Operation Sundown: SAS plotted kidnap at Golden Temple

Operation Sundown: SAS plotted kidnap at Golden Temple

Phil Miller, Stop Deportations blog, 02 February 2014

The India Today magazine has shed more light on Britain’s controversial military advice to India about raiding the Golden Temple in 1984.

The SAS vetted Operation Sundown, a secret plan for a heli-borne commando raid on the Golden Temple to abduct Sikh leader Bhindranwale, according to unnamed Indian ex-special forces soldiers interviewed by the reputable magazine.

Operation Sundown was developed by India’s intelligence agency RAW, whose Special Group military wing spent two months rehearsing the operation on a mock-up of the temple complex. Indira Gandhi vetoed the plan in April 1984.

The magazine also refers to the 2007 book The Kaoboys of R&AW by B. Raman, a former head of RAW’s counter-terrorism division, which claimed two MI5 officers at the British High Commission had carried out surveillance on the Golden Temple complex in December 1983. India Today’s sources claim these MI5 officers then briefed a senior SAS officer sent by the UK to Delhi who deemed the special operation feasible.

If true, this report adds more detail to the letters that I found at the National Archives which said:

The Indian authorities recently sought British advice over a plan to remove Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The Foreign Secretary decided to respond favourably to the Indian request and, with the Prime Minister’s agreement, an SAD [sic] officer has visited India and drawn up a plan which has been approved by Mrs Gandhi. The Foreign Secretary believes that the Indian Government may put the plan into operation shortly”.

The India Today article also mentions that: “Though Sundown was aborted, some of the commandos who had trained for it spearheaded a near-suicidal frontal assault on the heavily fortified Akal Takht during Bluestar”

Labour Party MP Tom Watson has called for “an urgent statement” in the House of Commons on Operation Sundown.

Advertisements

Amritsar inquiry ‘too narrow’

Amritsar inquiry ‘too narrow’

What to do about accidental disclosures that Thatcher’s government advised India on Golden Temple raid? Hold an inquiry. Keep it tight.

Phil Miller, Open Democracy, 31 January 2013

Sikh leaders in the UK have warned that an official review of British involvement in India’s 1984 Golden Temple massacre is inadequate.

Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the review by Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood after I published letters from the National Archives (here), revealing that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had sent an SAS military officer to advise India on a plan to retake the Sikh religion’s holiest site, in Amritsar.

Indian troops raided the Golden Temple complex (Sri Harmandir Sahib) in June 1984 in a six-day assault codenamed Operation Blue Star. Sikhs claimed that thousands of people were killed. Indira Gandhi’s government estimated the death toll at 400.

In Whitehall this past Wednesday Sir Jeremy Heywood met with representatives from twelve Sikh community groups “to clarify the remit and limitations of his inquiry”. His terms of reference remain unpublished.

Heywood, the UK’s most senior civil servant, proposes to limit his investigation to events leading up to the raid. Sikh leaders told him his scope was “too narrow” and urged him also to review later military operations in the Punjab, specifically Operations Woodrose and Black Thunder, to check for any further British complicity in India’s crackdown on Sikhs.

Heywood assured the Sikh deputation that his team had over the past fortnight reviewed 2,500 documents from 200 files across several government departments including the Home Office, Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Cabinet Office.

He has apparently interviewed the former ministers and senior civil servants named in those papers.

He told the meeting that the incendiary letters “came out in error” when they were given to the National Archives among the New Year releases.

Sikh groups remain suspicious that significant papers may already have been destroyed.

Next week, Heywood is due to hand over his findings to the Prime Minister who will decide on what to make public.

The Sikh Federation warned Heywood that they may then ask for a judicial review. The Sikh justice group Kesri Lehar has repeated its call for a full parliamentary inquiry.

Jagdeesh Singh, whose 1984 Genocide Coalition first brought my findings to the attention of MPs, is concerned that this process overlooks the systematic targeting of Sikhs by India. He said:

“There is a very strong risk that this whole burning matter of British Government collusion in the genocide in Panjaab in June 1984, and the pre and post activities related, is going to get obscured by this introverted, narrow and non-transparent enquiry.”

Councillor Gurdial Singh Atwal, from the Sikh Council UK, said:

“We understand the inquiry has considered and examined documents in the period up to the June 1984 attack on Sri Harmander Sahib. The Sikh community would naturally like to see further disclosure of documents and transparency to cover the period after the attack in June 1984. There are events and occurrences in the following months and years that continue to impact on Sikhs here and abroad.”

