Yesterday’s disclosure – reported on the front page of the Guardian, based on the latest Reprieve report – involves the Bush administration’s fleet of “prison hulks”. The scheme is not so different from two centuries ago, when Charles Dickens opened Great Expectations on a hulk in the Thames. Then, as now, we transported prisoners around the world to little-known places. The US has injected a modern variation to the practice: even 200 years ago, there was a general insistence that prisoners be charged with and convicted of a crime before they could be condemned to the lower decks of an aging naval ship.
In one sense, the use of ships is wholly predictable, following the GuantÃ¡namo pattern: the Bush administration planned its secret prisons to be law-free zones, totally controlled by the US, far away from prying media eyes or annoying lawyers’ writs. What better place, some White House strategist no doubt suggested, than a boat in the middle of the ocean?