Human rights group alleges U.S. prison ships

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The USS Bataan

The British branch of human rights organization Reprieve has accused the United States government of using naval military ships to detain in secret and interrogate alleged terror suspects. The United States swiftly denied the allegations. Clive Stafford Smith, founder and director of Reprieve, said, "the U.S. administration chooses ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers."

According to Reprieve, prisoners such as the Australian David Hicks, and the American John Walker Lindh were imprisoned on naval ships stationed off the coasts of both Somalia and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Reprieve also noted that "prisoners have been interrogated under torturous conditions before being rendered to other, often undisclosed locations."

According to the United States Navy, some ships have been used for short term prisoner housing, but denied they were prisons. "We do not operate detention facilities on board Navy ships. Department of Defense detention facilities are in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay." said Navy Commander Jeffrey D. Gordon from the Pentagon. Gordon did acknowledge that it was a matter of public record that some individuals had been put onto the ships in question "for a few days", in what he labelled the 'initial days of detention'.

Among the United States ships named by Reprieve as having served as prison ships were the USS Peleliu and the USS Bataan, both of which are amphibious assault ships. Also named was the USS Ashland, a dock landing ship. Reprieve stated that its assessment was based on evidence from sources in the U.S. military, the Council of Europe and from testimony received from former detainees at the U.S. prison camps in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On Monday, Reprieve said it would publish details of its research later this year, in a full report on the alleged activities of the U.S. military. The organization went on to claim that the United States was imprisoning as many as 26,000 foreign detainees in secret prison facilities, including land-based prisons. Gordon was quoted as calling Reprieve's comments "inaccurate and misleading."