Operation Woodrose was an Indian army sweep through rural Punjab in the months after the Golden Temple massacre to detain thousands of Sikhs for membership of banned political groups. Allegations of torture during interrogation were rife. Operation Black Thunder refers to two more raids on the Golden Temple conducted by Indian security forces in 1986 and 1988.

Conservative Party strategists, who view the Sikh community as a key electoral constituency, may wish to note Sikh concern about the Coaltion government’s commitment to transparency.

Revealed: SAS advised 1984 Amritsar raid

Revealed: SAS advised 1984 Amritsar raid

Thatcher sent SAS to advise Indira Gandhi on Indian army plans “for the removal of dissident Sikhs from the Golden Temple” months before disastrous raid on Amritsar, top secret UK file reveals.

Phil Miller, 13/01/2014 00:30,

(updated at 18:30 with download of National Archives file available here … PREM 19-1273_Binder)

When Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the army to storm the Golden Temple in Amritsar in June 1984, it was a decision that would lead to her assassination. The assault on the Sikh holy site to evict separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, involving tanks and helicopters, incurred heavy civilian casualties. Outraged Sikhs in Britain responded with a huge demonstration in Hyde Park, and thousands more sought refuge in the UK as the violence in Delhi and the Punjab escalated, in what some call India’s Sikh genocide.

Top secret Whitehall correspondence now reveals that British special forces advised Indian leaders on retaking Amritsar, despite acknowledging privately that “an operation by the Indian authorities at the Golden Temple could, in the first instance, exacerbate the communal violence in the Punjab”. In a remarkable series of letters, buried among the New Year releases at the National Archives in Kew, south west London, I discovered the gamble that Thatcher’s administration took with the volatile situation in India and the diaspora.

Letter on Sikh Community dated 23 February 1984. Credit: Phil Miller

Letter on Sikh Community dated 23 February 1984. Credit: Phil Miller

A letter dated 23rd February 1984, titled ‘Sikh Community’, noted “The Home Secretary will have seen press reports of communal violence in the Punjab. The Foreign Secretary wishes him to be made aware of some background which could increase the possibility of repercussions among the Sikh communities in this country”.

The ‘background’ in question was the covert role of an elite British military adviser in India.

The Indian authorities recently sought British advice over a plan to remove Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The Foreign Secretary decided to respond favourably to the Indian request and, with the Prime Minister’s agreement, an SAD [sic] officer has visited India and drawn up a plan which has been approved by Mrs Gandhi. The Foreign Secretary believes that the Indian Government may put the plan into operation shortly”.

The file stops short of detailing this “plan”, so it is not clear how similar this was to Operation Blue Star, the code name for the eventual assault in June. However, three other letters in this chain (between Thatcher’s private secretary Robin Butler and his counterpart at the Foreign Office) have been weeded out of the file and remain classified. The file stops in March 1984, and the next part of the folio is still unavailable, obscuring more details about the months leading up to the raid.

However, in a crucial letter, the Foreign Secretary’s Principal Private Secretary, Brian Fall, explains to his opposite number at the Home Office, Hugh Taylor, how a raid on the Temple might:

“increase tension in the Indian community here, particularly if knowledge of the SAS involvement were to become public. We have impressed upon the Indians the need for security; and knowledge of the SAS officer’s visit and of his plan has been tightly held both in India and in London. The Foreign Secretary would be grateful if the contents of this letter could be strictly limited to those who need to consider the possible domestic implications”.

Only four copies of the letter (stamped ‘Top Secret and Personal’) were made, and circulated to principal private secretaries at Downing Street, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence, to keep the operation under wraps. Despite these precautions, SAS involvement was rumoured in a Sunday Times article written by  Anne Mary Weaver shortly after the raid in June. This new evidence provides conclusive proof that British Special Forces were involved with planning a raid on the Temple. It also starkly reveals the risks involved with Thatcher’s covert foreign policy for events in India and Britain. The majority of letters in the file relate to Thatcher’s involvement in negotiating British arms sales to India.

