If we think at all about our government’s military depopulating territory that it desires, we usually think of the long-ago replacement of native Americans with new settlements during the continental expansion of the United States westward.
Here in Virginia some of us are vaguely aware that back during the Great Depression poor people were evicted from their homes and their land where national parks were desired. But we distract and comfort ourselves with the notion that such matters are deep in the past.
Occasionally we notice that environmental disasters are displacing people, often poor people or marginalized people, from their homes. But these incidents seem like collateral damage rather than intentional ethnic cleansing.
If we’re aware of the 1,000 or so U.S. military bases standing today in some 175 foreign countries, we must realize that the land they occupy could serve some other purpose in the lives of those countries’ peoples. But surely those countries’ peoples are still there, still living — if perhaps slightly inconvenienced — in their countries.
Yet the fact is that the U.S. military has displaced and continues to displace for the construction of its bases the entire populations of villages and islands, in blatant violation of international law, basic human decency, and principles we like to tell each other we stand for. The United States also continues to deny displaced populations the right to return to their homelands.
At issue here are not the bombings or burnings of entire villages, which of course the United States engages in during its wars and its non-wars. Nor are we dealing here with the millions of refugees created by wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan or by drone wars like the one in Pakistan. Rather, the following are cases of the intentional displacement of particular populations moved out of the way of base construction and left alive to struggle as refugees in exile.
In the Philippines, the United States built bases on land belonging to the indigenous Aetas people, who “ended up combing military trash to survive.”
During World War II the U.S. Navy seized the small Hawaiian island of Koho’alawe for a weapons testing range and ordered its inhabitants to leave. The island has been devastated.
In 1942, the Navy displaced Aleutian Islanders.
President Harry Truman made up his mind that the 170 native inhabitants of Bikini Atoll had no right to their island. He had them evicted in February and March of 1946, and dumped as refugees on other islands without means of support or a social structure in place. In the coming years, the United States would remove 147 people from Enewetak Atoll and all the people on Lib Island. U.S. atomic and hydrogen bomb testing rendered various depopulated and still-populated islands uninhabitable, leading to further displacements. Up through the 1960s, the U.S. military displaced hundreds of people from Kwajalein Atoll. A super-densely populated ghetto was created on Ebeye.
On Vieques, off Puerto Rico, the Navy displaced thousands of inhabitants between 1941 and 1947, announced plans to evict the remaining 8,000 in 1961, but was forced to back off and — in 2003 — to stop bombing the island.
On nearby Culebra, the Navy displaced thousands between 1948 and 1950 and attempted to remove those remaining up through the 1970s.
The Navy is right now looking at the island of Pagan as a possible replacement for Vieques, the population already having been removed by a volcanic eruption. Of course, any possibility of return would be greatly diminished.
Beginning during World War II and continuing through the 1950s, the U.S. military displaced a quarter million Okinawans, or half the population, from their land, forcing people into refugee camps and shipping thousands of them off to Bolivia — where land and money were promised but not delivered.
In 1953, the United States made a deal with Denmark to remove 150 Inughuit people from Thule, Greenland, giving them four days to get out or face bulldozers. They are being denied the right to return.
The story of Diego Garcia is superbly told in David Vine’s book, Island of Shame. Between 1968 and 1973, the United States and Great Britain exiled all 1,500 to 2,000 inhabitants from this island in the Indian Ocean. On orders from, and with funding from, the United States, the British forced the people onto overcrowded ships and dumped them on docks in Mauritius and the Seychelles — foreign and distant and unwelcoming lands for this indigenous population that had been part of Diego Garcia for centuries. U.S. documents described this as “sweeping” and “sanitizing” the island.
Those responsible for the displacement of the people of Diego Garcia knew that what they were doing was widely considered barbaric and illegal. They devised ways of creating “logical cover” for the process. They persuaded the ever-compliant Washington Post to bury the story. The Queen of England and her Privy Council bypassed Parliament. The Pentagon lied to Congress and hid its payments to the British from Congress. The planners even lied to themselves. Having originally envisioned a communications station, they concluded that advances in technology had rendered that unhelpful. So, Navy schemers decided that a fueling station for ships might offer a “suitable justification” for building a base that was actually a purposeless end in itself. But the Pentagon ended up telling a reluctant Congress that the base would be a communications station, because that was something Congress would approve.
