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June 02, 2008

Rogue Nation USA

By: Bernard Chazelle

According to the human rights organisation Reprieve, the US is operating "floating prisons".

According to research carried out by Reprieve, 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 is claimed.

What's life onboard like?

"One of my fellow prisoners in Guantánamo was at sea on an American ship with about 50 others before coming to Guantánamo ... 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 Guantánamo."

How many people are kept by our government without trial in secret locations? At least 26,000.

"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. "

From 19 hijiackers and a few dozen associates, how do you end up with 80,000 people passing "through the system" of secret prisons?

And let's not even talk about the hundreds of thousands of people who will never be arrested because they have been killed by us or the mayhem we created.

Who are these people we keep in dark donjons and torture? Many of them were caught at the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of them were arrested while trying to hurt American troops.

International law recognizes the right to self-defense. Imagine for a minute that, with no authorization from anyone, the Chinese army invaded the US. Any American citizen would be legally entitled to resist. In fact, an Iraqi taking a shot at a GI can invoke precisely the same moral legitimacy as a French Resistance fighter taking out a German soldier in 1940.

By the very definition of a war crime established by the US and its allies in Nuremberg, the US is guilty of that crime.

Update: Just thinking... dark-skinned people held prisoners at the bottom of US ships sailing between continents... wait, wait, don't tell me!

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at June 2, 2008 12:02 PM

Why is anybody surprised - that's just how they do things in Texas - given who has coopted the US government.

Posted by: Richard S at June 2, 2008 01:57 PM

With that many prisoners its must cost like hell for food, clothing, medical, and housing. I wonder how long before WE put them out in the cotton fields to "pay their own way". (highwat to hell, its the road yer on)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 2, 2008 03:30 PM

A nice post, Bernard, but I don't think it makes sense to equate Iraqi insurgents with the French resistance. I understand the legal argument, but politically, Americans won't accept the moral equivalence, and it is needlessly provocative, flirting with Godwin's Law as it does.

I say needless because your preceding paragraph raises a stronger point -- the prisoners aren't freedom fighters OR terrorists. 90% of the people at Abu Ghraib were picked up in random sweeps. The military itself says the vast majority of prisoners at Guantanamo were not involved in actions against the U.S.

If you raise the "French resistance" argument, it fuels the false notion that most detainees were caught fighting our soldiers. Legally, morally, and politically, it's better to emphasize that we are doing terrible things to a whole lot of people who have done absolutely no harm to us.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at June 2, 2008 04:01 PM


So who here is obligated to care about "politically"?

Posted by: Dan at June 2, 2008 05:51 PM

Whistler Blue: Equating the Iraqi resistance with the French version does not imply equating the US army with the Wehrmacht or Bush with Hitler.

Resisting an invasion is permissible regardless of the invaders' moral intents.

Nazis must be very happy that, thanks to Godwin's Law, no one is now allowed to use WWII as a comparison for anything.

Maybe one should use other comparisons, but the use of comparison is, in my view, essential.
It's absolutely necessary. Otherwise people always relativize. If our evil cannot be compared to any other evil, then maybe it's not evil after all.

My next post was going to be about that, actually.

"To be bad" means nothing. Stuff happens. Bad apples, etc.

"To be as bad as" means everything because that's how exceptionalism is exposed as a fraud.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at June 2, 2008 07:05 PM

If our evil cannot be compared to any other evil, then maybe it's not evil after all.

This neatly sums up the issue.

Conservative: "We're the good guys."

Liberal: "We're the good guys, and yeah, we've done some bad things, but we're still special and other people are worse."

Both of these boil down to the same policies.

Posted by: LadyVetinari at June 2, 2008 11:14 PM

it is needlessly provocative, flirting with Godwin's Law as it does.

Bull. Godwin's law applies to cases where people in an internet debate liken their opponents in that debate to Nazis. It does not apply when considering actual illegal invasions committed by military superpowers, or when considering mass imprisonment without trial and torture.

Saying "you emacs guys are just like the Nazis" is a Godwin's Law offence. Saying "initiating a war of aggression is the supreme international crime, as defined by the Nuremberg principles, and any state which commits this crime is guilty of exactly the same crime as the Nazis were when they invaded Poland" is not. It's a simple statement of fact.

Posted by: Dunc at June 3, 2008 06:53 AM

I don't even know how to respond to this. It isn't enough that they can fly anyone anywhere they want to, they have to pollute the seas, too.

Could make a vicious cruise ship ad. You know, "Hey, if you take a cruise on Royal Caribbean, the only things you can look forward to are these: falling off the ship; being murdered and thrown off the ship; falling ill with a dangerous virus; disappearing, perhaps by falling off the ship or being murdered; trying to figure out how to survive a fire on the ship; wondering if you will be saved after the ship hits something and begins to sink. No pirates yet, but maybe soon. What a boring bunch of activities. But hey, on Rendition Cruises, you can also be tortured and beaten. Cruise this, Royal Caribbean."

Posted by: catherine at June 3, 2008 10:44 AM

SLAVERS, future slave ships for OUR future slaves. (whip 'em when YOU want)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 3, 2008 03:48 PM