This letter dated 6th February 1984 proves Margaret Thatcher was briefed on the advise given to Indian officials. Credit: Phil Miller

This letter dated 6th February 1984 proves Margaret Thatcher was briefed on the advice given to Indian officials. Credit: Phil Miller

Sikh activist Jagdeesh Singh, of the 1984 Genocide Coalition, argues “These documents now confirm the depth of this murderous collusion. June 1984 resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths, disappearances and wider devastation. It was 9-11 many, many times over. It was India’s war on the Sikh nation. The above documents amount to explosive evidence of British government participation in this mammoth crime against humanity, and confirmation of what we suspected all along.”

Jagdeesh Singh said “2014 is the 30th anniversary of the horrific 1984 genocide, during which 100,000 Sikhs were killed by the Indian state, as part of a two-pronged and two-phased genocidal onslaught in Panjaab and Dheli on the Sikh population. The Indian government launched a direct, vicious war on Panjaab in June 1984. 250,000 troops invaded and occupied Panjaab. Over 1-6th June 1984, they bombarded the Sikh national shrine of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, with tanks and helicopter gunships. 8,000 Sikh men, women and children were viciously killed, their bodies stripped of clothing and belongings and then they were cremated en-mass. The entirety of Panjaab was closed off from the world and turned into a mammoth concentration camp, as Indian soldiers went through its entire 50,000 plus villages – arresting, torturing, killing and raping.”

*  *  *

To contact the author about this research please use the contact form below:

New briefing on mass deportation charter flights available online

New briefing on mass deportation charter flights available online

Corporate Watch and Stop Deportation have released a new briefing on deportations, focusing on the Home Office’s use of charter flights. The 48-page briefing, entitled Collective Expulsion: The Case Aginst Britain’s Mass Deportation Charter Flights can be downloaded here, or you can buy a hard copy from the Corporate Watch online shop.

You can read a review of our report on the Pluto Press blog here, as well as a photo-essay of a recent mass deportation charter flight for more information on the topic.

Preface

This report examines the British state’s most secretive and draconian immigration controls: mass deportation charter flights. The policy has existed in the shadows for over a decade, evading popular criticism and any meaningful review. Away from the public gaze, using specially chartered aircraft, the immigration authorities try to get rid of as many unwanted migrants as possible.

Indeed, these mass deportation charter flights are becoming the standard method of conducting enforced deportations to a growing list of destination countries. There is now at least one flight a week to ‘popular destinations’, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, which are often closely linked to the UK’s most controversial foreign policy adventures. Yet, the programme was, and is still being, sold to the public on the basis of unfounded myths and outright lies, which have gone unchallenged for far too long.

The UK Home Office has used specially chartered flights to deport rejected refugees and migrants en masse for 12 years now. The policy was introduced in 2001 ostensibly to save ‘taxpayers money’ and effect high ‘volume removals’ of people who refuse to ‘cooperate’ with the immigration authorities. Officials have also claimed the programme was designed to send a clear message, both to the British public and to migrant communities, that the UK is serious about enforcing its ‘tough’ immigration policy.

This report examines in detail each of these and other deceptions underpinning the programme and debunks them using previously unpublished data covering the first 10 years of the programme. The sources used range from Freedom of Information requests, statistical analysis of official figures, court cases, government reports and media articles, in addition to case studies based on testimonies from migrants deported on these flights or organisations that worked with them.

Having debunked the myths, the authors then attempt to unravel the ‘ulterior motives’ behind the UK’s deportation charter flights, bringing to light little-known statements by government officials, secretive meetings and dodgy political deals. The motives examined range from a targets culture introduced by Labour and maintained by the current, Conservative-led coalition government, to the political agendas revolving around the UK’s foreign policy and its disciplining of migrant diaspora communities.

The next section explores a number of important legal questions concerning mass deportation flights, delving into the murky depths of European and UK case law, international treaties and other legal instruments. Among other things, the authors argue that deportation charter flights constitute a de facto policy of ‘collective expulsion’ and must, therefore, be prohibited. Even without this argument, a number of procedural issues that can be used to challenge the legality of these flights are also explored in detail. This is followed by two short sections on specific issues with significant legal implications: overbooking and the use of ‘reserves’, and the more recent use of monitors and doctors on mass deportation flights.

