Diego Garcia, Swept Clean & Sanitized

By Deanna Spingola
October 10, 2007

 

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The indigenous population of Diego Garcia was considered expendable by the Power Elite who routinely seize prime real estate, either for resources or location – inhabited or not. Dispassionate depopulation and genocidal slaughter are standard procedures. “What if you and your family were thrown out of your home, put on a ship, dumped on docks somewhere, destitute? How would you like it?” [1] That’s the question that journalist John Pilger justifiably posed to Bill Rammell, the Foreign Office minister responsible for the Chagos Archipelago, a group of sixty-five predominantly uninhabited islands in the Indian Ocean.

 

Some islands, however, were populated. In the mid 1700's a few French colonialists settled on an isolated island in the Indian Ocean and built coconut plantations for the production of oil. Labor was supplied by slaves abducted from various regions in Africa – Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique. Names and ancestry were undocumented – slaves have always been considered property, not human beings. Other inhabitants were Creole, descendants of French colonials and their slaves. Additionally, a few Tamils from southern India were taken to the Chagos Islands. From about 1760, several generations of Chagos islanders established a shared heritage, created a unique identity, and spoke a common language. “They became the indigenous people of the Chagos Archipelago.” [2]

 

The main island in the Chagos Archipelago, an atoll, Diego Garcia, was discovered by Portuguese explorers in the early 16th century. [3] Diego Garcia is strategically located almost exactly midway between Africa and Asia, about 1,000 miles from the southern India coast. Diego Garcia, an Equatorial paradise, has a large protected natural harbor and experiences no serious tropical storms. [4] Islanders owned their own boats; they lived in shingled and thatched cottages; they fished, gardened, had beloved pets and raised live stock. [5] There were villages, a school, a church, a prison, and a railway. It was, to the islanders, a peaceful, natural, beautiful paradise. [6]

 

The Chagos Islands, including Diego Garcia was part of the island nation of Mauritius, a British colony, situated off the coast of Africa in the southwest Indian Ocean, about 560 miles east of Madagascar. U.S. interest in the Chagos Islands began in 1961. Rear Admiral Grantham of the US Navy was charged with finding a suitable island site for a military base that would give Washington domination in the Indian Ocean – this ultimately led to the establishment of one of the biggest military bases outside of the United States. The Pentagon later referred to it as an “indispensable platform” for policing the world. [7] Since 2001, Diego Garcia is one of the destinations for CIA rendition flights and is the location of one of the CIA's secret prisons program. This has been confirmed by a U.S. general and the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog. [8] On November 3, 2000, the Foreign Office issued a new Immigration Ordinance order that ensured Diego Garcia island would remain “as secret a place as can be found on the planet,” according to a US official. [9]

As a follow up, over the course of the next three years, Grantham’s group visited two islands – Aldabra and Diego Garcia. Due to environmentalist concerns raised by the Smithsonian over the Giant Land Tortoise, nesting sea birds and flightless birds they “settled” for Diego Garcia. [10] In February 1964, a clandestine Anglo-American meeting was held in London to devise the best approach for seizing the island. But Diego Garcia was part of Mauritius which the U.S. had no interest in.

 

Based on the agreements reached in that secret meeting, Britain informally granted Mauritius independence on November 8, 1965 and officially on March 12, 1968, on the condition that they relinquish, for 3 million pounds, complete control of the islands, particularly Diego Garcia. [11] As part of the scheme, the British government then established a new colony consisting of the Chagos Islands, called the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). This would facilitate clearing the island of the indigenous population. [12] This conditional independence was against U.N. Resolution 1514. Condemnations from the United Nations regarding the dismembering of the Mauritian Territory were ignored (U.N. Resolution 2066). In December 1966, Britain signed an agreement with the U.S.A. giving the largest of the islands, Diego Garcia, to the Pentagon on a 50 year extendable lease for use as a military base.” [13]

 

In return for the projected depopulation of Diego Garcia and its exclusion from the British colony, London allegedly received a generous $14 million discount on the purchase of a Polaris nuclear weapons system, made in the U.S. [14] “Britain had managed to conceal the $14 million it was paid for the fifty-year lease on the islands by persuading the Americans to disguise the cost as a discount on the research and development charges for a new generation of Polaris nuclear missiles then being sold to the Royal Navy.” [15]

 

Two U.S. administrations and the Labour government of Harold Wilson contrived, during the 1960s, to “sweep” and “sanitize” the islands (the exact words used in American documents). “Files found in the National Archives in Washington and the Public Record Office in London provides an astonishing narrative of official lying.” [16] Governments habitually lie!

