Island of Shame

Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia

David Vine
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rw1w
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  • Book Info
    Island of Shame
    Book Description:

    The American military base on the island of Diego Garcia is one of the most strategically important and secretive U.S. military installations outside the United States. Located near the remote center of the Indian Ocean and accessible only by military transport, the little-known base has been instrumental in American military operations from the Cold War to the war on terror and may house a top-secret CIA prison where terror suspects are interrogated and tortured. But Diego Garcia harbors another dirty secret, one that has been kept from most of the world--until now.

    Island of Shameis the first major book to reveal the shocking truth of how the United States conspired with Britain to forcibly expel Diego Garcia's indigenous people--the Chagossians--and deport them to slums in Mauritius and the Seychelles, where most live in dire poverty to this day. Drawing on interviews with Washington insiders, military strategists, and exiled islanders, as well as hundreds of declassified documents, David Vine exposes the secret history of Diego Garcia. He chronicles the Chagossians' dramatic, unfolding story as they struggle to survive in exile and fight to return to their homeland. Tracing U.S. foreign policy from the Cold War to the war on terror, Vine shows how the United States has forged a new and pervasive kind of empire that is quietly dominating the planet with hundreds of overseas military bases.

    Island of Shameis an unforgettable exposé of the human costs of empire and a must-read for anyone concerned about U.S. foreign policy and its consequences. The author will donate all royalties from the sale of this book to the Chagossians.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3850-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. FOREWORD
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    MICHAEL TIGAR

    I write this foreword with pride and humility. Pride, because I was present when David Vine first had the inspiration to take on the task of research and writing that led to the book you are holding. The year was 2001. I was part of a team of lawyers from Great Britain, Mauritius, and the United States who were seeking justice for the Chagossian people. I had just returned from visiting the camps in which they are housed in Mauritius. It seemed to me that if we were to explain the Chagossian story of betrayal, struggle, and hope, it would...

  5. ABBREVIATIONS AND INITIALISMS
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. A NOTE TO THE READER
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-19)

    Rita felt like she’d been sliced open and all the blood spilled from her body.

    “What happened to you? What happened to you?” her children cried as they came running to her side.

    “What happened?” her husband inquired.

    “Did someone attack you?” they asked.

    “I heard everything they said,” Rita recounted, “but my voice couldn’t open my mouth to say what happened.” For an hour she said nothing, her heart swollen with emotion.

    Finally she blurted out: “We will never again return to our home! Our home has been closed!” As Rita told me almost forty years later, the man...

  8. CHAPTER 1 THE ILOIS, THE ISLANDERS
    (pp. 20-40)

    Laba” is all Rita had to say. Meaning, “out there.” Chagossians in exile know immediately thatout theremeans one thing: Chagos.

    Labathere are birds, there are turtles, and plenty of food,” she said. “There’s a leafy green vegetable . . . called cow’s tongue. It’s tasty to eat, really good. You can put it in a curry, you can make it into a pickled chutney.

    “When I was still young, I was a little like a boy. In those times, we went looking” for ingredients for “curries on Saturday. So very early in the morning we went” to...

  9. CHAPTER 2 THE BASES OF EMPIRE
    (pp. 41-55)

    Around Washington, DC naval circles, Stu Barber was known as being “exceptionally far-sighted.”¹ Two decades before President Carter announced his foreign policy doctrine—the consequences of which the world is feeling to this day—that the United States would intervene militarily in the Persian Gulf against threats to its interests, Stu proposed his own version. He called it the “South Atlantic and Indian Ocean Monroe Doctrine and Force.” Developed during the 1960 presidential election campaign, Stu intended the idea “to be fed, somehow, to both Presidential candidates.”²

    During World War II, Stu served in naval intelligence on Ford Island, Hawai‘i....

  10. CHAPTER 3 THE STRATEGIC ISLAND CONCEPT AND A CHANGING OF THE IMPERIAL GUARD
    (pp. 56-71)

    Within three months of the United States’ entrance into World War II, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “Capetown Clipper” seaplane was skidding to a halt across Diego Garcia’s lagoon. Two officials stepped out of the plane and went to meet Diego’s administrator. After signing his autograph book, they began surveying the northwest tip of the island for construction of a 4,000-foot runway.¹ The Army never built the runway; instead the ruling power in the ocean, Great Britain, developed a corner of the atoll into a small base for ships, reconnaissance seaplanes, and communications traffic.

    Between the fall of Napoleon...

  11. CHAPTER 4 “EXCLUSIVE CONTROL”
    (pp. 72-88)

    The members of the Kennedy administration saw themselves as living in “an Olympian age,” and the people crafting foreign policy were its gods. They were men who were full of “virility” and power, combining traditional notions of American masculinity based on physical force with the supposed heights of intellectual prowess.¹ And of those in fabled Camelot, the men surrounding McGeorge Bundy epitomized “the best and the brightest” generation that descended on Washington. This was the elite group of White House staffers working for the Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. They came to be known as the...

  12. CHAPTER 5 “MAINTAINING THE FICTION”
    (pp. 89-98)

    So far we have seen how officials were worried that despite the advantages of overseas bases for controlling large territories, bases also carry with them significant risks. The most serious, as Stu Barber realized, is the possibility that a host nation will evict its guest from a base. There is also the danger that for political or other reasons a host will make a base temporarily unavailable during a crisis. During the lead-up to the most recent invasion of Iraq, for example, Turkey’s Islamist ruling party refused to allow the United States use of its territory for a large troop...

