REPORT: Henry Kissinger’s Long History Of Complicity In Human Rights Abuses

by Jaid Jilani

Think Progress

Earlier this month, audio tapes from the Nixon White House were revealed to the public that captured a shocking exchange between Nixon and then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In the tapes, Kissinger responds to an appeal made by Israeli leader Golda Meir to Soviet leaders to allow the emigration of Russian Jews to her country. He tells Nixon that the “emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

Since these comments were revealed to the public, there has been an uproar in the media, with the New York Times writing that the tapes showed that Kissinger was “brutally dismissive” of human rights concerns related to Soviet Jews.

The former secretary of state has gone on a media offensive, attempting to save his public image among the media furor. In an op-ed piece published Sunday, Kissinger wrote that he was sorry he “made that remark 37 years ago,” and argued that it was taken out of context. Curiously, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman, while condemning the comments, also rose to Kissinger’s defense, saying, “I think what Kissinger said is horrendous, offensive, painful, but also I’m not willing to judge him. The atmosphere in the Nixon White House was one of bigotry, prejudice, anti-Semitism, the intimidation of the anti-Semitism, the stories, the bigotry.” David Harris of the American Jewish Committee offered a similar defense: “Perhaps Kissinger felt that, as a Jew, he had to go the extra mile to prove to the president that there was no question of where his loyalties lay.”

But what both the press that is reporting about Kissinger’s comments and what his most passionate defenders are omitting is that these revealed remarks only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the former secretary of state’s complicity in human rights violations. The mentality revealed in his remarks about Soviet Jews are not an aberration but a major feature of his approach to foreign policy: disregarding human rights in pursuit of other strategic goals. Kissinger has a long history of complicity in major human rights abuses in every corner of the globe, one that is rarely reported on in the press in its reports on the former secretary of state. Here are just a few of these abuses:

- Bangladesh: In 1971, Bangladesh, which was at the time East Pakistan, declared its independence from Pakistan. The Pakistani military responded with a brutal military campaign that included massive killings and the estimated systematic raping of nearly 200,000 Bangladeshi women. When Daka Consul General Archer Blood and other American diplomatic staff began to protest the Pakistani army’s behavior to Washington, Nixon and Kissinger had him dismissed. During the height of the atrocities, Kissinger sent a message to Pakistan General Yahya Khan, congratulating him on his “delicacy and tact” in his military campaigns in Bangladesh. When Kissinger received word that massive famines were going to spring up in the country in 1971, he warned USAID to try to avoid helping, saying that Bangladesh was “not necessarily our basket case.” Soon after becoming secretary of state, Kissinger downgraded the American diplomatic staff who had signed onto a protest of Pakistani atrocities in 1971.

- Cambodia: Kissinger was one of the chief masterminds of the Nixon administration’s secret and illegal bombing campaign of Cambodia — he wanted the bombing of “anything that flies, on anything that moves” and warned that it must be secretly done to avoid congressional scrutiny — the extent of which was not discovered until President Bill Clinton declassified related documents in 2000. By the end of the American bombing campaign of Cambodia, the country was perhaps the “most heavily bombed country in history.” The bombings killed more than a half a million people, and were a major factor in the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge.

- Chile: In 1973, Kissinger aided and abetted a right-wing military faction that deposed the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. The faction then installed the dictator General Augusto Pinochet, who went on to torture and/or murder tens of thousands of peaceful dissidents in the country. “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its people,” Kissinger said in rationalizing his actions, falsely accusing Allende of being a communist and essentially declaring that the United States should have the power to decide Chile’s government. Due to his complicity in bringing Pinochet to power, Kissinger was summoned for questioning and has arrest warrants out in his name in Chile, Argentina, and France. Since the warrants were issued he has not returned to any of those three countries.

- Indonesia and East Timor: In 1975, President Gerald Ford and Kissinger met with Indonesian’s leader, General Suharto. During the meeting, Ford and Kissinger essentially gave “full approval” to Suharto to invade neighboring East Timor. In the resulting invasion, hundreds of thousands of Timorese civilians were massacred. Kissinger repeatedly denied that he had such conversations with Suharto, but these denials were found to be false after the declassification of government documents in 2001.

- Iraq: In 1975 Kissinger both encouraged a Kurdish revolt against Saddam Hussein and then abandoned the rebels to be killed following invocations from the Shah of Iran. Bob Woodward’s book State of Denial revealed that Kissinger was a major Iraq policy advisor to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. He warned Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson of the same analogy he used during the Vietnam years, that troop withdrawals would be like “salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded.” Woodward writes that when Gerson asked Kissinger why he supported the war, he replied, “Because Afghanistan wasn’t enough,’ … In the conflict with radical Islam, he said, they want to humiliate us. ‘And we need to humiliate them’ … In Manhattan, this position got him into trouble, particularly at cocktail parties, he noted with a smile.”

- Vietnam: Kissinger, in a possible violation of the Logan Act, helped scuttle peace talks in 1968, prolonging the Vietnam War to advantage Richard Nixon in the presidential election. This extension of the war cost thousands of American lives and those of more than a million people in Indochina.

Viewed with the context of Kissinger’s actions while he was a senior official in multiple American administrations, his comments about Soviet Jews are hardly surprising. Unfortunately, most of the major media’s reporting about Kissinger’s comments does not include this history of complicity in human rights abuses.

In fact, despite his complicity in these abuses, the former secretary of state continues to be a lauded public figure in the United States. He is regularly uncritically featured on major news programs, was recently honored at the State Department, and was even cast as a cartoon character’s voice on a children’s TV show. If history is any judge, this latest revelation about Kissinger will soon be forgotten by major media and elites in the public sphere. But that does not change the actual facts and Kissinger’s long, sordid history of human rights abuses.


Israel uses British emergency law to banish activist

by Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

The Independent

Mandate-era regulation invoked to stifle protest against Jewish settler groups in East Jerusalem

The Israeli military is making rare use of an emergency regulation enacted by the British Mandate in 1945 to order the temporary banishment of a Palestinian activist from his home city of Jerusalem.

Adnan Gheith, 35, faces expulsion for four months from the city because of his part in protests at mounting encroachment by Jewish settler groups in the politically ultra-sensitive Silwan neighbourhood of inner-city Arab East Jerusalem.

Silwan is the primary flashpoint in the struggle between the settlers and Palestinians for control of key sectors of East Jerusalem. The moderate Palestinian leadership, under President Mahmoud Abbas, wants this section of the city, which was unilaterally annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six Day War, to become the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Use of the 65-year-old order follows a wave of protests against government-backed plans to demolish at least 22 Palestinian homes to make way for an Israeli-sponsored, biblically inspired tourism park.

The move comes as a confidential new report by senior diplomats from EU states warns that current attempts to "integrate" East Jerusalem into Israel "endanger the chance of a sustainable peace on the basis of two states". All the EU members, including Britain, regard the annexation of East Jerusalem as illegal.

The Israeli military said that it had been "presented with defence and intelligence information that ties [Mr Gheith] to activities related to public order within the city limits of Jerusalem, such as disturbances in the neighbourhood of Silwan".

But Mr Gheith's lawyer, Rami Othman, says the military would not have used the 1945 order – allowing temporary expulsion of residents without charge – if it had enough evidence to indict his client. Mr Gheith has been arrested seven times in recent months but has always been released without charge. A long-time activist in Mr Abbas's Fatah faction, Mr Gheith says he has no intention of obeying the order voluntarily: "If they implement this law against me, hundreds will be expelled."

The clashes in Silwan between armed security forces and stone-throwing demonstrators escalated sharply in September when a security guard employed by the settler organisation El'ad shot dead Samer Sarhan, one of Mr Gheith's fellow members on the local residents' committee. Mr Gheith says that after one of his arrests – by masked Israeli security forces who came to his home at 3am – he was threatened by one of his interrogators that "what happened to Samer Sarhan will happen to you".

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says that more than 80 minors, some as young as eight, have been arrested on suspicion of stone-throwing in the past year, often being taken from their homes at night and interrogated without their parents present; some have complained of violent treatment.

The immediate trigger for the unrest in Silwan has been the Jerusalem municipality's government-backed plan to turn a large part of its Palestinian-inhabited subdistrict of al-Bustan into the "King's Garden", a tourist park that would connect to the "City of David" archaeological site. While confirming in March that 22 Palestinian houses would be demolished, Mayor Nir Barkat did not rule out that others among the 90 in the area served with demolition orders might also go.

The report by the EU Consuls General says an estimated 5,000 Jewish settlers in the Historic Basin, which includes Silwan, are "creating facts on the ground by attempting to prevent a division of the city" needed for a final peace deal. It says that "a swath of smaller settlements, public parks, archaeological sites and tourist complexes" are part of a "strategic settlement push" promoted by settler organisations but "facilitated by the government of Israel and the Jerusalem municipality".

At the café he owns in the heart of Silwan, Mr Gheith, a father of four children under 13, said that opposing settlers acting "under protection of the soldiers" is "in the eyes of the government an act of terrorism. The Israeli occupation doesn't like to listen to anyone who rejects injustice." He added that Israel was determined to use the settlers in East Jerusalem "in Judaising [East] Jerusalem and expelling people, turning Jerusalem into a Jewish city by creating facts on the ground".

Ironically, the order invoked by the Israeli military was part of a package of emergency defence regulations codified by the British military at the end of the Second World War to combat growing Jewish unrest.

