The Mauritius Miracle

March 10, 2011 

Columbia professor and Nobel Prize laureate in economics, Joseph Stiglitz wrote a very interesting article about the economic “miracle” of Mauritius, a small island nation and former colony in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius has a population of 1.3 million, almost the same as Hawai’i. He writes:

Suppose someone were to describe a small country that provided free education through university for all of its citizens, transportation for school children, and free health care – including heart surgery – for all. You might suspect that such a country is either phenomenally rich or on the fast track to fiscal crisis.

After all, rich countries in Europe have increasingly found that they cannot pay for university education, and are asking young people and their families to bear the costs. For its part, the United States has never attempted to give free college for all, and it took a bitter battle just to ensure that America’s poor get access to health care – a guarantee that the Republican Party is now working hard to repeal, claiming that the country cannot afford it.

But Mauritius, a small island nation off the east coast of Africa, is neither particularly rich nor on its way to budgetary ruin. Nonetheless, it has spent the last decades successfully building a diverse economy, a democratic political system, and a strong social safety net. Many countries, not least the US, could learn from its experience.

In a recent visit to this tropical archipelago of 1.3 million people, I had a chance to see some of the leaps Mauritius has taken – accomplishments that can seem bewildering in light of the debate in the US and elsewhere. Consider home ownership: while American conservatives say that the government’s attempt to extend home ownership to 70% of the US population was responsible for the financial meltdown, 87% of Mauritians own their own homes – without fueling a housing bubble.

Now comes the painful number: Mauritius’s GDP has grown faster than 5% annually for almost 30 years. Surely, this must be some “trick.” Mauritius must be rich in diamonds, oil, or some other valuable commodity. But Mauritius has no exploitable natural resources. Indeed, so dismal were its prospects as it approached independence from Britain, which came in 1968, that the Nobel Prize-winning economist James Meade wrote in 1961: “It is going to be a great achievement if [the country] can find productive employment for its population without a serious reduction in the existing standard of living….[T]he outlook for peaceful development is weak.”

As if to prove Meade wrong, the Mauritians have increased per capita income from less than $400 around the time of independence to more than $6,700 today. The country has progressed from the sugar-based monoculture of 50 years ago to a diversified economy that includes tourism, finance, textiles, and, if current plans bear fruit, advanced technology.

Stiglitz identified several factors for their economic success are

First, the question is not whether we can afford to provide health care or education for all, or ensure widespread homeownership. If Mauritius can afford these things, America and Europe – which are several orders of magnitude richer – can, too. The question, rather, is how to organize society. Mauritians have chosen a path that leads to higher levels of social cohesion, welfare, and economic growth – and to a lower level of inequality.

Second, unlike many other small countries, Mauritius has decided that most military spending is a waste. The US need not go as far: just a fraction of the money that America spends on weapons that don’t work against enemies that don’t exist would go a long way toward creating a more humane society, including provision of health care and education to those who cannot afford them.

Third, Mauritius recognized that without natural resources, its people were its only asset. Maybe that appreciation for its human resources is also what led Mauritius to realize that, particularly given the country’s potential religious, ethnic, and political differences – which some tried to exploit in order to induce it to remain a British colony – education for all was crucial to social unity. So was a strong commitment to democratic institutions and cooperation between workers, government, and employers – precisely the opposite of the kind of dissension and division being engendered by conservatives in the US today.

Imagine that, cutting military spending and investing in its people as its greatest resource.

He notes that Mauritius was able to chart its own course only after gaining independence. But militarism and colonialism continue to haunt Mauritius. The Chagos islands, which were formerly part of Mauritius, remains a British colony. Within the Chagos group, the atoll of Diego Garcia is occupied by one of the United States’ most strategic military bases. The Diego Garcia residents who were forcibly relocated to Mauritius and other places continue to fight for the right to return to their home island. Stiglitz writes:

The Mauritius Miracle dates to independence. But the country still struggles with some of its colonial legacies: inequality in land and wealth, as well as vulnerability to high-stakes global politics. The US occupies one of Mauritius’s offshore islands, Diego Garcia, as a naval base without compensation, officially leasing it from the United Kingdom, which not only retained the Chagos Islands in violation of the UN and international law, but expelled its citizens and refuses to allow them to return.

The US should now do right by this peaceful and democratic country: recognize Mauritius’ rightful ownership of Diego Garcia, renegotiate the lease, and redeem past sins by paying a fair amount for land that it has illegally occupied for decades.


Wikileaks Cables Reveal Diego Garcia Marine Reserve Will Prevent Return of Chagos Islanders

December 4, 2010 

Marine conservation zones as cultural genocide?    The British marine reserve in the Chagos islands was a deliberate attempt to prevent the return of the evicted Chagossians to Diego Garcia, one of America’s crucial military bases in the Indian Ocean.  The Chagos reserve was modeled on the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument and the proposed Mariana Island National Marine Monument, both of which contain broad exemptions for the military.  Mahalo to Marta Duenas for sharing the following comments and article:

The displacement of the Chagossian people of the island of Diego Garcia is justified using references to “strategic” purposes and “security.” These are the exact terms used in the rationale & promotion of the military buildup in Guam. The British Indian Ocean Territory – BIOT which encompasses the 55 islands surrounding and including Diego Garcia, and the Mariana Island National Marine Monument prohibit activities in the area. Military activities are EXEMPT from any of the prohibitions and regulations.

Diego Garcia and the Mariana Islands are poised to fulfill the United States Department of Defense “Full Spectrum Dominance Vision 2020.”


The Guardian UK

Wikileaks Cables Reveal Foreign Office Mislead Parliament Over Diego Garcia

UK official told Americans that marine park plan would end the ‘Man Fridays’ hopes of ever returning home

Rob Evans and Richard Norton-Taylor

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Diego Garcia islanders protest WikiLeaks cables suggest the Foreign Office knows its plan to declare Diego Garcia a marine park will end any chance of islanders winning the right to return Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

The Foreign Office misled parliament over the plight of thousands of islanders who were expelled from their Indian Ocean homeland to make way for a large US military base, according to secret US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

More than 2,000 islanders – described privately by the Foreign Office as “Man Fridays” – were evicted from the British colony of Diego Garcia in the 1960s and 1970s. The Foreign Office, backed by the US, has fought a long legal battle to prevent them returning home.

The islanders’ quest to go back will be decided by a ruling, expected shortly, from the European court of human rights.

New leaked documents show the Foreign Office has privately admitted its latest plan to declare the islands the world’s largest marine protection zone will end any chance of them being repatriated.

The admission is at odds with public claims by Foreign Office ministers that the proposed park would have no effect on the islanders’ right of return. They have claimed the marine park was a ploy to block their return, claiming it would make it impossible for them to live there as it would ban fishing, their main livelihood.

The disclosure follows years of criticism levelled at Whitehall over the harsh treatment of the islanders, many of whom have lived in poverty in other countries since their deportation.

In the past, National Archive documents have revealed how the Foreign Office consistently lied about the eviction, maintaining the fiction that the islanders had not been permanent residents.

The latest leaked documents are US state department cables recording private meetings between Foreign Office mandarins and their American counterparts.

In May 2009, Colin Roberts, the Foreign Office director of overseas territories, told the Americans Diego Garcia’s value in “assuring the security of the US and UK” had been “much more than anyone foresaw” in the 1960s, when the plan to set up the base was hatched.

“We do not regret the removal of the population since removal was necessary for [Diego Garcia] to fulfil its strategic purpose,” he added under a passage that the Americans headed “Je ne regrette rien”.

Roberts, admitting the government was “under pressure” from the islanders, told the US of the plan to set up the marine park on 55 islands around Diego Garcia, known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). “Roberts stated that, according to [Her Majesty's government's] current thinking on a reserve, there would be ‘no human footprints’ or ‘Man Fridays’ on the BIOT uninhabited islands,” according to the American account of the meeting. The language echoes that used in 1966 when Denis Greenhill – later the Foreign Office’s most senior official – described the inhabitants as “a few Tarzans and Man Fridays”.

The leaked documents also record that Roberts “asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents”.

This private stance differs from the Foreign Office’s public line in April when a series of MPs asked if the marine park ruled out the islanders, known as Chagossians, ever returning home.

The Foreign Office told parliament the proposed park “will not have any direct or indirect effect on the rights or otherwise of Chagossians to return to the islands. These are two entirely separate issues”.

Leading conservation groups have supported the marine park plan. Roberts is quoted as telling the Americans that Britain’s “environmental lobby is far more powerful than the [islanders'] advocates”.

Attached is a copy of the cable archived by Wikileaks:

This is not the original Wikileaks document! It’s a cache, made on 2010-12-01 23:11:00. For the original document check the original source:
DATE 2009-05-15 07:07:00
ORIGIN Embassy London


EO 12958 DECL: 05/13/2029

Classified By: Political Counselor Richard Mills for reasons 1.4 b and d

¶1. (C/NF) Summary. HMG would like to establish a “marine park” or “reserve” providing comprehensive environmental protection to the reefs and waters of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) official informed Polcouns on May 12. The official insisted that the establishment of a marine park — the world’s largest — would in no way impinge on USG use of the BIOT, including Diego Garcia, for military purposes. He agreed that the UK and U.S. should carefully negotiate the details of the marine reserve to assure that U.S. interests were safeguarded and the strategic value of BIOT was upheld. He said that the BIOT’s former inhabitants would find it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve. End Summary.

