Who is Being Held Captive on Diego Garcia?

Who is Being Held Captive on Diego Garcia?

In February 2021, tens of thousands of ethnic Tamils participated in the Pottuvil to Polikandy (P2P) rally across Sri Lanka. Now, according to witnesses, about a hundred of its leaders are serving time on Diego Garcia and being deprived of their civil rights. 

Following the huge rally, many Tamils, who were housed in refugee camps in India, tried to escape to Canada. Conditions are poor at these camps. “The army always comes and harasses us,” one Tamil woman said. “One time, they took [my husband] in for questioning for three hours and then released him.” Authorities “rescued” these fleeing refugees at sea and sent them to detention camps on the remote island

The situation is getting worse, according to International Tamil Refugee Advocacy Network Rebecca Lim. “The human rights situation in Sri Lanka is deteriorating. People are more fearful now that the Rajapaksa brothers are back in power,” she said. “If you’re a poor Tamil villager, you can be scrutinized and picked on anytime,” she added.

Controversies on Diego Garcia

Basically, Diego Garcia is a tiny sliver of land that’s almost literally in the middle of the vast Indian Ocean. However, it has seen much more than its share of controversy over the decades.

Questionable detentions are one example. Tamils are a largely Hiundu people. They make up about 15 percent of Sri Lanka’s population. In ancient times, four large Tamil empires dominated the region. These empires were vital stops along the Silk Road. Much later, like India to the north, the British dominated Sri Lanka, which they called Ceylon, for many decades. After the colonial period ended, ethnic violence broke out in much of South Asia. Sri Lanka is evidently using this violence, or at least the threat of violence, as an excuse to house prisoners in Diego Garcia.

The U.S. government reportedly did the same thing. During the early days fo the Global War on Terror, Diego Garcia was supposedly a black ops CIA detention and interrogation site.

Questions also abound as to who rightfully controls Diego Garcia. Officially, the British are the ruling power. Yet a large U.S. military base is pretty much the only thing on this island. During the Cold War, the British gave the Americans a long-term lease.

To make this transfer, the UK reorganized its far-flung territories in this area in 1965. Prior to then, Diego Garcia, which is in the Chagos Archipelago, was part of Mauritius, a group of islands off the eastern coast of Madagascar. An international court recently ruled that the 1965 reorganization was illegal and Diego Garcia rightfully belonged to Mauritius. But the British ignored the ruling, which is only an advisory opinion.

That brings us to a third Diego Garcia controversy. To make way for the American military base, the British expelled the naitive peoples. Even today, Diego Garcia is off-limits to almost everyone except American military personnel and private military contractors. 

What Contractors Do on Diego Garcia

Most of the private military contractors on Diego Garcia are construction workers. To the Americans, this remote island would be a firebase in a future war against China. As a result, the island’s facilities, most of which date back to the Cold War, need renovation. Runways need lengthening, barracks need enlarging and modernizing, harbor facilities need updating, and the list goes on.

Construction projects in Diego Garcia require a different approach from projects in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. Usually, contractors are site managers and locals do most of the work. But as mentioned, there are no locals on Diego Garcia. The DoD has construction battalions, like the Seebies. But these groups usually handle combat construction, like building bridges under fire. So, contractors usually do everything. As a result, they are much more susceptible to falls and other common construction site injuries.

Isolated Diego Garcia only has rudimentary medical facilities. The island’s hospital is not much more than a MASH unit. Serious injury victims must be evacuated to Australia or India. That flight lasts several hours and often costs tens of thousands of dollars. Additionally, the long flight means that victims do not get proper treatment straight away. So, their conditions become more advanced and more costly to treat.

Other contractors on Diego Garcia are maintenance workers, security guards, and longshoremen. Diego Garcia is home to many sophisticated drones and other advanced weapons. These systems need specialized care that, in most cases, only contractors can provide. As for security, although there are no serious security threats on the island, things happen, and a response team must be available. Finally, as for the longshoreman duties, pretty much everything that comes to or leaves Diego Garcia is aboard a ship. Someone has to do a lot of loading and unloading. 

Injury Compensation Available

When regular servicemembers are injured overseas, the VA disability system often provides medical care and financial compensation. When private military contractors are injured overseas, the DBA replaces lost wages and pays medical expenses. Let’s look at these areas in detail.

The injured contractor can work for any government agency, such as the Department of Defense or the State Department. Non-military contractors, like Peace Corps volunteers, might also be eligible for such benefits. Additionally, some contractors who work for some sympathetic foreign governments are likewise eligible for benefits.

The overseas area must be a war zone. U.S. law defines this phrase very broadly. Any territory with any U.S. military presence, even a single military attache in a consulate, usually qualifies as a war zone.

Finally, the DBA only applies to physical injuries. This injury could be a trauma injury, like a broken bone or PTSD, or an occupational disease, like a toxic exposure illness or a repetitive stress injury.

For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.