Daniel Seidemann, a prominent Israeli lawyer, said resort to the 1945 order smacked of "desperation" on the part of the authorities. He added that there was an attempt to "transform a Palestinian neighbourhood into an evangelical settlers' theme park, and the Palestinians are not playing the roles designated to them as extras in this pseudo-biblical pageant."

Uri Avnery's Column - “The Darkness to Expel!”

by Uri Avnery

Gush Shalom

IT IS easy to despair before the filthy wave of racism that is engulfing us.

The remedy for this despair: the growing number of young people, sons and daughters of the new Israeli generation, who are joining the fight against racism and occupation.

THIS WEEK, several hundred of them gathered in a hall in Tel Aviv (belonging, ironically, to the Zionist Federation of America) to launch a book published by the group “Breaking the Silence”.

In the hall there were some veterans of the peace camp, but the great majority of those present were youngsters in their twenties, male and female, who have completed their military service.

“The Occupation of the Territories” is a book of 344 pages, consisting of almost 200 testimonies by soldiers about the daily and nightly life of the occupation. The soldiers supplied the eyewitness accounts, and the organization, which is composed of ex-soldiers, verified, compared and sifted them. In the end, 183 of some 700 testimonies were selected for publication.

Not even one of these testimonies was denied by the army spokesman, who generally hastens to contradict honest accounts of what is happening in the occupied territories. Since the editors of the book have themselves served as soldiers in these places, it was easy for them to distinguish between truth and falsehood.

The book makes very depressing reading, and not because it details gruesome atrocities. On the contrary, the editors made it a point not to include incidents of exceptional brutality committed by sadists, which can be found in every army unit in Israel and throughout the world. Rather, they wanted to throw light on the grey routine of the occupation.

There are accounts of nocturnal incursions into quiet Palestinian villages as exercises – breaking into random houses where there were no “suspects”, terrorizing children, women and men, creating mayhem in the village – all this to “train” the soldiers. There are stories about the humiliation of passers-by at the checkpoints (“Clean up the checkpoint and you will get your keys back!”), casual harassment (“He started to complain, so I hit him in the face with the butt of my weapon!”). Every testimony is meticulously documented: time, place, unit.

At the launch of the book, some of the testimonies were shown on film, with the witnesses daring to show their faces and identify themselves by their full name. These were no exceptional people, no fanatics or bleeding hearts. No weepers of the “we shoot and we weep” school. Just ordinary young people, who had time to come to grips with their personal experiences.

There are even occasional flashes of humor. Like the tale of the soldier who had for a long time been manning a roadblock between two Palestinian villages, without understanding its purpose or its security value. One day, a bulldozer suddenly appeared from nowhere, uprooted the concrete blocks and drove off with them, again without any explanation. “They have stolen my roadblock!” the soldier complains, having got used to the place.

The titles of the testimonies speak for themselves: “To produce sleeplessness in the village”, “We used to send neighbors to disarm explosive charges”, “The battalion commander ordered us to shoot anyone trying to remove the bodies”, “The commander of the navy commandos put the muzzle of the rifle into the man’s mouth”, “They told us to shoot at anybody moving in the street”, “You can do whatever you feel like, nobody is going to question it”, “You shoot at the TV set for fun”, “I did not know that there were roads for Jews only”, “A kind of total arbitrariness”, “The [Hebron settler] boys beat up the old woman”, “Arrest the settlers? The army cannot do that”. And so on. Just routine.

The intention of the book is not to uncover atrocities and show the soldiers as monsters. It aims to present a situation: the ruling over another people, with all the high-handed arbitrariness that this necessarily entails, humiliation of the occupied, corruption of the occupier. According to the editors, it is quite impossible for the individual soldier to make a difference. He is just a cog in a machine that is inhuman by its very nature.

GROUPS OF young people who are simply fed up are springing to life in the country. They are signs of an awakening that finds its expression in the daily fight of hundreds of groups devoted to different causes. Only seemingly different – because these causes are essentially bound up with each other. The fight against the occupation, for the refugees who seek shelter in this country, against the demolition of the houses of the Bedouin in the Negev, against the invasion of Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem by settlers, for equal rights for the Arab citizens in Israel, against social injustices, for the preservation of the environment, against government corruption, against religious coercion, etc etc. They have a common denominator: the fight for a different Israel.

Young volunteers for each of these fights - and for all of them together - are needed today more than ever, in face of the racism that is raising its ugly head all over Israel – an open racism, shameless and indeed proud of itself.

The phenomenon by itself is not new. What is new is the loss of any vestige of shame. The racists shout their message on every street corner and earn applause from politicians and rabbis.

It started with the flood of racist bills designed to delegitimize the Arab citizens. “Admission committees”, “loyalty oaths”, and much more. Then came the religious edict of the chief rabbi of Safed, forbidding Jews to let apartments to Arabs. This still caused shock and embarrassment. Since then, however, all the dams have broken. A gang of 14-year old boys ambushed Arabs in the center of Jerusalem, using a 14- year old girl as bait, and beat them unconscious. Hundreds of rabbis all over the country signed a manifesto forbidding the letting of apartments to “foreigners” (meaning Arabs who have lived in the country for centuries). In Bat Yam, a city bordering Tel Aviv, a stormy demonstration called for the expulsion of all Arabs from the town. Next day, a demonstration in Tel Aviv’s squalid Hatikva quarter demanded the expulsion of refugees and foreign workers from the neighborhood.
Ostensibly, the demonstrations in Bat Yam and Hatikva were aimed at different targets: the first against Arabs, the second against foreign workers. But the same well-known fascist activists appeared and spoke at both, carrying the same placards and shouting the same slogans. The most conspicuous of these was the assertion that the Arabs and the foreigners are endangering Jewish women – the Arabs marry them and take them to their villages, the foreign workers flirt with them. “Jewish Women for the Jewish People!” cried the posters – as if women were property.

The connection between racism and sex has always intrigued researchers. White racists in the US spread the rumor that “niggers” have bigger penises. Among German Nazi newspapers, the most sensationalist was Der Stürmer, a pornographic sheet filled with stories about innocent blond girls seduced by the money of crooked-nosed ugly Jews. Its editor, Julius Streicher, was condemned and hanged in Nuremberg.

Some believe that one of the roots of racism is a feeling of sexual inadequacy, the lack of self-confidence of men afraid of sexual impotence and/or competition – the very opposite of the picture of the macho racist he-man. It is enough to look at the racist protesters to draw conclusions.

JEAN-PAUL SARTRE famously said that every person is a racist – the difference being between those who admit it to themselves and try to combat it and those who do not.
That is undoubtedly true. I have a simple test for the power of racism: you are driving and somebody cuts your path. If it is a black driver, you say: “Damn nigger!” If it is a woman, you shout: “Go home to your kitchen!” If he wears a kippah, you cry: “Bloody Dos!” (“Dos” is a derogatory Hebrew term for a religious Jew.) If it is a driver without special features, you just shout: “Idiot! Who gave you a driving license?”

The hatred of strangers, the aversion to everyone who is unlike you, are – so it seems – biological traits, remnants from the time of ancient man, when every stranger was a threat to the limited resources the tribe had to depend on. It exists in many other animal species, too. Nothing to be proud of.

The civilized human being, and even more so the civilized human society, has a duty to fight these traits - not only because they are ugly in themselves, but also because they hinder the modernization of the globalized world, In which cooperation between peoples and between people is imperative. It takes us back to the stone age.
The situation here is now moving in the opposite direction: the country is embracing the racist demon. After millennia as the victims of racism, it seems as if Jews here are happy to be able to do unto others what has been done to them.

IT IS impossible to ignore the central role played by rabbis in this filthy mess. They ride the wave and assert that this is the spirit of Judaism. They quote the holy texts at length.

The truth is that Judaism, like almost every religion, includes racist and anti-racist, humanist and barbarian elements. The Crusaders, who massacred the Jews on their way to the Holy Land and who slaughtered the inhabitants of Jerusalem – Muslims and Jews alike – when they conquered the city, shouted: “God Wills It!” One can find in the New Testament magnificent passages preaching love, side by side with quite different sections. So, too, in the Koran there are Surahs full of love for humankind and calls for justice and equality, as well as others full of intolerance and hatred.

So, too, the Hebrew Bible. The racists quote Rabbi Maimonides, who interpreted two biblical words as a commandment not to let non-Jews reside in the country. The whole Book of Joshua is a call to genocide. The Bible commands the Israelites to murder the entire tribe of Amalek (“both man and woman, infant and suckling”) and the Prophet Samuel dethroned King Saul because he spared the lives of Amalekite prisoners (1 Samuel 15).

But the Hebrew Bible is also a book of unequalled humanity. It starts with the description of the creation of man and woman, stressing that all human beings are created in the image of God - and therefore equal. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he him.” The Bible repeatedly demands the treatment of “Gerim” (foreigners living among the Israelites) as Israelites, “because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt”.

As Gershom Schocken, the owner and long-time editor in chief of Haaretz, pointed out in an article republished this week on the 20th anniversary of his death: Ezra did indeed expel the non-Jewish wives from the community, but before that, foreign women played a central role in the Biblical story. Bathsheba was the wife of a Hittite, before she married King David and became the mother of the house from which the Messiah will come in due course (or from which, as Christians believe, Jesus – who was born 2010 years ago today – already came.) David himself was the descendant of Ruth, a Moabite woman. King Ahab, the greatest of Israelite kings, married a Phoenician woman.

