good government” of the Territory did not include a power to expel all the inhabitants. The relief granted was an order quashing section 4 of the Immigration Ordinance as ultra vires.
17. After the judgment had been given, the Foreign Secretary (Mr Robin Cook) issued a press release:
“Following the judgment in the BIOT Case on 3 November, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook issued the following statement:
‘I have decided to accept the Court’s ruling and the Government will not be appealing.
The work we are doing on the feasibility of resettling the Ilois now takes on a new importance. We started the feasibility work a year ago and are now well underway with phase two of the study.
Furthermore, we will put in place a new Immigration Ordinance which will allow the Ilois to return to the outer islands while observing our Treaty obligations.
This Government has not defended what was done or said thirty years ago. As Lord Justice Laws recognised, we made no attempt to conceal the gravity of what happened. I am pleased that he has commended the wholly admirable conduct in disclosing material to the Court and praised the openness of today’s Foreign Office.’”
This is the same Robin Cook who gave a memorable speech in the House of Commons immediately prior to the Iraq invasion, and immediately after resigning from the Cabinet on the grounds that the invasion was illegal and immoral. He was right of course, but he died anyway.
So it's all old news...except that the American cable in question was dated May of 2009 and quoted a British official, presumably from "today's Foreign Office," at a meeting of May 12, 2009, a decade after the Gibbs decision:

1. (C/NF) Summary. HMG would like to establish a “marine park” or “reserve” providing comprehensive environmental protection to the reefs and waters of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official informed Polcouns on May 12. The official insisted that the establishment of a marine park -- the world’s largest -- would in no way impinge on USG use of the BIOT, including Diego Garcia, for military purposes. He agreed that the UK and U.S. should carefully negotiate the details of the marine reserve to assure that U.S. interests were safeguarded and the strategic value of BIOT was upheld. He said that the BIOT’s former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve. End Summary.

Thanks to WikiLeaks and whoever the leaker was, and despite the sympathetic words various British courts, we know that the beating heart of entitled, imperial extrajudicial Whitehall still has not had a stake driven through it, and not to put too fine a point on it, finds that keeping the wogs out of Diego Garcia so as to suck up to the Americans is perfectly acceptable, even if it means lying to the world, and of course, the British public about the purposes of the "marine park".

That's why we need WikiLeaks.

There is of course the entirely new sordid story of Diego Garcia being used for criminal purposes during the reign of Bush the Younger, which would make the UK complicit.