Protecting the BIOT’s Waters

¶2. (C/NF) Senior HMG officials support the establishment of a “marine park” or “reserve” in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which includes Diego Garcia, Colin Roberts, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) Director, Overseas Territories, told the Political Counselor May 12. Noting that the uninhabited islands of the Chagos Archipelago are already protected under British law from development or other environmental harm but that current British law does not provide protected status for either reefs or waters, Roberts affirmed that the bruited proposal would only concern the “exclusive zone” around the islands. The resulting protected area would constitute “the largest marine reserve in the world.”

¶3. (C/NF) Roberts iterated strong UK “political support” for a marine park; “Ministers like the idea,” he said. He stressed that HMG’s “timeline” for establishing the park was before the next general elections, which under British law must occur no later than May 2010. He suggested that the exact terms of the proposals could be defined and presented at the U.S.-UK annual political-military consultations held in late summer/early fall 2009 (exact date TBD). If the USG would like to discuss the issue prior to those talks, HMG would be open for discussion through other channels — in any case, the FCO would keep Embassy London informed of development of the idea and next steps. The UK would like to “move forward discussion with key international stakeholders” by the end of 2009. He said that HMG had noted the success of U.S. marine sanctuaries in HAWAII and the Marianas Trench. (Note: Roberts was referring to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. End Note.) He asserted that the Pew Charitable Trust, which has proposed a BIOT marine reserve, is funding a public relations campaign in support of the idea. He noted that the trust had backed the HAWAIIan reserve and is well-regarded within British governmental circles and the larger British environmental community.

Three Sine Qua Nons: U.S. Assent…

¶4. (C/NF) According to Roberts, three pre-conditions must be met before HMG could establish a park. First, “we need to make sure the U.S. government is comfortable with the idea. We would need to present this proposal very clearly to the American administration…All we do should enhance base security or leave it unchanged.” Polcouns expressed appreciation for this a priori commitment, but stressed that the 1966 U.S.-UK Exchange of Notes concerning the BIOT would, in any event, require U.S. assent to any significant change of the BIOT’s status that could impact the BIOT’s strategic use. Roberts stressed that the proposal “would have no impact on how Diego Garcia is administered as a base.” In response to a request for clarification on this point from Polcouns, Roberts asserted that the proposal would have absolutely no impact on the right of U.S. or British military vessels to use the BIOT for passage, anchorage, prepositioning, or other uses. Polcouns rejoined that
designating the BIOT as a marine park could, years down the road, create public questioning about the suitability of the BIOT for military purposes. Roberts responded that the terms of reference for the establishment of a marine park would clearly state that the BIOT, including Diego Garcia, was reserved for military uses.

¶5. (C/NF) Ashley Smith, the Ministry of Defense’s (MOD) International Policy and Planning Assistant Head, Asia Pacific, who also participated in the meeting, affirmed that the MOD “shares the same concerns as the U.S. regarding security” and would ensure that security concerns were fully and properly addressed in any proposal for a marine park. Roberts agreed, stating that “the primary purpose of the BIOT is security” but that HMG could also address environmental concerns in its administration of the BIOT. Smith added that the establishment of a marine reserve had the potential to be a “win-win situation in terms of establishing situational awareness” of the BIOT. He stressed that HMG sought “no constraints on military operations” as a result of the establishment of a marine park.
…Mauritian Assent…
¶6. (C/NF) Roberts outlined two other prerequisites for establishment of a marine park. HMG would seek assent from the Government of Mauritius, which disputes sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago, in order to avoid the GOM “raising complaints with the UN.” He asserted that the GOM had expressed little interest in protecting the archipelago’s sensitive environment and was primarily interested in the archipelago’s economic potential as a fishery. Roberts noted that in January 2009 HMG held the first-ever “formal talks” with Mauritius regarding the BIOT. The talks included the Mauritian Prime Minister. Roberts said that he “cast a fly in the talks over how we could improve stewardship of the territory,” but the Mauritian participants “were not focused on environmental issues and expressed interest only in fishery control.” He said that one Mauritian participant in the talks complained that the Indian Ocean is “the only ocean in the world where the fish die of old age.” In HMG’s view, the marine park concept aims to “go beyond economic value and consider bio-diversity and intangible values.”

…Chagossian Assent

¶7. (C/NF) Roberts acknowledged that “we need to find a way to get through the various Chagossian lobbies.” He admitted that HMG is “under pressure” from the Chagossians and their advocates to permit resettlement of the “outer islands” of the BIOT. He noted, without providing details, that “there are proposals (for a marine park) that could provide the Chagossians warden jobs” within the BIOT. However, Roberts stated that, according to the HGM,s current thinking on a reserve, there would be “no human footprints” or “Man Fridays” on the BIOT’s uninhabited islands. He asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents. Responding to Polcouns’ observation that the advocates of Chagossian resettlement continue to vigorously press their case, Roberts opined that the UK’s “environmental lobby is far more powerful than the Chagossians’ advocates.” (Note: One group of Chagossian litigants is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) the decision of Britain’s highest court to deny “resettlement rights” to the islands’ former inhabitants. See below at paragraph 13 and reftel. End Note.)

Je Ne Regrette Rien

¶8. (C/NF) Roberts observed that BIOT has “served its role very well,” advancing shared U.S.-UK strategic security objectives for the past several decades. The BIOT “has had a great role in assuring the security of the UK and U.S. — much more than anyone foresaw” in the 1960s, Roberts emphasized. “We do not regret the removal of the population,” since removal was necessary for the BIOT to fulfill its strategic purpose, he said. Removal of the
population is the reason that the BIOT’s uninhabited islands and the surrounding waters are in “pristine” condition. Roberts added that Diego Garcia’s excellent condition reflects the responsible stewardship of the U.S. and UK forces using it.

Administering a Reserve

¶9. (C/NF) Roberts acknowledged that numerous technical questions needed to be resolved regarding the establishment and administration of a marine park, although he described the governmental “act” of declaring a marine park as a relatively straightforward and rapid process. He noted that the establishment of a marine reserve would require permitting scientists to visit BIOT, but that creating a park would help restrict access for non-scientific purposes. For example, he continued, the rules governing the park could strictly limit access to BIOT by yachts, which Roberts referred to as “sea gypsies.”

BIOT: More Than Just Diego Garcia

¶10. (C/NF) Following the meeting with Roberts, Joanne Yeadon, Head of the FCO’s Overseas Territories Directorate’s BIOT and Pitcairn Section, who also attended the meeting with Polcouns, told Poloff that the marine park proposal would “not impact the base on Diego Garcia in any way” and would have no impact on the parameters of the U.S.-UK 1966 exchange of notes since the marine park would “have no impact on defense purposes.” Yeadon averred that the provision of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea guaranteed free passage of vessels, including military vessels, and that the presence of a marine park would not diminish that right.

¶11. (C/NF) Yeadon stressed that the exchange of notes governed more than just the atoll of Diego Garcia but expressly provided that all of the BIOT was “set aside for defense purposes.” (Note: This is correct. End Note.) She urged Embassy officers in discussions with advocates for the Chagossians, including with members of the “All Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos Islands (APPG),” to affirm that the USG requires the entire BIOT for defense purposes. Making this point would be the best rejoinder to the Chagossians’ assertion that partial settlement of the outer islands of the Chagos Archipelago would have no impact on the use of Diego Garcia. She described that assertion as essentially irrelevant if the entire BIOT needed to be uninhabited for defense purposes.

¶12. (C/NF) Yeadon dismissed the APPG as a “persistent” but relatively non-influential group within parliament or with the wider public. She said the FCO had received only a handful of public inquiries regarding the status of the BIOT. Yeadon described one of the Chagossians’ most outspoken advocates, former HMG High Commissioner to Mauritius David Snoxell, as “entirely lacking in influence” within the FCO. She also asserted that the Conservatives, if in power after the next general election, would not support a Chagossian right of return. She averred that many members of the Liberal Democrats (Britain’s third largest party after Labour and the Conservatives) supported a “right of return.”

¶13. (C/NF) Yeadon told Poloff May 12, and in several prior meetings, that the FCO will vigorously contest the Chagossians’ “right of return” lawsuit before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). HMG will argue that the ECHR lacks jurisdiction over the BIOT in the present case. Roberts stressed May 12 (as has Yeadon on previous occasions) that the outer islands are “essentially uninhabitable” and could only be rendered livable by modern, Western standards with a massive infusion of cash.


¶14. (C/NF) Regardless of the outcome of the ECHR case, however, the Chagossians and their advocates, including the “All Party Parliamentary Group on Chagos Islands (APPG),” will continue to press their case in the court of public
opinion. Their strategy is to publicize what they characterize as the plight of the so-called Chagossian diaspora, thereby galvanizing public opinion and, in their best case scenario, causing the government to change course and allow a “right of return.” They would point to the government’s recent retreat on the issue of Gurkha veterans’ right to settle in the UK as a model. Despite FCO assurances that the marine park concept — still in an early, conceptual phase — would not impinge on BIOT’s value as a strategic resource, we are concerned that, long-term, both the British public and policy makers would come to see the existence of a marine reserve as inherently inconsistent with the military use of Diego Garcia — and the entire BIOT. In any event, the U.S. and UK would need to carefully negotiate the parameters of such a marine park — a point on which Roberts unequivocally agreed. In Embassy London’s view, these negotiations should occur among U.S. and UK experts separate from the 2009 annual Political-Military consultations, given the specific and technical legal and environmental issues that would be subject to discussion.

