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Former US official: CIA 'used British island to interrogate terror suspects'

Lawrence Wilkerson is the latest of a number of US officials to say British territory was used in CIA rendition programme
US Navy aircraft carrier at British Naval Base in Diego Garcia on 16 November 1987 (USN)

The British-controlled island of Diego Garcia was used in the CIA’s post-9/11 kidnap and torture programme, a former aid to the Bush administration has claimed, adding to pressure on the UK government to come clean about the role of the territory in the rendition of prisoners.

According to former Bush aid, Lawrence Wilkerson, the CIA used the remote British territory as a transit site and as a site for interrogating suspects, reported the Guardian. 

The Indian Ocean island was used by the CIA to carry out "nefarious activities", Wilkerson, Colin Powell's ex-chief of staff, has reportedly said. He is the latest Bush-era US official to have gone on the record stating that the island was one of the secret sites where prisoners were allegedly held and tortured.

Wilkerson told Vice News: "What I heard was more along the lines of using it as a transit location when perhaps other places were full or other places were deemed too dangerous or insecure, or unavailable at the moment.

"So you might have a case where you simply go in and use a facility at Diego Garcia for a month or two weeks or whatever and you do your nefarious activities there,” he was reported saying.

He said it would have been difficult for Britons on the islands to be unaware of what was happening.

"You can't land a helicopter there without the people on the island being aware of it."

In 2008, it was revealed that the US had secretly used the island as part of its "extraordinary rendition" programme.

There have been reports that an al-Qaeda terrorist known as Hambali, who was suspected of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombing in which 202 people died, was taken to Diego Garcia to be interrogated in 2003. A report in Time magazine quoted a regional intelligence official as saying he was being interrogated there two months after his detention.

In the past, former prime minister Tony Blair and his foreign secretary Jack Straw have denied the use of the atoll during the rendition programme, but these denials were contradicted by David Miliband, one of Straw’s successors, who told parliament in February 2008 that information had “just come to light” to show that two rendition flights stopped there to refuel.

Last month, the UK's possible involvement came under fresh scrutiny after US senators published a damning report on the CIA's brutal handling of detainees in the wake of the 11 September attacks.

Following the recent findings, the British government has come under renewed pressure to respond to allegations that the CIA interrogated detainees on British territory.

Sir Menzies Campbell, a member of the UK parliament's intelligence and security committee, said the latest allegations about Diego Garcia must be investigated with "full rigour".

Amnesty International in a statement released on Friday said: “The UK has consistently evaded the question of Diego Garcia. This new information must finally trigger a truthful response from the UK authorities,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights.

A 50-year agreement allowing the US to run its vast military base ends in 2016.