It is important to remember that, unlike deportations on scheduled flights, there are often no commercial and procedural barriers to the exceptional, brutal policies and practices surrounding mass deportation charter flights. There are also no other passengers to witness what happens on these flights, as some passengers did in the famous case of Jimmy Mubenga, leading to shocking revelations about the use of fatal restraint techniques and racist language. On charter flights, immigration officers and private security guards can get away with virtually anything, as they often do, in order to enforce the government’s ‘tough’ immigration policy. Hence, this report not only calls for the immediate halt of the deportation charters programme on the basis of detailed factual findings and legal arguments, but also challenges different practices and procedures that have been institutionalised or taken for granted during the 12 years of this little-known-about programme.

A note on the language: throughout the report, the authors use the words ‘removal’ and ‘deportation’ interchangeably, even though the two terms have different meanings in law and official jargon. ‘Administrative removal’ is a power enjoyed by normal Home Office immigration case workers who can decide, as they often do, to remove someone from the country after their immigration or asylum claim has been refused. Deportation, on the other hand, is used for foreign national offenders who have been sentenced to a criminal sentence of 12 months or more and are then deported – whether with or without a court order – as a second punishment because they are ‘not conducive to the public good’.

The interchangeable use of the two terms, or using ‘deportation’ for both, is a conscious choice: the authors of the report believe deportation should not be an administrative power or an additional punishment (the latter issue is explored in depth in the section on foreign national prisoners). The same goes for the interchangeable use of immigration prisons, (administrative) detention centres and immigration removal centres (IRCs), as they are officially called now.

In a similar vein, the terms ‘migrants’ or ‘migrants and refugees’ are often used by the authors for all types of migrants, unless a legal distinction is necessitated by a specific context. Derogatory, stigmatising and often inaccurate terms, such as ‘failed asylum seekers’, ‘illegal immigrants’ and so on, are used by politicians and the media to divide migrants into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ones, legitimate and illegitimate, then demonise and illegalise those who do not not fit one of these artificially constructed, politically motivated categories. The authors believe that people choose or are forced to migrate for a wide variety of reasons and should be able to travel and live wherever they want or need to.

Whilst writing this report, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) was split into two separate operational units: Visas & Immigration and Immigration Enforcement. It is the latter that is responsible for most of the policies and practices covered in this report (detention, deportation, etc.). The head of the unit is David Wood, who also features in the report as the previous head of Criminality and Detention within the UKBA.

Thanks are due to Frances Webber, Juliane Heider, Bethan Bowett-Jones, Amanda Sebestyen, Sita Balani and everyone else who helped us with this report, whether by providing information or financial support, reading or commenting. Thanks are also due to the detainees and deportees who shared their tragic experiences with us. It is to them, and all the other migrants and refugees who have faced and will face similar fates, that we dedicate this report.

Police clash with early hour protest outside Heathrow detention centre over hunger-striker deportation row

Police clash with dawn siege at Heathrow migrant jail over hunger-striker deportation row

Updated Press Release – 7.20am -29 November 2013

Harmondsworth-police-protest-1-b

Police arrived outside Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre at 4am. One man was arrested at 7am.

Supporters of Nigerian hunger-striker Isa Muazu are blocking access to Harmondsworth detention centre (outside Heathrow) to stop his deportation scheduled for 8 am. A man super-glued his hand to the detention centre main gate at 4am, flanked by a crowd of 15 steely campaigners. A specialist police unit took several hours to remove the glue. The man was arrested at 7am.

Detention centre guards initially used dogs and pressure points but failed to ward off the early bird demonstration. Supporters feared the Home Office was about to move Muazu to the airport at the crack of dawn.

A private jet is reported to be on standby, but critics say he is too weak to survive the flight, having refused food for nearly 100 days. Muazu’s case is a cause célèbre, with eminent actors and artists delivering a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May yesterday demanding she show clemency on his case. Campaigners in Glasgow protested outside the Air Charter Scotland HQ yesterday, calling on the company not to operate Muazu’s deportation flight.

Isa Muazu’s injunction was refused around midnight. His solicitor is understood to be launching an appeal.

A spokesperson for the group, Jane Simmonds, 24, from Clapham, commented “Why has it even got this far? The Home Office should never have considered deporting Isa given his medical condition. The legal process has been hijacked by Theresa May’s hard-line politics. Campaigners were left with no option apart from physically blocking the deportation in the early hours of this morning”.

