Tue, Jun 03, 2008 - Page 7 News List

US running 'floating' jails: group

DETAINEES Human rights group Reprieve says 17 boats have been used, many in UK territorial waters. British lawmakers are seeking details of London's role in the scheme

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The US is operating "floating prisons" to house those arrested in its war on terror, said human rights lawyers, who claim there has been an attempt to conceal the numbers and whereabouts of detainees.

Details of ships where detainees have been held and sites allegedly being used in countries across the world have been compiled as the debate over detention without trial intensifies on both sides of the Atlantic. On Sunday the US government was urged to list the names and whereabouts of all those detained.

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 organization Reprieve, also claims there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition since 2006, when US President George W, 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.

Research carried out by Reprieve found 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 was 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 early last year conducting maritime security operations in an effort to capture al-Qaeda 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 Guantanamo Bay.

The Reprieve study includes the account of a prisoner released from Guantanamo Bay, who described a fellow inmate’s story of detention on an amphibious assault ship.

“One of my fellow prisoners in Guantanamo was at sea on an American ship with about 50 others before coming to Guantanamo ... he was in the cage next to me. He told me that there were about 50 other people on the ship. They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on TV. The people held on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantanamo,” the inmate said.

“They choose ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers. We will eventually reunite these ghost prisoners with their legal rights, said Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s legal director.

“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. The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are, and what has been done to them,” Stafford Smith said

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