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Context of 'June 2, 2008: Human Rights Group: 26,000 Prisoners Being Held by US, Some on Secret Ships'

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According to US military officials, the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu are used as prison ships to hold captives suspected of terrorist activities, including “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh (see December 14, 2001). Both vessels are operating in the Indian Ocean. The use of US naval vessels as prison ships is kept extremely secret; the press will not learn of the incidents for years, and even then, details will be sketchy. Questioned in 2004 about the use of US military ships as “floating prisons” (see June 2, 2008), Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem will say: “I don’t know the specifics. Central command determines for either medical considerations, for the protection of those individuals, for the isolation in the sense of not having forces that would try to come get somebody out of a detention center, for a security aspect, and obviously an interest to continue interrogation.” The US may also use ships in and around the British-controlled island of Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, to hold prisoners indefinitely and “off the books.” And the US may use its ships for what is called “extraordinary rendition”—the secret transportation of prisoners to foreign countries where they can be interrogated and tortured in ways proscribed by US law. US and British officials will repeatedly deny the use of Diego Garcia in any such “floating incarcerations” or renditions. [Guardian, 6/2/2008] One reason for the use of naval vessels as prison ships may be necessity: the US is capturing scores of prisoners in Afghanistan, but the first detainee facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will not open until January 2002 (see January 11, 2002).

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh, John Stufflebeem

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001) is moved to a Navy ship, the USS Peleliu. When he arrives, he is still unable to walk and is suffering from dehydration, frostbite on his toes and mild hypothermia. Navy physicians treat Lindh with IV fluids, and on the same day, Haynes’ deputy, Paul W. Cobb Jr., tells Lindh’s lawyers: “I can inform you that John Walker is currently in the control of United States armed forces and is being held aboard USS Peleliu in the theater of operations. Our forces have provided him with appropriate medical attention and will continue to treat him humanely, consistent with the Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war.” [Business Wire, 12/17/2001; ABC News, 12/19/2001] It is the first response James Brosnahan, head of Lindh’s defense team, receives to his letters, the first of which he sent on December 3 (see December 3-5, 2001).

Entity Tags: James Brosnahan, John Walker Lindh, Paul W. Cobb

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, War in Afghanistan

An aerial shot of Camp X-Ray.An aerial shot of Camp X-Ray. [Source: Public domain]The US prison camp at Guantanamo receives its first 20 prisoners from the Afghan battlefield. [Reuters, 1/11/2002] The prisoners are flown on a C-141 Starlifter cargo plane, escorted during the final leg of the journey by a Navy assault helicopter and a naval patrol boat. The prisoners, hooded, shackled, wearing blackout goggles and orange jumpsuits, and possibly drugged, are escorted one by one off the plane by scores of Marines in full battle gear. They are interred in what reporter Charlie Savage will later call “kennel-like outdoor cages” in the makeshift containment facility dubbed Camp X-Ray. [Guardian, 1/11/2002; Savage, 2007, pp. 142-143]
Leaked Photos of Transfer Cause International Outcry - Pictures of prisoners being transferred in conditions clearly in violation of international law are later leaked, prompting an outcry. But rather than investigating the inhumane transfer, the Pentagon will begin investigating how the pictures were leaked. [Associated Press, 11/9/2002]
Guantanamo Chosen to Keep Prisoners out of US Jurisdiction - The prisoners are sent to this base—leased by Cuba to the US—because it is on foreign territory and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of US law (see December 28, 2001). [Globe and Mail, 9/5/2002] It was once a coaling station used by the US Navy, and in recent years had been used by Coast Guard helicopters searching for drug runners and refugees trying to make it across the Florida Straits to US soil. In 1998, the Clinton administration had briefly considered and then rejected a plan to bring some prisoners from Kosovo to Guantanamo. Guantanamo was chosen as an interim prison for Afghanis who survived the uprising at Mazar-e Sharif prison (see 11:25 a.m. November 25, 2001) by an interagency working group (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001), who considered and rejected facilities in Germany and other European countries. Group leader Pierre-Richard Prosper will later recall: “We looked at our military bases in Europe and ruled that out because (a), we’d have to get approval from a European government, and (b), we’d have to deal with the European Court of Human Rights and we didn’t know how they’d react. We didn’t want to lose control over it and have it become a European process because it was on European soil. And so we kept looking around and around, and basically someone said, ‘What about Guantanamo?’” The base may well have not been the final choice of Prosper’s group; it was still researching a Clinton-era attempt to house Haitian and Cuban refugees there that had been challenged in court when Rumsfeld unilaterally made the decision to begin transferring prisoners to the naval base. [Savage, 2007, pp. 143-144]
No Geneva Convention Strictures Apply to 'Unlawful Combatants' - Rumsfeld, acting on the advice of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, publicly declares the detainees “unlawful combatants” and thereby not entitled to the rights of the Geneva Conventions. “Unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention,” Rumsfeld says. Though, according to Rumsfeld, the government will “for the most part treat them in a manner that is reasonably consistent with the Geneva Conventions, to the extent they are appropriate.” [Reuters, 1/11/2002] There is no reason to feel sorry for these detainees, says Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He states, “These are people who would gnaw through hydraulic lines at the back of a C-17 to bring it down.” [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
British Officials: 'Scandalous' - Senior British officials privately call the treatment of prisoners “scandalous,” and one calls the refusal to follow the Geneva Convention “not benchmarks of a civilized society.” [Guardian, 6/13/2002]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, United States, US Department of Defense, Pierre-Richard Prosper, Richard B. Myers, Clinton administration, Donald Rumsfeld, Charlie Savage, Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Geneva Conventions

