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Context of 'December 30, 1966: US and Britain Come to Agreement over British Indian Ocean Territory'

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The US and Britain secretly agree to make the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) available “for the defense purposes of both Governments as they may arise” for a period of 50 years, and thereafter for 20 years during which time either government will have the right to terminate the agreement. [US Department of State, 12/30/1966; United Kingdom, 12/30/1966; Guardian, 9/1/2000; BBC, 1/10/2001; BBC, 11/11/2004]

Entity Tags: David Kirkpatrick Este Bruce, George T. Churchill

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

In a secret memo to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart proposes that Britain mislead the UN “by present(ing) any move as a change of employment for contract workers—rather than as a population resettlement.” [ZNet, 10/22/2004] Five days later, Wilson approves the recommendation (see April 26, 1969).

Entity Tags: Robert Maitland Michael Stewart, Harold Wilson, Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

Plantations at Diego Garcia cease their operations with the arrival of American Navy Seabees. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; US Congress, 11/4/1975; Diego Garcia, 1/5/2005; CBC News, 3/7/2005]

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

With the arrival of the first Americans at Diego Garcia, the largest atoll of the Chagos Archipelago, the island’s remaining residents are told they must leave. [BBC, 11/3/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003] Recalling the massive forced relocation, Marcel Moulinie, the manager of a coconut plantation on the island, tells CBS 60 minutes in 2003 that he was ordered to ship the people out. “Total evacuation. They wanted no indigenous people there,” Marcel Moulinie explains. “When the final time came and the ships were chartered, they weren’t allowed to take anything with them except a suitcase of their clothes. The ships were small and they could take nothing else, no furniture, nothing.” To make it clear to residents that there would be no compromise, Sir Bruce Greatbatch, governor of the Seychelles, orders the killing of the Chagossians’ pets, which are rounded up into a furnace and gassed with exhaust fumes from American military vehicles. [CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003; ZNet, 10/22/2004] “They put the dogs in a furnace where the people worked,” Lisette Talatte, a Chagossian, will later tell investigative journalist John Pilger. “[W]hen their dogs were taken away in front of them our children screamed and cried.” [ZNet, 10/22/2004] Marie Therese Mein, another Chagossian, later says US officials threatened to bomb them if they did not leave. [Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002; ZNet, 10/22/2004] And the Washington Post interviews one man in 1975 who says he was told by an American official, “If you don’t leave you won’t be fed any longer.” [Washington Post, 9/9/1975] The Chagossians are first shipped to the nearby islands of Peros Banhos and Salomon and then 1,200 miles away to Mauritius and the Seychelles. [BBC, 11/3/2000; CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003] Before the eviction, the Chagossians were employed, grew their own fruit and vegetables, raised poultry and ducks, and fished. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002; British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003; Tribune (Bahamas), 11/17/2003] On the island of Diego Garcia, there was a church, a school as well as a few stores. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975] But now, after being removed from their homes and dumped into foreign lands without compensation or resettlement assistance, they are forced to live in poverty. [CBS News, 6/13/2003; CNN, 6/18/2003] The uprooted Chagossians find shelter in abandoned slums, which have no water or electricity. [Sunday Times (London), 9/21/1975; Church Times, 1/7/2005] Many commit suicide during and after the eviction campaign. [ZNet, 10/22/2004] Lisette Taleti loses two of her children. [Guardian, 5/12/2006] Describing the plight of the Chagossians at this time, the British High Court writes in 2003: “The Ilois [Chagossians] were experienced in working on coconut plantations but lacked other employment experience. They were largely illiterate and spoke only Creole. Some had relatives with whom they could stay for a while; some had savings from their wages; some received social security, but extreme poverty routinely marked their lives. Mauritius already itself experienced high unemployment and considerable poverty. Jobs, including very low paid domestic service, were hard to find. The Ilois were marked by their poverty and background for insults and discrimination. Their diet, when they could eat, was very different from what they were used to. They were unused to having to fend for themselves in finding jobs and accommodation and they had little enough with which to do either. The contrast with the simple island life which they had left behind could scarcely have been more marked.”