 

In 1966, to accommodate the un-peopling of the island the British Foreign Office falsely claimed that the indigenous islanders were actually temporary contract workers who could be “returned” to Mauritius and the Seychelles, 1,000 miles away. Records would have to be altered to “convert all the existing residents into short term, temporary residents.” [17]

 

Sir Paul Gore-Booth, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office stated in August 1966: “We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise was to get some rocks that will remain ours. There will be no indigenous population except seagulls.” Another British official, under the heading: Maintaining the Fiction, urged his colleagues to reclassify the islanders as “a floating population” and to “make up the rules as we go along.” [18]

 

The indigenous Chagos Islanders, about 2000 individuals who were technically British subjects, “were never consulted or informed of any of these administrative changes. Nor were they aware that once a U.S. military base was established on Diego Garcia their presence would no longer be tolerated on any of the 65 islands.” [19] The U.S. Congress authorized the building of the base in December 1970. 

 

In November 1965 and again in 1971, ordinances were written, without parliamentary consultation, “which made it illegal for anyone to come to the islands ever again —or, indeed, to be there in the first place — without a permit.” Violations would result in deportation and incarceration while awaiting deportation. [20]

 

Up until March 1971, Diego Garcia's main source of income was from the profitable copra oil plantation. “At one time, copra oil from here and the other ‘Oil Islands’ provided fine machine oil and fuel to light European lamps.” During the approximately 170 years of plantation life, coconut harvests on Diego Garcia remained fairly constant – about four million nuts annually. The plantation years, along with the jobs and economic security, ended with the arrival of the U.S. military construction. [21] Britain had purchased the copra companies and immediately closed them down. [22]

 

Because Washington didn’t want a “population problem,” British officials devised “the complete sterilization of the archipelago.” They withdrew crucial services and blocked supply ships carrying food and medicine to Diego Garcia are turned back. Individuals who temporarily left the island for urgent medical or other legitimate reasons were not permitted to return. The intimidating British began to “return” those alleged “transient laborers” to Mauritius. [23] The Americans had arrived by the time Sir Bruce Greatbatch, the governor of the Seychelles, was charged with the “sanitizing” project. He began by rounding up about 1,000 pets who were gassed “using the exhaust fumes from American military vehicles.” [24] Not all of the animals died from the gassing.

 

Then Greatbatch used the long, low brick shed used in the production of coconut oil known as the coconut calorifier. The shed housed two shelves, one above the other; the upper shelf held coconut flesh. The lower shelf held coconut husks which were set afire. It was economic and required no extra fuel. The flesh above cooked and expelled its water content to create copra, an edible fat from which oil is produced. “This was to be the pyre. A ton or so of husks were heaped inside and set alight that day, sending up flames and billows of black smoke.” [25]

 

It took patience and time. “With the aid of rifles, strips of strychnine-laced beef and whips made from palm fronds, the dogs were all herded or dumped dead inside the shed” … Greatbatch had “the fires re-stoked and the calorifier sealed with closely fitting steel plates, and the dogs were promptly—or, according to contemporary reports, really rather slowly—burned or suffocated.” The animal’s “remains” were later “inspected” by the real brutish beast, Bruce Greatbatch. [26] The beloved pets were no longer “a nuisance” and surely sent a message to their sorrowful owners. ... Lizette Tallatte now in her 60s remembers “and when their dogs were taken away in front of them, our children screamed and cried.” [27]

 

The remaining population, fearing they might be next, was loaded onto ships, operated by Rogers & Co. “Marie Therese Mein, a Chagossian, later says U.S. officials threatened to bomb them if they did not leave.” [28] They left everything; one suitcase was allowed. Personal family records were confiscated – the records of births, deaths, marriages – their history. [29]  This is reminiscent of their early ancestors whose names and origin were insignificant to those who enslaved them. On one journey in rough seas, the copra company's horses occupied the deck, while women and children were forced to sleep on a cargo of bird fertilizer. Arriving in the Seychelles, they were marched up the hill to a prison where they were held until they were transported to Mauritius. There, they were dumped on the docks.” [30] Between July 27, 1971 and May 26, 1973 the remaining residents were forcibly removed from the island.