When our racists present the ugliest face of Judaism, ignoring its universalist message, they do great damage to the religion of millions of Jews around the world. The most important Jewish rabbis were silent this week in face of the racist fire that was ignited by rabbis, or murmured something about “ways of peace” – referring to the rule forbidding the provocation of Goyim, because they might treat the Jews in their countries as the Jews treat the minorities in their own state. Up to now, no Christian priest has yet called upon his flock not to let apartments to Jews – but it could happen.

The silence of the “Torah sages” is thunderous. Even more so the silence of the country’s political leaders: Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres did not roar his outrage, and Binyamin Netanyahu has contented himself with calling upon the racists “not to take the law into their own hands”. Not a single word against racism, not a single word about morality and justice.

WHEN I listened to the ex-soldiers at the “Breaking the Silence” meeting, I was filled with hope. This generation understands its duty to heal the state in which they will spend their lives.

In the words of the Hanukkah song, which is rapidly becoming the anthem of the anti-racist demonstrations: “We come the darkness to expel!”


Simply fascinating and mind-boggling

by Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

The News (Pakistan)

Suppose a robber or a murderer is caught red-handed while committing his heinous crime because a secret camera records the deed and sends an alarm signal over the internet to the nearby police station. Furthermore, suppose that when his deed is brought to light, he tells the jury that the device which recorded his deed or the use of the internet was immoral. What would the jury do to such a person?

The analogy may enrage those who have been so dumbfounded by the disclosure of their deeds by Wikileaks, but to invent lies to invade a country, kill, maim, displace, and dislocate over two million human beings is not an insignificant act of diplomacy. The world knew when Iraq was invaded that this war is neither moral nor legal, and so what Wikileaks has revealed about this invasion and its aftermath is mere detail. But one would expect that the information now available in the public domain would have led to some remorse, regret, or acknowledgement of wrongdoing. What we have, instead, is an unending array of mind-boggling confusion.

On December 16, 2010, US Vice President Joe Biden said that there has been no “substantive” damage to US foreign policy from Wikileaks. Biden made that comment in an MSNBC interview, which was recorded on December 15, 2010. His exact words were: “Some of the cables that are coming out here and around the world are embarrassing, but nothing that I am aware of goes to the essence of the relationship that will allow another nation to say ‘they lied to me, we don’t trust them, they really are not dealing fairly with us.”

Four days later, the same person, the same cables, the same material evidence, but an entirely different scoop: Vice President Joe Biden now described the Wikileaks founder as a dangerous “high-tech terrorist”. A man who could be brought to the US and tried! “We’re looking at that right now,” Biden told NBC’s Sunday talk show, “Meet the Press”, but stopped short of elaborating on just how the administration could act against the head of Wikileaks: “I’m not going to comment on that process.”

“Look, this guy (Assange) has done things that have damaged and put in jeopardy the lives and occupations of people in other parts of the world,” Biden said.

What is simply mind-boggling in this schizophrenic reaction to Wikileaks is not so much the flip-flop, but the intellectual and moral makeup of the political leadership of a country which has arrogated the right to be the world’s policeman. How can these men and women not understand what every illiterate person knows so clearly in a very large part of the world? How can this leadership be so blind to the basic reality of their misdeeds around the world?

That it is impossible for any one nation to control all humanity is such a simple and basic thing that even the most ordinary person knows it, yet the highly educated and supposedly well-trained leadership of the United States of America cannot see this basic truth and continues to play havoc with the lives of millions of people around the world. What Wikileaks has done is simply open up to the world what goes on behind the scenes all the times. There is nothing that has been added to the information which was not so accessible before, there is no colouring, no subtext – everything appears in its raw form. And what it reveals is astounding.

What is truly amazing is the fact that not a single cable has been refuted by anyone; all that has come out in the press against Wikileaks is that the information is not “lawfully” disclosed, whatever that may mean. But no one has denied a single report or information so far leaked.

One danger of such a large cache of raw information is indeed its vastness and there are already signs that Wikileaks is no more news. One did not expect that there would be any major change in the world because of these cables, but at the same time, one did not know such a fundamental disclosure could be taken as routine matter so quickly. The overwhelming impact of Wikileaks may have made people numb with horror and the enormity of the crime may have been cause for the quick “routineness” which has now set in. Because there is so much, so specific, and so real, it may all somehow seem overwhelmingly unmanageable. At times like this, specific details pertaining to individuals and events can help to refocus attention.

Robert Fisk, with his characteristic penchant for detail and specificity, was quick to do exactly that: “Despite rumours to the contrary,” he wrote, “she told me on the phone, she was not a spy but a mere attaché, wanting only to chat about the future of Lebanon. These were kidnapping days in the Lebanese capital, when to be seen with the wrong luncheon companion could finish in a basement in south Beirut. I trusted this woman. I was wrong. She arrived with two armed British bodyguards who sat at the next table. Within minutes of sitting down at a fish restaurant in the cliff-top Raouche district, she started plying me with questions about Hezbollah’s armaments in southern Lebanon. I stood up and walked out. Hezbollah had two men at another neighbouring table. They called on me next morning. No problem, they said, they saw me walk out. But watch out… That was some 30 years ago. And then up pops the very same cable on Wikileaks, breathlessly highlighted by The New York Times and its dwarf the International Herald Tribune, as if this is an extraordinary scoop.”

It has been simply fascinating and mind-boggling to watch US leadership – from Joe Biden to Hillary Clinton – initially denounce Wikileaks in the name of an non-existent “international community”, and then attempt to minimise the genuineness of the documents, while at the same time using their considerable influence to destroy Wikileaks financially and technically, and, finally, try to find a law which can be used to bring the head of Wikileaks to America for a trial.


WikiLeaks cables: Mauritius sues UK for control of Chagos islands

by Richard Norton-Taylor and Rob Evans

The Guardian

Leaked document shows Foreign Office official told US that marine reserve would end evicted islanders' claims

The prime minister of Mauritius has accused Britain of pursuing a "policy of deceit" over the Chagos islands, its Indian Ocean colony from where islanders were evicted to make way for a US military base. He spoke to the Guardian as his government launched the first step in a process that could end UK control over the territory.

Navinchandra Ramgoolam spoke out after the Labour government's decision to establish a marine reserve around Diego Garcia and surrounding islands was exposed earlier this month as the latest ruse to prevent the islanders from ever returning to their homeland.

A US diplomatic cable dated May 2009, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed that a Foreign Office official had told the Americans that a decision to set up a "marine protected area" would "effectively end the islanders' resettlement claims". The official, identified as Colin Roberts, is quoted as saying that "according to the HMG's [Her Majesty's government's] current thinking on the reserve, there would be 'no human footprints' or 'Man Fridays'" on the British Indian Ocean Territory uninhabited islands."

A US state department official commented: "Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the FCO's Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands' former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the BIOT."

Nearly a year later, in April this year, David Miliband, then foreign secretary, described the marine reserve as a "major step forward for protecting the oceans". He added that the reserve "will not change the UK's commitment to cede the territory to Mauritius when it is no longer needed for defence purposes".

"I feel strongly about a policy of deceit," Ramgoolam said , adding that he had already suspected Britain had a "hidden agenda".

Asked if he believed Miliband had acted in good faith, he said: "Certainly not. Nick Clegg said before the general election that Britain had a "moral responsibility to allow these people to at last return home". William Hague, now foreign secretary, said that if elected he would "work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute".

Ramgoolam said he believed the government was adopting the same attitude as its predecessor. Mauritius has lodged a document with an international tribunal accusing Britain of breaching the UN convention on the law of the sea. It says Britain has no right to establish the marine zone since it was not a "coastal state" in the region, adding that Mauritius has the sole right to declare an "exclusive zone" around the British colony.

A legal document seen by the Guardian and submitted to an international tribunal says that in 1965 Britain "dismembered Mauritius by purporting to establish a so-called 'British Indian Ocean Territory'". Eight years later, it "forcibly removed the entire indigenous population of the Chagos archipelago, comprising a community of approximately 2,000 persons calling themselves Ilois or Chagossians", the document says.

Referring to the leaked US cable, it adds that the UK has "violated the 1982 [UN] convention and rules of general international law …" It says Mauritius is basing its claims on additional international rules including "the principle of permanent sovereignty over natural resources".

Ramgoolam said: "We have a strong case". Asked if the move paves the way to the end of the British Indian Ocean colony, he replied: "We have a broad strategy." Mauritius would adopt a "step by step" approach. He added that the Americans at present needed the Diego Garcia base for reasons of "international security".

An FO spokesman said: "We are aware that Mauritius have lodged an application under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea". The FO added that the marine reserve was established "without prejudice" to the case before the European human rights court – an apparent admission that the reserve could not prevent the islanders returning if they won their case.


Hell Hole

by Atul Gawande

The New Yorker

The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?

Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people.
Children provide the clearest demonstration of this fact, although it was slow to be accepted. Well into the nineteen-fifties, psychologists were encouraging parents to give children less attention and affection, in order to encourage independence. Then Harry Harlow, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, produced a series of influential studies involving baby rhesus monkeys.
He happened upon the findings in the mid-fifties, when he decided to save money for his primate-research laboratory by breeding his own lab monkeys instead of importing them from India. Because he didn’t know how to raise infant monkeys, he cared for them the way hospitals of the era cared for human infants—in nurseries, with plenty of food, warm blankets, some toys, and in isolation from other infants to prevent the spread of infection. The monkeys grew up sturdy, disease-free, and larger than those from the wild. Yet they were also profoundly disturbed, given to staring blankly and rocking in place for long periods, circling their cages repetitively, and mutilating themselves.
At first, Harlow and his graduate students couldn’t figure out what the problem was. They considered factors such as diet, patterns of light exposure, even the antibiotics they used. Then, as Deborah Blum recounts in a fascinating biography of Harlow, “Love at Goon Park,” one of his researchers noticed how tightly the monkeys clung to their soft blankets. Harlow wondered whether what the monkeys were missing in their Isolettes was a mother. So, in an odd experiment, he gave them an artificial one.
In the studies, one artificial mother was a doll made of terry cloth; the other was made of wire. He placed a warming device inside the dolls to make them seem more comforting. The babies, Harlow discovered, largely ignored the wire mother. But they became deeply attached to the cloth mother. They caressed it. They slept curled up on it. They ran to it when frightened. They refused replacements: they wanted only “their” mother. If sharp spikes were made to randomly thrust out of the mother’s body when the rhesus babies held it, they waited patiently for the spikes to recede and returned to clutching it. No matter how tightly they clung to the surrogate mothers, however, the monkeys remained psychologically abnormal.
In a later study on the effect of total isolation from birth, the researchers found that the test monkeys, upon being released into a group of ordinary monkeys, “usually go into a state of emotional shock, characterized by . . . autistic self-clutching and rocking.” Harlow noted, “One of six monkeys isolated for three months refused to eat after release and died five days later.” After several weeks in the company of other monkeys, most of them adjusted—but not those who had been isolated for longer periods. “Twelve months of isolation almost obliterated the animals socially,” Harlow wrote. They became permanently withdrawn, and they lived as outcasts—regularly set upon, as if inviting abuse.
The research made Harlow famous (and infamous, too—revulsion at his work helped spur the animal-rights movement). Other psychologists produced evidence of similarly deep and sustained damage in neglected and orphaned children. Hospitals were made to open up their nurseries to parents. And it became widely accepted that children require nurturing human beings not just for food and protection but also for the normal functioning of their brains.
We have been hesitant to apply these lessons to adults. Adults, after all, are fully formed, independent beings, with internal strengths and knowledge to draw upon. We wouldn’t have anything like a child’s dependence on other people, right? Yet it seems that we do. We don’t have a lot of monkey experiments to call upon here. But mankind has produced tens of thousands of human ones, including in our prison system. And the picture that has emerged is profoundly unsettling.
Among our most benign experiments are those with people who voluntarily isolate themselves for extended periods. Long-distance solo sailors, for instance, commit themselves to months at sea. They face all manner of physical terrors: thrashing storms, fifty-foot waves, leaks, illness. Yet, for many, the single most overwhelming difficulty they report is the “soul-destroying loneliness,” as one sailor called it. Astronauts have to be screened for their ability to tolerate long stretches in tightly confined isolation, and they come to depend on radio and video communications for social contact.
The problem of isolation goes beyond ordinary loneliness, however. Consider what we’ve learned from hostages who have been held in solitary confinement—from the journalist Terry Anderson, for example, whose extraordinary memoir, “Den of Lions,” recounts his seven years as a hostage of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Anderson was the chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press when, on March 16, 1985, three bearded men forced him from his car in Beirut at gunpoint. He was pushed into a Mercedes sedan, covered head to toe with a heavy blanket, and made to crouch head down in the footwell behind the front seat. His captors drove him to a garage, pulled him out of the car, put a hood over his head, and bound his wrists and ankles with tape. For half an hour, they grilled him for the names of other Americans in Beirut, but he gave no names and they did not beat him or press him further. They threw him in the trunk of the car, drove him to another building, and put him in what would be the first of a succession of cells across Lebanon. He was soon placed in what seemed to be a dusty closet, large enough for only a mattress. Blindfolded, he could make out the distant sounds of other hostages. (One was William Buckley, the C.I.A. station chief who was kidnapped and tortured repeatedly until he weakened and died.) Peering around his blindfold, Anderson could see a bare light bulb dangling from the ceiling. He received three unpalatable meals a day—usually a sandwich of bread and cheese, or cold rice with canned vegetables, or soup. He had a bottle to urinate in and was allotted one five- to ten-minute trip each day to a rotting bathroom to empty his bowels and wash with water at a dirty sink. Otherwise, the only reprieve from isolation came when the guards made short visits to bark at him for breaking a rule or to threaten him, sometimes with a gun at his temple.
He missed people terribly, especially his fiancée and his family. He was despondent and depressed. Then, with time, he began to feel something more. He felt himself disintegrating. It was as if his brain were grinding down. A month into his confinement, he recalled in his memoir, “The mind is a blank. Jesus, I always thought I was smart. Where are all the things I learned, the books I read, the poems I memorized? There’s nothing there, just a formless, gray-black misery. My mind’s gone dead. God, help me.”
He was stiff from lying in bed day and night, yet tired all the time. He dozed off and on constantly, sleeping twelve hours a day. He craved activity of almost any kind. He would watch the daylight wax and wane on the ceiling, or roaches creep slowly up the wall. He had a Bible and tried to read, but he often found that he lacked the concentration to do so. He observed himself becoming neurotically possessive about his little space, at times putting his life in jeopardy by flying into a rage if a guard happened to step on his bed. He brooded incessantly, thinking back on all the mistakes he’d made in life, his regrets, his offenses against God and family.
His captors moved him every few months. For unpredictable stretches of time, he was granted the salvation of a companion—sometimes he shared a cell with as many as four other hostages—and he noticed that his thinking recovered rapidly when this occurred. He could read and concentrate longer, avoid hallucinations, and better control his emotions. “I would rather have had the worst companion than no companion at all,” he noted.
In September, 1986, after several months of sharing a cell with another hostage, Anderson was, for no apparent reason, returned to solitary confinement, this time in a six-by-six-foot cell, with no windows, and light from only a flickering fluorescent lamp in an outside corridor. The guards refused to say how long he would be there. After a few weeks, he felt his mind slipping away again.
“I find myself trembling sometimes for no reason,” he wrote. “I’m afraid I’m beginning to lose my mind, to lose control completely.”
One day, three years into his ordeal, he snapped. He walked over to a wall and began beating his forehead against it, dozens of times. His head was smashed and bleeding before the guards were able to stop him.
Some hostages fared worse. Anderson told the story of Frank Reed, a fifty-four-year-old American private-school director who was taken hostage and held in solitary confinement for four months before being put in with Anderson. By then, Reed had become severely withdrawn. He lay motionless for hours facing a wall, semi-catatonic. He could not follow the guards’ simplest instructions. This invited abuse from them, in much the same way that once isolated rhesus monkeys seemed to invite abuse from the colony. Released after three and a half years, Reed ultimately required admission to a psychiatric hospital.
“It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam—more than two years of it spent in isolation in a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cell, unable to communicate with other P.O.W.s except by tap code, secreted notes, or by speaking into an enamel cup pressed against the wall. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” And this comes from a man who was beaten regularly; denied adequate medical treatment for two broken arms, a broken leg, and chronic dysentery; and tortured to the point of having an arm broken again. A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam, many of whom were treated even worse than McCain, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.
And what happened to them was physical. EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement. In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.
On December 4, 1991, Terry Anderson was released from captivity. He had been the last and the longest-held American hostage in Lebanon. I spoke to Keron Fletcher, a former British military psychiatrist who had been on the receiving team for Anderson and many other hostages, and followed them for years afterward. Initially, Fletcher said, everyone experiences the pure elation of being able to see and talk to people again, especially family and friends. They can’t get enough of other people, and talk almost non-stop for hours. They are optimistic and hopeful. But, afterward, normal sleeping and eating patterns prove difficult to reëstablish. Some have lost their sense of time. For weeks, they have trouble managing the sensations and emotional complexities of their freedom.
For the first few months after his release, Anderson said when I reached him by phone recently, “it was just kind of a fog.” He had done many television interviews at the time. “And if you look at me in the pictures? Look at my eyes. You can tell. I look drugged.”
Most hostages survived their ordeal, Fletcher said, although relationships, marriages, and careers were often lost. Some found, as John McCain did, that the experience even strengthened them. Yet none saw solitary confinement as anything less than torture. This presents us with an awkward question: If prolonged isolation is—as research and experience have confirmed for decades—so objectively horrifying, so intrinsically cruel, how did we end up with a prison system that may subject more of our own citizens to it than any other country in history has?
Recently, I met a man who had spent more than five years in isolation at a prison in the Boston suburb of Walpole, Massachusetts, not far from my home. Bobby Dellelo was, to say the least, no Terry Anderson or John McCain. Brought up in the run-down neighborhoods of Boston’s West End, in the nineteen-forties, he was caught burglarizing a shoe store at the age of ten. At thirteen, he recalls, he was nabbed while robbing a Jordan Marsh department store. (He and his friends learned to hide out in stores at closing time, steal their merchandise, and then break out during the night.) The remainder of his childhood was spent mostly in the state reform school. That was where he learned how to fight, how to hot-wire a car with a piece of foil, how to pick locks, and how to make a zip gun using a snapped-off automobile radio antenna, which, in those days, was just thick enough to barrel a .22-calibre bullet. Released upon turning eighteen, Dellelo returned to stealing. Usually, he stole from office buildings at night. But some of the people he hung out with did stickups, and, together with one of them, he held up a liquor store in Dorchester.
“What a disaster that thing was,” he recalls, laughing. They put the store’s owner and the customers in a walk-in refrigerator at gunpoint, took their wallets, and went to rob the register. But more customers came in. So they robbed them and put them in the refrigerator, too. Then still more customers arrived, the refrigerator got full, and the whole thing turned into a circus. Dellelo and his partner finally escaped. But one of the customers identified him to the police. By the time he was caught, Dellelo had been fingered for robbing the Commander Hotel in Cambridge as well. He served a year for the first conviction and two and a half years for the second.