Entity Tags: Sir Bruce Greatbatch, Chagossians, Marcel Moulinie, Marie Therese Mein, Lisette Talatte

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

US military officials tell Congress that the US needs to develop naval support facilities on the island of Diego Garcia. The Pentagon wants to lengthen the runway at Diego Garcia from 8,000 to 12,000 feet, increase the available petroleum, oils, and lubricants storage, and dredge its harbor. It would also like to build additional barracks, a pier to facilitate cargo handling, as well as additional utility and recreational facilities. The officials argue that expanding the base at Diego Garcia is needed to safeguard US oil interests in the Persian Gulf and to counter the Soviet Union’s presence in the region, which the military claims is increasing rapidly. They attempt to allay Congress’ concerns that expanding the base would provoke competition in that region with the Soviet Union. At one point during the hearing, George Vest, Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs of the Department of State, says the island is “uninhabited,” making no reference to the fact that it had been made so by the US and British only a few years before (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). When further questioned on the subject, Vest repeats that there are “no inhabitants” at all on the island. [US Congress, 6/5/1975; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, George Vest, US Congress

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

A congressional subcommittee of the Committee on International Relations holds a hearing on the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the US military facility at Diego Garcia island. The hearing focuses on the forced eviction of the archipelago’s inhabitants (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973).
Testimony of George T. Churchill - In his statement to Congress, George T. Churchill, director of International Security Operations at the Department of State, attempts to defend the State Department and Pentagon from accusations that they misled Congress about the inhabitants of Diego Garcia. He asserts that the island’s population had consisted mainly of “contract laborers and their families whose livelihood depended on the coconut plantations and whose ties to the island were tenuous.” Their settlements, he says, “appear to have been something more than work camps but considerably less than free indigenous communities.” Churchill argues that resettlement was necessary because the islanders would not have had work once the plantations were replaced by US military facilities. When it was time to go, he claims, the residents “went willingly.” He also contends that he could find no evidence in government files that there was a “lack of concern for the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands.” He admits that his report is based entirely on US and British sources and that no attempt was made to interview the former inhabitants or request information from the Mauritius government—despite his acknowledgment that on many issues, there “simply wasn’t enough data.” Churchill argues that it was Britain’s responsibility to see to the islanders’ welfare after resettlement and denies that the US has any obligation—moral or legal—to the islanders, even though their eviction had been a condition of the US’ 1966 agreement (see December 30, 1966) with Britain to use the island. [US Congress, 11/4/1975]
Testimony of Commander Gary Sick - Pentagon official Gary Sick addresses accusations that the military has misled Congress about Diego Garcia’s population. In his testimony he cites instances where passing references were made about the islands’ population, including a 1964 Washington Post article mentioning the possibility that an “indigenous population” might exist on the island; a 1969-1979 Pentagon spending proposal which referred to the islanders as “rotating contract personnel engaged in harvesting copra”; and a 1970 congressional hearing in which it was stated that the “British [had] gone a little farther about removing the population from there now.” [US Congress, 11/4/1975]

Entity Tags: Gary G. Sick, US Congress, George T. Churchill

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

In London, Lord Justice Laws and Justice Gibbs rule that the US and Britain’s forced removal of some 1,800 people from the Chagos Islands (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) was illegal, thereby granting the islands’ former inhabitants the right to resettle the archipelago. [BBC, 11/3/2000; Guardian, 11/4/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000; BBC, 10/31/2002; Church Times, 1/7/2005] The court also awards the Chagossians with the costs of resettling [Guardian, 11/4/2000] but does not order the government to provide them with compensation. [Guardian, 12/13/2000] The judges also find that the two governments deliberately misled the United Nations and their own legislative bodies when they claimed that the displaced population consisted entirely of seasonal contract workers from Mauritius and the Seychelles and had no right to remain there (see April 21, 1969). Additionally, the ruling criticizes the two governments for not seeing to the welfare of the islanders after they were evicted. [Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002] Within hours of the ruling, the British Foreign Office accepts the judgment but says that the islanders will only be permitted to resettle on the islands of Penhos Banhos and Salomon. No one will be permitted to return to Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, where most of the Chagossians once lived. The US is leasing the island until 2016 (see December 30, 1966) and is operating a very large naval base there (see March 1971). [Guardian, 11/4/2000; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000] Commenting on the case, an unnamed US Defense Department official tells the Los Angeles Times: “The United States does have a strategic interest on Diego Garcia. But this is a matter between the British authorities and the individuals who brought the case. We have no comment on the merits of the case.” The official adds that Diego Garcia “has played a primary role in the support of naval and Air Force units operating in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2000]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

After a British court rules that the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands have a right to return home (see November 3, 2000), the US, which is leasing the archipelago’s largest island, Diego Garcia, says it will not allow the islanders to return to Diego Garcia and will not allow them to use the island’s airstrip. The cost of building an airstrip on one of the other islands would likely cost more than $100 million. Without access to an airfield, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the islanders to resettle any of the islands. [Guardian, 12/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