 

Resettlement or integration assistance did not exist. Mauritius was fast-paced, different than life on the island. Fishing and oil pressing expertise were unnecessary. Britain allowed the Mauritius government an extremely modest financial compensation 12 years after the first individuals were dumped on the docks. Small plots of land were issued to the victims which typically had to be sold to pay previous indebtedness as a result of their years of destitution. In order to receive this “compensation” bribe, each person had to sign an ambiguous document renouncing his/her right to return to Diego Garcia. [31]

 

The U.S. got what they asked for. The expulsion of 2,000 Chagos islanders was “virtually a condition of the agreement.” “These people,” according to Greatbatch, “have little aptitude for anything other than growing coconuts. They are unsophisticated and un-trainable.” In other words, these gentle people were expendable. [32] They were literally dumped penniless on the docks in Mauritius.

 

These egregious actions condemned the islanders and their families to deep depression and poverty. Some received minimal compensation after waiting seven years. Ninety percent of the island's former inhabitants could not find employment and barely existed in Mauritius's slums. Mauritius already suffered from high unemployment and considerable poverty. Even low paying domestic service jobs were almost impossible to find. The poverty-stricken islanders suffered experienced discrimination. “Their diet, when they could eat, was very different from what they were used to.” [33]

 

No one was allowed to stay on the part of the island unoccupied by the U.S. military or on the two remaining islands. [34] Perhaps the U.S. military had something to hide? This highly secret “mass kidnapping” preceded by conspiracy was unknown to the British Parliament and the U.S. Congress for almost a decade. There were no newspaper reports – nothing! [35] This was a conspiracy carried out at the highest levels of our government. It was not the first time nor will it the last.  

 

Invited by the British Ministry of Defense (War), journalists visited the U.S. base and reported as predicted, “as if no one had ever lived there. BBC newsreaders would later refer to U.S. aircraft flying out to bomb Afghanistan and Iraq from the “uninhabited” island of Diego Garcia. [36]

 

Until recently, the British Foreign Office website denied the very existence of the people, British citizens, they should have protected. Knowledgeable politicians, whose job it is to protect the rights of the citizens, remained silent and allowed and promoted the policies that desecrated the lives and histories of the gentle brown-skinned islanders. [37] It was ethnic cleansing! What an obvious difference to the Anglo-American response in the Falkland Islands.

 

Seven British governments ignored the plight of their vulnerable, distant, discarded citizens living out an indescribable nightmare in shanties in the Seychelles and Mauritius, “while ministers and their officials in London mounted a campaign of deception that went all the way up to the prime minister.” [38]

 

Part 2
 

[1] Freedom Next Time, Resisting the Empire by John Pilger, pg. 57

[2] Former Diego Garcia islanders launch legal action against British government, http://www.cosmos.ne.jp/~miyagawa/nagocnet/data/diegogarcia1e.html, Accessed October 4, 2007

[3] Diego Garcia is an atoll (A ring-like coral island and reef that nearly or entirely encloses a lagoon) 39 miles long and encloses a lagoon 13 miles long and up to 6 miles wide with depths of 60 to 100 feet.

[4] Freedom Next Time, Resisting the Empire by John Pilger, pg. 20

[5] US-UK-Diego Garcia (1770-2004), Project: History of US Interventions, Open-Content project managed by Mike Derek, http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/timeline.jsp?timeline=diego_garcia, Accessed October 6, 2007

[6] Paradise cleansed, Our deportation of the people of Diego Garcia is a crime that cannot stand by John Pilger, Saturday October 2, 2004, The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1317945,00.html, Accessed October 6, 2007

[7] Diego Garcia—How the Brits deported a nation By John Pilger, Z Magazine, 22 October 2004

[8] UK provided base for rendition flights By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor, Published: 09 June 2007  http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/article2636183.ece, Accessed September 25, 2007