¶15. (C/NF) Comment Continued. We do not doubt the current government’s resolve to prevent the resettlement of the islands’ former inhabitants, although as FCO Parliamentary Under-Secretary Gillian Merron noted in an April parliamentary debate, “FCO will continue to organize and fund visits to the territory by the Chagossians.” We are not as sanguine as the FCO’s Yeadon, however, that the Conservatives would oppose a right of return. Indeed, MP Keith Simpson, the Conservatives’ Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, stated in the same April parliamentary debate in which Merron spoke that HMG “should take into account what I suspect is the all-party view that the rights of the Chagossian people should be recognized, and that there should at the very least be a timetable for the return of those people at least to the outer islands, if not the inner islands.” Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the FCO’s Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the BIOT. End Comment.
Visit London’s Classified Website: ed_Kingdom


DE RUEHLO #1156/01 1350700
R 150700Z MAY 09


ADDED 2010-12-01 23:11:00
STAMP 0000-00-00 00:00:00

Environmental Protection of Bases?

May 5, 2010 

From Foreign Policy In Focus:

Environmental Protection of Bases?

By David Vine. Edited by John Feffer, April 22, 2010

Just weeks before today’s Earth Day, and for the second time in little more than a year, environmental groups have teamed with governments to create massive new marine protection areas across wide swaths of the world’s oceans. Both times, however, there’s been something (pardon the pun) fishy about these benevolent-sounding efforts at environmental protection.

Most recently, on April 1, the British government announced the creation of the world’s largest marine protection area in the Indian Ocean’s Chagos Archipelago, which would include a ban on commercial fishing in an area larger than California and twice the size of Britain. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called it “a major step forward for protecting the oceans.

A representative for the Pew Charitable Trusts—which helped spearhead the effort along with groups including the Marine Conservation Society, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and Greenpeace—compared the ecological diversity of the Chagos islands to the Galapagos and the Great Barrier Reef. The Pew representative described the establishment of the protected area as “a historic victory for global ocean conservation.” Indeed, this was the second such victory for Pew, which also supported the creation, in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, of three large marine protection areas in the Pacific Ocean, around some of the Hawai’ian islands and the islands of Guam, Tinian, and Saipan.

The timing of the announcements for both the Indian Ocean and Pacific marine protection areas—on the eve of upcoming British parliamentary elections and in the days before Bush left office when he was trying to salvage a legacy—suggests that there’s more here than the celebratory announcements would suggest.

A Base Issue

Both marine protection areas provide safe homes for sea turtles, sharks, breeding sea birds, and coral reefs. But they are also home to major U.S. military bases. Chagos’s largest island, Diego Garcia, hosts a secretive billion-dollar Air Force and Navy base that has been part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The Pacific protection areas are home to U.S. bases on Guam, Tinian, Saipan, Rota, Farallon de Medinilla, Wake Island, and Johnston Island.

In both cases, the otherwise “pristine” protected environments carve out significant exceptions for the military. In Chagos, the British government has said, “We nor the US would want the creation of a marine protected area to have any impact on the operational capability of the base on Diego Garcia. For this reason…it may be necessary to consider the exclusion of Diego Garcia and its three-mile territorial waters.” In the Pacific, the Bush administration stressed that “nothing” in the protected areas “impairs or otherwise affects the activities of the U.S. Department of Defense.”

The incongruity of military bases in the middle of environmental protection areas is particularly acute since many military installations cause serious damage to local environments. As Miriam Pemberton and I warned in the wake of Bush’s announcement, “Such damage includes the blasting of pristine coral reefs, clear-cutting of virgin forests, deploying underwater sonar dangerous to marine life, leaching carcinogenic pollutants into the soil and seas from lax toxic waste storage and military accidents, and using land and sea for target practice, decimating ecosystems with exploded and unexploded munitions. Guam alone is home to 19 Superfund sites.”

Similarly, the base on Diego Garcia was built by blasting and dredging the island’s coral-lined lagoon, using bulldozers and chains to uproot coconut trees from the ground and paving a significant proportion of the island in asphalt. Since its construction, the island has seen more than one million gallons of jet fuel leaks, water fouled with diesel fuel sludge, the warehousing of depleted uranium-tipped bunker buster bombs, and the likely storage of nuclear weapons.

For all the benefits that marine protection areas might bring, governments are using environmentalism as a cover to protect the long-term life of environmentally harmful bases. The designation also helps governments hold onto strategic territories. Indeed, all of the Pacific and Indian Ocean islands involved are effectively colonies, including the Chagos Archipelago, which Britain refers to as the British Indian Ocean Territory and which was illegally detached from Mauritius during decolonization in the 1960s.

Ratifying Expulsion

The environmental cover-up goes deeper. In addition to the Mauritian sovereignty claim on Chagos, the islands are also claimed by their former indigenous inhabitants, the Chagossians, whom the U.S. and British governments forcibly removed from their homeland during the base’s creation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since their expulsion, the Chagossians have been struggling for the right to return and proper compensation. Three times since 2000, the British High Court has ruled the removal unlawful, only to have Britain’s highest court overturn the lower-court rulings in 2008. The Chagossians have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and expect hearings to begin this summer.

Again, the timing of the announcement of the Chagos marine protection area is far from coincidental. It could cement forever the Chagossians’ exile no matter the ruling of the European court. “The conservation groups have fallen into a trap,” explained Chagossian Roch Evenor, secretary of the UK Chagos Support Association. “They are being used by the government to prevent us returning.”

Others agree. In a letter to Greenpeace UK, Mauritian activist Ram Seegobin wrote, “Clearly, the British government is preparing a fall-back plan; if they lose the case in Europe, then there will be another ‘reason’ for denying the banished people their right of return.”

British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, director of the human rights organization Reprieve, was even more direct: “The truth is that no Chagossian has anything like equal rights with even the warty sea slug.”

While the Pew Charitable Trusts, a foundation created by the children of one of the founders of Sun Oil Company, has been working behind the scenes for three years with British officials on the marine protection areas, other environmentalists have opposed the plan. “Conservation is a laudable goal,” Catherine Philp argued recently in The Times of London, “but it is a hollow and untruthful one when decided on behalf of the true guardians of that land who were robbed of it; not for the protection of the environment, but for a cheap media win and the easy benefit of the military-industrial machine.”

It did not have to be this way. The Chagossians, as one of their leaders, Olivier Bancoult, has said, once “lived in harmony with our natural environment until we were forcibly removed to make way for a nuclear military base.” The U.K. and U.S. governments could correct this injustice and protect the environment at the same time by finally allowing the Chagossians to return and serve as the proper guardians of their environment. It is not too late to correct this mistake. It is not too late to prevent the good name of environmentalism from being used to compound injustices that have been covered up for too long.

David Vine is assistant professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, DC, the author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia (Princeton University Press, 2009), and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Recommended Citation:

David Vine, “Environmental Protection of Bases?” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, April 22, 2010)

UK designates Chagos marine reserve, but right of return for Chagos refugees unclear

April 4, 2010 

According to this AP article, the UK has outdone the US and created the largest marine reserve in the world in Chagos, surpassing the Papahanaumokuakea national marine monument.  However, as the Times reported earlier this environmentally friendly move may make it more difficult for the evicted Chagos islanders to return to their island home in Diego Garcia, now a strategic U.S. military base.   The Papahanaumoku national marine monument in the northwestern Hawaiian islands was a groundbreaking environmental measure, but it included exemptions for the U.S. military to operate in the reserve.   Chamoru fishing people and rights activists are afraid that a similar marine monument proposed for the Mariana islands could give the federal government more control over indigenous subsistence resources.  At least Greenpeace recognizes the Chagossian struggle:

“The creation of this marine reserve is a first step towards securing a better and sustainable future for the Chagos Islands,” said Greenpeace activist Willie Mackenzie. “But this future must include securing justice for the Chagossian people and the closure and removal of the Diego Garcia military base.”


Apr. 1, 2010 3:18 PM EDT

UK creates world’s largest marine reserve


LONDON (AP) — Britain said Thursday it will create the world’s largest marine reserve by banning fishing around the U.K.-owned archipelago in the Indian Ocean — a cluster of 55 islands across about a quarter of a million square miles of ocean.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said commercial fishing will be halted around the Chagos Islands to allow scientific research and the preservation of coral reefs and an estimated 60 endangered species.

His ministry insisted the move would not affect operations on the island of Diego Garcia, which Britain leases to the U.S. military for use as a base. Miliband told lawmakers in 2008 that the U.S. had belatedly informed Britain it had used Diego Garcia as a stop for CIA extraordinary rendition flights.

Conservation groups and scientists welcomed the move to protect waters around the islands, reputedly some of the world’s cleanest ocean, and claimed it would become as important for research as the Great Barrier Reef or Galapagos Islands.

“The territory offers great scope for research in all fields of oceanography, biodiversity and many aspects of climate change, which are core research issues for U.K. science,” Miliband said Thursday, announcing the decision.

Halfway between Africa and Southeast Asia, the Chagos Islands have been frequently controversial for the British government.

The European Court of Human Rights is considering a long running appeal from Chagossians evicted from their homes to nearby Mauritius between 1967 and 1973 to make way for the military base. Islanders are seeking to return to their former homes.

“The creation of this marine reserve is a first step towards securing a better and sustainable future for the Chagos Islands,” said Greenpeace activist Willie Mackenzie. “But this future must include securing justice for the Chagossian people and the closure and removal of the Diego Garcia military base.”

Miliband said the protected zone would cover 210,000 square miles (544,000 square kilometers) of ocean, which is home to about 220 types of coral, 1,000 species of fish and 33 different seabirds.

The Chagos Environment Network — a coalition of ocean scientists — said the area will replace the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, in Hawaii, as the world’s largest marine reserve.

Miliband said Britain has agreed to transfer control of the territory to Mauritius “when it is no longer needed for defense purposes,” but has not specified any timeframe.