Three months after his release, in 1963, at the age of twenty, he and a friend tried to rob the Kopelman jewelry store, in downtown Boston. But an alarm went off before they got their hands on anything. They separated and ran. The friend shot and killed an off-duty policeman while trying to escape, then killed himself. Dellelo was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He ended up serving forty years. Five years and one month were spent in isolation.
The criteria for the isolation of prisoners vary by state but typically include not only violent infractions but also violation of prison rules or association with gang members. The imposition of long-term isolation—which can be for months or years—is ultimately at the discretion of prison administrators. One former prisoner I spoke to, for example, recalled being put in solitary confinement for petty annoyances like refusing to get out of the shower quickly enough. Bobby Dellelo was put there for escaping.
It was an elaborate scheme. He had a partner, who picked the lock to a supervisor’s office and got hold of the information manual for the microwave-detection system that patrolled a grassy no man’s land between the prison and the road. They studied the manual long enough to learn how to circumvent the system and returned it. On Halloween Sunday, 1993, they had friends stage a fight in the prison yard. With all the guards in the towers looking at the fight through binoculars, the two men tipped a picnic table up against a twelve-foot wall and climbed it like a ladder. Beyond it, they scaled a sixteen-foot fence. To get over the razor wire on top, they used a Z-shaped tool they’d improvised from locker handles. They dropped down into the no man’s land and followed an invisible path that they’d calculated the microwave system would not detect. No alarm sounded. They went over one more fence, walked around a parking lot, picked their way through some woods, and emerged onto a four-lane road. After a short walk to a convenience store, they called a taxi from a telephone booth and rolled away before anyone knew they were gone.
They lasted twenty-four days on the outside. Eventually, somebody ratted them out, and the police captured them on the day before Thanksgiving, at the house of a friend in Cambridge. The prison administration gave Dellelo five years in the Departmental Disciplinary Unit of the Walpole prison, its hundred-and-twenty-four-cell super-maximum segregation unit.
Wearing ankle bracelets, handcuffs, and a belly chain, Dellelo was marched into a thirteen-by-eight-foot off-white cell. A four-inch-thick concrete bed slab jutted out from the wall opposite the door. A smaller slab protruding from a side wall provided a desk. A cylindrical concrete block in the floor served as a seat. On the remaining wall was a toilet and a metal sink. He was given four sheets, four towels, a blanket, a bedroll, a toothbrush, toilet paper, a tall clear plastic cup, a bar of soap, seven white T-shirts, seven pairs of boxer shorts, seven pairs of socks, plastic slippers, a pad of paper, and a ballpoint pen. A speaker with a microphone was mounted on the door. Cells used for solitary confinement are often windowless, but this one had a ribbonlike window that was seven inches wide and five feet tall. The electrically controlled door was solid steel, with a seven-inch-by-twenty-eight-inch aperture and two wickets—little door slots, one at ankle height and one at waist height, for shackling him whenever he was let out and for passing him meal trays.
As in other supermaxes—facilities designed to isolate prisoners from social contact—Dellelo was confined to his cell for at least twenty-three hours a day and permitted out only for a shower or for recreation in an outdoor cage that he estimated to be fifty feet long and five feet wide, known as “the dog kennel.” He could talk to other prisoners through the steel door of his cell, and during recreation if a prisoner was in an adjacent cage. He made a kind of fishing line for passing notes to adjacent cells by unwinding the elastic from his boxer shorts, though it was contraband and would be confiscated. Prisoners could receive mail and as many as ten reading items. They were allowed one phone call the first month and could earn up to four calls and four visits per month if they followed the rules, but there could be no physical contact with anyone, except when guards forcibly restrained them. Some supermaxes even use food as punishment, serving the prisoners nutra-loaf, an unpalatable food brick that contains just enough nutrition for survival. Dellelo was spared this. The rules also permitted him to have a radio after thirty days, and, after sixty days, a thirteen-inch black-and-white television.
“This is going to be a piece of cake,” Dellelo recalls thinking when the door closed behind him. Whereas many American supermax prisoners—and most P.O.W.s and hostages—have no idea when they might get out, he knew exactly how long he was going to be there. He drew a calendar on his pad of paper to start counting down the days. He would get a radio and a TV. He could read. No one was going to bother him. And, as his elaborate escape plan showed, he could be patient. “This is their sophisticated security?” he said to himself. “They don’t know what they’re doing.”
After a few months without regular social contact, however, his experience proved no different from that of the P.O.W.s or hostages, or the majority of isolated prisoners whom researchers have studied: he started to lose his mind. He talked to himself. He paced back and forth compulsively, shuffling along the same six-foot path for hours on end. Soon, he was having panic attacks, screaming for help. He hallucinated that the colors on the walls were changing. He became enraged by routine noises—the sound of doors opening as the guards made their hourly checks, the sounds of inmates in nearby cells. After a year or so, he was hearing voices on the television talking directly to him. He put the television under his bed, and rarely took it out again.
One of the paradoxes of solitary confinement is that, as starved as people become for companionship, the experience typically leaves them unfit for social interaction. Once, Dellelo was allowed to have an in-person meeting with his lawyer, and he simply couldn’t handle it. After so many months in which his primary human contact had been an occasional phone call or brief conversations with an inmate down the tier, shouted through steel doors at the top of their lungs, he found himself unable to carry on a face-to-face conversation. He had trouble following both words and hand gestures and couldn’t generate them himself. When he realized this, he succumbed to a full-blown panic attack.
Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, received rare permission to study a hundred randomly selected inmates at California’s Pelican Bay supermax, and noted a number of phenomena. First, after months or years of complete isolation, many prisoners “begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind—to organize their own lives around activity and purpose,” he writes. “Chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair often result. . . . In extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop behaving,” becoming essentially catatonic.
Second, almost ninety per cent of these prisoners had difficulties with “irrational anger,” compared with just three per cent of the general population.* Haney attributed this to the extreme restriction, the totality of control, and the extended absence of any opportunity for happiness or joy. Many prisoners in solitary become consumed with revenge fantasies.
“There were some guards in D.D.U. who were decent guys,” Dellelo told me. They didn’t trash his room when he was let out for a shower, or try to trip him when escorting him in chains, or write him up for contraband if he kept food or a salt packet from a meal in his cell. “But some of them were evil, evil pricks.” One correctional officer became a particular obsession. Dellelo spent hours imagining cutting his head off and rolling it down the tier. “I mean, I know this is insane thinking,” he says now. Even at the time, he added, “I had a fear in the background—like how much of this am I going to be able to let go? How much is this going to affect who I am?”
He was right to worry. Everyone’s identity is socially created: it’s through your relationships that you understand yourself as a mother or a father, a teacher or an accountant, a hero or a villain. But, after years of isolation, many prisoners change in another way that Haney observed. They begin to see themselves primarily as combatants in the world, people whose identity is rooted in thwarting prison control.
As a matter of self-preservation, this may not be a bad thing. According to the Navy P.O.W. researchers, the instinct to fight back against the enemy constituted the most important coping mechanism for the prisoners they studied. Resistance was often their sole means of maintaining a sense of purpose, and so their sanity. Yet resistance is precisely what we wish to destroy in our supermax prisoners. As Haney observed in a review of research findings, prisoners in solitary confinement must be able to withstand the experience in order to be allowed to return to the highly social world of mainline prison or free society. Perversely, then, the prisoners who can’t handle profound isolation are the ones who are forced to remain in it. “And those who have adapted,” Haney writes, “are prime candidates for release to a social world to which they may be incapable of ever fully readjusting.”
Dellelo eventually found a way to resist that would not prolong his ordeal. He fought his battle through the courts, filing motion after motion in an effort to get his conviction overturned. He became so good at submitting his claims that he obtained a paralegal certificate along the way. And, after forty years in prison, and more than five years in solitary, he got his first-degree-homicide conviction reduced to manslaughter. On November 19, 2003, he was freed.
Bobby Dellelo is sixty-seven years old now. He lives on Social Security in a Cambridge efficiency apartment that is about four times larger than his cell. He still seems to be adjusting to the world outside. He lives alone. To the extent that he is out in society, it is, in large measure, as a combatant. He works for prisoners’ rights at the American Friends Service Committee. He also does occasional work assisting prisoners with their legal cases. Sitting at his kitchen table, he showed me how to pick a padlock—you know, just in case I ever find myself in trouble.
But it was impossible to talk to him about his time in isolation without seeing that it was fundamentally no different from the isolation that Terry Anderson and John McCain had endured. Whether in Walpole or Beirut or Hanoi, all human beings experience isolation as torture.
The main argument for using long-term isolation in prisons is that it provides discipline and prevents violence. When inmates refuse to follow the rules—when they escape, deal drugs, or attack other inmates and corrections officers—wardens must be able to punish and contain the misconduct. Presumably, less stringent measures haven’t worked, or the behavior would not have occurred. And it’s legitimate to incapacitate violent aggressors for the safety of others. So, advocates say, isolation is a necessary evil, and those who don’t recognize this are dangerously naïve.
The argument makes intuitive sense. If the worst of the worst are removed from the general prison population and put in isolation, you’d expect there to be markedly fewer inmate shankings and attacks on corrections officers. But the evidence doesn’t bear this out. Perhaps the most careful inquiry into whether supermax prisons decrease violence and disorder was a 2003 analysis examining the experience in three states—Arizona, Illinois, and Minnesota—following the opening of their supermax prisons. The study found that levels of inmate-on-inmate violence were unchanged, and that levels of inmate-on-staff violence changed unpredictably, rising in Arizona, falling in Illinois, and holding steady in Minnesota.
Prison violence, it turns out, is not simply an issue of a few belligerents. In the past thirty years, the United States has quadrupled its incarceration rate but not its prison space. Work and education programs have been cancelled, out of a belief that the pursuit of rehabilitation is pointless. The result has been unprecedented overcrowding, along with unprecedented idleness—a nice formula for violence. Remove a few prisoners to solitary confinement, and the violence doesn’t change. So you remove some more, and still nothing happens. Before long, you find yourself in the position we are in today. The United States now has five per cent of the world’s population, twenty-five per cent of its prisoners, and probably the vast majority of prisoners who are in long-term solitary confinement.
It wasn’t always like this. The wide-scale use of isolation is, almost exclusively, a phenomenon of the past twenty years. In 1890, the United States Supreme Court came close to declaring the punishment to be unconstitutional. Writing for the majority in the case of a Colorado murderer who had been held in isolation for a month, Justice Samuel Miller noted that experience had revealed “serious objections” to solitary confinement:

