02.06.2008 18:30 GMT+04:00

/PanARMENIAN.Net/ The United States is operating "floating prisons"
to house those arrested in its war on terror, according to human
rights lawyers, who claim there has been an attempt to conceal the
numbers and whereabouts of detainees.

Details of ships where detainees have been held and sites allegedly
being used in countries across the world have been compiled as the
debate over detention without trial intensifies on both sides of the
Atlantic. The US government was yesterday urged to list the names
and whereabouts of all those detained.

Information about the operation of prison ships has emerged through
a number of sources, including statements from the US military,
the Council of Europe and related parliamentary bodies, and the
testimonies of prisoners.

The analysis, due to be published this year by the human rights
organization Reprieve, also claims there have been more than 200 new
cases of rendition since 2006, when President George Bush declared
that the practice had stopped.

It is the use of ships to detain prisoners, however, that is raising
fresh concern and demands for inquiries in Britain and the US.

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.

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 the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean,
which has been used as a military base by the UK and the Americans.

Reprieve will raise particular concerns over the activities of
the USS Ashland and the time it spent off Somalia in early 2007
conducting maritime security operations in an effort to capture
al-Qaida terrorists.

At this time many people were abducted by Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian
forces in a systematic operation involving regular interrogations
by individuals believed to be members of the FBI and CIA. Ultimately
more than 100 individuals were "disappeared" to prisons in locations
including Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Guantanamo Bay.

Reprieve believes prisoners may have also been held for interrogation
on the USS Ashland and other ships in the Gulf of Aden during this

The Reprieve study includes the account of a prisoner released from
Guantanamo Bay, who described a fellow inmate's story of detention on
an amphibious assault ship. "One of my fellow prisoners in Guantanamo
was at sea on an American ship with about 50 others before coming to
Guantanamo ... 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 Guantanamo."

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve's legal director, 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."

Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who chairs the all-party
parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, called for the US
and UK governments to come clean over the holding of detainees.

"Little by little, the truth is coming out on extraordinary
rendition. The rest will come, in time.

Better for governments to be candid now, rather than later. Greater
transparency will provide increased confidence that President
Bush's departure from justice and the rule of law in the aftermath of
September 11 is being reversed, and can help to win back the confidence
of moderate Muslim communities, whose support is crucial in tackling
dangerous extremism."

The Liberal Democrat's foreign affairs spokesman, Edward Davey, said:
"If the Bush administration is using British territories to aid and
abet illegal state abduction, it would amount to a huge breach of
trust with the British government. Ministers must make absolutely
clear that they would not support such illegal activity, either
directly or indirectly."

A US navy spokesman, Commander Jeffrey Gordon, told the Guardian:
"There are no detention facilities on US navy ships." However, he added
that it was a matter of public record that some individuals had been
put on ships "for a few days" during what he called the initial days
of detention. He declined to comment on reports that US naval vessels
stationed in or near Diego Garcia had been used as "prison ships".

The Foreign Office referred to David Miliband's statement last February
admitting to MPs that, despite previous assurances to the contrary,
US rendition flights had twice landed on Diego Garcia. He said he
had asked his officials to compile a list of all flights on which
rendition had been alleged.

CIA "black sites" are also believed to have operated in Thailand,
Afghanistan, Poland and Romania.

In addition, numerous prisoners have been "extraordinarily rendered"
to US allies and are alleged to have been tortured in secret prisons
in countries such as Syria, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt, The Guardian