Under the terms of the lease of Diego Garcia, the U.S. military can remain on the island until at least 2036.

28 Nations Helped U.S. to Detain “Suspects”

April 1, 2010

Published on The Smirking Chimp (

28 Nations Helped U.S. to Detain “Suspects”

By Sherwood Ross

Created Mar 31 2010 – 10:19am

Twenty-eight nations have cooperated with the U.S. to detain in their prisons, and sometimes to interrogate and torture, suspects arrested as part of the U.S. “War on Terror.”

The complicit countries have kept suspects in prisons ranging from public interior ministry buildings to “safe house” villas in downtown urban areas to obscure prisons in forests to “black” sites to which the International Committee of the Red Cross(ICRC) has been denied access.

According to published reports, an estimated 50 prisons have been used to hold detainees in these 28 countries. Additionally, at least 25 more prisons have been operated either by the U.S. or by the government of occupied-Afghanistan in behalf of the U.S., and 20 more prisons have been similarly operated in Iraq.

As the London-based legal rights group Reprieve estimates the U.S. has used 17 ships as floating prisons since 2001, the total number of prisons operated by the U.S. and/or its allies to house alleged terrorist suspects since 2001 exceeds 100. And this figure may well be far short of the actual number.

Countries that held prisoners in behalf of the U.S. based on published data are Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Kosovo, Libya, Lithuania, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Somalia, South Africa, Thailand, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Yemen, and Zambia. Some of the above-named countries held suspects in behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA); others held suspects in behalf the U.S. military, or both.

Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, Champaign, termed the detention policies used by the U.S. “Crimes against Humanity”:

“These instances of the enforced disappearances of human beings and their consequent torture, because they are both widespread and systematic, constitute Crimes against Humanity in violation of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, which have been ordered by the highest level officials of the United States government…”

Referring to President Bush and his principal advisers, Boyle continued, “Since these criminal activities took part in several states that are parties to the ICC Rome Statute, that renders these U.S. government officials subject to prosecution by the International Criminal Court on the grounds of territoriality of the offense, even though the United States is not a party to the Rome Statute.”

According to Human Rights Watch, as of Jan., 2004, the U.S. held detainees from 21 different countries including Algeria, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israeli-occupied Gaza and West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Yemen.

The nations that cooperated with the U.S. to detain these prisoners have done so even though detainees commonly were held — in the words of an Associated Press report of Sept. 18, 2006 –”beyond the reach of established law.” Efforts by this reporter to learn from the Pentagon the total number of prisoners held captive and related information proved futile.

However, in Feb., 2005, Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder, Army Provost Marshal General, said, “In all, roughly 65,000 people have been screened for possible detention, and about 30,000 of those were entered into the system, at least briefly, and assigned internment serial numbers.” Possibly, to date, the U.S. and its allies have detained 100,000 suspects or more.

It is not known whether the customary legal rights of any of these tens of thousands of captives have been honored. But given the absence of due process, trials, and convictions compared to the vast numbers of those detained, the “War on Terror” takes on the appearance of a monumental fraud.

As Jane Mayer wrote in “The Dark Side” (Anchor Books), “Seven years after the attacks of September 11, not a single terror suspect held outside of the U.S. criminal court system has been tried. Of the 759 detainees acknowledged to have been held in Guantanamo, approximately 340 remained there, only a handful of whom had been charged. Among these, not a single ‘enemy combatant’ had yet had the opportunity to cross-examine the government or see the evidence on which he was being held.” Similarly, Nick Turse of reported U.S. intelligence officials themselves estimated that 70-90% of prisoners detained in Iraq “had been arrested by mistake.”

According to the German weekly Der Spiegel in a Dec. 10, 2005, article: “It is likely that nobody will ever know how many terror suspects abducted by the CIA have died in the torture chambers of Egyptian, Algerian, Syrian, or Saudi Arabian prisons.”

It was “because of the gruesome treatment of prisoners that made it expedient to remove suspects as much as possible from the responsibility of American judges. This practice gave birth to the Guantanamo prisoner camp, as well as a whole range of so-called black sites, or secret interrogation areas, where the CIA keeps its most valuable prisoners under continuous observation,” Der Spiegel said. Writing in The Washington Post on Nov. 2, 2005, Dana Priest put it this way: “It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA’s internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.”

In a concise observation that appears to summarize the U.S. campaign of detention, Patrick Quinn of the Associated Press wrote, “Captured on battlefields, pulled from beds at midnight, grabbed off streets as suspected insurgents, tens of thousands now have passed through American detention, the vast majority in Iraq. Many have said they were often interrogated around the clock, then released months or years later without apology, compensation, or any word on why they were taken.”

Clive Stafford Smith, legal director of British human rights group Reprieve, told the UK Guardian June 2, 2008: “By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information suggests up to 80,000 have been ‘through the system’ since 2001. The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are, and what has been done to them.” Note: The UN Commission on Human Rights asserts prolonged incommunicado detention itself can “constitute a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or even torture.”

A brief look at the prison operations of America’s accomplices follows:

AFGHANISTAN: Human Rights First says since Nov., 2001, the U.S. has operated approximately 25 detention facilities in Afghanistan. Secret prisons at Bagram Air Force Base include the “Dark Prison” and “Salt Pit.” It was in Salt Pit in Nov., 2002, that guards stripped an Afghan prisoner naked, chained him to the concrete floor and left him in below-zero temperatures all night. He was dead in the morning, Der Spiegel reported. Other prisons include Rissat and Rissat2, north of Kabul, and Prison Number 3. At Kandahar Air Force Base, U.S. army officers hung prisoners from the ceiling for days. At times, the prison held up to 40 detainees. Other Afghan sites include transient facilities near Asadabad, Gereshk, Jalalabad, Tycze, Gardez, and Khost. A federal Grand Jury in North Carolina indicted CIA contractor David Passaro for allegedly beating detainee Abdul Wali to death at Khost in June, 2003. Officials there also told the family of Sher Mohammed Khan he was killed by snakebite when his body showed marks of abuse. Another base, according to the Feb. 15, 2010, issue of The Nation, is Rish-Khor, an Afghan army facility atop a mountain overlooking Kabul. The magazine also reported there are nine Field Detention Sites the Red Cross is aware of that “are enveloped in a blanket of official secrecy.” There may, however, “be other sites whose existence on the scores of U.S. and Afghan military bases that dot the country have not been disclosed,” writes the magazine’s Anand Gopal. At Bagram, Gopal wrote, former detainees allege they were “regularly beaten, subjected to blaring music twenty-four hours a day, prevented from sleeping, stripped naked and forced to assume what interrogators term ‘stress positions.” It is routine to hold prisoners at Bagram for two or three years without access to lawyers, Red Cross, or their families. And the official U.S. detention center in Kandahar is known among former inmates as “Camp Slappy.”

AZERBAIJAN: prisoners have been detained in behalf of the U.S. in Baku, the capital. The country is known for imprisoning journalists and other critics, some of whom have been tortured and murdered by authorities.

ALGERIA: The U.S. transferred prisoners there from Guantanamo. Amnesty International has warned against transfer of prisoners to Algeria based on the country’s history of torture and warned “Algeria has become a prime ally of the United States (US) and other governments preoccupied with the so-called War on Terror.” According to Wikipedia, Manfred Nowak, a special reporter on torture, has catalogued in a 15-page U.N. report that the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and other nations have violated international human rights conventions by deporting terrorist suspects to countries such as Algeria.

BOSNIA: the Eagle Base in Tuzla is a black site. The British Telegraph said Eagle is part of a U.S. military facility where alleged Al-Qaeda members were tortured.

DIEGO GARCIA(UK): a British possession in the Indian Ocean the U.S. has transformed into a powerful military base to dominate the Middle East and Asia. Reportedly, the CIA has a facility there that was used in 2005-06 to hold Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a Syrian-Spanish national. According to Reprieve, “the UK has a significant military and administrative presence on Diego Garcia, which has its own independent administration run by the East Africa Desk of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.” Reprieve further stated, “In October, 2003, Time Magazine cited interrogation records from the US prisoner Hambali that had reportedly been taken on the island, while respected international investigators at the Council of Europe and the United Nations expressed similar suspicions. US officials went on to make seemingly careless public statements confirming the use of Diego Garcia for secret detentions.”

DJIBOUTI: said to have three CIA-run prisons, according to the UK Guardian. The former French foreign legion base Camp Lemonnier is a U.S. facility at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport.

EGYPT: said to operate six prisons in behalf of the CIA, where numerous victims have been rendered, one of them being the General Intelligence Directorate in Cairo. U.S. officials are alleged to have participated in interrogation/torture sessions there where prisoners are hung from hooks and electrical shocks administered. On June 13, 2004, the UK Observer reported, “Egypt has also received a steady flow of militants from American installations.” The paper also identified Mulhaq al-Mazra prison as a facility used in behalf of the U.S.

ETHIOPIA: has held detainees on behalf of CIA. U.S. agents interrogated one man there for three months. An investigation by the Associated Press published April 3, 2007, found, “CIA and FBI agents hunting for al-Qaida militants in the Horn of Africa have been interrogating terrorism suspects from 19 countries held at secret prisons in Ethiopia, which is notorious for torture and abuse.” Three prisons are used for such purposes, the report said.

GAMBIA: in Banjul, the capital, safe houses in a residential area were used to jail Bisher Al-Rawi. He was also jailed in Guantanamo where he was said to be subjected to cold temperatures and had his prayer rug taken away when he tried to use it as a blanket.

