From the Indian Ocean to the Clyde: a Trail of Criminal Abuse of Power

Diego-Garcia-islanders-pr-006By Alexandra MacRae

‘Tis no great mischief if they fall’  General Wolfe famously remarked as he sent the Black Watch off to scale the Heights of Abraham during the Siege of Quebec in 1759 . These dismissive sentiments persist into our era as we follow the desperately sad story of the Chagos Islanders. ‘ Stealing A Nation’ (2004)’ is an extraordinary film about the plight of the Chagos Islands, whose indigenous population was secretly and brutally expelled by British Governments in the late 1960s and early 1970s to make way for an American military base. The tragedy, which falls within the remit of the International Criminal Court as “a crime against humanity”, is told by Islanders who were dumped in the slums of Mauritius and by British officials who left behind a damning trail of Foreign Office documents. The tragic story of the Chagos Islanders is part of a pattern of disregard for the life and welfare of its citizens which representatives of the British State have frequently displayed in territories for which they are responsible from the Indian Ocean to the North Atlantic. How does this sad story of the Chagos islanders have a bearing on the nuclear base at Faslane? Well, bear with me and read on…..

Before the Americans came, more than 2,000 people lived on the islands in the Indian Ocean, many with roots back to the late 18th century. There were thriving villages, a school, a hospital, a church, a railway and an undisturbed way of life. The islands were, and still are, a British crown colony. In the 1960s, the government of Harold Wilson struck a secret deal with the United States to hand over the main island of Diego Garcia. The Americans demanded that the surrounding islands be “swept” and “sanitized”. Unknown to Parliament and to the US Congress and in breach of the United Nations Charter, the British Government plotted with Washington to expel the entire population.

After demonstrating on the streets of Mauritius in 1982, the exiled islanders were given the derisory compensation of less than £3,000 per person by the British government. In the film, former inhabitants Rita Bancoult and Charlesia Alexis tell of how, in accepting the money, they were tricked into signing away their right to return home: “It was entirely improper, unethical and dictatorial to have the Chagossian put his thumbprint on an English legal, drafted document, where the Chagossian, who doesn’t read, know or speak any English, let alone any legal English, is made to renounce basically all his rights as a human being.”

Today, the main island of Diego Garcia is America’s largest military base in the world, outside the US. There are more than 4,000 troops, two bomber runways, thirty warships and a satellite spy station. The Pentagon calls it an “indispensable platform” for policing the world. It was used as a launch pad for the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The truth about the removal of the Chagossians and the Whitehall conspiracy to deny there was an indigenous population did not emerge for another twenty years, when files were unearthed at the Public Record Office, in Kew, by the historian Mark Curtis, John Pilger and lawyers for the former inhabitants of the coral archipelago, who were campaigning for a return to their homeland.

John Pilger, the eminent campaigning journalist and documentary film-maker, first become aware of the plight of the Chagossians in 1982, during the Falklands War: “It was pointed out to me that Britain had sent a fleet to go and save two thousand Falkland Islanders at the other end of the world while two thousand British citizens in islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean had been expelled by British governments and the only difference was that one lot were white and the others were black. The other difference was that the United States wanted the Chagos Islands – and especially Diego Garcia – as a major base. So nothing was said, which tells us something about the ruthlessness of governments, especially imperial governments.”

In June 2004, shortly before Stealing a Nation’s television screening, the British Government had issued an order-in-council, a royal decree using archaic powers invested in the Queen, bypassing Parliament and the High Court, to ban the Islanders from ever returning home. “The Queen rubber-stamps what in many cases politicians know they can’t get away with democratically,” said Pilger. “Dictators do this, but without the quaint ritual.”

In May 2006, the English High Court finally ruled that the Chagossians were entitled to return to their homeland. However, in the summer of 2008, David Miliband and the Foreign Office began another appeal, to the Law Lords, against the High Court’s judgements. They found in favour of the Government.