Those plotting the eviction of the island’s people created the fiction that the inhabitants were migrant workers not actually native to Diego Garcia. Sir Paul Gore-Booth, Permanent Under Secretary in the Foreign Office of the U.K., dismissed the island’s people as “some few Tarzans or Men Fridays whose origins are obscure.” This stood in contrast to the respect and protection given to some other islands not chosen for bases because of the rare plants, birds, and animals resident there.
On January 24, 1971, remaining inhabitants of Diego Garcia were told they’d need to leave or be shot. They were allowed to take a small box of possessions, but had to leave their homes, their gardens, their animals, their land, and their society. Their dogs were rounded up and killed in a gas chamber as they watched, waiting themselves to be loaded on ships for departure. Arriving in Mauritius, they were housed in a prison. Their fate has not much improved in the decades since. David Vine describes them as very forgiving, wishing nothing but to be permitted to return.
Diego Garcia is purely a military base and in some ways more of a lawless zone than Guantanamo. The United States has kept and may be keeping prisoners there, on the island or on ships in the harbor. The Red Cross and journalists do not visit. The United States has de facto control of Diego Garcia, while the U.K. has technical ownership. The Pentagon is not interested in allowing the island’s people to return.
The South Korean government, at the behest of the U.S. Navy, is in the process of devastating a village, its coast, and 130 acres of farmland on Jeju Island with a massive military base. This story is best told in Regis Tremblay’s new film The Ghosts of Jeju. This is not a tragedy from the past to be remedied but a tragedy of this moment to be halted in its tracks. You can help. Tremblay’s film examines the history of decades of abuse of the people of Jeju, and the resistance movement that is currently inspiring other anti-base efforts around the globe. The film begins somber and ends joyful. I highly recommend creating an event around a screening of it.
We should not neglect to note here that the United States funds and arms and protects the Israeli government’s ongoing displacement of Palestinians and denial of the right to return.
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote William Faulkner.
- The U.S. Base on Diego Garcia: An Overlooked Atrocity (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Shame, Lies and Secrecy on Diego Garcia (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The largest criminal organizations in the world are governments. The bigger they are, the more capable of perpetrating atrocities. Not only do they obtain great wealth through compulsion (taxation), they also have an ideological mystique that permits them uniquely to get away with murder, torture, and theft.
The U.S. government is no exception. This is demonstrated by, among many other things, the atomic bombings of noncombatants in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World II. But let’s examine a lesser-known case, one we might know nothing about were it not for David Vine, who teaches anthropology at the American University. Vine has written a book, Island of Shame, and a follow-up article at the Huffington Post about the savage treatment of the people of Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Americans may know Diego Garcia as a U.S. military base. It “helped launch the Afghan and Iraq wars and was part of the CIA’s secret ‘rendition’ program for captured terrorist suspects,” Vine writes.
What’s not widely known is that the island was once home to a couple of thousand people who were forcibly removed to make room for the U.S. military. The victims’ 40-year effort to return or to be compensated for their losses have been futile.
Great Britain claims the island. According to Vine, African slaves, indentured Indians, and their descendants had been living on the Chagos islands for about 200 years. “In 1965, after years of secret negotiations, Britain agreed to separate Chagos from colonial Mauritius (contravening UN decolonization rules) to create a new colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory. In a secret 1966 agreement, Britain gave U.S. officials base rights on Diego Garcia.”
But it did more than that. Britain “agreed to take those ‘administrative measures’ necessary to remove the nearly 2,000 Chagossians in exchange for $14 million in secret U.S. payments.”
The British kept their end of the bargain. In 1968, Britain began blocking the return of Chagossians who left to obtain medical treatment or to go on vacation, “marooning them often without family members and almost all their possessions,” Vine writes.
British officials soon began restricting food and medical supplies to Chagos. Anglo-American officials designed a public relations plan aimed at, as one British bureaucrat said, “maintaining the fiction” that Chagossians were migrant laborers rather than a people with roots in Chagos for five generations or more. Another British official called them “Tarzans” and “Man Fridays.”
Then, in 1971, the final order came down, reminiscent of a Russian czar expelling Jews from their village. “The U.S. Navy’s highest-ranking admiral, Elmo Zumwalt, issued … a three-word memo.… ‘Absolutely must go.’”