GUANTANAMO: In addition to Camp Delta, a military prison, this base is the site of “Camp No” about a mile to the north, that is either CIA or under Joint Special Operations Command. It was to this camp, according to Harper’s, where three prisoners were taken and never again seen alive. In 2006, the UN called for closing Guantanamo. According to The Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg, (Jan. 29, 2010) Guantanamo has held about 770 prisoners since it opened eight years ago and nearly 580 have been released over the years. What’s more, a review by DOD and five other agencies agreed unanimously that “roughly 110″ more are eligible for release, meaning there was not enough evidence on 690 of the 770 prisoners to prosecute them—further proof, if any is needed, of the fraudulent nature of the War on Terror. Amnesty International called for Guantanamo detainees to be either released from their “super max” high security cells or allowed to stand trial. Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s general secretary, termed Guantanamo “the gulag of our time.”

IRAQ: The U.S. and its allies have operated at least 20 prisons. In 2006, Human Rights First documented 98 deaths in U.S. custody there, including five in CIA custody. Every detainee in Iraq “is detained because he poses a security threat to the government of Iraq, the people of Iraq, or coalition forces,” said a spokesman for U.S.-led detainee operations in Iraq, Army Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry. This statement is hard to credit as virtually all of the tens of thousands of persons arrested have never been charged with an offense and the vast majority of them have been let go. Scott Horton wrote in Harper’s that the U.S. “is holding 19,000 Iraqis at its two main detention centers, at Camp Cropper and Camp Bucca.” Horton noted Iraqi law requires any detention to be justified before a magistrate in a matter of only a few days but the U.S. has “complete contempt for the requirements of Iraqi law.” It should be noted that Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki’s government complained U.S. detention violates Iraq’s national rights. In March, 2006, UN Secy.-Gen. Kofi Annan said the extent of arbitrary detention in Iraq is “not consistent with provisions of international law governing internment on imperative reasons of security.” Since, as of this January, the U.S. is said to hold only 5,000 detainees in Iraq, apparently tens of thousands of persons have been released without ever being charged. Between June, 2004, and Sept., 2006, alone, the U.S. released some 18,700 Iraqi detainees, according to a reliable source.

This points to a massive conspiracy to deprive innocent people of their rights by the U.S. on a scale not seen since the U.S. interned its own Japanese-American population during World War II. “It was hard to believe I’d get out,” Baghdad shopkeeper Amjad Qassim al-Aliyawi, told the Associated Press after his release, without charge. “I lived with the Americans for one year and eight months as if I was living in hell.” It was in the U.S. Forward Operating Rifles Base in Al Asad where Abdul Jaleel was murdered in Jan., 2004, after being beaten and tied by his hands to the top of a door frame. At the U.S. detention facility in Al Qaim, Baghdad, former Iraqi Major-General Abed Hamad Mowhoush, was tortured and smothered to death in Nov., 2003. At Camp Bucca, in the southern desert, said to hold 9,500, detainees were forcibly showered with cold water and exposed to cold air. At Site 4, a prison run by Iraq’s Ministry of Interior and which in May, 2006, held some 1,431 detainees, there was evidence of systematic physical and psychological abuse and in a prison in the Green Zone run by Baghdad Brigade detainees suffered severe ill treatment.

At the notorious Abu Ghraib, Ms. Umm Taha, an Iraqi woman detainee, told of tortures she witnessed. Soldiers made prisoners stand one leg “then they kicked them to make them fall to the ground.” She said she watched GI Lynndie England use a rubber glove to snap the detainees on their genitals. “The soldiers also made all the men lay on the ground, face down, spread their legs, then men and women soldiers alike kicked the detainees between their legs. I can still remember their screaming.” Ms. Taha was interviewed by Nagem Salam, an American journalist, according to Islam Online of June 14, 2004. At its peak occupancy in 2004, Abu Ghraib, also known also known as the Baghdad Central Correctional Facility, was said to hold 7,000 prisoners. At Al-Jadiriya prison, in Baghdad many prisoners were detained off the books, and at least 168 unlawfully detained were abused there. Among the main detention facilities in Iraq are Camp Redemption and Camp Ganci, both located at Abu Ghraib, as well as Camp Cropper, near the Baghdad Airport. Other major facilities include Camp Bucca in Umm Qasr and Talil Air Force Base south of Baghdad, also known as Whitford Camp. Additional Iraqi bases where prisoners were held included Al-Rusafa, Al-Kadhimiyya, and Al-Karkh, in Baghdad and Camp Falcon, near Baghdad; the Al-Diwaniyya Security Detainee Holding Area; Ashraf Camp MEK near Al-Ramadi; FOB Tiger in Anbar province; an FOB near Al-Asad, outside Mosul; a temporary holding camp near Nasiriyah; an FOB in Tikrit, in northern Iraq; Al-Qasr al-Jumhouri and Al-Qasr al-Sujood. Another facility, Camp Sheba, is under British command.

According to, Camp Whitehorse is a Marine-run detention site near Nasiriyah in Southern Iraq: “Prisoners were held at Whitehorse until they could be interrogated by a Marine ‘human exploitation team,’ which would determine whether the detainees should be released or transferred elsewhere. Prisoners were forced to stand 50 minutes of every hour, in heat sometimes topping 120 degrees, for up to 10 hours at a time. Prisoners were forced to stand until interrogators from the Human Exploitation Team arrived. If the team failed to get the information it wanted, prisoners were forced to continue standing.” reported further, “In October 2003 the US military charged eight US Marine reservists, including two officers, with brutal treatment of Iraqi prisoners of war that may have resulted in the death of one Iraqi man. The eight fought in Iraq as part of the First Marine Division and were detailed to guard prisoners at Camp Whitehorse. Military prosecutors allege that an Iraqi man named Nagem Sadoon Hatab died at Camp Whitehorse in early June 2003 following a possible beating by US guards.”

ISRAEL: “Thanks to the Israeli paper Haaretz [1],” wrote Reporter Tom Engelhardt of of Nov. 2, 2006, “we learned for the first time that at least some CIA rendition flights stopped at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on their way to and from Cyprus, Jordan, Morocco, and other spots east and west, north and south — and that the first case ‘of the United States handing Israel a world jihadi suspect’ in a rendition operation has been confirmed.”

JORDAN: Abducted men rendered by CIA were held in Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID) in Amman. One detainee said his experience was “beyond description.” On June 13, 2004, the UK Observer reported prisoners were also held “in desert locations in the east of the country.” Al Jafr Prison, in the southern Jordanian desert, has held prisoners for the U.S. In the Israeli publication Ha’aretz, an article in Oct., 2004, said the CIA was holding 11 high-level Al Qaeda prisoners incommunicado in Jordan. The Jordanian government flatly denies there are any U.S. detention facilities in Jordan. One of the 11 is said to have been Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the hijacked airliner attacks on New York and Washington. Citing international intelligence sources, Ha’aretz said: “Their detention outside the U.S. enables CIA interrogators to apply interrogation methods that are banned by U.S. law, and to do so in a country where cooperation with the Americans is particularly close, thereby reducing the danger of leaks.”

KENYA: Detained 84 captives for the U.S. in Nairobi with no opportunity to challenge their detention. One captive, Mohamed Ezzoueck, a Britsh national, was detained at three different police stations in Nairobi, and also at a military police station located near Kiunga. Suspects “disappeared” in 2007 in the region were believed to have been interrogated by the CIA and FBI.

KOSOVO: CIA-operated Camp Bondsteel, a black site; was said by some, including an official of the European Commission on Human Rights, to be similar in design to Guantanamo. The British Telegraph reported alleged members of Al-Qaeda were questioned and tortured at Bondsteel.

LIBYA: Since 2004, for example, the CIA has handed five Libyan fighters to authorities in Tripoli. Two had been covertly nabbed by the CIA in China and Thailand, while the others were caught in Pakistan and held in CIA prisons in Afghanistan, Eastern Europe and other locations, according to Libyan sources, Craig Whitlock reported in The Washington Post of October 27, 2007.

LITHUANIA: The CIA operated a prison in a riding academy in Antaviliai, on the outskirts of capital Vilnius. Lithuania held eight terror suspects there for the CIA.

MAURITANIA: CIA reportedly operated one detention facility there. In an article in the June 25, 2007, The New Yorker, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote: “I was told by the former senior intelligence official and a government consultant that after the existence of secret C.I.A. prisons in Europe was revealed, in the Washington Post, in late 2005, the Administration responded with a new detainee center in Mauritania. After a new government friendly to the U.S. took power, in a bloodless coup d’etat in August, 2005, they said, it was much easier for the intelligence community to mask secret flights there.”

MOROCCO: Held CIA detainees at a prison in al-Temara. The CIA rendered Binyam Mohamed, a British citizen, to Morocco, where he was moved around to three different prisons. Abou Elkassim Britel, an Italian and Moroccan, was tortured at al-Temara. The prison is located in a forest five miles outside of Rabat, the capital. It was in Morocco that Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident arrested in Pakistan in 2002 was tortured by interrogators who sliced his penis with a scalpel and later transferred him to Guantanamo Bay. He was freed in Feb., 2009, without charge and allowed to return to England. The London Sunday Times reported Feb. 12, 2006, that Morocco “is one of America’s principal partners in the secret ‘rendition’ programme in which the CIA flies prisoners to third countries for interrogation.” The paper said Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have compiled dossiers “detailing the detention and apparent torture of radical Islamists at the DST’s current headquarters, at Temara, near Rabat.” DST is the Moroccan secret police.