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

As Bush administration lawyers warn that Vice President Cheney and his Pentagon allies are setting the government up for defeat in the courts with their hardline advice on interrogation techniques (see Late 2001-Early 2002, January 25, 2002, April 2002 and After, and August 1, 2002) and indefinite detentions (see After September 11, 2001 and December 2001-January 2002), one of the uneasiest of Justice Department lawyers is Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Cheney and Olson have similar views on the expansion of presidential powers, but his job in the administration is to win court cases. Olson is not sure that Cheney’s legal arguments are tenable. Olson is particularly worried about two pending cases, those of US citizens Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002) and Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001 and August 16, 2002). Both have been declared enemy combatants and denied access to lawyers. Olson warns that federal courts will not go along with that provision, but he finds himself opposed by CIA and Pentagon officials. When Olson and other lawyers propose that Padilla and Hamdi be granted lawyers, Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, beats back their proposal because, says deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan, “that was the position of his client, the vice president.” The issue comes to a head in the West Wing office of Alberto Gonzales, the White House’s chief legal counsel. Four officials with direct knowledge of the meeting later recall the chain of events. Olson has the support of associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Berenson says that Kennedy, the Court’s swing vote, will never accept absolute presidential authority to declare a US citizen an enemy and lock him away without benefit of counsel. Another former Kennedy law clerk, White House lawyer Brett Kavanaugh, had made the same argument earlier. Addington, representing Cheney in the meeting, accuses Berenson of surrendering presidential authority on what he calls a fool’s prophecy about the Court; Berenson retorts by accusing Addington of “know-nothingness.” Gonzales listens quietly as the Justice Department and his own staff line up against Addington. He finally makes a decision: in favor of Cheney and Addington. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Brett Kavanaugh, Bradford Berenson, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, David S. Addington, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Jose Padilla, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Timothy E. Flanigan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Feroz Abbasi.Feroz Abbasi. [Source: BBC]The US government announces that President Bush has named six Guantanamo detainees to be tried before a military commission. They are David Hicks from Australia, Moazzam Begg holding dual British and Pakistan nationality, Feroz Abbasi from Britain, Salim Ahmed Hamdan and Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, both from Yemen, and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi from Sudan. [US Department of Defense, 7/3/2003]

Entity Tags: Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi, Ali Hamza Ahmad Sulayman al-Bahlul, Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbasi, David Hicks, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Five prisoners are released from Guantanamo, following a Pentagon announcement the release would take place two weeks earlier. They are Mamdouh Habib, an Australian, and the four remaining Britons: Feroz Abbasi, Moazzam Begg, Jamaal Belmar, and Martin Mubanga. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says the Britons’ release is the result of his “intensive and complex” discussions with the US. [New York Times, 1/12/2005; New York Times, 1/26/2005] Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock says the Australian government requested Habib’s repatriation to Australia after the US said it did not intend to bring Habib to trial. [ABC News, 1/11/2005]
Two Men's Passports Confiscated - However, upon their return to England, the passports of Mubanga and Abbasi are confiscated by the British authorities using a little-known Royal Prerogative. Home Secretary Charles Clarke writes to the men saying that they are too dangerous to Britain and its allies to be allowed to travel, and that granting them passports “would be contrary to the public interest,” as there are “strong grounds for believing that, on leaving [Britain], you would take part in activities against [Britain] or allied targets. We therefore decided to withdraw your passport facilities for the time being.” [Evening Standard, 2/15/2005]
Abbasi's Radical Connections - Abbasi is an associate of radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see 1999-2000) who had traveled to Afghanistan and been involved in fighting against the US-led invasion (see December 2000-December 2001), and had been slated for a military tribunal (see July 3, 2003).
Deal with Blair - The New York Times will suggest that the release of the four men is politically motivated and designed to bolster British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose campaign to gather support for the Iraq war was damaged by the news of the military prosecution of Britons at Guantanamo. According to the Times, “Mr. Blair’s critics saw his inability to regain custody of a total of nine British detainees at Guantánamo as proof of his subjugation to Washington,” and the announcement of the men’s release apparently shows that Blair can stand up to the US. [New York Times, 10/25/2004]

Entity Tags: Martin Mubanga, Moazzam Begg, Philip Ruddock, Jamaal Belmar, Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, Mamdouh Habib, Feroz Abbasi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The British human rights organization Reprieve claims that the US has detained around 26,000 terror suspects in its network of secret prisons. It also says that several prisoners were held on a network of secret prison ships, both for detention and for interrogation sessions that were held “off the books.” The prisoners allegedly included American-born John Walker Lindh (see December 2001-January 2002) and Australian David Hicks (see July 3, 2003). Reprieve says that the US has used ships stationed off the Somali coast and off the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to detain suspects (see June 2, 2008), including the USS Ashland, the USS Bataan, and the USS Peleliu; up to 17 naval vessels have been used, the group says. The Navy admits that its ships have sometimes housed prisoners for short periods of time, but denies that its vessels are used as long-term floating prisons. “We do not operate detention facilities on board Navy ships,” says Navy Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. Reprieve bases its claims on evidence from the US military, the Council of Europe, and testimony from a former detainee at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [Associated Press, 6/2/2008]

Entity Tags: David Hicks, Clive Stafford Smith, Council of Europe, US Department of the Navy, John Walker Lindh, Reprieve, US Department of Defense, Jeffrey Gordon

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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