British agents, with the help of Navy Seabees, quickly rounded up the islanders’ pet dogs, gassing and burning them in sealed cargo sheds. They ordered … the remaining Chagossians onto overcrowded cargo ships. During the deportations, which took place in stages until May 1973, most Chagossians slept in the ship’s hold atop guano — bird crap. Prized horses stayed on deck. By the end of the five-day trip, vomit, urine, and excrement were everywhere. At least one woman miscarried.
Arriving in Mauritius and the Seychelles, Chagossians were literally left on the docks. They were homeless, jobless, and had little money, and they received no resettlement assistance.
Remember, this was happening, not in the 18th or 19th century, but in the late 20th century. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the last of the expulsions.
The personal toll has been great. The Chagossians remain poor, and many suffer from illnesses traced to their dispossession. “Scores more Chagossians have reported deaths from sadness and sagren,” or “profound sorrow,” according to Vine.
Five years ago the Chagossians had some ray of hope when three British courts declared the deportations illegal. But the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom overruled the lower courts. “Last year,” Vine adds, “the European Court of Human Rights dismissed the Chagossians’ final appeal on procedural grounds.…”
“A day after the European court ruling, the Obama administration rejected the demands of an online petition signed by some 30,000 asking the White House to ‘redress wrongs against the Chagossians.’”
The British were adequately looking after the matter, the administration said.
Here is government in all its glory.
- Shame, Lies and Secrecy on Diego Garcia (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The Limited Usefulness of Wikileaks
Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands remains a deep shame to the United Kingdom. In the 1960′s we forcibly deported an entire population a thousand miles, very much against their will, to make way for a United States air base. This is not an ancient evil; it continues to seep its poison into current actions, and the remnants of the deported population still linger in Mauritius, dreaming of home.
The Chagos outlines the stark hyprocrisy of UK policy on the Falklands. There we state the will of the islanders is paramount. In the Chagos, we state the will of the islanders is meaningless. Of course, the Falklanders are white-skinned, the Chagossians brown-skinned. That is the limit of the FCO’s attachment to self-determination as a principle. It is not for “Man Fridays”.
“Man Fridays”, according to the US Embassy Cable describing the briefing on Diego Garcia given them by FCO official Colin Roberts, is how Roberts referred to the inhabitants:
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.
In the Diego Garcians’ latest attempt to get their home back, Roberts under cross-examination denied emphatically that he had used the term “Man Fridays”. It is difficult to see why the US diplomats who recorded his meeting with them used the term and put it in quotation marks, if Roberts did not use it. Roberts appears, on the face of it, to be potentially a perjurer in court. It was at this point the judges brilliantly resolved this issue by declaring the US Embassy cable ineligible in court on two grounds; firstly, its possession was a contravention of the UK’s official secrets act, as Roberts’ disclosure of the UK government’s duplicity was an official secret; secondly for it to be noticed by a court would contravene the Vienna Convention on the confidentiality of diplomatic communications.
This not only wiped out the problem of the apparent perjury by Colin Roberts; it collapsed the Chagos Islanders’ case that the US Embassy Cable clearly shows that the declaration of a Chagos Islands marine conservation area was merely a ruse to make it impossible for the inhabitants – who are artisan fishermen – to return:
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.”
Of course, I knew at the time what the evil David Miliband was doing, and I blogged about it in May 2010:
Miliband has now produced what is one of the most cynical acts in the history of British foreign policy. Dressed up as an environmentalist move, and with support from a number of purblind environmentalists, the waters around the Chagos Archipelago have been declared the world’s largest marine reserve – in which all fishing is banned. The islanders, of course, are fishermen.
The sheer cynicism of this effort by Miliband to dress up genocide as environmentalism is simply breathtaking. If we were really cooncerned about the environment of Diego Garcia we would not have built a massive airbase and harbour on a fragile coral atoll and filled it with nuclear weapons.
The subsequent wikileaks release of the cable recording the US Embassy briefing by Colin Roberts – which shows just what an odious, immoral creep Colin Roberts is – confirms the truth at what I am saying. I am still very angry at the environmental organisations which allowed themselves to be used in this way; they were blinkered and stupid. There is nothing more dangerous than a good man with a monomania.
The Guardian rightly execrated the ludicrous court decision to pretend the wikileaked US cable did not exist. It rather undermines the famous legal maxim that “facts are stubborn things”. A truer maxim would be “Facts are things which vicious, authoritarian judges can make disappear when it benefits the government for them to do so”.
