Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, October 18, 2007

  America’s slave ships

Last year I argued in America’s slaves that the networks created by Bush’s CIA for purchasing (or seizing), for transporting, brutalizing, and holding without trial undifferentiated masses of foreign men, should not be rationalized as just a different form of imprisonment. They aren’t being treated as either war captives or criminals. Instead, I believe, the closest analogue for this system is slavery. It’s not the slavery of economic exploitation, of course, but the display of raw, unchecked power, of domination, of authority. Under Bush, when you get right down to it, this new slavery came into existence in order to crush out the very idea of resistance to his will.

Today, the Guardian newspaper highlights another dimension to the vile network created by George W. Bush: slave ships.

The Guardian reports that there is finally some movement in the British Parliament to investigate the longstanding allegations that the British island of Diego Garcia, where the US leases an air base, is one of the CIA’s black sites where men are held secretly and tortured. From the Guardian:

The all-party foreign affairs committee is to examine long-standing suspicions that the agency has operated one of its so-called "black site" prisons on Diego Garcia, the British overseas territory in the Indian Ocean that is home to a large US military base.

Lawyers from Reprieve, a legal charity that represents a number of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, including several former British residents, are calling on the committee to question US and British officials about the allegations. According to the organisation's submission to the committee, the UK government is "potentially systematically complicit in the most serious crimes against humanity of disappearance, torture and prolonged incommunicado detention".

Clive Stafford Smith, the charity's legal director, said he was "absolutely and categorically certain" that prisoners have been held on the island. "If the foreign affairs committee approaches this thoroughly, they will get to the bottom of it," he said.

The government of Tony Blair was pressed many times by MPs about these allegations, but always fell back upon the Bush administration’s denials. The British have never actually looked into the matter—even though Gen. Barry McCaffrey said that prisoners are held at Diego Garcia; even though the torture flight logs amassed by investigators identified a CIA flight from Washington to Diego Garcia on Sept. 11, 2002 (shortly after Ramzi Binalshibh was captured); even though the report to the European Council by investigator Dick Marty stated …

"We have received concurring confirmations that United States agencies have used Diego Garcia, which is the international legal responsibility of the UK, in the 'processing' of high-value detainees."

And even though the island in the Indian Ocean retains a small force of British military personnel as customs officers and police, the British government has until now never bothered to discover whether its territory is being used to violate international laws on human rights.

If allegations of secret imprisonment and torture aren’t sufficient to embarrass the British government into action, then perhaps talk of slave ships might be.

One possibility which the foreign affairs committee may explore is that suspects have been held on a prison ship off the coast of Diego Garcia. The UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, has said that he has heard from reliable sources that the US has held prisoners on ships in the Indian Ocean. There have also been second-hand accounts from detainees at Guantánamo of prisoners being held on US naval vessels.

One detainee told a researcher from Reprieve: "One of my fellow prisoners in Guantánamo was at sea on an American ship with about 50 others before coming to Guantánamo. He told me that there were about 50 other people on the ship; they were all closed off in the bottom. The people detained on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantánamo."

Until now, there have been only a few stray comments in print about the allegations that the US Navy is keeping torture vessels afloat, allegations that even the U.N. felt obliged to describe as rumors.

The United Nations says it has learned of serious allegations that the US is secretly detaining terrorism suspects, notably on American military ships.

The special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, said the claims were rumours at this stage, but urged the US to co-operate with an investigation…

He said that according to the reports, the ships were believed to be in the Indian Ocean.

The British were actively involved in the Indian Ocean slave trade until 1807. Two hundred years later, they seem to be back in business.

crossposted from

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