A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others, still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover suffcient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.

Prolonged isolation was used sparingly, if at all, by most American prisons for almost a century. Our first supermax—our first institution specifically designed for mass solitary confinement—was not established until 1983, in Marion, Illinois. In 1995, a federal court reviewing California’s first supermax admitted that the conditions “hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience.” But it did not rule them to be unconstitutionally cruel or unusual, except in cases of mental illness. The prison’s supermax conditions, the court stated, did not pose “a sufficiently high risk to all inmates of incurring a serious mental illness.” In other words, there could be no legal objection to its routine use, given that the isolation didn’t make everyone crazy. The ruling seemed to fit the public mood. By the end of the nineteen-nineties, some sixty supermax institutions had opened across the country. And new solitary-confinement units were established within nearly all of our ordinary maximum-security prisons.
The number of prisoners in these facilities has since risen to extraordinary levels. America now holds at least twenty-five thousand inmates in isolation in supermax prisons. An additional fifty to eighty thousand are kept in restrictive segregation units, many of them in isolation, too, although the government does not release these figures. By 1999, the practice had grown to the point that Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Virginia kept between five and eight per cent of their prison population in isolation, and, by 2003, New York had joined them as well. Mississippi alone held eighteen hundred prisoners in supermax—twelve per cent of its prisoners over all. At the same time, other states had just a tiny fraction of their inmates in solitary confinement. In 1999, for example, Indiana had eighty-five supermax beds; Georgia had only ten. Neither of these two states can be described as being soft on crime.
Advocates of solitary confinement are left with a single argument for subjecting thousands of people to years of isolation: What else are we supposed to do? How else are we to deal with the violent, the disruptive, the prisoners who are just too dangerous to be housed with others?
As it happens, only a subset of prisoners currently locked away for long periods of isolation would be considered truly dangerous. Many are escapees or suspected gang members; many others are in solitary for nonviolent breaches of prison rules. Still, there are some highly dangerous and violent prisoners who pose a serious challenge to prison discipline and safety. In August, I met a man named Robert Felton, who had spent fourteen and a half years in isolation in the Illinois state correctional system. He is now thirty-six years old. He grew up in the predominantly black housing projects of Danville, Illinois, and had been a force of mayhem from the time he was a child.
His crimes were mainly impulsive, rather than planned. The first time he was arrested was at the age of eleven, when he and a relative broke into a house to steal some Atari video games. A year later, he was sent to state reform school after he and a friend broke into an abandoned building and made off with paint cans, irons, and other property that they hardly knew what to do with. In reform school, he got into fights and screamed obscenities at the staff. When the staff tried to discipline him by taking away his recreation or his television privileges, his behavior worsened. He tore a pillar out of the ceiling, a sink and mirrors off the wall, doors off their hinges. He was put in a special cell, stripped of nearly everything. When he began attacking counsellors, the authorities transferred him to the maximum-security juvenile facility at Joliet, where he continued to misbehave.
Felton wasn’t a sociopath. He made friends easily. He was close to his family, and missed them deeply. He took no pleasure in hurting others. Psychiatric evaluations turned up little more than attention-deficit disorder. But he had a terrible temper, a tendency to escalate rather than to defuse confrontations, and, by the time he was released, just before turning eighteen, he had achieved only a ninth-grade education.
Within months of returning home, he was arrested again. He had walked into a Danville sports bar and ordered a beer. The barman took his ten-dollar bill.
“Then he says, ‘Naw, man, you can’t get no beer. You’re underage,’ ” Felton recounts. “I says, ‘Well, give me my ten dollars back.’ He says, ‘You ain’t getting shit. Get the hell out of here.’ ”
Felton stood his ground. The bartender had a pocket knife on the counter. “And, when he went for it, I went for it,” Felton told me. “When I grabbed the knife first, I turned around and spinned on him. I said, ‘You think you’re gonna cut me, man? You gotta be fucked up.’ ”
The barman had put the ten-dollar bill in a Royal Crown bag behind the counter. Felton grabbed the bag and ran out the back door. He forgot his car keys on the counter, though. So he went back to get the keys—“the stupid keys,” he now says ruefully—and in the fight that ensued he left the barman severely injured and bleeding. The police caught Felton fleeing in his car. He was convicted of armed robbery, aggravated unlawful restraint, and aggravated battery, and served fifteen years in prison.
He was eventually sent to the Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum-security facility in Joliet. Inside the overflowing prison, he got into vicious fights over insults and the like. About three months into his term, during a shakedown following the murder of an inmate, prison officials turned up a makeshift knife in his cell. (He denies that it was his.) They gave him a year in isolation. He was a danger, and he had to be taught a lesson. But it was a lesson that he seemed incapable of learning.
Felton’s Stateville isolation cell had gray walls, a solid steel door, no window, no clock, and a light that was kept on twenty-four hours a day. As soon as he was shut in, he became claustrophobic and had a panic attack. Like Dellelo, Anderson, and McCain, he was soon pacing back and forth, talking to himself, studying the insects crawling around his cell, reliving past events from childhood, sleeping for as much as sixteen hours a day. But, unlike them, he lacked the inner resources to cope with his situation.
Many prisoners find survival in physical exercise, prayer, or plans for escape. Many carry out elaborate mental exercises, building entire houses in their heads, board by board, nail by nail, from the ground up, or memorizing team rosters for a baseball season. McCain recreated in his mind movies he’d seen. Anderson reconstructed complete novels from memory. Yuri Nosenko, a K.G.B. defector whom the C.I.A. wrongly accused of being a double agent and held for three years in total isolation (no reading material, no news, no human contact except with interrogators) in a closet-size concrete cell near Williamsburg, Virginia, made chess sets from threads and a calendar from lint (only to have them discovered and swept away).
But Felton would just yell, “Guard! Guard! Guard! Guard! Guard!,” or bang his cup on the toilet, for hours. He could spend whole days hallucinating that he was in another world, that he was a child at home in Danville, playing in the streets, having conversations with imaginary people. Small cruelties that others somehow bore in quiet fury—getting no meal tray, for example—sent him into a rage. Despite being restrained with handcuffs, ankle shackles, and a belly chain whenever he was taken out, he managed to assault the staff at least three times. He threw his food through the door slot. He set his cell on fire by tearing his mattress apart, wrapping the stuffing in a sheet, popping his light bulb, and using the exposed wires to set the whole thing ablaze. He did this so many times that the walls of his cell were black with soot.
After each offense, prison officials extended his sentence in isolation. Still, he wouldn’t stop. He began flooding his cell, by stuffing the door crack with socks, plugging the toilet, and flushing until the water was a couple of feet deep. Then he’d pull out the socks and the whole wing would flood with wastewater.
“Flooding the cell was the last option for me,” Felton told me. “It was when I had nothing else I could do. You know, they took everything out of my cell, and all I had left was toilet water. I’d sit there and I’d say, ‘Well, let me see what I can do with this toilet water.’ ”
Felton was not allowed out again for fourteen and a half years. He spent almost his entire prison term, from 1990 to 2005, in isolation. In March, 1998, he was among the first inmates to be moved to Tamms, a new, high-tech supermax facility in southern Illinois.
“At Tamms, man, it was like a lab,” he says. Contact even with guards was tightly reduced. Cutoff valves meant that he couldn’t flood his cell. He had little ability to force a response—negative or positive—from a human being. And, with that gone, he began to deteriorate further. He ceased showering, changing his clothes, brushing his teeth. His teeth rotted and ten had to be pulled. He began throwing his feces around his cell. He became psychotic.
It is unclear how many prisoners in solitary confinement become psychotic. Stuart Grassian, a Boston psychiatrist, has interviewed more than two hundred prisoners in solitary confinement. In one in-depth study, prepared for a legal challenge of prisoner-isolation practices, he concluded that about a third developed acute psychosis with hallucinations. The markers of vulnerability that he observed in his interviews were signs of cognitive dysfunction—a history of seizures, serious mental illness, mental retardation, illiteracy, or, as in Felton’s case, a diagnosis such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, signalling difficulty with impulse control. In the prisoners Grassian saw, about a third had these vulnerabilities, and these were the prisoners whom solitary confinement had made psychotic. They were simply not cognitively equipped to endure it without mental breakdowns.
A psychiatrist tried giving Felton anti-psychotic medication. Mostly, it made him sleep—sometimes twenty-four hours at a stretch, he said. Twice he attempted suicide. The first time, he hanged himself in a noose made from a sheet. The second time, he took a single staple from a legal newspaper and managed to slash the radial artery in his left wrist with it. In both instances, he was taken to a local emergency room for a few hours, patched up, and sent back to prison.
