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Context of 'June 21, 2000: State Department Says Return of Chagos Islanders Would ‘Significantly Degrade’ Base’s Importance'

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The British government pays roughly $6 million in compensation to the former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands who were forcibly removed from their homeland to make way for a US military base between 1971 and 1973 (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). When Chagossians go to the Social Security Office to collect their compensation they are required to endorse, by signature or thumbprint, a renunciation form forfeiting their right to ever return home. Though Chagossians speak Creole, the forms are written in English and are not translated for them. [British Royal Courts of Justice, 10/9/2003; Tribune (Bahamas), 11/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Chagossians

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

Stephen Jones, the lead defense lawyer for indicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995), asks the court to provide him with classified documents from the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency. The documents concern terrorist groups in Iraq, Iran, the Sudan, Great Britain, and Germany. In a sealed document not given to the prosecution, Jones tells Judge Richard P. Matsch that he has evidence from several confidential sources that the bombing was financed and carried out by a foreign terrorist group, and he wants the documents to prove that allegation. Prosecution member Beth Wilkinson calls the defense request “speculative and over-broad.” Federal officials say they do not believe the files will help the defense exonerate either McVeigh or his co-conspirator Terry Nichols, Wilkinson says, and adds that after April 21, 1995, when McVeigh was arrested (see April 21, 1995), the intelligence agencies had no role in the criminal investigation. “It is the government’s position that the bomb cost the defendants less than $1,000 to put together,” Wilkinson says. “They didn’t need a foreign government to finance the bombing.” Wilkinson says that the prosecution has already given Jones and Nichols’s lawyers an enormous amount of documents, including videotapes, photographs, laboratory reports, telephone and hotel records, and witness statements. Wilkinson says Jones’s attempts to get classified information are “effort[s] to investigate where the government stopped its investigation” of a possible overseas connection to the bombing. If the government were to allow Jones to review all its unrelated files, she says, “we would be here for years.” Matsch says he will read the request, but gives no indication as to how he will rule. Jones has also asked for documentation of accusations made by FBI forensic specialist Frederic Whitehurst, who has said that FBI scientists have not always handled evidence properly (see January 27, 1997). A Justice Department memo indicates that one of the FBI explosive experts who handled evidence in the Oklahoma City bombing case has been criticized by Whitehurst. Wilkinson says the government will turn over all pertinent information about Whitehurst’s complaints to the defense. [New York Times, 4/10/1996] Matsch will rule against the request. [Reuters, 4/30/1996]

Entity Tags: Terry Lynn Nichols, Beth Wilkinson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Frederic Whitehurst, Timothy James McVeigh, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Eric Newsom, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, sends a letter to Richard Wilkinson, the director for the Americas at Britain’s Foreign Office, urging the British government to prohibit former inhabitants of the Chagos Islands from returning to any of the islands in the 65-island archipelago. The former inhabitants want to resettle two islands, Salomons and Peros Banhos, which are located about 140 miles from Diego Garcia where a major US military base is located. The letter claims that allowing the islands’ former residents to resettle their homelands “would significantly degrade the strategic importance of a vital military asset unique in the region.” He explains: “If a resident population were established on the Chagos Archipelago, that could well imperil Diego Garcia’s present advantage as a base from which it is possible to conduct sensitive military operations that are important for the security of both our governments but that, for reasons of security, cannot be staged from bases near population centers…. Settlements on the outer islands would also immediately raise the alarming prospect of the introduction of surveillance, monitoring and electronic jamming devices that have the potential to disrupt, compromise or place at risk vital military operations.” He also informs Wilkinson of US plans to expand the base. “In carrying out our defense and security responsibilities in the Arabian Gulf, the Middle East, south Asia and east Africa, Diego Garcia represents for us an all but indispensable platform. For this reason, in addition to extensive naval requirements, the USG is seeking the permission of your government to develop the island as a forward operating location for expeditionary air force operations—one of only four such locations worldwide,” the letter goes on to say. [Guardian, 9/1/2000]

Entity Tags: Eric Newsom, Chagossians, Richard Wilkinson

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

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