  13. CHAPTER 6 “ABSOLUTELY MUST GO”
    (pp. 99-111)

    “When it came to writing official, top-secret reports that combined sophisticated analysis with a flair for scaring the daylights out of anyone reading them,” writes Fred Kaplan, “Paul H. Nitze had no match.”¹ For five decades, Nitze was at the center of U.S. national security policy, beginning and perhaps most centrally with his authorship of the 1950 NSC-68 memo, which became one of the guiding forces in U.S. Cold War policy.

    In NSC-68, and throughout his career, Nitze became an ardent proponent of building up “conventional, non-nuclear forces to meet Soviet aggression on the peripheries” (i.e., in the so-called Third...

  14. CHAPTER 7 “ON THE RACK”
    (pp. 112-125)

    With the money finally secured from Congress and the British taking charge of the final deportations, the Navy set to work building its base. “Resembling an amphibious landing during World War II,” writes a former Navy officer who worked on the project, “Seabees landed on Diego Garcia in March 1971 to begin construction.”¹ A tank landing ship, an attack cargo ship, two military sealift command charter ships, and two dock landing ships descended on Diego with at least 820 soldiers and equipment to construct a communications station and an 8,000-foot airstrip. The Seabees brought in heavy equipment, setting up a...

  15. CHAPTER 8 DERASINE: THE IMPOVERISHMENT OF EXPULSION
    (pp. 126-136)

    When you arrive in Cassis, you find a maze of rusting corrugated iron fences lining small passageways, dirt paths, and a few paved roads, surrounded by houses and shacks cobbled together in metal, concrete block, and wood. Four major cemeteries dominate the landscape of the slum neighborhood closest to the center of Port Louis. Trash often sits smoldering in empty garbage-strewn lots. Bent, rusted, and torn sheets of metal lie in piles that to an outsider seem like just more detritus but upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be emergency supplies for future home repairs. From the balconies of the...

  16. CHAPTER 9 DEATH AND DOUBLE DISCRIMINATION
    (pp. 137-148)

    “I’m telling you, Mauritians, when they, how can I say it. They found out that you were Ilois, they laughed at you. They said things like, ‘You walk barefoot!’ if you didn’t have flip-flops. What can you do, David? You can’t steal from someone when you family is living inmizer,” said Rita.

    “At my children’s school, everyone said, ‘He’s a little Ilois! A little Ilois!’ My children came and told me this,” she continued. “I said, ‘Leave them be, leave them be. Let them talk. You don’t need to say anything.’ Do you understand? My children went to school,...

  17. CHAPTER 10 DYING OF SAGREN
    (pp. 149-163)

    Sagren, that’s to say, it’ssagrenfor his country. Where he came from, he didn’t experiencemizerlike we were experiencing here. He was seeing it in his eyes,laba.*His children were going without, were going without food. They didn’t have anything,” Rita said of Julien’s death. “And so he got so, so many worries, do you understand? That’ssagren. Many people have died like that. You know, David?”

    “Died from—” I started to ask, wanting to understand more about how people could die fromsagren.

    Sagren! Yes! When one hassagrenin your heart, it eats at...

  18. CHAPTER 11 DARING TO CHALLENGE
    (pp. 164-179)

    In May 1973, the last boatload of haggard and hungry Chagossians deported from Chagos refused to disembark in Mauritius. The group of about 125 demanded that they be returned to Chagos or else receive compensation and housing in this “foreign country” where they had “no housing, no money, no work.” For five days, the people resisted all entreaties to get off the boat, living and sleeping on a deck designed for less than half their number and in the ship’s dark hold, in what a local newspaper called “deplorable conditions.”¹

    After days of negotiations, the Mauritian Government finally convinced the...

  19. CHAPTER 12 THE RIGHT TO RETURN AND A HUMANPOLITIK
    (pp. 180-196)

    While to now the Chagossians have been almost entirely forgotten in the United States, the responsibility of the United States for the people’s fate is clear: Although the British Government and its agents performed most of the physical work involved in displacing the Chagossians, the U.S. Government ordered, orchestrated, and financed the expulsion. First, the U.S. Government developed and advanced the original idea for a base on Diego Garcia as part of the Strategic Island Concept. Next, U.S. officials solicited and then colluded with the British Government as its partner. In the process, the U.S. Government insisted on the removal...

  20. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 197-198)

    In 1991, theWashington Postreceived the following strongly worded letter:

    It seems to me to be a good time to review whether we should now take steps to redress the inexcusably inhuman wrongs inflicted by the British at our insistence on the former inhabitants of Diego Garcia and other Chagos group islands. The costs would be trivial compared with what we invested in construction and what we gained. . . . It is my firm opinion that there was never any good reason for evicting residents from the Northern Chagos, 100 miles or more from Diego Garcia. Probably the...

  21. MY THANKS
    (pp. 199-202)

    I am deeply grateful to so many friends who helped me with this work. First I want to thank all the Chagossians in Mauritius, the Seychelles, and England who greeted me so warmly, answered my many questions, and made so much of this research possible. Thanks especially to so many who graciously took time out of their lives to sit down for an interview or who invited me into their homes, making me always feel so much at home. I owe the same deep thanks to many former government officials and others who granted me interviews in the United States....

  22. FURTHER RESOURCES
    (pp. 203-204)
  23. NOTES
    (pp. 205-248)
  24. AFTERWORD TO THE PAPERBACK EDITION
    (pp. 249-254)
    David Vine

    As I write this, one year after the original publication ofIsland of Shame, the Chagossians are still living in exile, barred from returning to Chagos. They have received no additional compensation for their expulsion. The U.S. and British governments have, so far, continued to shun all responsibility for the Chagossians.

    Just as the hardback version of this book was going to press, the Law Lords in the House of Lords announced their ruling in the British government’s final appeal of the Chagossians’ case challenging the legality of their exile. By a three-to-two verdict, the Lords ruled in favor of...

  25. INDEX
    (pp. 255-265)