Is there an alternative? Consider what other countries do. Britain, for example, has had its share of serial killers, homicidal rapists, and prisoners who have taken hostages and repeatedly assaulted staff. The British also fought a seemingly unending war in Northern Ireland, which brought them hundreds of Irish Republican Army prisoners committed to violent resistance. The authorities resorted to a harshly punitive approach to control, including, in the mid-seventies, extensive use of solitary confinement. But the violence in prisons remained unchanged, the costs were phenomenal (in the United States, they reach more than fifty thousand dollars a year per inmate), and the public outcry became intolerable. British authorities therefore looked for another approach.
Beginning in the nineteen-eighties, they gradually adopted a strategy that focussed on preventing prison violence rather than on delivering an ever more brutal series of punishments for it. The approach starts with the simple observation that prisoners who are unmanageable in one setting often behave perfectly reasonably in another. This suggested that violence might, to a critical extent, be a function of the conditions of incarceration. The British noticed that problem prisoners were usually people for whom avoiding humiliation and saving face were fundamental and instinctive. When conditions maximized humiliation and confrontation, every interaction escalated into a trial of strength. Violence became a predictable consequence.
So the British decided to give their most dangerous prisoners more control, rather than less. They reduced isolation and offered them opportunities for work, education, and special programming to increase social ties and skills. The prisoners were housed in small, stable units of fewer than ten people in individual cells, to avoid conditions of social chaos and unpredictability. In these reformed “Close Supervision Centres,” prisoners could receive mental-health treatment and earn rights for more exercise, more phone calls, “contact visits,” and even access to cooking facilities. They were allowed to air grievances. And the government set up an independent body of inspectors to track the results and enable adjustments based on the data.
The results have been impressive. The use of long-term isolation in England is now negligible. In all of England, there are now fewer prisoners in “extreme custody” than there are in the state of Maine. And the other countries of Europe have, with a similar focus on small units and violence prevention, achieved a similar outcome.
In this country, in June of 2006, a bipartisan national task force, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, released its recommendations after a yearlong investigation. It called for ending long-term isolation of prisoners. Beyond about ten days, the report noted, practically no benefits can be found and the harm is clear—not just for inmates but for the public as well. Most prisoners in long-term isolation are returned to society, after all. And evidence from a number of studies has shown that supermax conditions—in which prisoners have virtually no social interactions and are given no programmatic support—make it highly likely that they will commit more crimes when they are released. Instead, the report said, we should follow the preventive approaches used in European countries.
The recommendations went nowhere, of course. Whatever the evidence in its favor, people simply did not believe in the treatment.
I spoke to a state-prison commissioner who wished to remain unidentified. He was a veteran of the system, having been either a prison warden or a commissioner in several states across the country for more than twenty years. He has publicly defended the use of long-term isolation everywhere that he has worked. Nonetheless, he said, he would remove most prisoners from long-term isolation units if he could and provide programming for the mental illnesses that many of them have.
“Prolonged isolation is not going to serve anyone’s best interest,” he told me. He still thought that prisons needed the option of isolation. “A bad violation should, I think, land you there for about ninety days, but it should not go beyond that.”
He is apparently not alone among prison officials. Over the years, he has come to know commissioners in nearly every state in the country. “I believe that today you’ll probably find that two-thirds or three-fourths of the heads of correctional agencies will largely share the position that I articulated with you,” he said.
Commissioners are not powerless. They could eliminate prolonged isolation with the stroke of a pen. So, I asked, why haven’t they? He told me what happened when he tried to move just one prisoner out of isolation. Legislators called for him to be fired and threatened to withhold basic funding. Corrections officers called members of the crime victim’s family and told them that he’d gone soft on crime. Hostile stories appeared in the tabloids. It is pointless for commissioners to act unilaterally, he said, without a change in public opinion.
This past year, both the Republican and the Democratic Presidential candidates came out firmly for banning torture and closing the facility in Guantánamo Bay, where hundreds of prisoners have been held in years-long isolation. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain, however, addressed the question of whether prolonged solitary confinement is torture. For a Presidential candidate, no less than for the prison commissioner, this would have been political suicide. The simple truth is that public sentiment in America is the reason that solitary confinement has exploded in this country, even as other Western nations have taken steps to reduce it. This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. With little concern or demurral, we have consigned tens of thousands of our own citizens to conditions that horrified our highest court a century ago. Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America’s moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement—on our own people, in our own communities, in a supermax prison, for example, that is a thirty-minute drive from my door.
Robert Felton drifted in and out of acute psychosis for much of his solitary confinement. Eventually, however, he found an unexpected resource. One day, while he was at Tamms, he was given a new defense lawyer, and, whatever expertise this lawyer provided, the more important thing was genuine human contact. He visited regularly, and sent Felton books. Although some were rejected by the authorities and Felton was restricted to a few at a time, he devoured those he was permitted. “I liked political books,” he says. “ ‘From Beirut to Jerusalem,’ Winston Churchill, Noam Chomsky.”
That small amount of contact was a lifeline. Felton corresponded with the lawyer about what he was reading. The lawyer helped him get his G.E.D. and a paralegal certificate through a correspondence course, and he taught Felton how to advocate for himself. Felton began writing letters to politicians and prison officials explaining the misery of his situation, opposing supermax isolation, and asking for a chance to return to the general prison population. (The Illinois Department of Corrections would not comment on Felton’s case, but a spokesman stated that “Tamms houses the most disruptive, violent, and problematic inmates.”) Felton was persuasive enough that Senator Paul Simon, of Illinois, wrote him back and, one day, even visited him. Simon asked the director of the State Department of Corrections, Donald Snyder, Jr., to give consideration to Felton’s objections. But Snyder didn’t budge. If there was anyone whom Felton fantasized about taking revenge upon, it was Snyder. Felton continued to file request after request. But the answer was always no.
On July 12, 2005, at the age of thirty-three, Felton was finally released. He hadn’t socialized with another person since entering Tamms, at the age of twenty-five. Before his release, he was given one month in the general prison population to get used to people. It wasn’t enough. Upon returning to society, he found that he had trouble in crowds. At a party of well-wishers, the volume of social stimulation overwhelmed him and he panicked, headed for a bathroom, and locked himself in. He stayed at his mother’s house and kept mostly to himself.
For the first year, he had to wear an ankle bracelet and was allowed to leave home only for work. His first job was at a Papa John’s restaurant, delivering pizzas. He next found work at the Model Star Laundry Service, doing pressing. This was a steady job, and he began to settle down. He fell in love with a waitress named Brittany. They moved into a three-room house that her grandmother lent them, and got engaged. Brittany became pregnant.
This is not a story with a happy ending. Felton lost his job with the laundry service. He went to work for a tree-cutting business; a few months later, it went under. Meanwhile, he and Brittany had had a second child. She had found work as a certified nursing assistant, but her income wasn’t nearly enough. So he took a job forty miles away, at Plastipak, the plastics manufacturer, where he made seven-fifty an hour inspecting Gatorade bottles and Crisco containers as they came out of the stamping machines. Then his twenty-year-old Firebird died. The bus he had to take ran erratically, and he was fired for repeated tardiness.
When I visited Felton in Danville last August, he and Brittany were upbeat about their prospects. She was working extra shifts at a nursing home, and he was taking care of their children, ages one and two. He had also applied to a six-month training program for heating and air-conditioning technicians.
“I could make twenty dollars an hour after graduation,” he said.
“He’s a good man,” Brittany told me, taking his arm and giving him a kiss.
But he was out of work. They were chronically short of money. It was hard to be optimistic about Felton’s prospects. And, indeed, six weeks after we met, he was arrested for breaking into a car dealership and stealing a Dodge Charger. He pleaded guilty and, in January, began serving a seven-year sentence.
Before I left town—when there was still a glimmer of hope for him—we went out for lunch at his favorite place, a Mexican restaurant called La Potosina. Over enchiladas and Cokes, we talked about his family, Danville, the economy, and, of course, his time in prison. The strangest story had turned up in the news, he said. Donald Snyder, Jr., the state prison director who had refused to let him out of solitary confinement, had been arrested, convicted, and sentenced to two years in prison for taking fifty thousand dollars in payoffs from lobbyists.
“Two years in prison,” Felton marvelled. “He could end up right where I used to be.”
I asked him, “If he wrote to you, asking if you would release him from solitary, what would you do?”
Felton didn’t hesitate for a second. “If he wrote to me to let him out, I’d let him out,” he said.
This surprised me. I expected anger, vindictiveness, a desire for retribution. “You’d let him out?” I said.
“I’d let him out,” he said, and he put his fork down to make the point. “I wouldn’t wish solitary confinement on anybody. Not even him.” ♦