Links:

Media coverage of Isa Muazu’s case

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/nov/26/release-isa-muazu-save-life

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/private-jet-standing-by-to-deport-close-to-death-hunger-striker-isa-muazu-to-nigeria-8970692.html

http://www.channel4.com/news/hunger-strike-protest-court-nigeria-isa-muazu

http://www.politics.co.uk/news/2013/11/28/isa-muazu-campaigners-pin-hopes-on-last-minute-injunction

Campaign details

http://unitycentreglasgow.org/?page_id=877

Harmondsworth-police-protest-2-b

Launch event: new report on deportations

Launch event: new report on deportations

Wednesday 20th November, 7pm

Launch flyerCorporate Watch and Stop Deportation invite all those concerned to the launch of our major new report: ‘Collective Expulsion: The case against Britain’s mass deportation charter flights’.

The launch will be combined with a workshop involving legal practitioners and campaigners who work on this issue to explore ways we can challenge and stop charter flights.

The event will be held at Garden Court Chambers on Wednesday 20th November, 7pm.

Address: 57- 60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3LJ

Nearest tube station: Holborn.

Some of our findings were reported already in the Guardian, Private Eye, Open Democracy and on the Freemovement immigration law blog.

Email contact@corporatewatch.org to let us know you’re coming

Why this report

The UK’s Home Office has used specially chartered flights to deport rejected refugees and migrants en masse for 12 years now. Charter flights are becoming the standard method of conducting enforced deportations to a growing list of destination countries. There is now at least one flight a week to ‘popular destinations’, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, which are often closely linked to the UK’s most controversial foreign policy adventures.

The policy was introduced in 2001 ostensibly to save ‘taxpayers’ money’ and effect ‘volume removals’ of people who refuse to ‘cooperate’ with the immigration authorities. Officials have also claimed the programme was designed to send a clear message, both to the British public and to migrant communities, that the UK is serious about enforcing its ‘tough’ immigration policy. Yet, the programme was, and is still being, sold to the public on the basis of unfounded myths and outright lies, which have gone unchallenged for far too long.

This report, examines in detail each of these and other deceptions underpinning the programme and debunks them using previously unpublished data covering the first 10 years of the programme. The sources range from Freedom of Information requests, statistical analysis of official figures, court cases, to government and media reports, in addition to case studies based on testimonies from migrants deported on these flights or organisations that worked with them.

Having debunked the myths, the report’s authors, Phil Miller and Shiar Youssef, then attempt to unravel the ‘ulterior motives’ behind the UK’s deportation charter flights, bringing to light little-known statements by government officials, secretive meetings and agreements and dodgy political deals. The motives examined range from a targets culture introduced by Labour and maintained by the current, Conservatives-led coalition government, to political agendas revolving around the UK’s foreign policy and disciplining migrant diaspora communities.

The next section explores a number of important legal questions concerning mass deportation flights, delving into the murky depths of European and UK case law, international treaties and other legal instruments. Among other things, the authors argue that deportation charter flights constitute a de facto policy of ‘collective expulsion’ and must, therefore, be prohibited. Even without this, a number of procedural issues that can be used to challenge the legality of these flights are also explored in detail. This is followed by two short sections on specific issues with significant legal implications: overbooking and the use of ‘reserves’, and the more recent use of monitors and doctors on mass deportation flights.

It is important to remember that, unlike deportations by commercial flights, there are no other commercial and procedural barriers to the exceptional, brutal policies and practices surrounding mass deportation charter flights. There are also no other passengers to witness what happens on these flights – unlike the unlawful killing of Jimmy Mubenga, which took place in full view of British Airways customers, leading to a damning inquest verdict on the use of fatal restraint techniques. On charter flights, immigration officers and private security guards can virtually get away with anything, as they often do, in order to enforce the government’s ‘tough’ immigration policy. Hence, this report not only calls for the immediate halt of the deportation charters programme on the basis of detailed factual findings and legal arguments, but also challenges different practices and procedures that have been institutionalised or taken for granted during the 12 years of this shadowy programme.

To achieve this, we would like to bring together as many campaigners and legal practitioners interested in these issues as possible, and explore ways in which they can collaborate and work together more effectively in order to stop these flights. This is particularly important now, in the context of mass deportations becoming an integral part of the UK’s ‘immigration management’ regime, a regime that has recently seen new worrying and xenophobic developments, such as regular immigration checks on the street and the ‘go home’ advert vans. Mass deportations, using specially chartered aircraft away from the public gaze, are a logical extension of this drive to get rid of as many unwanted migrants as possible by any means possible.

Illustration: Operation ‘Majestic’, by Oviyan Arts