From email@example.com Sat Oct 23 19:15:09 2004 Date: Fri, 22 Oct 2004 07:59:23 -0500 (CDT) From: MichaelP <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Diego Garcia—How the Brits deported a nation Article: 193932 To: undisclosed-recipients: ;
Three forgotten, grainy films shot more than 40 years ago reveal the evidence of a crime committed by British governments against some of its most vulnerable citizens. What they tell is a shocking, almost incredible story in which the Blair Government has played a major part. One of the films, made in 1957 by the government's Colonial Film Unit, shows the people of the Chagos islands, a British Crown colony in the Indian Ocean.
The setting is idyllic; a coral archipelago lying midway between
Africa and Asia: a phenomenon of natural beauty and peace where, says
most of the people have lived for generations.
There are thriving villages, a school, a hospital, a church, a
railway, docks, a copra plantation. In the second film, shot by
missionaries, the islanders' beloved dogs splash in a sheltered,
palm-fringed lagoon catching fish; and there is a line of proud
mothers, in their finery, with their babies awaiting their
baptism. Here surely was Britain's Empire at its most benign.
The third film marks the end of all this: an act of ruthlessness and duplicity with few Imperial parallels. The year is 1961; a stocky man strides ashore in Diego Garcia, the main island of the Chagos group.
He is Rear-Admiral Grantham of the US Navy and his visit is followed
by a top secret Anglo-American survey of the island for a military
base—one of the biggest American bases outside the United
States: what the Pentagon in Washington calls an
platform for policing the world. Today on Diego Garcia there are
more than 2,000 American troops, anchorage for 30 ships, including
nuclear-armed aircraft carriers, a satellite spy station and two of
the world's longest runways from which B-52 and Stealth bombers
have attacked Afghanistan and Iraq.
Through the vapour haze as the bombers take off you can just see, on the other side of the lagoon, the broken villages: the houses claimed by the jungle, some still with their furniture, pictures and other personal belongings that were left the day the people were expelled.
Roaming wild are their donkeys and dogs that are now feral, but there
are few of these descendants of the islanders' pets. As the
Americans began to build their billion-dollar base 30 years ago Sir
Bruce Greatbatch, KCVO, CMG, MBE, governor of the Seychelles, ordered
all the dogs on Diego Garcia to be killed. More than 1,000 pets were
gassed with exhaust fumes.
They put the dogs in a furnace where the
people worked, Lisette Talatte, in her 60s, told me,
their dogs were taken away in front of them our children screamed and
Sir Bruce had been given responsibility for what the Americans called
sanitising the islands; and the killing of
the pets was taken by the islanders as a warning. For what had been
agreed between Washington and Whitehall in secrecy was that the 2,000
Chagos islanders would be forced from their homeland. A 1965 Foreign
Office memorandum describes how the Americans made the expulsion of
the entire population
virtually a condition of the agreement.
As for the gentle Creoles they were throwing out,
these people have
little aptitude for anything other than growing coconuts. They
are, wrote Sir Bruce Greatbatch,
untrainable. In other words, expendable.
Files found in the National Archives in Washington and Public Record Office in London provide clear evidence of a conspiracy between the Labour government of Harold Wilson and two American administrations in the form of a searing narrative of official lying that will be all too familiar to those who have chronicled the lies over Iraq. The conspiracy got under way with the creation of a fake colony called the British Indian Ocean Territory, or BIOT. The sole purpose of this was to get rid of the people.
To do it, the Foreign Office invented the fiction that the islanders
were transient contract workers who could be
Mauritius and the Seychelles, 1,000 miles away. This was the
returning the majority of Australians, whose
ancestry dates from 1770, the same year the first islanders settled in
the Chagos. The aim, wrote a Foreign Office official in 1966,
convert all the existing residents into shortterm, temporary
residents. What the files also reveal is an attitude of brutality
In August 1966, Sir Paul Gore-Booth, permanent under-secretary at the
Foreign Office, wrote:
We must surely be very tough about this. The
object of the exercise was to get some rocks that will remain
ours. There will be no indigenous population except seagulls. At
the end of this is a handwritten note by DH Greenhill, later Baron
Greenhill of Harrow.
Along with the birds go some Tarzans or Men
Fridays? Under the heading Maintaining The Fiction, another
official urges his colleagues to reclassify the islanders as
floating population and to
make up the rules as we go
As for the United Nations and international law, which invested in the
remaining colonial powers a
sacred trust to protect the basic
human rights of their citizens in dependent territories, a senior
Foreign Office official proposed
a policy of 'quiet
disregard'—in other words, let's forget about this one
until the United Nations challenge us on it. Reading these
documents, I could find not a single word of concern for the suffering
caused or even recognition that Britain was, in effect, kidnapping its
own citizens. There is worry about the press finding out and
damaging publicity and now and then the conspirators appear to
get the wind up.
This is all fairly unsatisfactory, wrote one
We propose to certify these people, more or less
fraudulently, as belonging somewhere else?
The cover-up went right to the top. In 1968 Foreign Secretary Michael
Stewart wrote that
by any stretch of the English language, there
was an indigenous population and the Foreign Office knew it. Yet
on April 21, 1969, in a secret minute to Harold Wilson, Stewart
proposed that the government lie to the UN
by present(ing) any move
as a change of employment for contract workers—rather than as a
Five days later Wilson gave his approval, which was copied to senior members of the Cabinet. At first the islanders were tricked into leaving; those needing urgent medical care in Mauritius were prevented from returning home. There is a photograph taken outside the administrator's office on Diego Garcia. It is a haunting image, taken in 1973, not long after the massacre of the dogs. The stunned crowd has just been told their islands have been sold and they are to be expelled.
They could take only one suitcase. On one journey in rough seas the
copra company's horses occupied the deck, while women and children
slept on a cargo of bird fertiliser. Arriving in the Seychelles they
were held in a prison until they were transported to Mauritius. In the
first years of exile suicides were common.
Elaine and Michel Mouza:
mother and child committed suicide, said a report in
Josie and Maude Baptiste: poverty—no roof, no food,
committed suicide. Lisette Talatte lost two children.
doctor said he cannot treat sadness, she told me. Rita Bancoult,
now 79, lost two daughters and a son; she told me that when her
husband was informed the family could never return home, he suffered a
stroke and died.
Only after more than a decade did the islanders receive compensation:
less than 3,000 pounds each. In 2000 the High Court ruled their
expulsion illegal. However, the Blair Government, although it did not
appeal the decision, blocked them from going home by conjuring up a
feasibility study to determine whether the islands could be
resettled. It found they were
sinking—perhaps under the
weight of the thousands of US servicemen, their bars, barbecues and
bombers. In 2003 the islanders were denied compensation in a now
notorious High Court case, with the judge referring to
we as if
the Foreign Office and the court were on the same side.
Last June the Government invoked a
decree—to overturn the 2000 decision, bypass Parliament and ban
the islanders from ever going home. Last week, after the screening of
my documentary on ITV, this epic struggle turned yet another corner
when the High Court agreed to a judicial review of the royal
decree. The islanders, led by Olivier Bancoult, who went into exile as
a child, and their extraordinary London lawyer, Richard Gifford, say
that if this fails they will head for the European Court of Human
Article Seven of the new International Criminal Court leaves little doubt that what was done to these gentle, tenacious people was a crime against humanity. As Bush's bombers take off from their homeland, his collaborator in Downing Street might reflect on that.