The Dispossessed

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In Port Louis, Permal met his wife Marie in the city slum, where they begged for food and menial jobs. Many Chagossians fell victim to alcoholism, drugs, and prostitution. Their children were mocked and humiliated at local schools. Meanwhile, on Diego Garcia, British officers handed the depopulated island paradise to Mr. Rumsfeld and the American generals.

1450 U.S. Soldiers, 2000 civilian contractors and 50 British soldiers entertain themselves

Diego Garcia island is now the largest US military base outside the United States, with arsenals, bunkers, and hangers for B2 stealth bombers. The once-rich lagoon is now an oily harbour for some 30 warships. B52 Bombing raids depart from Diego Garcia for Iraq and Afghanistan, bombing more peasant people to secure America's access to oil fields and pipeline routes.

The 1450 US soldiers, 2000 civilian contractors, and 50 British soldiers entertain themselves with a windsurfer club, yacht club, fishing tours, and an annual "Miss Diego Garcia" beauty contest. US military personnel refer to their 6,000 global bases as America's "footprint," and Diego Garcia has been branded "Footprint Freedom."

At the heart of Footprint Freedom sits a detention and interrogation centre that the local soldiers refer to as "Camp Justice," exposed by Scottish MP Alex Salmon and confirmed by US general Barry McCaffrey and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. Donald Rumsfield - architect of the final solution to the island's indigenous problem and Iraq War planner - admits that the US holds "ghost detainees" at these "extraordinary rendition" camps.

In 2002, during the planning of the Iraq War, the US brought prisoner Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi to Diego Garcia on the USS Bataan. According to the London human rights group, Reprieve, Al-Libi was tortured into "admitting" that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and worked with al-Qaida, the two erroneous pretenses that Rumsfeld and George Bush used to launch the oil wars. According to a Council of Europe investigation, Diego Garcia's "Camp Justice" is a primary interrogation centre for "high-value detainees."

The story of Diego Garcia Island is the story of industrialized, militarized western world gone mad, the rich and powerful subjugating the landscape and the most defenseless people on Earth. The dispossessed Chagossian people, however, struggle back.

In 2003, they filed a lawsuit in the United States against Rumsfeld and others instrumental in seizing Diego Garcia, including US Vice President Dick Cheney, US ambassador Anne Armstrong, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Halliburton, the corporation they run that held the construction contract for the base. These defendants faced charges of kidnapping, genocide, torture, and degrading treatment of innocent people. The US Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and the US media virtually ignored the story.

In Britain, however, the Chagossian people have won three High Court decisions against the British Government, confirming that the expulsions were unlawful and that the right to a homeland represents a "fundamental liberty" under British and International law. The Governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have appealed these rulings, but the case now stands before the British House of Lords, with a decision expected in October.

In July of this year a committee of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland ruled that Britain "should ensure that the Chagos islanders can exercise their right to return to their territory [and] should investigate allegations related to transit through its territory of rendition flights."

in March 2008, two former Greenpeace skippers - Jon Castle and Peter Bouquet, both from the original Rainbow Warrior crew - sailed into the lagoon of Diego Garcia, to protest the treatment of dispossessed islanders

British authorities arrested Jon Castle and Peter Bouquet in the Diego Garcia lagoon and seized their boat, Musichana. Another former Greenpeace activist from the 1970s peace vessel Fri and the Rainbow Warrior, Martini Gotje, provides updates at The People's Navy. The UK Chagos Support Association posts legal updates. On 21 August an open International Conference, "The Fate of the Chagossians," commenced at VU University Amsterdam, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology.

The case of the Chagossians exposes the pretense of industrial civilization. Leaders of rich nations proclaim freedom and democracy, yet most peasant people and all environments in the world remain under relentless assault. Indigenous people in India, Africa, China, Tibet, Canada, the US, Brazil, Argentina, and throughout the western hemisphere, have been dispossessed from sustainable lives in forests, prairies, or islands and driven into urban slums in the name of economic progress. There exists an eternal link between the industrial and military destruction of the environment and the assault on the poorest people of the world.

This article appeared first on The Greenpeace International website.

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