U.S. Secret Prison Ships Hold Untold Number of Detainees (Updated)

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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, conjurs 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.

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.

Update: the update consists of a new paragraph of commentary added, which is placed third from the end of the piece. I make mention of this significant editorial addition since a number of people commented or recommended this essay before that paragraph was added, i.e., for the record.


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    • Valtin on June 2, 2008 at 5:35 am

    That’s all I can really say.

    John Brown saw clearly that the perpetuation of the great evil of slavery in his day would not be ended that “the crimes of this guilty land: will never be purged away; but with Blood.”

    I’m afraid that the crimes of the U.S. government are steering us inevitably to a similar conflagation. I fear for my children.

    • Edger on June 2, 2008 at 5:52 am

    Prison ships? Prison ships!?

    Can the the Joint Chiefs send a swat team of Iraq vets out to storm the white house and drag cheney and bush out in chains, please?

    Yet? On camera?

  1. …..The inmates held at Guantánamo represent barely 1 percent of those detained at US prison camps and secret jails run by the military and the CIA in Iraq, Afghanistan and other points around the world. An estimated 27,000 people are being held without charges, much less trials, many of them simply having disappeared into Washington’s global gulag. Some are held on prison ships, others in secret dungeons run jointly by the CIA and regimes to which it “outsources” detainees, like Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, where other, cruder forms of torture-being buried alive, given electric shocks or slashed with scalpels-are employed…..

    Reading this kind of information leaves me feeling as though I am not living in reality — surreal!  Surely…?

    Yet, I feel as though I’ve been stabbed in my chest, as I learn each new revelation of what has transpired with this Administration.  Utter and sheer barbarism!!!!

  2. Ships that are understood to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu.

    Torture ships named after a war crime and bloody battle of attrition for territory of questionable strategic value.

    Wonder what Rovian Rear Admiral came up with those names.

  3. bring the consequences into focus. YES!

    one observation of this and 99% of our essays/diaries: this is written for me, a blogger or progressive. this will hit the maybe 30 percent of USA. but we need to hit the other 40 percent.

    and, imo, that 40% needs to connect how they or any one of us could end up on those ships…

    we do not see ourselves or our families in danger. we haven’t fully grasped thought crimes and MCA and how our gov’t can designate citizens as enemy combatants.

    how does this blog and others take over from the MSM? how does a story like this get viral readership (for lack of better term)?

    imo, people are ready for this. but it’s like any delivery system: what formulation works best?

    why should we care about this? what are the consequences to ME? and how do we get people to connect the impact on them to the welfare of us all…  scale-up their tribal thinking to a more global perspective? how do they see their place in a planet of almost 7 billion?

    it’s that i’ve come to believe we have to broaden the impact and release the power of the internet to inform over the MSM.

    so tell me, how does this impact me? how do we get all of our stories there? when we do, then the will to rectify the system will happen.

    do you know what i mean? it’s time to take that next step. work on this medium as message… as a way to incite people to think. to question. to act.

  4. And this time there are a huge numbers of people on the ships or who have been through the ships.

    Back in February, I asked about Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean.  There were, of course, no answers.  Until today.

    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.

    I couldn’t have guessed that this was the answer to those questions.

    • Edger on June 2, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    does George Bush think he is, anyway?

    • Alma on June 2, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    I felt like I had been sucker punched.  No matter how many times I say that nothing they do would surprise me.  It still does.  Sleeping on it didn’t help.

    There are so many special things that deserve to happen Bush/Co.

    Thanks for letting us know where the update was Valtin.  I hate it when update is added in the title, and the author doesn’t let you know where.

  5. How far back can the warlords turn the clock before the people rise up? Cause, folks, we is headed for feudalism.

    • geomoo on June 2, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    And there are always more details.  And while it is important to document these details, none of it is truly news to those of us who have felt obligated not to turn our thoughts away from the horrendous suffering being inflicted in our names.

    My thoughts have increasingly turned to the torturers.  It is likely that one of the reason for such extensive employment of torture is to create an army of people who have come to think of torture as a normal and patriotic activity.  These people will be needed if the neocons are to establish a fascist empire based in the US.  These people will have to be willing to torture the likes of you and me.  I think of Naomi Klein’s report of a CIA instructor who would bring randomly selected homeless people from the street to demonstrate methods of torture to his South American pupils.

    On a more personal level, I anguish thinking of the relatively innocent young men and women whose souls are being ravaged by their participation in these activities.

    May we live to see justice.  May all souls be healed.

    • Viet71 on June 2, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    what scares the hell out of me is that we surely don’t know but just SOME of the awful, criminal, and disgusting stuff shrub and company have pulled.

    • Edger on June 2, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    a search for “history of prisons ships”

    The Wretched Prison Ships

    Death, disease and injury were the fate of thousands held at sea by the British

    By George DeWan | Staff Writer

    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. The ships were uniformly wretched, but the most notorious was the Jersey.

    Following the Battle of Long Island in August, 1776, and the fall of New York City soon after, the British found thousands of prisoners on their hands, and the available prisons in New York filled up quickly. Then, as the British began seizing hundreds of seamen off privateers, they turned a series of aging vessels into maritime prison ships.

    There were more than a thousand men at a time packed onto the Jersey. They died with such regularity that when their British jailers opened the hatches in the morning, their first greeting to the men below was: “Rebels, turn out your dead!”

  6. How GRIM is this?

    My Gawd!

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