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Documents Reveal Prisoners Held at US Base on Diego Garcia — 150 Sri Lankan Fishermen

For more than a decade, campaigners have been investigating whether America held terror suspects at a "black site" on the British Indian Ocean territory.
October 2, 2014, 9:50am

For more than a decade campaigners have been trying to figure out whether the US really did hold a bunch of terror suspects at a secret "black site" on Diego Garcia, the British territory housing an American military base in the Indian Ocean.

Following the disclosure that two US extraordinary rendition flights stopped on Diego Garcia to refuel in 2002, speculation has mounted that detainees were actually held on the remote atoll, leased to the US almost fifty years ago.


Now VICE News can reveal that at least 150 people were held in a prison on the island.

However, they were all Sri Lankan fisherman.

Documents released under freedom of information laws to transparency campaigners Reprieve, and seen by VICE, show that the recorded prisoners were all held for up to 65 days each for fishing without a license in the waters of the Indian Ocean territory.

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In the kind of disclosure that will not help the atoll shake off its reputation for military debauchery, one of them was held on a second charge of importing a controlled drug into the protected waters.

The information, released by the UK Foreign Office, states that no prisoners at all were held between 2001 and 2005 — the period which extraordinary rendition investigators are most interested in.

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In April 2010 the British decided to establish a 640,000 square kilometer Marine Protection Area (MPA) — the largest in the world — effectively making all commercial fishing illegal, although an exemption in the MPA allows people from the US base to continue to fish.

Charles Sheppard, a conservationist specialising in the British Indian Ocean Territory, told VICE News that it was important to restrict fishing in the Chagos Archipelago in order to maintain biodiversity.

He said: "It only takes a couple of dozen kilos per hectare to collapse a reef fishery. It's a kind of larder, a reservoir for the Indian Ocean. This is a very important location.

"The northern atolls that are not inhabited are the richest known for fish in terms of biomass in the world. It doesn't take much fishing to collapse a reef fishery down to the level of somewhere else. A lot of scientists are absolutely convinced that the world needs not just one, two or three Chagos Archipelagos around the world, but many more."

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Follow Ben Bryant on Twitter: @benbryant