‘The US government must reveal information about prison ships used for “terror suspects”,’ the legal action charity, Reprieve said yesterday.
In June 2005 the UN’s special rapporteur on terrorism spoke of ‘very, very serious’ allegations that the United States was secretly detaining terrorism suspects in various locations around the world, notably aboard prison ships near Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean region.
Diego Garcia is the island group whose people were ethnically cleansed by the British government of Harold Wilson so that a giant US naval and air base could be built there, which has been used to bomb Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.
Reprieve, the legal action charity, believes that the US has operated a number of ships (possibly as many as 17) as floating prisons where prisoners have been interrogated under torturous conditions before being rendered to other, often undisclosed locations.
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 British Indian Ocean Territory, Diego Garcia, which continues to be used as a military base by the US and UK.
Reprieve legal director Clive Stafford Smith 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.
‘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.’
Details regarding the operation of prison ships have emerged through a number of sources, including the US military and other administration officials, the Council of Europe, various parliamentary bodies and journalists, as well as the testimonies of prisoners themselves.
Prisoners believed by Reprieve to have been held on US prison ships include Ibn Al Sheikh Al Libi, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, John Walker Lindh and David Hicks.
Following his capture by Northern Alliance forces in November 2001, John Walker Lindh, the so called ‘American Taleban’, was transferred first to the USS Peleliu and then to USS Bataan.
On board, he received medical treatment for dehydration, hypothermia and frostbite. In addition, the bullet wound he received two weeks previously was removed from his leg.
The alleged number three in Al-Qaeda, Ibn Al Shaykh Al Libi was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001.
He was soon handed over to US custody, and taken to the USS Bataan.
Information derived from Sheikh Al Libi under torture in Egypt – later recanted and admitted by the Administration to be false – was relied upon by George Bush and Colin Powell as justification for going to war in Iraq.
Instead of being taken to Guantánamo Bay in September 2006 with the fourteen other ‘high value detainees’, Sheikh Al Libi was returned to Libya where he is apparently being held incommunicado and is dying of untreated tuberculosis.