In April 2010, the British Government established a marine nature reserve around the Chagos Islands. Several months later, WikiLeaks published a US Embassy diplomatic cable from 2009 which read as follows: “Establishing a marine reserve might indeed, as the FCO’s [Colin] Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or descendants from resettling in the [British Indian Ocean Territory].”

In the film, John Pilger concludes: “Why do we continue to allow our governments to treat people in small countries as either useful or expendable? Why do we accept specious reasons for the unacceptable? The High Court issued one of the most damning indictments of a British government. It said the secret expulsion of the Chagos Islanders was wrong. That judgement must be upheld and the people of a group of beautiful, once peaceful islands must be helped to go home and compensated fully and without delay for their suffering. Anything less diminishes the rest of us.”
We must be grateful to Pilger also for digging out the following pearl of information: as part of the deal which dispossessed the Chagos islanders of their ancestral home . This was a condition whereby, if the British Government kicked the Chagos Islanders out of Diego Garcia, in return the British Government would receive from the Americans a £14 million discount on the cost of Polaris missiles so that it could continue to pursue its delusion of imperial grandeur and be seen as a major nuclear power.

Where could that new and deadly toy be stored but at the naval base at Faslane – at that time a conventional naval base?  Quoting John Pilger above :

‘Why do we continue to treat people in small countries as either useful or expendable?’ The danger of siting nuclear weaponry at naval bases at Devonport  or even  in the Thames was clearly as  politically unacceptable in 1968 as siting the UK’s first experimental fast breeder reactor ten years earlier in 1958 anywhere other than  at Dounreay on the Pentland Firth at the opposite end of the British Isles from London and the self-appointed home of the rule of law which tragically failed the Chagos Islanders. We, however, on 18th September unlike them have the opportunity to undo these dangerous and immoral impositions on us by voting YES and removing nuclear weapons from the Clyde and completing the decommissioning of Dounreay which is still the home of the Vulcan Naval Reactor Test Establishment which experiments with nuclear power.
See John Pilger’s film ‘ Stealing a Nation’ here –if you can bear the appalling tale he has to tell and the callous attitude of British and US civil servants and politicians who to this day make little or no apology for the atrocity they presided over. In it you will catch the complicated but significant connection between the plight of the Chagos islanders and the Faslane Nuclear base.



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13 replies

  1. Earlier today I placed a post on a newspaper website – I think it was the Scotsman. It was an ABC that went something along the following lines.
    A is for Alex and Alistair
    B is for big nations that bully, browbeat, and bomb
    C is for small nations that co-operate, collaborate, and form coalitions.
    There is little doubt that B applies here and who represents which category.

    All the glorious history of previous generations (if this is deemed to be the case) counts for nought when compared with what our Governments have done in our name, without our consent, in the lifetime of anyone aged around seventy. From Suez to Iraq. It is time for Scots to stop taking part in this madness. Whilst big and powerful may one have been the ideal, it becoming clear once again that small is more likely to be beautiful – there are, of course, exceptions.

    An independent Scotland with a constitution that prevents going to war except in support of the United Nations is a.necessity for the 21st century and this will only happen if there is strong YES vote.

  2. Surprised that John Pilger hasn’t commented on Our Referendum!

  3. I have seen this video before and it shockingly condemns the British and American states. Life is cheap to them. Scottish lives have also been cheap to them. First in, last out used to be heard when I was young.
    The ” miracle” of Dunkirk was one of them, where the “British Army” escaped the tyranny of the Huns.

    That is, the little spoken about, they left the Scots in the rearguard to fend off the Nazi forces long enough to let Dunkirk happen. The whole of the Highland Division which was many thousands strong had to surrender as they had not been given enough ammunition to continue the fight. After that day they were shipped to Germany to work for the Reich, some went to POW camps. Many were never seen again.

    Churchill proclaimed the “Miracle of Dunkirk”, a victory of sorts, he rarely ever conceded he had ordered th Scots to be left behind.
    I know about this personally, as my father was taken with the Gordon Highlanders, he was 16 years old.
    So much for our Union of equals
    .Fortunately my father escaped and went on to many adventures, but he bore the scars as well as the “medals”.

