Sunday, August 01, 2004
The Secret That the Government Kept for 30 Years
By Rosemarie Jackowski
Currently the United States has so many military bases around the world that it is almost impossible to get an accurate count of the exact number. Author Chalmers Johnson states that the U.S. has 6,000 bases in 130 different countries. The history of the acquisition of many of these bases shows a clandestine, nefarious, and cruel attitude toward the people who originally occupied the locations where the bases now are. The official word used by the Pentagon to describe bases in other countries is “Footprint.” What could be more arrogant than one country putting its footprint on another sovereign nation?
The history of the U.S. base on Diego Garcia is of special interest now. The base was built by Halliburton and commissioned on March 20, 1973. Exactly 30 years later, on March 20, 2003, the Shock and Awe bombing campaign was launched from Diego Garcia. This base has been a recent topic of discussion in the British House of Commons. The people who inhabited Diego Garcia, until the United States forced them to leave, are now seeking justice. Court documents reveal that a policy of ethnic cleansing by the U.S. government has continued for over 30 years.
The following are quotes from a CBS 60 Minutes special on Diego Garcia:
"Total evacuation. They [the U.S.] wanted no indigenous people there."
"[T]hey weren’t allowed to take anything with them except a suitcase of their clothes..."
"The people of Diego Garcia say they left paradise and landed in hell when they were dumped in the urban slums of Mauritius..."
"No one helped them resettle or pay for the homes they lost. They were forced to become squatters in a foreign land. Jeannette Alexis’ family was one of the last to leave: ‘My father was told that we had to leave the island because the Americans were moving in and it wasn’t safe to remain on the island anymore.’"
"officials ordered their pets to be exterminated. They were gassed with exhaust fumes from American military vehicles.
"And for the next 30 years, the world never knew what happened to Diego Garcia’s original people.
"No outsiders are allowed onto Diego Garcia, so this secret stayed hidden until one of the exiled islanders, Olivier Bancoult, started organizing his community. So three years ago, Olivier traveled to London to take the British government to court. His big break came when he and his lawyer, Richard Gifford, found secret documents that had recently been declassified that described the agreement between the United States and British governments to build the base on Diego Garcia. These British documents reveal that colonial officials thought no one would notice if they deported the islanders. Another British document confirms that ‘evicting the people and leaving the island to the seagulls’ was done at the request of the United States. It reads: ‘The United States Government will require the removal of the entire population of the atoll by July.’ Uncovering the paper trail brought Gifford and Bancoult a stunning victory. Britain’s highest court ruled that deporting Diego Garcia’s native population was illegal. So last August, the islanders appealed directly to President Bush. Olivier Bancoult, Jeannette Alexis and the rest of the islanders say they will never give up. Now they are suing both the U.S. and British governments for compensation and the right to return..."
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution sets forth the principle of fair compensation in eminent domain cases. It could be argued that the Diego Garcia case is not covered by the U.S. Constitution because Diego Garcia is not part of the U.S. That very argument would make the case for reparations because that is precisely the point. Diego Garcia is not a part of the U.S. and therefore the U.S. government never had any rights of ownership there. The belligerent occupation of Diego Garcia by the U.S. has been a violation of fundamental principles as laid out in the U.S. Constitution, a violation of international law, a violation of U.S. treaties, and a violation of human rights.
Does the secret history of the United States in Diego Garcia show that U.S. foreign policy is based on the belief that some people are inferior? Is this a racist policy? Or is it just that human rights will always be secondary to the desires of the U.S. military? The former inhabitants of Diego Garcia want the freedom to occupy their own country. This freedom has been taken away by the U.S.
Do not look for the facts of this clandestine operation in any U.S. history textbook. Our government has been masterful at keeping the secret for 30 years. Some documents were declassified and then found in 1999 only because of a judicial process in Britain. (Now additional information is available on CBS News’s website. Correspondent Christiane Amanpour reported on this story for CBS.)
Thus far, the U.S. has made no apology, has paid no reparations, and has permitted no judicial remedy. Will the government of the U.S. ever allow the people of Diego Garcia to return to their homeland? Will the people of the United States join with others around the world and work toward the immediate closing of the base at Diego Garcia? Will the U.S. government clean up the hazardous materials on the base, and pay reparations to all of the original inhabitants? Will a filmmaker ever produce a documentary of this, one of the greatest stories of our time? Will lawyers in the U.S. answer the call and write amicus briefs, so that justice, which has been delayed for so long, will now be possible? Will a team of international lawyers ever assemble, and bring this case to the World Court? After more than 30 years, it is now time to let the people of Diego Garcia go home.
Rosemarie Jackowski lives in Bennington, Vt. She was arrrested in a peaceful protest against the U.S. invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003 and is currently awaiting trial with the possibility of a prison sentence. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Share