ISLAND OF SHAME
by David Vine
I told you in an early meltdown about hearing the interview on
CBC radio with David Vine and his new book called "Island of
It is indeed an eye opener and is a shame if it is not a required
reading in all Public/Private schools in the Western world.
Here is what is on the BACK-COVER:
"Provocative. This book is the first significant look at how the
Chagossians' fate has been tied to the needs of empire. Vine
convincingly connects the U.S. military's relocation of the
Chagossians with the larger historic program of milirary
imperialism and prolonged efforts to establish strategic bases in
key geographical locations around the globe. This is a story that
will find a wide audience." - David H. Price, author of
"The story of the U.S. base on Diego Garcia, and the cruel
displacement of the island's people, has long been hidden from
the American public. We owe a debt to David Vine for revealing it
to the larger public." - Howard Zinn, author of "A People's
History of the United States."
"Until I read this book, why had I heard almost nothing about the
Chagossians? Their forced relocation from Diego Garcia is a
disgraceful violation of human rights that should be far better
known. I hope that David Vine's painstakingly researched account
is widely read, and that it makes its readers furious." - Anne
Fadiman, author of "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down."
"The sorry tale of Diego Garcia - a saga of duplicity and
collusion involving countries and politicians who should have
known better - is impeccably and thrillingly told by David Vine,
in a book that should be required reading for defense and
human-rights officials in the new American administration. Vine
can be justly proud of his tireless efforts to bring justice to a
forgotten corner of the tropical world." - Simon Winchester,
author of "The Professor and the Madman."
"Island of Shame illuminates the interior workings of the
American empire as it penetrated and shattered the lives of the
people of the tiny island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
David Vine turns his anthropological lenses not only on the
victims, the people who were expelled to make room for a military
base, but on the perpetrators as well, the American officials who
oversaw the tragedy." - Frances Fox Piven, coauthor of
"Regulating the Poor."
"This is a very good, original book on an important and
intellectually challenging subjectthe ruthlessness and hypocrisy
of the American government in its forced expulsion of an
indigenous people in order to build the supersecret military base
at Diego Garcia. Vine has done a brilliant job of reconstructing
the history of Diego Garcia and America's interest in it." -
Chalmers Johnson, author of "Nemesis: The Last Days of the
THE INSIDE FRONT COVER:
Island of Shame
The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia
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 base was a little-known launch pad for the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan 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 Shame is 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 Shame is an unforgettable expose of the human costs of
empire and a must-read for anyone concerned about U.S. foreign
policy and its consequences.
FOREWORD BY 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 be essential to understand
their history, culture, and present condition. A series of
telephone conversations led me to Dr. Shirley Lindenbaum, a
cultural anthropologist of international renown. She suggested
that David Vine would be a perfect candidate for this job. David,
Dr. Lindenbaum, and two of my colleagues met in New York, and
David launched the work that was to consume him for seven years.
From this minor role in the beginning, I take pride.
As for humility: This book and the work it represents have
succeeded beyond my greatest hopes. David Vine is one of those
rare scholars who combines all the qualities that one must have
to write in this field. We are witnessing, on a global scale, the
subordination and forced disappearance of hundreds of indigenous
populations. We read of the more sensational and violent episodes
of these conflicts, but so many others escape our notice. An
indigenous population is not "entitled," under what passes for
international law, to automatic protection from dislocation. Its
status as a cohesive group must first be established. When it is
proposed to impose upon it, one must ask what aspects of its
culture and history are to be seen as essential or important.
In this process of determining what is just and what is not, the
people about whom one is speaking need a voice. They need the
help of someone who will understand their lives as deeply as
possible and portray their situation honestly and in terms that
will withstand debate. David Vine has, in this book, shown us
that he combines the scholar's rigor with the student's
I have been a lawyer and law teacher for more than forty years.
Given the nature of complex litigation, and particularly human
rights litigation, we need to call upon experts in various fields
to help us present claims for justice. We know that our
adversaries will bring their own experts, and each expert's
conclusions will be subject to testing in the crucible of
crossexamination. From the beginning, David Vine has identified
and followed all the principles of academic rigor that make this
study credible as well as persuasive.