[9] Britain's island in the sun becomes Blair's latest problem in torture scandal By Gordon Thomas, Globe-Intel, July 9, 2004, http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/27b/039.html, Accessed September 25, 2007

[10] Freedom Next Time, Stealing a Nation by John Pilger, pg. 23

[11] Former Diego Garcia islanders launch legal action against British government, http://www.cosmos.ne.jp/~miyagawa/nagocnet/data/diegogarcia1e.html, Accessed October 4, 2007

[12] Diego Garcia—How the Brits deported a nation By John Pilger, Z Magazine, 22 October 2004

[13] Former Diego Garcia islanders launch legal action against British government, http://www.cosmos.ne.jp/~miyagawa/nagocnet/data/diegogarcia1e.html, Accessed October 4, 2007

[14] Ibid

[15] Diego Garcia by Simon Winchester, http://www.granta.com/extracts/1225, Accessed October 4, 2007

[16] Paradise Cleansed, Our Deportation of the People of Diego Garcia is a Crime That Cannot Stand by John Pilger Saturday, October 2, 2004 by the Guardian/UK, http://www.commondreams.org/views04/1002-04.htm, Accessed October 4, 2007

[17] Diego Garcia—How the Brits deported a nation By John Pilger, Z Magazine, 22 October 2004

[18] Ibid

[19] Former Diego Garcia islanders launch legal action against British government, http://www.cosmos.ne.jp/~miyagawa/nagocnet/data/diegogarcia1e.html, Accessed October 4, 2007

[20] Diego Garcia by Simon Winchester, Granta Magazine, http://www.granta.com/extracts/1225, Accessed on October 6, 2007

[21] Diego Garcia "Camp Justice" 7º20'S 72º25'E, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/diego-garcia.htm, Accessed October 4, 2007

[22] Former Diego Garcia islanders launch legal action against British government, http://www.cosmos.ne.jp/~miyagawa/nagocnet/data/diegogarcia1e.html, Accessed October 4, 2007

[23] Former Diego Garcia islanders launch legal action against British government, http://www.cosmos.ne.jp/~miyagawa/nagocnet/data/diegogarcia1e.html, Accessed October 4, 2007

[24] Paradise Cleansed, Our Deportation of the People of Diego Garcia is a Crime That Cannot Stand by John Pilger Saturday, October 2, 2004 by the Guardian/UK, http://www.commondreams.org/views04/1002-04.htm, Accessed October 4, 2007

[25] Diego Garcia by Simon Winchester, Granta Magazine, http://www.granta.com/extracts/1225, Accessed on October 6, 2007

[26] Ibid

[27] Paradise Cleansed, Our Deportation of the People of Diego Garcia is a Crime That Cannot Stand by John Pilger Saturday, October 2, 2004 by the Guardian/UK, http://www.commondreams.org/views04/1002-04.htm, Accessed October 4, 2007

[28] US-UK-Diego Garcia (1770-2004), Project: History of US Interventions, Open-Content project managed by Mike Derek, http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/timeline.jsp?timeline=diego_garcia, Accessed October 6, 2007

[29] Former Diego Garcia islanders launch legal action against British government, http://www.cosmos.ne.jp/~miyagawa/nagocnet/data/diegogarcia1e.html, Accessed October 4, 2007

[30] Ibid

[31] Former Diego Garcia islanders launch legal action against British government, http://www.cosmos.ne.jp/~miyagawa/nagocnet/data/diegogarcia1e.html, Accessed October 4, 2007

[32] Diego Garcia—How the Brits deported a nation By John Pilger, Z Magazine, 22 October 2004, http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/27b/036.html, Accessed October 7, 2007

[33] Context of 'July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973: British Forcibly Remove Chagossians from Their Homes, http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/context.jsp?item=diego_garcia_1900#diego_garcia_1900, Accessed October 6, 2007

[34] Former Diego Garcia islanders launch legal action against British government, http://www.cosmos.ne.jp/~miyagawa/nagocnet/data/diegogarcia1e.html, Accessed October 4, 2007

[35] Freedom Next Time, Stealing a Nation by John Pilger, pg. 22-23

[36] Ibid

[37] Ibid

[38] Ibid

 

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