PAKISTAN: Human Rights Watch said men claimed the U.S. tortured them when detained there in behalf of the CIA. Several hundred suspects were seized in Pakistan in 2001-2002 and held in prisons in Kohat and Peshawar. Prisoners also held in an old fortress outside of Lahore; in the military barracks in Islamabad. It was in Islamabad that Moazzam Begg was held and severely tortured. At one villa in central Peshawar run by U.S. authorities, prisoners were beaten regularly. Another facility in Peshawar was underground where Americans did all the interrogating. A black prison was also reported to be in Alzai. Seymour Hersh received a report in May, 2005 of “800-900 Pakistani boys 13-15 years of age in custody.”

POLAND: The CIA operated a black prison from 2003 to 2005 where eight “high value” detainees were held in the village of Kiejkuty. One of them was said to be Khalid Sheik Mohammed, alleged 9/11 mastermind, who was severely tortured.

QATAR: The UK Observer reported on June 13, 2004, “Scores more (terror suspects) are thought to be at a US airbase in the Gulf state of Qatar…”

ROMANIA: Three CIA detention centers operated there, including one in downtown Bucharest and one in Timisoara.

SAUDI ARABIA: Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was convicted in U.S. federal court in Nov., 2005, on charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism. Amnesty International said his trial was flawed as prosecution relied largely on evidence obtained when he was flogged and beaten by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Interior’s General Intelligence while imprisoned with apparent U.S. knowledge. In Saudi Arabia, the UK Observer reported on June 13, 2004, “CIA agents are allowed to sit in on some of the interrogations.”

SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC: The CIA rendered a number of captives to Far Falestin prison. Canadian Maher Arar was held there were he was tortured with cables and electrical cords. When the Canadian government found Arar was tortured, the Prime Minister apologized to him and Canada paid him $10.5-million in compensation plus legal fees. UK Observer reported June 13, 2004, “In Syria, detainees sent by Washington are held at ‘the Palestine wing’ of the main intelligence headquarters and a series of jails in Damascus and other cities.”

SOMALIA: Suleiman Abdallah, never charged, was arrested in Somalia and held there for a short time by warlord Mohammed Dere, allegedly working for the U.S., and later interrogated by CIA and FBI. Another captive, Mohamed Ezzoueck, a British subject, was held at the Army base in Baidoa, Somalia, but never charged.

SOUTH AFRICA: UK Guardian reported Jan. 23, 2009, that South Africa has two CIA “black sites.”

THAILAND: One of the first CIA black sites known as “Cat’s Eye” is located outside of Bangkok. Al-Qaeda operatives were flown there to be interrogated and tortured, including waterboarding. Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were videotaped there. Some 92 videotapes were made and stored and subsequently destroyed by the CIA. In 2005 ABC News reported Zubaydah was held in an unused warehouse on an airbase where he was made to stand in a cold cell and waterboarded.

UZBEKISTAN: The New York Times reported in May, 2005, the U.S. had sent dozens of suspects to Tashkent.

YEMEN: U.S. handed over prisoners, including some from its Bagram prison, to Yemen, where they allegedly were tortured.

ZAMBIA: According to UK’s Guardian Jan. 23, 2009, Zambia is one of countries with a CIA secret prison facility.

In addition to the prisons in the above-cited nations, the U.S. operates a number of illegal floating prisons.

U.S. PRISON SHIPS: On June 2, 2008 UK’s Guardian reported, “The US has admitted that the Bataan and Peleliu were used as prison ships between December 2001 and January 2002″. According to Reprieve, the U.S. may have used 17 ships as “floating prisons” since 2001. Detainees are interrogated on ships and may be rendered to other, undisclosed locations. Reprieve expressed concern over the time the U.S.S. Ashland spent off Somalia in early 2007. According to The Guardian, “At this time many people were abducted by Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in a systematic operation involving regular interrogations by individuals believed to be members of the FBI and CIA. Ultimately more than 100 individuals were ‘disappeared’ to prisons in locations including Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Guantanamo Bay. Reprieve believes prisoners may have also been held for interrogation on the USS Ashland and other ships in the Gulf of Aden during this time.”

The U.S. Navy, through a spokesman, said, “There are no detention facilities on US navy ships” but Commander Jeffrey Gordon told The Guardian some individuals had been put on ships “for a few days” during initial days of detention.

Reprieve quoted one prisoner released from Guantanamo who was on one of the U.S. ships who said there were 50 other prisoners in cages in the bottom of the ship and they were beaten even more severely than in Guantanamo. Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s legal director, is quoted as saying, “They choose ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers. We will eventually reunite these ghost prisoners with their legal rights.”

From all of the above, it would be difficult to conclude anything other than that the U.S., with the help of a score of other nations, illegally seized and then processed countless innocent persons from the Middle East who were held incommunicado in scores of facilities where they were abused, tortured, denied all legal rights, and where approximately 100 of them that we know of died in Iraq alone, probably the victims of homicide.

Professor Boyle of the University of Illinois said he would submit the findings of this article to the Prosecutor of the ICC in support of his previous Complaint calling on the ICC to open “an international criminal investigation of these (President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, etc.) former U.S. governmental officials.”

Sherwood Ross wishes to express his gratitude to the journalists whose works he quoted for their original research that exposed the conditions in prisons described above, and particularly to the Associated Press.

U.K. proposes Chagos marine reserve that could block islanders’ return

March 6, 2010 

Chagos is an Indian Ocean island possession of the UK, one of the colonies it held onto after decolonization. Britain evicted the native Chagossian population and leased the island to the U.S. military. Now Diego Garcia is one of the most important bases in America’s empire of bases. British courts except for the House of Lords have ruled in favor of the Chagossian’s right to return to their homeland, but the government has fought them every step of the way. Now the UK is proposing a marine reserve for Chagos. A nice environmentally friendly move, you might think. However, this designation could block the return of Chagossians and prohibit fishing in the reserve.

The Brits may have stolen this play right out of the U.S. play book: using marine environmental protection to dispossess the native people. The U.S. has created federal marine monuments in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and is proposing a similar monument in the Marianas. While the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument has created unprecedented protections for the coral reef system in the northwestern Hawaiian islands, the Bush administration slipped in an exemption for the military to conduct its activities within the reserve. The proposed Marianas marine monument contains similar provisions. Native Hawaiians have generally supported the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument and have helped to shape it to incorporate subsistence fishing and other cultural practices. Chamorros have been divided on the Marianas monument because any increased federal control means an erosion of the islands’ sovereignty and native rights. With the proposed U.S. military expansion in Guam and CNMI, the federalization of the marine ecosystem is viewed with warranted suspicion.

The U.S. military has realized that being environmentally friendly can have strategic value. Undeveloped nature reserves are less troublesome as neighbors of military bases and ranges than complaining suburban residents. So the Pentagon instituted a conservation buffer program to partner with environmental groups to preserve areas bordering bases as a way to prevent the “encroachment” of other users. Marine reserves that allow military activities to take place without competing users serves the same purpose.

The Times
March 6, 2010

Chagossians fight for a home in paradise

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent


(John Parker/Corbis) Designating the Chagos Archipelago as a marine protection area will end all fishing

If ever there was an oceanic treasure worthy of conservation, the Chagos archipelago, with its crystal-clear waters and jewelled reefs, is it. Yet the British Government’s plans have split the gentle world of marine conservation, created a diplomatic row with Indian Ocean states and turned the spotlight on to the archipelago’s place in Britain’s darker colonial history.

The British Indian Ocean Territory, as it is officially known, is the ancestral home of the Chagossians, the 2,000 people and their descendents that Britain removed forcibly from the islands in the Seventies to make way for a US air and naval base on the main island, Diego Garcia. Despite Britain repeatedly overruling court judgments in their favour, the exiled Chagossians have continued their struggle. This summer their case will be heard at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. By then, however — if David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, gets his way — the Chagos will have been designated a marine protected area (MPA), where activities such as fishing and construction are banned, denying them any legal means to sustain their lives.

It is, depending on your view, a sinister trick to prevent the Chagossians returning; an easy piece of environmental legacy building by a Government about to lose power; or an act of arrogant imperialism to rob the territory’s true owners of any say in its future.

Perhaps the most compelling case against the plan, however, is made by the swelling cadre of environmentalists opposing the project in the belief that — far from protecting this pristine paradise — it could hasten its destruction. “Even if I didn’t care about human rights, I would say this is a terrible mistake,” said Dr Mark Spalding, one of the world’s foremost experts on reef conservation.

“The world of conservation is littered with failures where the people involved were not consulted. If the Chagossians win the right to return, why should they want to co-operate with the conservation groups running roughshod over them?”

The Government’s proposal acknowledges that the entire plan may have to be scrapped if the Chagossians are allowed to return. “That would make it the shortest-lived protection area in the world,” Dr Spalding said. “So you have to ask: what’s the rush to get this done before [the Strasbourg ruling and] a general election?”

Mr Miliband will begin to examine the cases for and against the reserve next week, after public consultations ended yesterday. A decision is expected within weeks, but the Foreign Secretary already sounds convinced. “This is a remarkable opportunity for the UK to create one of the world’s largest marine protected areas, and double the global coverage of the world’s oceans benefiting from full protection,” he wrote.

Many of the world’s leading conservation groups have thrown their weight behind the proposal, which emphasises the advantage of the islands being “uninhabited”. They are not: the original islanders were removed from Diego Garcia to make way for a military base that houses 1,500 US service personnel, 1,700 civilian contractors and 50 British sailors. The island, which constitutes 90 per cent of the landmass of the Chagos, is, in effect, to be exempt from the protection order.

Peter Sand, a British environmental lawyer who has investigated the US base’s impact, has documented four jet fuel spills totalling 1.3 million gallons since it was built and has lobbied unsuccessfully for information on radiation leakage from nuclear-powered vessels there. “To say that a small group of Chagossians could have a greater impact than the base is just crazy,” Dr Spalding said.