The alleged location of Camp Justice on the island of Diego Garcia.The alleged location of Camp Justice on the island of Diego Garcia. [Source: Public domain]The British Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Valerie Anne Amos, declares there are no prisoners at the US naval base on the island of Diego Garcia. [United Kingdom, 1/8/2003; United Kingdom, 3/3/2003] The island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was leased to the US in 1966 for an initial period of 50 years (see December 30, 1966). It now accommodates a US naval base (see June 5, 1975) employing approximately 1,700 military personnel and 2,000 civilian contractors. No one is allowed on the island except for military business. [First, 6/2004 pdf file; Diego Garcia, 1/5/2005] However, it has been reported several times in the press that detainees are being held at a CIA interrogation center on the island named “Camp Justice.” Pentagon officials have denied the existence of a CIA interrogation center on the island and the CIA has refused to respond to inquiries about its alleged existence. [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; First, 6/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 12/17/2004; Washington Post, 1/2/2005]

Entity Tags: Valerie Anne Amos

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

The British High Court rules that the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands have no grounds for bringing a claim against the British government and no realistic prospect of succeeding, even though a ruling in 2000 (see November 3, 2000) had determined that Britain’s mass eviction of the islanders in the early 1970s (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) had been illegal. In his 750-page ruling, Justice Ouseley complains that the plaintiffs did not provide reliable evidence that individual Chagossians had been “treated shamefully by successive UK governments.” He did however acknowledge that the mass eviction was not just and that compensation received so far by the Chagossians was inadequate. “Many were given nothing for years but a callous separation from their homes, belongings and way of life and a terrible journey to privation and hardship,” he says. During the trial, the attorney general and British Indian Ocean Territory Commissioner claimed that the islanders had not opposed being removed from their homes and shipped to a foreign land with little or no assistance. They also denied allegations that the mass eviction had been implemented dishonestly or in bad faith. [BBC, 10/9/2003; British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

The British government issues an Order in Council, reneging on an earlier decision (see November 3, 2000) to the former residents of the Chagos Islands that they would be permitted to return some of the islands in the Chagos Archipelago. The royal decree prohibits any of the islanders from returning to any of the islands. The Chagossians had been forcibly removed from their homes in the early 1970s (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) so the US could build a base on Diego Garcia. The government claims that according to a feasibility study, which did not consult the former residents, the costs of resettlement would be prohibitively high, with an initial cost of about £5 million and annual costs of between £3 and £5 million. The study also claims that the islands are “sinking.” British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell tells John Pilger: “The tax-payer is being asked to pick up the financial tab. You have to make choices about how you spend money.” [ZNet, 10/22/2004; Church Times, 1/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Bill Rammell, Chagossians

Timeline Tags: US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

Aerial photo of Diego Garcia island.Aerial photo of Diego Garcia island. [Source: Department of Defense]British Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the all-party Parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, files a formal complaint with the government’s Information Commissioner over the government’s use of the island of Diego Garcia for the rendition of US prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation and possibly torture (see After February 7, 2002 and June 2, 2008). Diego Garcia is a large atoll in the Indian Ocean under British jurisdiction, and hosts a large British-American military base (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). Tyrie says he decided to make the complaint to learn if Britain was in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The British government has recently admitted that at least two US rendition planes used Diego Garcia as a refueling base in 2002 (see December 2001-January 2002). “The foreign secretary has been forced to admit that two rendition planes refueled at Diego Garcia, despite explicit US assurances to the [British] government that no such flights had taken place,” Tyrie says. “Clearly people will conclude that these assurances are worthless.… But in response to requests by me the government has twice refused to release the terms of these assurances. Their disclosure will allow for a legal assessment of whether or not [Britain] has breached its obligations under the convention against torture, both with respect to Diego Garcia and to rendition generally.” Tyrie’s complaint requests that Foreign Secretary David Milbrand name the prisoners rendered through Diego Garcia by the US. Milbrand has already apologized to Parliament about falsely claiming that no US rendition flights have ever used Diego Garcia as a refueling base; other British government officials have issued similar denials (see January 8, 2003). But Manfred Novak, the UN special investigator on torture, says that he has credible evidence that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003. Human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith says he believes two of the detainees were Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni (see Early January-January 9, 2002 and March 2004) and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After), though he cannot be sure since neither the US nor British governments are releasing the names of potential detainees kept at Diego Garcia. In 2007, a Council of Europe investigation into extraordinary rendition will learn that US agencies use Diego Garcia in the “processing” of “high-value detainees.” [Guardian, 6/2/2008; Guardian, 6/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, David Miliband, Manfred Novak, Andrew Tyrie, Clive Stafford Smith, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, US-Britain-Diego Garcia (1770-2004)

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