Sunday, June 1, 2008

U.S. Secret Prison Ships Hold Untold Number of Detainees

The UK Guardian is reporting the United States is holding hundreds of detainees from its international wars on at least 17 "floating prisons" in different harbors around the world. The detainees are interrogated, and then many of them sent via extraordinary rendition to other countries for further interrogation and torture.
According to research carried out by Reprieve, the US may have used as many as 17 ships as "floating prisons" since 2001. Detainees are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations, it is claimed.

Ships that are understood to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu. A further 15 ships are suspected of having operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which has been used as a military base by the UK and the Americans.

Reprieve will raise particular concerns over the activities of the USS Ashland and the time it spent off Somalia in early 2007 conducting maritime security operations in an effort to capture al-Qaida terrorists.

At this time many people were abducted by Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in a systematic operation involving regular interrogations by individuals believed to be members of the FBI and CIA. Ultimately more than 100 individuals were "disappeared" to prisons in locations including Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Guantánamo Bay.

Reprieve believes prisoners may have also been held for interrogation on the USS Ashland and other ships in the Gulf of Aden during this time.
According to Reprieve's legal director, Clive Stafford Smith, the U.S. admits to holding 26,000 people without trial in various secret prisons, and Smith believes "up to 80,000 have been 'through the system' since 2001."

Smith was interviewed on May 19 by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now, and had more to say about the prison ship program (thanks to ask at Daily Kos).
And we’ve identified thirty-two prison ships, sort of prison hulks you used to read about in Victorian England, which have been converted to hold prisoners, and we’ve got pictures of them in Lisbon Harbor, for example. And these are holding prisoners around the world, as well. And there’s a bunch of proxy prisons -- Morocco, Egypt and Jordan -- where this stuff is going on. And this is a huge concern, because the world focus is on Guantanamo Bay, which really is a diversionary tactic in the whole war of terror or war on terror, whatever you’d like to call it. And actually, most of these people who have been severed from their legal rights are in these other secret prisons around the world. [bold added for emphasis]
While there may be more detainees held in other secret prisons, or Iraqi and Afghani jails and U.S. military and CIA black site prisons, the idea of prisoners held in small holds and cells for an indefinite time, out of sight of land or hope, conjures memories of tryanny that predate the democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth century. Prison ships harken back to the days of the British deportations of convicts to America and Australia, and even earlier, to the slave ships which transported the kidnapped and sold Africans into what was supposed to be eternal servitude. An article at Newsday describes the "wretched prison ships" of the American Revolutionary War (h/t to Edger at Docudharma for this):
More Americans died in British prison ships in New York Harbor than in all the battles of the Revolutionary War.

There were at least 16 of these floating prisons anchored in Wallabout Bay on the East River for most of the war, and they were sinkholes of filth, vermin, infectious disease and despair....

Few aspects of the war were documented as well as life on the prison ships, presumably because the experience, for those who survived, was forever imprinted in their memories.... In 1778, Robert Sheffield of Stonington, Conn., escaped one of these ships, and told his story to the Connecticut Gazette. He was one of 350 men jammed in a small compartment belowdecks.

"Their sickly countenances and ghastly looks were truly horrible," the newspaper wrote on July 10, without identifying the ship. "Some swearing and blaspheming; some crying, praying, and wringing their hands, and stalking about like ghosts; others delirious, raving, and storming; some groaning and dying -- all panting for breath; some dead and corrupting -- air so foul at times that a lamp could not be kept burning, by reason of which the boys were not missed till they had been dead ten days."
In George Bush and Nancy Pelosi's America, we know less about the crimes done in our name than your average American or European knew about the atrocities of their day. Outstanding blogger GreyHawk has an essay just out that shows that news about the prison ships has been leaking out, without making much of a stir, for years.

So, now we will have to add secret prison ships to what Reprieve at their website calls the "global matrix of CIA torture flights and secret prisons scattered from Poland to Afghanistan."

Soon, I will be writing a rather lenghty piece about the history and current U.S. policy of targeted assassination: torture, assassination, aggressive invasion and occupation of other countries, disputed elections, out-of-control war profiteering and an oil industry raping the economy without any governmental restraints. This nation is sliding into a totalitarian nightmare. While the population is diverted by the entertainment of the mainstream election, the worst crimes are taking place, and if the many are ignorant or indolent today, the consequences tomorrow will be unable to escape.

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