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“Let Freedom reign!”
George Bush, to Condoleezza Rice, June 28 2004
“From every mountain-side
Let freedom ring.”
Samuel Francis Smith, “America”, 1831
George Bush states that freedom is “the right of every person and the future of every nation”. He misquoted “My country, ’tis of thee, Sweet Land of Liberty”, writing “reign” instead of “ring”, but nobody in the US media was impolite enough to comment on it. That’s normal for the US media, of course. Karl Rove reigns. And rings.
In his 2003 State of the Nation address Bush used the word “freedom” five times and in January this year he used it seven time, including in the announcement that “I believe that God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again.” How wonderful. What a truly admirable aspiration.
The problem for God is that there is a Bush colony in which there is no freedom for those who were born there because the inhabitants have been ejected from their country and are told that they have no claim to their land. They can’t even get compensation for having been deported against their will. The name of the place is Diego Garcia, and it lies in the Indian Ocean.
I visited the island many years ago and do not expect to land there again. Neither do any of its former inhabitants.
In 1965 I was flown from Britain to Malaysia to join my Regiment, courtesy of the Royal Air Force, and the aircraft stopped to refuel at the tiny U-shaped coral islet of Diego Garcia to be welcomed by some bored British permanent staff whose main occupations were collecting sea shells and, well, collecting sea shells. They were not the only occupants, because the islanders were still living there at the time, although there were rumors that they might be told to move out. There were no modern facilities for the “natives”, as they were known (only the military had refrigerators, fans and such luxuries), but Diego Garcia’s tropical sogginess is lightened by mild breezes much of the time and the climate is pleasant. There have been no cyclones in the memory of man, and its undemanding and delightful residents made a little money from exporting coconut products. Like the inhabitants of the Maldives, which lie to their north, they could now make money from tourism if they were allowed to return home.
When they were allowed to live in their home they fished, had a few plots of basic crops, kept some small animals, and in general enjoyed an uncomplicated and happy life. Their medical care was not of the highest standard. In fact if they had a major accident or bodily malfunction they had to wait for the next ship to arrive, in the hope that it might have a doctor on board. None of them could afford to travel anywhere for medical attention, and the British military medical staff had orders not to treat them. (I was told that this foul order was ignored by some kind souls.) But Diego Garcia was home. Home, that is, until Britain disregarded honor and duty and acted in a disgusting fashion by excluding Diego Garcia from the general granting of freedom to colonies that wished to run their own affairs. In this sordid operation it was enthusiastically supported by Washington.
The Sixties were the decolonization years, and Britain and other nations rid themselves of many territories whose inhabitants were anxious and more than ready for self-government. But the Chagos Islands, in which Diego Garcia is located, were not included. Although the nearby (well, fairly nearby) Maldives became independent in 1965, the 52 (or 65, depending on the source) islets of the Chagos Archipelago, spread over 10,000 square miles of ocean, were formed into the imperially-named British Indian Ocean Territory.
As I stood on the shiny sands of balmy Diego Garcia these many years ago, there were talks going on in London and Washington concerning the future of the unfortunate people who lived there. None of the inhabitants had a voice in the discussions, of course. There was going to be a US-UK stitch-up about the tiny atoll, which would not cost Britain’s prime minister, Harold Wilson, anything politically, while placating President Lyndon Johnson who was complaining that Britain would not help him in Vietnam. (His political heir and Bush henchman, Blair, has changed things a bit.)
Wilson instructed his foreign secretary, the vulgar, drunken and erratic George Brown, to negotiate a fifty year lease of the island to America, so Brown signed a document that arranged a handover for the price of 5 million pounds. The money was not in cash. It was the amount that improvident, almost bankrupt Britain owed America for Polaris nuclear missiles, and the clever thing was to hand over Diego Garcia in return for cancellation of the debt. The chicanery did not stop there. It went much further, because British politicians, aided, alas, by Foreign Office officials, told lies concerning the defenseless and unrepresented inhabitants of the island.
In order to depopulate the island gradually, the British Foreign Office encouraged people to leave Diego Garcia but forbade ships arriving at the island to land passengers. Imagine returning to your homeland and being told you were forbidden to enter it. How caring and responsible. Then in 1971 the real expulsion began. The British government was well aware of UN accords governing enforced transportation of any indigenous peoples, but managed to avoid them to the satisfaction of Washington. And it must be said that the rest of the world could not have cared less about a few hundred miserable islanders. In 1973, in a particularly revolting piece of skullduggery, Diego Garcia was cleared completely of its inhabitants, and the US military took over.
The inhabitants still cannot return, even though a British High Court judgment of November 2000 ordered that they should. Lord Justice Laws ruled that eviction of the islanders was an “abject legal failure” and said “I cannot see how the wholesale movement of a people from the land where they belong can be said to be conducive to the territory’s peace, order and good government of the territory.” Plain and simple, one would think. The people should go back and be compensated for thirty years of poverty-stricken and bloody awful exile.
What do you think has happened? As you may have guessed, the Bush administration, the self-described beacon of freedom and democracy, ignored the ruling. The people of Diego Garcia will remain exiles forever. They are forbidden even to visit their homeland. The US says that “if a resident population were established . . that could well imperil Diego Garcia’s advantage as a base . . .” But the word “established” is deliberately misleading. There is no question of “establishment”, and the word should be “returned”. This is willful deceit, as we have come to expect from Bush Washington. These people were robbed by unscrupulous bullies whose successors maintain that they know best for all of us, and treat with contempt the poverty-stricken exiled islanders and anyone who tries to speak out for them.
This is a human rights outrage. The notion that Bush cares for “freedom” is absurd.
Bush maintains a nuclear weapons’ storage site on Diego Garcia. He has created a prison there to which non-persons are taken, probably to endure God-knows what savagery from interrogators. The International Red Cross, that last bastion of freedom on which the world can rely for truly neutral observation on human rights, is forbidden to set foot on the atoll.
Here is Bush in his State of the Union 2004 : “America is a nation with a mission, and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace — a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great republic will lead the cause of freedom.” (Applause.)
Tell that to the former inhabitants of the Bush colony of Diego Garcia. They have neither dignity not rights. Their homeland is a base for much evil. For them the word Freedom neither rings nor reigns. It resounds as a hollow, mocking joke at the expense of international justice and personal liberty. There is no hope for these people under the reign of Bush ; they are non-persons, like scores, perhaps hundreds of others who are deemed not to exist by those who carry out the orders of the Great Humbug. It won’t just be Four More horrible Years for these folk : it will be forever, because they will die bereft of a country, without dignity and in despair. In Freedom, Bush style.
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com