*Correction, April 6, 2009: Three per cent of the general population had difficulties with “irrational anger,” not three per cent of prisoners in the general population, as originally stated.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/03/30/090330fa_fact_gawande#ixzz18OGmmmUy


Protect Assange, don’t abuse him

by John Pilger

New Statesman

“Guardians of women’s rights” in the British liberal press have rushed to condemn the WikiLeaks founder. In fact, at every turn in his dealings with our justice system, his basic human rights have been breached.

Forty years ago, a book entitled The Greening of America caused a sensation. On the cover were these words: "There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual." I was a correspondent in the United States at the time and recall the overnight elevation to guru status of the author, a young Yale academic, Charles Reich. His message was that political action had failed and only "culture" and introspection could change the world. This merged with an insidious corporate public relations campaign aimed at reclaiming western capitalism from the sense of freedom inspired by the civil rights and anti-war movements. The new propaganda's euphemisms were postmodernism, consumerism and "me-ism".

The self was now the zeitgeist. Driven by the forces of profit and the media, the search for individual consciousness all but overwhelmed the spirit of social justice and internationalism. A new deity was proclaimed; the personal was the political.

In 1995, Reich published Opposing the System, in which he recanted almost everything in The Greening of America. "There will be no relief from either economic insecurity or human breakdown," he now wrote, "until we recognise that uncontrolled economic forces create conflict, not well-being . . ." There were no queues in the bookstores this time. In the age of economic neoliberalism, Reich was out of step with the rampant individualism of the west's new political and cultural elite.
False tribunes

The revival of militarism in the west and the search for a new "threat" following the end of the cold war depended on the political disorientation of those who, 20 years earlier, would have formed a vehement opposition. On 11 September 2001, they were silenced finally, and many were co-opted into the "war on terror". The invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was supported by leading feminists, especially in the US, where Hillary Clinton and other false tribunes of feminism made the Taliban's treatment of Afghan women the rationale for attacking a stricken country and causing the deaths of at least 20,000 people while giving the Taliban new life. That the warlords backed by America were as medievalist as the Taliban was not allowed to interrupt such a right-on cause. The zeitgeist, the years of "personal" depoliticising and distracting true radicalism, had worked. Nine years later, the disaster that is Afghanistan is the consequence.

It seems the lesson must be learned all over again as a group of media feminists joins the assault on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, or the "Wikiblokesphere", as Libby Brooks abuses it in the Guardian. From the Times to the New Statesman, apparent feminist credence is given to the chaotic, incompetent and contradictory accusations against Assange in Sweden.

On 9 December, the Guardian published a long, supine interview by Amelia Gentleman with Claes Borgström, the "highly respected Swedish lawyer". In fact, Borgström is foremost a politician, a powerful member of the Social Democratic Party. He intervened in the Assange case only when the senior prosecutor in Stockholm dismissed the "rape" allegation as based on "no evidence". In Gentleman's Guardian article, an anonymous source whispers to us that Assange's "behaviour towards women . . . was going to get him into trouble". This smear was taken up by Brooks in the paper that same day. Ken Loach and I and others on "the left" are "shoulder to shoulder" with the misogynists and "conspiracy theorists". To hell with journalistic inquiry. Ignorance and prejudice rule.

The Australian barrister James Catlin, who acted for Assange in October, says that both women in the case told prosecutors that they consented to have sex with Assange. Following the "crime", one of the women threw a party in honour of Assange. When Borgström was asked why he was representing the women, as both denied rape, he said: "Yes, but they are not lawyers." Catlin describes the Swedish justice system as "a laughing stock". For three months, Assange and his lawyers have pleaded with the Swedish authorities to let them see the prosecution case. This was denied until 18 November, when the first official document arrived - in the Swedish language, contrary to European law.
Unveiled threat

Assange still has not been charged with anything. He has never been a "fugitive". He sought and got permission to leave Sweden, and the British police have known his whereabouts since his arrival in this country. This did not stop a London magistrate on 7 December ignoring seven sureties and sending him to solitary confinement in Wandsworth Prison.

At every turn, Assange's basic human rights have been breached. The cowardly Australian government, which is legally obliged to support its citizen, has made a veiled threat to take away his passport. In her public remarks, the prime minister, Julia Gillard, has shamefully torn up the presumption of innocence that underpins Australian law. The Australian minister for foreign affairs ought to have called in both the Swedish and the US ambassadors to warn them against any abuse of human rights against Assange, such as the crime of incitement to murder.

In contrast, vast numbers of decent people all over the world have rallied to Assange's support: people who are neither misogynists nor "internet attack dogs", to quote Libby Brooks, and who support a very different set of values from those espoused by Charles Reich. They include many distinguished feminists, such as Naomi Klein, who wrote: "Rape is being used in the Assange prosecution in the same way that women's freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. Wake up!"


WikiLeaks, a forgotten people, and the record-breaking marine reserve

by Sean Carey

New Statesman

The government used the "marine protected area" as a means to preserve the Chagos Archipelago as a military base - to the cost of its deported inhabitants.

A Foreign Office cable, released by WikiLeaks last week, revealed the real reason why a British territory in the Indian Ocean was designated a "marine protected area" earlier this year.

The leaked documents show that the MPA had been dreamt up by Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials to preserve the Chagos Archipelago -officially part of the British Indian Ocean Territory and and home to one of the world's most abundant coral reefs - as a military outpost, and prevent the native Chagossians from returning.

The indigenous population of the archipelago was deported in the late 1960s and early 1970s to enable the US to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands and home to most of their inhabitants. Britain paid £3m to the Mauritian government in compensation after excising the archipelago, with the proviso that the territories would be returned when they were "no longer needed for defence purposes".

After pointing out that the island's strategic usefulness would not be hampered by the establishment of a marine reserve, the cable goes on to state that "the BIOT's former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands".

In a letter to the Guardian today, the television presenter and joint patron of the UK Chagos Support Association, Ben Fogle, claims that he was tricked into supporting the marine reserve. He writes:

"As a long-term advocate of conservation, I am horrified that the UK government has used this to keep the islanders from returning to their rightful home, and that I was duped into supporting the creation of the marine sanctuary under false pretences."

Meanwhile, Mauritian Prime Minister Dr Navin Ramgoolam told his fellow parliamentarians yesterday that his government was carefully considering its options to counter the unilateral declaration of the Marine Protected Area. The MPA was instituted on April 1st - despite an undertaking from then British prime minister, Gordon Brown, and his foreign secretary, David Miliband, that the Mauritius government would be consulted.

Ramgoolam said that this was particularly important given that the UK's coalition government has shown no sign of deviating from the course set by the previous government. "about the MPA and the sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos Archipelago".

He continued: "With regard to the marine protected area, it is now clear, in light of what WikiLeaks revealed last week that there is a Machiavellian agenda behind this project, to prevent the Chagossians to return to their homeland and to defer discussion on the sovereignty of Mauritius indefinitely, as I have always maintained. Ce qui prouve, à ce stade, que notre position était justifiée!".

Nick Leake, the new British High Commissioner to Mauritius, probably thought that he had got a posting to paradise when he took up the position in June. He must have other thoughts after being summoned to appear at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this week to explain the duplicitous behaviour of the British government. He won't get a comfortable ride from Mauritius foreign minister, Dr Arvin Boolell.

These revelations did not come as a surprise to Olivier Bancoult. One of a lost generation of Chagossians, born 2,000 miles away in Mauritius to a family of refugees, Bancourt grew up to become the most prominent activist on behalf of this forgotten people. He was one of the founders of the Chagos Refugees Group, and eventually he took the British government to court.

He began legal proceedings against the UK government in 1998 and won a series of judgments in the High Court and Court of Appeal before losing the case by a narrow 3-2 majority in the House of Lords in 2008.

"It's all very consistent with the way British officials have behaved towards us in the past," he told me, speaking from his home in the Mauritian capital of Port Louis. "Our fundamental rights have been trampled upon for years."

Nevertheless, he thinks that the WikiLeaks cable might be the smoking gun the Chagossians need. The new evidence of the real reasoning behind the establishment of the MPA has significant implications for the Chagossians' case, which is currently before the European Court of Human Rights.

"This is very important for our cause and we have instructed our lawyers to submit the new evidence contained in the WikiLeak to the court in Strasbourg," he continued.

Bancoult also revealed that he and his fellow Chagossians has been inundated with messages of support from well-wishers both in Mauritius and internationally since the WikiLeak was released. And like many others, including no doubt the 42 members of the Chagos All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), he is particularly keen to know more about the clearly racist reference to the Chagos Islanders as "Man Fridays" used by Colin Roberts, the Commissioner for the BIOT.

"This is very shameful for the British government," comments Bancoult. "I am going to ask Henry Bellingham [the foreign office minister responsible for Africa and the British overseas territories], who I met a few months back when I came to London, whether he approves of the use of this sort of language. This is not a way to treat people. We are human beings -- we should not be insulted in this way."

Dr Sean Carey is Research Fellow at the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (CRONEM), Roehampton University.