The plan has also sparked a diplomatic row with Mauritius and the Seychelles, from whom the Chagos Islands were taken and to whom Britain has agreed to cede them when they are no longer needed by the US military. Britain faces further embarrassment over allegations that Diego Garcia was used to moor US prison ships where “ghost” prisoners were tortured.

The Prime Minister of Mauritius said last week that he was “appalled” by the decision to press ahead with plans for the reserve, “It is unacceptable that the British claim to protect marine fauna and flora when they insist on denying Chagos-born Mauritians the right to return to their islands all the while,” Navin Chandra Ramgoolam said at the inauguration of a building for Chagossian refugees in the Mauritian capital. “How can you say you will protect coral and fish when you continue to violate the rights of Chagos’s former inhabitants?”

Britain originally offered the US the Aldabra atoll for its base but backed down after uproar from environmentalists. Aldabra, now a World Heritage Site, was uninhabited by humans but home to hundreds of thousands of giant tortoises. “The British had refused to create a base on Aldabra in the Seychelles not to harm its tortoise population,” marvelled Olivier Bancoult, head of the Chagos Refugees Group. “Now they are trying to create a protected area to prevent Chagossians from returning to their native islands.”

Shifting sands

1960s The Chagos archipelago, originally part of Mauritius, is secretly leased to Britain. Together with the Aldabra archipelago, taken from the Seychelles, they become the British Indian Ocean Territory

1970 Britain and the US agree to set up a military base on Diego Garcia, and Britain begins deporting the 2,000 Chagossians to Seychelles and Mauritius

1983 £1m compensation is paid to the refugees on Mauritius

2000 British High Court rules in favour of Chagossians demanding the right to return

2004 Government issues a royal prerogative striking down the court’s decision

2006 The Court of Appeal dismisses the Government’s appeal, saying its methods are unlawful and “an abuse of power”; 102 Chagossians are permitted to visit Diego Garcia for a day to tend relatives’ graves

2008 Law lords vote 3-2 in favour of Government, overruling High Court

2009 Foreign Office launches public consultation on the creation of a protected marine area

2010 The European Court of Human Rights is set to hear the Chagossians’ petition to return this summer

Source: Times database

Related Links

Diego Garcia: A thorn in the side of Africa’s nuclear-weapon-free zone

December 18, 2009

Diego Garcia: A thorn in the side of Africa’s nuclear-weapon-free zone

By Peter H. Sand | 8 October 2009

Article Highlights

  • More than 13 years after its signature, the Pelindaba Treaty, which establishes Africa as a nuclear-weapon-free zone, officially came into force this summer.
  • However, conflicting British and African interpretations of an oblique footnote about Diego Garcia threaten to put one signatory, Mauritius, in breach of the treaty.
  • For Africa to truly be considered nuclear-weapon-free, this ambiguity must be clarified–possibly affecting U.S. and British military activities in the region.

On July 15, the Pelindaba Treaty, which established Africa as a nuclear-weapon-free zone, finally entered into force. The treaty is the latest regional agreement to ban nuclear weapons in its area of application. The other five are the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco (for Latin America and the Caribbean), the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga (for the South Pacific), the 1995 Treaty of Bangkok (for Southeast Asia), and the 2006 Treaty of Semipalatinsk (for Central Asia).

The Pelindaba Treaty–named for the former South African nuclear weapons facility near Pretoria–requires each party “to prohibit in its territory the stationing of any nuclear explosive devices,” while allowing parties to authorize visits or transits by foreign nuclear-armed ships or aircraft. It also prohibits nuclear weapon tests and radioactive waste dumping. Two supplementary protocols to the treaty provide for non-African nuclear powers to agree that they won’t “contribute to any act which constitutes a violation of this treaty or protocol.” The United States co-signed the treaty’s protocols under the Clinton administration in 1996, but after a heated political debate, Washington didn’t submit them to the Senate for ratification. China, France, and Britain have ratified them, however, ostensibly supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency’s enthusiastic (if slightly exaggerated) claim that the treaty made the “entire Southern hemisphere free of nuclear weapons.”

Underneath this international support for an African nuclear-weapon-free zone, however, is a low-profile but high-stakes dispute over the status of the Chagos Archipelago, which includes Diego Garcia. This coral atoll in the British Indian Ocean Territory happens to be the site of one of the most valuable (and secretive) U.S. military bases overseas. Both Britain and Mauritius claim sovereignty over the archipelago.

According to the map appended to the Pelindaba Treaty, the nuclear-weapon-free zone explicitly covers the “Chagos Archipelago–Diego Garcia,” albeit with a footnote (inserted at the British government’s request) stating that the territory “appears without prejudice to the question of sovereignty.” (To read more about the negotiations that led to the ominous Diego Garcia footnote, see the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research publication, “The Treaty of Pelindaba on the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone.”) Although all of the participating African countries agreed that the Chagos Islands should be included in the treaty parameters, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) did not, stating that it had no doubt as to its sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, and upon signing the protocols noted that it did “not accept the inclusion of [the Chagos Islands] within the African nuclear-weapon-free zone” without consent of the British government.

While Russia refused to sign the Pelindaba protocols because of the ambiguity created by that unilateral statement, Britain’s interpretation of the footnote was supported by the United States and France, with a representative of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency explaining that it was adequate to “protect U.S. interests because any resolution of the [sovereignty] issue will occur outside the framework of the treaty.”

But what are the U.S. interests and what exactly does this sovereignty debate have to do with Africa’s nuclear-weapon-free zone? In the last 40 or so years, thanks to a series of U.S.-British bilateral agreements (some of them secret), the expulsion of the atoll’s indigenous population between 1967 and 1973, and a $2.5 billion U.S. military construction program, Diego Garcia has developed into a robust naval support facility, satellite tracking station, and bomber forward-operating location. It played a central role in all offensive combat missions against Iraq and Afghanistan from 1991 to 2006 and was used as a staging area for 20 B-52 bombers prominently deployed as a “calculated-ambiguous” tactical nuclear deterrent against any possible chemical or biological weapons used by Iraq against U.S. forces. The Diego Garcia internal lagoon–a gigantic natural harbor, measuring 48 square miles and dredged to a depth of 40 feet as a turning basin for aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines–is currently being upgraded to accommodate the U.S. Navy’s new nuclear-powered, guided missile attack submarines. Considering the base’s strategic location, current U.S. needs in the Middle East and Central Asia, and what is known about past uses of the base, it would be irresponsible to rule out the potential for nuclear weapons at Diego Garcia.

That the United States found the Pelindaba footnote to be adequate protection against the “bite” of the treaty protocols may have been overly confident. Now that the treaty has entered into force, Mauritius and Britain are legally bound by its provisions–though the British FCO would vehemently disagree, citing the footnote as disclaimer. A recent editorial in the Mauritius Times called on the government to broaden its ongoing bilateral negotiations (which will resume in London in October) with the FCO on the Chagos Archipelago to include U.S. authorities (pointedly referring to President Barack Obama’s Prague speech), with a view toward making Diego Garcia nuclear-weapon-free. Until that time, in the eyes of Mauritius and the other African signatories to the Pelindaba Treaty, Mauritius will not be able to meet its treaty obligations.

One key to these talks may be the precedent of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which also contains a disclaimer for sovereignty issues. Thus far, nobody has interpreted this disclaimer as excluding the British Antarctic Territory from the geographic scope of that treaty. As such, Britain may be forced to confront some inconvenient internal contradictions lurking in the wake of the Pelindaba Treaty. To the embarrassment of the FCO, the Diego Garcia base also has been confirmed by the CIA as a destination or transit point for several “extraordinary rendition flights” for suspected terrorists–branding the island as yet another “legal black hole” à la Guantánamo Bay, where neither the British Human Rights Act nor Britain’s ratifications of the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Human Rights Covenants, or the U.N. Convention against Torture apply.

The Pelindaba Treaty should mark the beginning of a momentous new era in Africa, including regional cooperation for the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology through a new African Commission on Nuclear Energy. But there is the possibility that the Diego Garcia footnote could stand in the way of progress. If Britain, the United States, and Mauritius cannot resolve this debate, then the entry into force of the Pelindaba Treaty hasn’t truly made Africa free from nuclear weapons after all.

Stealing a Nation: the U.S. military occupation of Diego Garcia

November 3, 2009 

This award winning documentary by British journalist John Pilger reveals the conspiracy between the U.S. and the U.K. to remove the entire population of Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Chagos archipelago, an Indian Ocean British colony, to make way for the construction of a massive U.S. military base.  Diego Garcia is now one of America’s most important military bases.  But the Chagossian have fought back, and won significant battles in the British courts to win the right to return.   (2004, 55 mins)

Military goal: “run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia by 2015″

October 9, 2009

Forcibly Exiled Nearly 40 Years Ago, Diego Garcia Natives Fight to Return to Island Home Now Used as Key US Military Outpost

We turn now to another island that is a key military outpost for the United States. Located in the Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia has often been used for strikes on Iraq and Afghanistan and played a critical role in the US extraordinary rendition program. Unlike Guam, Diego Garcia has no inhabitants resisting the US military. All of the island’s residents were forcibly removed in the early 1970s. For the last four decades, former residents of Diego Garcia and their descendants have been fighting for the right to return. We speak with Olivier Bancoult, a leader of the exiled people of Diego Garcia and president of the Chagos Refugees Group; and David Vine, author of the book Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia. [includes rush transcript]


Olivier Bancoult, leader of the exiled people of Diego Garcia and president of the Chagos Refugees Group.