  4. This and many many other«crimes» have been committed against Scots and our country since the forced Union how any Scot could vote to keep the status quo is beyond me. I hope these people get to live on their land once again but I wouldn’t trust English politician’s to help them.

    • That the folks who want to end the status quo also want to reject a whole group of Scots from their own country and leave them under the English politicians. Namely, the Scots who were born in rUK to emigrant parents and who don’t chance to able to live here at the arbitrary date of independence. Who are not being given citizenship by unrefusable right and who Jim Sillars wants to make filterable for desirable skills exactly like migrants without any connection here at all.

  5. Scottish independence is the greatest threat to the smug power of the British establishment, regardless of political colour, ever. The dissolution of the “union” effectively signals the end of the imperial age. Also the symbiotic relationship with its spawn and alter-ego the US is threatened by our position on nuclear weapons and possible rethink, pace the SNP, on Nato. In independence negotiations historic issues such as the plight of the Chagos islanders would come out of the woodwork. Not to mention the status of Gibraltar, the Falklands and all those other crown territories/tax dodging havens dotted around the globe. A can of smelly worms indeed.

  6. “‘Tis no great mischief if they fall’ General Wolfe famously remarked as he sent the Black Watch off to scale the Heights of Abraham during the Siege of Quebec in 1759 .”

    The Black Watch (42nd regiment) weren’t there, being held up at Ticonderoga – it was the Fraser Highlanders (78th regiment).

    And Wolfe didn’t make that remark in 1759 – he was killed in battle at the Heights of Abraham – it’s from a letter written in 1753 (before the outbreak of the French and Indian wars in 1754) in colonial Banff.

    Probably he was thinking of service in the multi-sided brush wars of the time. By the later 1750s he seemed to have a higher opinion of his army.

  7. Dear Scots, vote YES to get shot of the disgusting crony bunch down in Westminster. Be free to run your country the way you want! How much longer can you suffer England’s selfish home and bootlicking foreign policies?
    Who cares about the pound? Scottish pound notes are often not accepted south of the border. Call it the ‘Scottish Crown’, and be done with it.
    Good luck to you!

  8. Reblogged this on Are We Really Better Together? and commented:
    “How does this sad story of the Chagos islanders have a bearing on the nuclear base at Faslane? Well, bear with me and read on…”

  9. I am so glad that in the hundreds of years of the British Empire , that the Scots had nothing to do with the rapacious plunder of it all .
    We did not use the resources from these subjugated countries to benefit ourselves , build cities , and accumulate wealth .

    The Scots were Missionaries , or Teachers .

    Not Soldiers , Slave Traders , or Evil Bankers

    Scotland is good , England is bad

  10. I like the juxtaposition of the 2000 Falklanders and the 2000 Chagossians. Hundreds of millions spent on saving the white British citizens in the south Atlantic. £14 million gained for kicking out the black British citizens in the Indian Ocean. Aren’t all Scots ashamed to be called British? The Establishment is not even embarrassed by this. We are to assume that the Queen knew nothing of what she was signing and is therefore totally guiltless. I’ve always suspected this and wonder what how much space she is wasting?

  11. In John Pilger’s film, it says that the islanders were dying not only from poverty, but ‘sadness’. How many in the UK have died through ‘sadness’ born from abandonment of hope of the prospects of a better life? How many have ended their lives under the wheels of a train, or in the river? How many have destroyed their whole families and themselves? We’ll never know how many of these recorded events were due to loss of hope and ‘sadness’.
    I have been working in one of the many YES shops in Scotland and I have never seen such an uplift of mood and raising of spirit and enthusiasm that just the possibility of a different way, a different kind of government has brought to the campaigners and converts to YES cause. I hope this spreads to the rest of the nation after a YES majority on the 18th September.
    Let Scotland be the first to challenge the colonial attitude that Westminster has to all the ‘provinces’ in the north. Maybe the rest will follow us.

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