Sunday, June 01, 2008


Disappeared into America's floating prison system

by Larry Geller

The top news in the Guardian's June 2 edition is US accused of holding suspects on prison ships. The article concerns a report by the human rights organization Reprieve identifying 17 of those ships.

Information about the operation of prison ships has emerged through a number of sources, including statements from the US military, the Council of Europe and related parliamentary bodies, and the testimonies of prisoners.

The analysis, due to be published this year by the human rights organisation Reprieve, also claims there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition since 2006, when President George Bush declared that the practice had stopped.

It is the use of ships to detain prisoners, however, that is raising fresh concern and demands for inquiries in Britain and the US.

We wrote about this earlier, referencing a May 19 Democracy Now! interview with Clive Stafford Smith, lawyer for over fifty detainees in Guantanamo Bay and Reprieve's legal director. Stafford Smith said there are 32 of these black ships:

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.

With regard to the renditions, if GW Bush declared the practice had stopped in 2006, that's a sure giveaway that it continued. The scope of the US's secret detainment is astounding:

"By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information suggests up to 80,000 have been 'through the system' since 2001.

These operations are not something out of the distant past:

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.

In school the teachers taught us that in America a person is innocent until proven guilty. There was even a song in our school play, The Mikado, about letting the punishment fit the crime. We were too young to figure out the play, but that phrase from the chorus made a lasting impression.

It seems they lied to us in school, or maybe they just didn't know. I thought they lied to us a lot, actually (starting with that Santa Claus stuff), but adults demanded respect, so my thoughts were obviously out of line. If the teachers were right then, then America is surely led today by criminals who don't understand those same basic principles that their own teachers must have taught them.

We're the adults now, and we know what's going on. People are regularly punished, even tortured, without being guilty of anything. Any teacher today who insists that in America everyone is innocent until proven guilty is lying without a doubt. 80,000 people detained without trial! The mind boggles with the wrongness of it.

We know this but have not managed to change the behavior of our government. What does that say about us? How will future teachers explain our inaction to their young students?

My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment!



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