David Vine, author of the book Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to another island that is a key military outpost for the United States. Located in the Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia has been used for—often used for strikes on Iraq and Afghanistan. The island also played a critical role in the US extraordinary rendition program.

The military analyst John Pike recently described Diego Garcia as the most important facility the US has. According to Pike, the military’s goal is to be able to run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia by 2015.

Unlike Guam, Diego Garcia has no inhabitants resisting the US military. All of the island’s residents were forcibly removed in the early 1970s by the British as part of an agreement with the United States. Most of the former residents of Diego Garcia were shipped to Mauritius, located over a thousand miles away. For the last four decades, former residents of Diego Garcia and their descendants have been fighting for the right to return.

We’re joined now by Olivier Bancoult. He is a leader of the exiled people of Diego Garcia and president of the Chagos Refugees Group. He was expelled from his native Diego Garcia when he was four years old.

We’re also joined by David Vine, author of the book Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia.

Olivier Bancoult, I want to start with you. Welcome to Democracy Now!

OLIVIER BANCOULT: Thank you for inviting me to Democracy Now!

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk to us first about the experience of the removal, what you and your family remember of the removal by the British and how it came about?

OLIVIER BANCOULT: Yeah. The way that we have been removed, it was forcibly removed by the British government in order to make place for the US military base in Diego Garcia. We all have to move, first on Diego Garcia and then followed by the outer island, Peros Banhos and Salomon. So that means that we have been removed twice. And we have been dumped in the slum of Port Louis without any consideration and without any planning.

And the whole what we used to do in Chagos was now the same in Mauritius. Life become more and more difficult for us. This is why we have been trying to see what we can do, and it give me this opportunity to be here in the United States to just try to have an open dialogue with the new administration of Barack—President Barack Obama administration, to see. And it’s very important that on this day I’ve been—learned that President Barack Obama had been awarded Nobel Peace Prize. And I think that he will use it in order to solve the problem, to put an end to all the—solve the problems faced by Chagossian community since the uproot, their removal from their birthplace.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And when the British removed your people from the island, how many people were removed? Did they offer any kind of compensation to the families for the properties they lost? And what kind of compensation did they receive?

OLIVIER BANCOULT: When we were removed, we were, in all, 2,500. But there was no compensation. This had been followed by all the legal battle, not only by hunger strike, by demonstration, by Chagossian women. And for some years, we have received very little compensation, which was not enough in order to pay all the debt we had done during our stay in Mauritius, because in Chagos, everyone has his own house, whereas in Mauritius, we have to pay rent, and we don’t have money, we don’t have a job. And this is why we consider that compensation was not enough. And people are still living in poverty, and we have been dumped the slum of Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius.

JUAN GONZALEZ: David Vine, you have chronicled this incredible story that is little known throughout the rest of the world. How did the British end up depopulating the island on behalf of the United States?

DAVID VINE: It was—and this is one of the main points of my book Island of Shame—it was, from the beginning, a US plan. The US identified Diego Garcia as the site for a military base beginning in the late 1950s and approached the British to gain access to the islands and to remove the Chagossians. And with the help of a $14 million secret payment that we made to the British government, we secured their agreement to give us access to the island and then to forcibly remove all the Chagossians, which was ultimately done, again, on our orders.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the island remains under whose sovereignty right now?

DAVID VINE: It remains a British colony, actually the last created British colony. But the base is firmly a US base. It’s a massive Air Force and Navy base.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you went all around the world trying to dig up the documents on this. Tell us how you got involved in investigating this scandal.

DAVID VINE: I got involved about eight years ago, when some of the lawyers representing the Chagossians in lawsuits in the United States and Britain contacted me to serve as an expert witness in their suits, to go and live with the Chagossians and to document the effects of the expulsion on their lives. But very quickly, I realized there was a larger story that I wanted to understand and tell, and that was how US government came to order the expulsion of the Chagossians and orchestrate it and why we have a military base in the Indian Ocean in the first place.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And why is Diego Garcia so important?

DAVID VINE: Largely because of its proximity to a large swath of the globe, from south—from southern Africa through, and especially, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, all the way to South and Southeast Asia. But it’s been the control that the United States has been able to exert over the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, and its oil and natural gas supplies, in particular, that have made Diego Garcia so strategically important.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you make the point in your research that the leaders of Congress were not always favorable to this idea of establishing this base on Diego Garcia and that, in effect, folks in the Pentagon attempted to circumvent the political leadership in terms of being able to reach the point that they have now of this major military base.

DAVID VINE: That’s right. Actually, members of Congress were not told at all about the base until the end of the 1960s, when the Navy went to Congress asking for an appropriation for the construction of what they called an “austere communications facility,” although, from the beginning, they had plans for a much larger base. But members of Congress were simply not informed about the expulsion of the Chagossians and were lied to, in fact.

At the end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s, when they asked about local inhabitants, they were simply told that the island was home to a few transient laborers. This was part of a public relations plan that the British helped craft, where they would, quote, “maintain the fiction,” unquote—and those were the words they used—“maintain the fiction” that the islands were inhabited by transient laborers, rather than an indigenous people that the Chagossians are, who had been living there for more than five generations, since the time of the American Revolution.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Olivier Bancoult, your reaction to being labeled by the Pentagon “transient laborers”? What was life like on Diego Garcia before the military came?

OLIVIER BANCOULT: Life was very good. Everyone was enjoying life in harmony and peace, because we have our culture, we have our tradition. We all have a house. We all have a job. We used to work in a coconut plantation, where just after working our work, we used to go to the sea to fish. And there is an idea of share between each other. We all live as one family. And we have our culture, like our special meal, like our music, which had been taken [inaudible], because everyone wants to promote culture, but what about our culture? They just want to destroy it. This is why it’s so important for us to have our dignity and our fundamental rights back as all human beings to be able to live in our birthplace.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the rest of the population of the island was scattered, not just to Mauritius. What other parts of the world did they end up in?

OLIVIER BANCOULT: Yeah, most of the Chagossians was—they have been in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. But we have others of our brothers and sisters in Seychelles, and where we still are fighting—the most important for them is how life was in Chagos, is very different to Mauritius and to other place, because we prefer to be in our birthplace, as all human beings, because it’s something very important to all human beings.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And David Vine, you traced some of this diaspora to other parts of the world, as well, even to England directly?

DAVID VINE: That’s right. In the past six years or so, the Chagossians, as a result of the struggle that Olivier described, that they’ve been waging for more than four decades now, the Chagossians won the right to full British citizenship, which includes the right of a vote in Britain. So we’ve seen in the past several years about a thousand or more Chagossians moving to Britain, where they’ve—some have been able to improve their lives a bit. Many are actually working in low-wage jobs at places like Gatwick Airport. But the diaspora has spread, while they continue their struggle to return to their homeland and receive proper compensation for what they’ve suffered in exile.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And you mentioned that this is an island that journalists—no journalist has ever visited?

DAVID VINE: Since the very early 1980s, essentially no journalist has been allowed to go. I was denied and turned down on multiple occasions when I asked both the US and British governments for permission to go to the islands to carry out my research. And journalists have effectively been barred there for more than two decades.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to thank you both for being with us, David Vine, author of the book Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia, and Olivier Bancoult, a leader of the exiled people of Diego Garcia and president of the Chagos Refugees Group.

DAVID VINE: Thank you so much.

OLIVIER BANCOULT: Thank you so much.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Thank you for being with us.

Resistance to Militarism: Guam, Puerto Rico, Diego Garcia

May 15, 2009 

Resistance to Militarism: Guam, Puerto Rico, Diego Garcia

Tues, May 19, 6:30-9:00pm

PANA Institute, 2357 Le Conte Ave, Berkeley, CA

PANA and Women for Genuine Security invite you to:
• Hear updates on Island Peoples’ resistance to U.S. military bases & their struggle for life and land.
• Including book launch of: Island of Shame: The Secret history of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia
• Share food and community
6:30pm dinner. Program starts at 7:00pm. RSVP for dinner to Gwyn Kirk (; 510 652-7511)


Ethnic Studies professor, Mills College;
Advisor, Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, and Collaborator, Ceiba Alliance for Development (PR community organizations that address the issue of military and ex-military lands);
Author of Kicking Off the Bootstrap: Environment, evelopment and Community Power in Puerto Rico (University of Arizona Press) + many articles on Puerto Rico, resistance to militarism, and environmental justice.

Anthropology professor. American University, Washington, DC, and author of Island of Shame: The Secret history of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia.

This explosive new book exposes the other Guantánamo in the heart of the Indian Ocean. Although most don’t know it exists, the U.S. military base on the island of Diego Garcia is one of the most strategically important and secretive U.S. military installations in the world, serving as a launch pad for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a top-secret CIA prison, and a centerpiece for U.S. domination of Middle East oil supplies. Island of Shame also reveals the shocking truth of how the United States conspired with Britain to forcibly expel Diego Garcia’s indigenous people-the Chagossians-and dump them in impoverished exile. (All the author’s proceeds will be donated to the Chagossians).

Organizing for self-determination for Chamorro people of Guåhan/Guam.

Downtown Berkeley BART. Take University to Oxford. Left on Oxford, right on Hearst, left on Le Conte. Call 415 312 5583 if you need a ride from BART. Parking space in the driveway or on the street.

Women for Genuine Security & PANA Institute (Pacific School of Religion) For more information: Deborah Lee ( •
Gwyn Kirk (;, 510 652- 7511 •

Related event:
Author David Vine will also speak at Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco on Wednesday, May 20, 7:00pm.

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