David Vine's scholarship is also informed by his systematic and
disciplined worldview. He sees the Chagossian people in the
context of global struggle. He provides us with a context that
makes their story compelling and relevant. Choices about people's
fates and futures are not simply matters of preference, as to
which one view is as good as another. Today, we understand that
verifiable arguments about the human condition can, and must, be
based on close observation of the social forces that people
confront as they seek the basic rights that the international
community has now defined as essential. David Vine has made an
indispensable contribution to this process.
I N T R O D U C T I O N
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?"
"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 said to her: "Your island has been sold. You will
never go there again."
Marie Rita Elysee Bancoult is one of the people of the Chagos
Archipelago, a group of about 64 small coral islands near the
isolated center of the Indian Ocean, halfway between Africa and
Indonesia, 1,000 miles south of the nearest continental landmass,
India. Known as Chagossians, none live in Chagos today. Most live
1,200 miles away on the western Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius
and the Seychelles. Like others, 80-year-old Rita lives far from
Mauritius's renowned tourist beaches and luxury hotels. Rita, or
Aunt Rita as she is known, lives in one of the island's poorest
neighborhoods, known for its industrial plants and brothels, in a
small aging three-room house made of concrete block.
Rita and other Chagossians cannot return to their homeland
because between 1968 and 1973, in a plot carefully hidden from
the world, the United States and Great Britain exiled all
1,500-2,000 islanders to create a major U.S. military base on the
Chagossians' island Diego Garcia. Initially, government agents
told those like Rita who were away seeking medical treatment or
vacationing in Mauritius that their islands had been closed and
they could not go home. Next, British officials began restricting
supplies to the islands and more Chagossians left as food and
medicines dwindled. Finally, on the orders of the U.S. military,
U.K. officials forced the remaining islanders to board
overcrowded cargo ships and left them on the docks in Mauritius
and the Seychelles. Just before the last deportations, British
agents and U.S. troops on Diego Garcia herded the Chagossians'
pet dogs into sealed sheds and gassed and burned them in front of
their traumatized owners awaiting deportation.
outside the United States. Generally those displaced have, like
the Chagossians, been small in number, under colonial control,
and of non "white," non-European ancestry. Some of the examples
are relatively well known, like those displaced in the Bikini
Atoll and Puerto Rico's Vieques Island. Others have, like the
Chagossians, received less attention, including the Inughuit of
Thule, Greenland, and the more than 3,000 Okinawans displaced to,
of all places, Bolivia.
It is no coincidence that few know about these stories. Few in
the United States know that the United States possesses some
1,000 military bases and installations outside the fifty states
and Washington, DC, on the sovereign land of other nations. Let
me repeat that number again because it's hard to take in: 1,000
bases. On other people's sovereign territory. 1,000 bases.
More than half a century after the end of World War II and the
Korean War, the United States retains 287 bases in Germany, 130
in Japan, and 106 in South Korea. There are some 89 in Italy, 57
in the British Isles, 21 in Portugal, and nineteen in Turkey.
Other bases are scattered around the globe in places like Aruba
and Australia, Djibouti, Egypt, and Israel, Singapore and
Thailand, Kyrgyzstan and Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United
Arab Emirates, Crete, Sicily, and Iceland, Romania and Bulgaria,
Honduras, Colombia, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - just to name a few
(see fig. 2.1). Some can still be found in Saudi Arabia and
others have recently returned to the Philippines and Uzbekistan,
where locals previously forced the closure of U.S. bases. In
total, the U.S. military has troops in some 150 foreign nations.
