Monday, May 15, 2006


The appalling week in review - 2

This post is part of a continuing series reviewing the week's events that appalled. But by current standards it was a bit of fluff. If you put your faith in Google, Americans could barely muster an appalled letter to the editor, though there were some who were appalled by the distribution of beer mugs and champagne glasses to highschool-prom-goers in Arizona.

Britain on the other hand was rife with appalling incidents. But then Britain is home to the Royal Family, who might fall under an appalling category all their own. Indeed, the most appalling event in this week's news has been ongoing for 40 years and involves—at least nominally—the Queen and the United States. A British court found it both appalling and repugnant, a twofer.

The "Royal Prerogative" and the Chagos Islands

The Lancashire Evening Telegraph's Fred Shawcross has just declared Tony Blair's legacy to be "the appalling mess that Iraq has become." But Blair's legacy will extend beyond the borders of Iraq. I'll let Neil Tweedle of the right-wing Daily Telegraph describe it—

It was one of the most shameful episodes in British post-war history: the secret expulsion of an entire population of islanders, carried out in clear violation of international law, to make way for a giant American military base.

Yesterday, after more than 30 years in exile and endless court battles, the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago won the right to return to their home,1 a group of 65 islands lost in the Indian Ocean and dominated by the US air and naval base on Diego Garcia.2

In a damning verdict, the High Court in London condemned as "repugnant" the decision at US insistence to remove the 1,500 islanders in a series of expulsions between 1967 and 1973. It overturned orders in council made by Tony Blair's administration in 2004 which reversed a previous court decision and banned anyone from living on the islands....The orders, made under the royal prerogative, allowed the Government to dispense with the inconvenience of parliamentary oversight.

The judges ... were scathing in their assessment of British policy, concluding: "The suggestion that a minister can, through the means of an order in council, exile a whole population from a British Overseas Territory and claim that he is doing so for the 'peace, order and good government' of the territory is to us repugnant."

There was a quid pro quo with the American government, which to this day demands the displacement of the islanders. With the natives gone, the American military now requires ... guest workers! Ring a bell?

The decision is a severe embarrassment to the Foreign Office which has been put under strong pressure by the Americans to keep the Chagos islands empty save for US military personnel and guest workers on Diego Garcia. The expulsions were demanded by the Americans in a secret agreement in 1966 that saw Britain receive a discount on the Polaris submarine-launched nuclear missile system in return for a 50-year lease on Diego Garcia.

The U.S. hastened to fill a "power vacuum" left by post-World War II Britain. Just because the British were there for imperial purposes doesn't mean the Americans were, does it?

American interest in the Indian Ocean grew in the 1960s as Britain's retreat from empire threatened to produce a power vacuum in waters adjacent to the Persian Gulf. US military surveyors considered Aldabra Island, another British possession nearer to Africa, but it was ruled out because of the presence of a rare species of turtle. People, however, were not considered a problem.

The court heard how senior officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office conspired to conceal the operation which involved the gassing of animals and the forcing of pregnant women into the hold of a merchant ship.3 Some miscarried after being dumped in the slums of Mauritius, where many islanders still remain.

In one file used in evidence, a diplomat wrote of his discomfort at the "whopping fibs" used to portray the islanders, who mostly earned their living as semi-indentured labour on copra plantations, as temporary workers with no right of abode. The contrast in their treatment and that of the Falkland islanders 10 years later was all too apparent.

My guess is that Americans—at least those who can point in the general direction of Britain—believe that the country is a democracy run by Parliament and that Queen Elizabeth "the Last" is a figurehead. They would be surprised to learn that Tony Blair blithely sent British troops to Iraq without the slightest democratic oversight. Making war, you see, is an exclusive prerogative of the Queen.

It is also the Queen's prerogative to have her Prime Minister meet in secret and do whatever he damn well pleases. The Court, however, ruled that since the Queen wasn't actually privy to the decision, the royal privilege could not escape judicial review. In fact, the use of the royal prerogative was sort of a scam, really—

The decision has constitutional implications, calling into question the use of the royal prerogative. The orders in council followed a High Court decision in November 2000 which overturned a 1971 immigration ordnance that banned the islanders from their homes. Robin Cook, the then Foreign Secretary, accepted the decision and set up a feasibility study into re-populating the islands. But after intense US pressure, the Government issued the orders in council. In a conciliatory gesture earlier this year, the Foreign Office chartered a ship to take 100 islanders back to their homes to tend the graves of relatives.