The implication that facts, no matter how true, can be ignored in court if the government did not wish those facts to emerge, is a major blow to the very possibility of whistleblowing. A judicial system where the court only considers government approved fact, is a cornerstone of fascism. What happened in that court was very serious indeed. Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Mitting are a disgrace to their profession, the compliant tools of a policy that should disgust all moral men.
The Cocos (Keeling) Islands is a tiny group of coral atolls in the Indian Ocean 2800 kilometres north-west of Perth and 900 kilometres from Java. It has a population of about 600.
These islands were nominally a British territory between 1858 and 1955, when they were transferred by a British act of parliament to Australia. Yet for the next 17 years, the Australian government allowed the islands to operate as a private fiefdom of the Clunies-Ross family — just as the British had for 100 years before then.
The islands were uninhabited until 1826, when Alexander Hare, a former minor British colonial official, set up an establishment with about 50 slaves, mainly of Malay background, and a personal “harem” he had collected from many colonial outposts.
Hare was displaced a year later by his former business partner, John Clunies-Ross, a Scottish ship captain whose descendants enriched themselves on the labour of the Malay plantation workforce, who they paid with tokens that could be spent on only the company store.
The Malay islanders had no access to formal education, but the Clunies-Ross children were sent to private schools in Britain. The head of the Clunies-Ross family was the island’s lawmaker, judge and administrator. Anyone who did not accept his rule was banished.
So it is no surprise that, when the Cocos Islanders were finally given the choice between independence, free association and integration with Australia in 1984, they overwhelmingly voted in secret ballot for integration. Only members of the Clunies-Ross family and a couple of loyal servants were in favour of “independence”.
But the Australian government did not offer the islanders their liberation from semi-feudalism just out of respect for freedom.
Kenneth Chan, the Australian administrator on the Cocos Islands from 1983-85 admitted in a largely unnoticed academic paper he wrote in 1987 that the islands’ strategic location was the main motivation to acquire and integrate this Indian Ocean territory.
The islands were used as a military base by the British in World Wars I and II. Now, the US military wants the islands as a base for drones and other spy planes. Pentagon officials hope Australia will make up for a possible closure or downgrading of its main Indian Ocean island military base in Diego Garcia, which the US leased from Britain in 1966.
The US built its giant base on Diego Garcia in the 1970s after the 2000 Chagos Islanders were forcibly removed through trickery and starvation, a colonial crime exposed to the world relatively recently.
The US has used Diego Garcia as a base for nuclear weapons, marines, warships, bombers and spy planes. It has used it as a transit station for political prisoners sent for “rendition” to other countries so they can be tortured, though this is officially denied. Diego Garcia is a strategic hub of the US killing machine.
But the US lease runs out in 2016 and the Pentagon wants to relocate at least some of the military functions of the base to various Australian bases in Western Australia, Darwin and the Cocos Islands.
The Gillard Labor government and the Liberal-National opposition wholeheartedly support this process and have already agreed to station thousands of US marines in Darwin.
- Australia may allow US spy flights to Asia from remote island territory (scotsman.com)
- US drones to be based on Australian territory..for “humanitarian events”.. (seeker401.wordpress.com)
- UK annihilates records of colonial crimes (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Yesterday, brought ominous news regarding yet another aggressive Israeli projection of its military power in the Mideast. Since 1967, with but a few exceptions (Osirak being one), Israel has mainly satisfied itself by retaining dominance over its frontline neighbors and not attempting to meddle in affairs of more far-flung states. But with Bibi Netanyahu’s new policy of projecting Israeli power far outside Israel’s immediate sphere and threatening Iran with attack, we have an Israel ready and willing to step far outside its former comfort zone.
To show that Bibi’s aggressive, interventionist approach isn’t a fluke, UPI reports that Israel is negotiating with Greek Cyprus for placement of an Israeli air base on the island, ostensibly to protect the new Israeli-Cypriot joint gas exploration project:
Israel is already preparing to launch a major security operation to protect the offshore fields and the attendant facilities in its waters.
This will involve missile-armed patrol vessels, round-the-clock aerial surveillance by unmanned drones and other naval detachments, primarily to defend the energy zones against attack by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed force in neighboring Lebanon.
This field is in dispute with Lebanon, which also claims title. Turkey too disputes the area on behalf of Turkish Cyprus. This certainly is one reason for the Israeli move.