Around the world the Defense Department reports having more than
577,519 separate buildings, structures, and utilities at its
bases, conservatively valuing its facilities at more than $712
It's often hard to come up with accurate figures to capture the
scope of the base network, because the Pentagon frequently omits
secret and even well-known bases - like those in Iraq and
Afghanistan - in its own accounting. In Iraq, as President Bush's
second term came to an end, the military controlled at least 55
bases and probably well over 100. In trying to negotiate a
long-term military agreement with the Iraqi Government, the Bush
administration hoped to retain 58 long-term bases in the country
as part of a "protracted" presence of at least 50,000 troops,
following the South Korean model; originally U.S. officials
pressed for more than 200 military facilities. In Afghanistan,
the base collection includes sixteen air bases and may run to
over eighty in total amid similar Pentagon plans for permanent
While Pentagon and other officials have been careful never to
refer to bases in Iraq and Afghanistan as "permanent," the
structures on the ground tell a different story: A 2007 National
Public Radio story reported that Balad Air Base near Baghdad, one
of five "mega bases" in Iraq, housed some 30,000 troops and
10,000 private contractors in facilities complete with fortified
Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Subway outlets and two shopping
centers each about the size of a Target or Wal-Mart. "The base is
one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and
structures going up across this 16 square-mile fortress in the
center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades," Guy
Raz explained. "Seen from the sky at night, the base resembles
Las Vegas: While the surrounding Iraqi villages get about 10
hours of electricity a day, the lights never go out at Balad Air
If you are anything like me and grew up in the United States, you
may have a hard time imagining another nation occupying a
military base on your nation's territory - let alone living next
to such "simulacrums of suburbia" found the world over. In 2007,
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa offered some insight into this
phenomenon when he told reporters that he would only renew the
lease on the U.S. military base in Ecuador if the United States
agreed to one condition: "They let us put a base in Miami - an
"If there's no problem having foreign soldiers on a country's
soil," Correa added, "surely they'll let us have an Ecuadorian
base in the United States." The idea of an Ecuadorian military
base in Miami, of a foreign base anywhere in the United States,
is unthinkable to most people in the United States. And yet this
is exactly what thousands of people in countries around the world
live with every day: Military forces from a foreign country
living in their cities, building huge military complexes on their
lands, occupying their nations. About 95 percent of these foreign
bases belong to the United States. Today the United States likely
possesses more bases than any nation or people in world history.
Not to be confined to the globe alone, the Pentagon is making
plans to turn outer space into a base as part of the rapid
militarization of space.
Growing recognition about the U.S. overseas base network has
mirrored a renewed acknowledgment among scholars and pundits,
following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that the United
States is in fact an EMPIRE! With even the establishment foreign
policy journal Foreign Affairs declaring, "The debate on empire
is back," conversation has centered less on if the United States
is an empire and more on what kind of empire it has become.
Too often, however, the debates on empire have ignored and turned
away from the lives of those impacted by empire. Too often
analysts turn to abstract discussions of so-called foreign policy
realism or macro-level economic forces. Too often, analysts
detach themselves from the effects of empire and the lives shaped
and all too often damaged by the United States. Proponents of
U.S. imperialism in particular willfully ignore the death and
destruction caused by previous empires and the U.S. Empire
This is a book every British and American person should read,
should have in their personal library for their children and
family to read.
It is a sad commentary that the peoples of Joseph have as
governments sunk to this kind of level. It is because we have
forsaken and forgotten our God, who can be, who wants to be, our
protector, strength and might. We give lip service that "In God
We Trust" but the reality is we no longer have trust in Him.
Hence we look to our own war machines for trust, and we believe
we give peace to the earth, so we can throw people out, cast
people out, of their land and homes, as we see fit.
While I can appreciate the freedom our nations give us in
worshipping the true God, in being able to spread the Gospel of
Christ, congregate together to worship our heavenly Father, after
reading such a book as this, I must say the respect for my nation
is not very high. Truly I must say I am a pilgrim on this earth,
and my true loyalty must be in the home and country that is yet
to come to earth - the Kingdom of God. And when that country
comes, we as the people of Joseph and Israel and Judah, will from
the highest position of our national governments to the lowest
and weakest (whoever you imagine them to be) - REPENT of our
SINS, will desire to FOLLOW RIGHTEOUSNESS forever more, and such
doings as brought out in this book by David Vine, will be no
God speed that day!!