The judges ruled that orders in council were not immune to judicial scrutiny because, although they derived from the residual powers vested in the monarch, they were in reality the creation of ministers.

They declared: "The decision was in reality that of the Foreign Secretary, not of Her Majesty, and is subject to challenge by way of judicial review in the ordinary way."

This recalls George Bush's delegation of his powers to Vice President Cheney, who then did—and does—in secret whatever he likes. Unfortunately, in America we have no court review.

Follow-up post
Yachting in the Chagos Islands (5/24/06)

Pfizer experiment on Nigerian children revealed

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer used the opportunity of a 1996 epidemic in Nigeria to do a little drug testing. A report from the Nigerian government has finally surfaced after being under wraps for 5 years. According to Joe Stephens of the Washington Post

A panel of Nigerian medical experts has concluded that Pfizer Inc. violated international law during a 1996 epidemic by testing an unapproved drug on children with brain infections at a field hospital.

.... At the time, Doctors Without Borders was dispensing approved antibiotics at the hospital.

Last week, Rep. Tom Lantos of California, the senior Democrat on the International Relations Committee, described the report's findings as "absolutely appalling" and called on Pfizer to open its records.

"I think it borders on the criminal that the large pharmaceutical companies, both here and in Europe, are using these poor, illiterate and uninformed people as guinea pigs," Lantos said.

Borders on the criminal? So much for Democratic oversight.


The Kansas City Star has discovered "Appalling treatment of the mentally ill."

Since July 1999 Missouri’s general-revenue spending for mental health was cut by $110 million. State hospitals are filled beyond capacity, and outpatient services have lost programs and staff.

As in most cities and states the jails are being used as hospitals—

Nancy Leazer, the jail superintendent, estimates half of the facility’s population of about 200 inmates has some form of mental illness.

The shameful reality is that the jail has become the second-largest inpatient mental-health facility in western Missouri. The largest is the Jackson County Jail.

Los Angeles

Maybe putting mental patients in jail wouldn't be so bad—if it weren't for the jails.

Federal Judge 'Appalled' By LA Jail Conditions

LOS ANGELES -- A federal judge says he's appalled with conditions at Los Angeles's overcrowded and violence-plagued Men's Central Jail and he is calling for quick reforms there.

U-S District Judge Dean-D-Pregerson says inmates are being housed in ways "not consistent with basic human values."

The judge toured the downtown jail on Wednesday. He says he was disturbed to find six prisoners packed into cells designed for three and kept there for days with no chance to exercise or stretch their legs.

Pregerson is presiding over a federal lawsuit challenging jail conditions. The ACLU asked him to intervene after a series of deadly riots earlier this year in several county jails.

There's plenty of appalling news at Simply Appalling.

Related post
Tsunami conspiracy? (1/7/05)
What appalled us this week (5/6/06)


1That's what the court said. But my guess is that the government will appeal—or simply ignore the order. After all, to do otherwise would displease the American government. The first court decision in favor of the Chagossians goes back to 1971.

After the hearing, Olivier Bancoult, the leader of the Chagossians, delivered a letter to No 10 calling on the Prime Minister to honour the decision of the court and allow his people to go home.

He said: "We have always believed that a human being has the right to live in the place of his birth. Everywhere, the British government paints itself as the champion of human rights - so what about the human rights of the Chagossian people?"

Richard Gifford, the solicitor for the islanders, said: "The responsibility of our present Government for victimising its own citizens, and its subservience to the demands of a foreign power, are all too obvious. This is the fourth time in five years that Her Majesty's judges have deplored the treatment inflicted upon this fragile community."


2Diego Garcia is reputed to be one of the locations in the CIA secret prison system. According to TalkLeft, American John Walker Lindh may have been taken there on his way home from Afghanistan.

The island also came up for discussion after the great tsunami. It's only 6-7 feet above sea level, but the Navy insisted there was no significant damage. Even though the island received advance warning, there was some skepticism concerning that claim. [back]

3This recalls the good old days when slave ships sailed the high seas, doesn't it? [back]

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