USS Bataan
USS Bataan (US Navy photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In one of the darkest chapters in the US history of rendition and secret prisons in the war on terror, a number of ships were used as floating prisons. Clive-Stafford Smith’s Reprieve has the following information on the USS Bataan:

USS Bataan is one of the US government’s most infamous ‘floating prisons’. Prison ships have been used by the US to hold terror suspects illegally since the days of President Clinton.

At least nine prisoners are confirmed to have been held aboard the USS Bataan, including Ibn Al-Sheikh Al-Libi, who recently died in mysterious circumstances in Libyan custody.

Al-Libi’s case reflects the greatest catastrophe of the US rendition programme. In January 2002 he was flown to the USS Bataan, which was then cruising the northern Arabian Sea, and his interrogation began. From there he was rendered to Egypt where he was forced under torture to confess that al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were in league on WMD – statements publicly repeated by George Bush and Colin Powell to justify going to war in Iraq. Many thousands of lives later we all know this to have been false, and Al-Libi’s journey through the secret prison system ended when he was sent to Libya to disappear. He duly died in Libyan custody in May 2009.

Other prisoners held aboard the USS Bataan include John Walker Lindh and David Hicks.

Reprieve notes that their last sighting of the USS Bataan was in late May, 2009 in Spain. Their page can be updated with some very good news on the current mission for the ship:

ABOARD THE USS BATAAN — A few miles offshore from Port-au-Prince, this Navy amphibious assault ship serves as a beacon of hope for many Haitians.

Helicopters carrying medical supplies, soldiers and sailors, and food and water take off and touch down on the flight deck, nearly nonstop, until dark.

In the well of the ship, sailors load a landing craft utility, a boat amphibious forces use to transport equipment and troops. They stand at a large opening at the end of the ship, where the craft is tied off. They load pallets of meals-ready-to-eat with a forklift, driving across the lowered back of the ship and onto the ramp of the boat, a basic loading dock three miles out to sea.

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Besides the Bataan’s ability to provide aid, the ship contains a hospital capable of caring for 14 patients in intensive care and 44 others.

When I first heard of the use of the USS Bataan as a floating prison where torture likely took place, I was struck by the particularly sad irony of the ship being named after an earlier heinous event involving torture, the Bataan Death March in World War II. I can think of no better way that our country can attempt to expunge the ghosts of these tortured prisoners from this ship than to put it to use at a site so desperately in need of the help it can provide.