But an even more important one in the long-term, is Israel confronting Turkey with its power. It’s a rather naked move. A flagrant invasion of Turkey’s sphere of influence, which can only bring a Turkish response. The response will likely come within an area under Israel’s sphere of influence. Oh say, like Gaza. Someone with a cool head ought to start looking at this developing rivalry and see where it could lead (or end).
There is only one way to resolve territorial disputes of the nature of the one concerning the Cypriot gas field, negotiation. Israel, however, doesn’t believe it negotiation. It believes in naked projections of military strength. An Israeli base on Cyprus would be a forward projection of Israeli power in the same way that the U.S. base in Diego Garcia is our forward projection of power into the Mideast (currently threatening Iran, but previously used to bolster invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan).
It’s bad enough with the U.S. making a pretense of being the cop of the world and getting itself mired in places it should never be. But do we want Israel, with its history of wars and endless bloodshed, tangling not just with Palestinians or Arab militant groups like Hezbollah, but with full-fledged regional powers like Turkey? Let’s not forget that country’s age-old rivalry with Greece which has also led to centuries of historic conflict. Now Israel is playing footsie with the Greeks and becoming best friends with the current economic basket case of Europe. Greece is only too happy to oblige and take advantage of the power Israel has to offer.
Do we really want Israel playing with fire in this way? I fear this can only end badly.
Another related matter that concerns me is the economic bonanza that this new-found oil portends for Israel, one of the most economically striated nations in the world. The new gas and oil deals promise to make the Israeli elite even richer. It will bring untold billions to Israeli politicians and generals who will flock to consult for the new enterprises (as has Meir Dagan). One place this wealth will not go, is into the pockets of those who need it most inside Israel: the poor, the disenfranchised, etc. The Haredi and Israeli Palestinian poor will stay poor. There will be few, if any programs to share the wealth or provide benefits to those in need. After all, this is Bibi Netanyahu, a disciple of Milton Friedman, an economic Hobbesian. It’s dog-eat-dog in the Likud world. Just as long as Bibi and his party cronies are taken care of, little else matters.
In truth, this would likely happen whoever was in power. The only thing that would change is the names and faces of those benefitting. Labor and Kadima would be no better as anyone who knows about Ehud Barak’s wealth-producing consulting jobs while he was out of power, is aware. So for any who believe in the dreams of liberal Zionism and the Declaration of Independence, that Israel is a nation meant to realize a vision of brotherhood, tolerance and human dignity, the coming oil boom will frustrate you. But undoubtedly, if you’re a liberal Zionist, you’ll, as Tim Hardin wrote, “still look to find a reason to believe.”
Bombing Iran could be a real strain for Israel, reports Elisabeth Bumiller in the New York Times (“Iran Raid Seen as a Huge Task for Israeli Jets,” 2/19/12). No one’s sure they can pull it off, what with the logistics involved:
Should Israel decide to launch a strike on Iran, its pilots would have to fly more than 1,000 miles across unfriendly airspace, refuel in the air en route, fight off Iran’s air defenses, attack multiple underground sites simultaneously–and use at least 100 planes.
Everyone apparently agrees on the task in front of Israel, as Bumiller puts it: “Given that Israel would want to strike Iran’s four major nuclear sites….” Killing Iranians and spreading radioactive material over their countryside isn’t an issue for the Times, where Iran seems to exist only as an obstacle to Israeli strategic interests.
But, Bumiller reports, the job could exceed Israel’s offensive capabilities, raising the question of whether the U.S. might be “sucked into finishing the job.” A job she’s not altogether unexcited about:
Should the United States get involved–or decide to strike on its own–military analysts said that the Pentagon had the ability to launch big strikes with bombers, stealth aircraft and cruise missiles, followed up by drones that could carry out damage assessments to help direct further strikes. Unlike Israel, the United States has plenty of refueling capability. Bombers could fly from Al Udeid air base in Qatar, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean or bases in Britain and the United States.
Perhaps the most telling line in Bumiller’s cold, skewed accounting of the potential risks of an attack on Iran is in her peculiar notion of what would constitute a state of war:
Iran could also strike back with missiles that could hit Israel, opening a new war in the Middle East, though some Israeli officials have argued that the consequences would be worse if Iran were to gain a nuclear weapon.
War would ensue the instant Iran responded to being bombed? This is not only bizarre wording, it ignores the low-intensity war that has been waged against Iran over the past few years, including explosions at nuclear facilities, the assassination of its scientists and the arming of insurgent groups in Iran’s border areas.