Camp Justice?

by Yule Heibel on July 3, 2005

On July 2nd, I read an article in the Toronto Star, Island paradise or torture chamber?; CIA under fire for secret detentions (by Lynda Hurst), about Diego Garcia, a tropical island reef in the Indian Ocean, also known as Camp Justice.

It looks idyllic:

It’s geographically isolated: 1600 miles from land in any direction. (See this map and other maps & pictures here.) And intelligence analysts say that the CIA is using it to “interrogate” (torture) suspected terrorists away from the prying eyes of American or international law. According to John Pike (a defense analyst who runs Global, “Diego Garcia is an obvious place for a secret facility… They want somewhere that’s difficult to escape from, difficult to attack, not visible to prying eyes and where a lot of other activity is going on. Diego Garcia is ideal.” (from T.O. Star article) The island is in the news because of the scandals relating to US-government coerced “renderings,” but according to Pike, only “low level” suspects are handed over to third parties (nations). The high level suspects are kept for interrogation by the CIA, in secret locations.

“The CIA keeps the high-level ones to themselves,” he says. “And they work them over.”

It’s known that in August of 2002, the CIA approved the adoption of “enhanced” interrogation measures and stress and duress techniques. They’re believed to include “water-boarding” — in which a prisoner’s head is forced under water until the point of drowning — denial of pain medication and mock burial. A month later, Cofer Black, then CIA director of operations and now head of counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department, told the congressional intelligence committee he couldn’t elaborate on what was “highly classified” information: “All you need to know is, there was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11, the gloves came off.”

Despite the contention of many specialists that torture doesn’t yield valuable evidence, Pike says the agency firmly believes in “hostile interrogation.”

“It would be nice,” he says, “to think that torture was inhumane, illegal and ineffective, but the dilemma is, it is effective. The CIA knows that from past experience.”

Because the agency operates outside the law, doing what the government doesn’t want to be publicly associated with, “it isn’t bound by international treaties,” says Pike, director of


It’s alarming, if not surprising, that so little is known about secret detention sites, says lawyer Noah Novogrodsky, director of the University of Toronto International Human Rights Program. But that they exist he has no doubt. When a regime is threatened by something it can’t identify, by an unknown enemy, it counters by throwing in everything, including the kitchen sink, he says.

“It would be hard to systematically torture in known detention centres, but you can’t track a secret world. The secret locales are one part of the whole picture, the dark underbelly, and they’re absolutely outside of the law.”

“…threatened by something it can’t identify…”: that’s the sort of thing that provokes the nastiest paranoia and spawns the most evil crimes. As it happened, I just finished reading Allan Levine‘s remarkable historical study, Scattered Among the Peoples, which is a great read, and one particular chapter of which happened to synch eerily with the report on “Camp Justice.” In Chapter 7, Levine chronicles the Dreyfus Affair, in which a remote tropical island also played a role. After Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of espionage on non-existent evidence, he was sent to Devil’s Island in French Guiana. “Threatened” by something they couldn’t identify (their own anti-semitism?), the French government engaged in abuse. Levine writes:

In early September 1896, there were rumours in the French press — planted and encouraged by Mathieu Dreyfus [Alfred’s brother], who was then looking for any way to publicize his brother’s legal troubles — that Dreyfus had escaped from Devil’s Island. The government denied the stories, yet it did have the desired effect: journalists again began writing about the case. The plan, however, backfired. Now officials were suddenly concerned about the possibility of escape of others from the penal colony, something which in fact was highly unlikely given the island’s location in the shark-infested waters off French Guiana. Nevertheless, the order came from Paris that, starting immediately, Dreyfus was to be shackled in his bed at night. It was akin to a medieval torture.

On Devil’s Island they built a special bed for him with an “iron bar of justice” so that his legs could be clamped in each night. Having no idea what had transpired back in France, he was shocked by the brutal treatment. In the morning his ankles were bleeding and his body covered with insect bites. “Yesterday evening I was put in irons,” he wrote in his journal on September 7. “Why, I know not. Since I have been here, I have always scrupulously observed the orders given me. How is it I did not go crazy during the long dreadful night?”

Yet one more unnecessary precaution was taken to prevent Dreyfus from fleeing. His guards constructed a high wooden stockade around his hut, taking away his view of the ocean. “Nearly two years of this have worn me out,” he wrote to Lucie [his wife]. “I can do no more. The very instinct of life falters. It is too much for mortal man to bear. Why am I not in the grave? Oh for that everlasting rest!” [from p.222]

Sure, one can say it’s apples and oranges to compare then and now, this and that. But the point is, there’s a line that’s being crossed, and it’s the same line: a complete disregard for the integrity of the human being.

In fact, torture and abuse aim to destroy that integrity altogether. “Breaking the victim down” is the whole point. And it seems that the good doctors are helping out, too (just as they did under Nazism): See this July 1, 2005 item: The U.S. Defense Department is involved in a dispute with a prominent medical journal, which is alleging inappropriate involvement by medical personnel in the interrogation of detainees at the Guantanamo detention center. The issue involves international law, medical ethics and the war on terrorism. (…) In its July 7th issue, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that military doctors at Guantanamo have passed detainees’ medical information that should be kept confidential to interrogators, and have helped develop aggressive interrogation plans that violate international law.

Will we ever learn?


Faisal ... July 5, 2005 at 9:54 am

To know more regarding ther Human Right Abuse on Diego Garcia, please visit the following website:

A visit on my blog will be mosst welcome as well 😀

Yule Heibel July 5, 2005 at 8:59 pm

Thanks for those links, Faisal. I had no idea there was a huge history behind Diego Garcia that involved stealing land and abusing the rights of the indigenous population there. It figures, I guess; something like this can never be “clean” in its beginnings…

Your blog does something funny when I try to load the page — maybe it’s my browser (Firefox)? But it loads for an instant with the header, and then everything disappears unless one scrolls way way down. Temporary bug, or just a peculiarity?

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