just how vast is the american gulag?

In The End of America - which I blogged about here, here and here - Naomi Wolf lists ten elements that, taken together, suggest a society is moving from democracy to authoritarianism: the fascist shift. One element is secret prisons.

We already know the US is operating so-called "black sites" where prisoners are held without charges, trial or access to counsel - and tortured. Here's more.
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 organisation 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.

. . .

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 Guantánamo 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 time.

The Reprieve study includes the account of a prisoner released from Guantánamo Bay, who described a fellow inmate's story of detention on an amphibious assault ship. "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."

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."

Story here.

Just the other day, a US State Department official called Maher Arar's extraordinary rendition a "myth". War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

And in related news [all emphasis mine]:

Why is the US in Iraq?
"A BBC investigation estimates that around $23 billion may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq.

The BBC's Panorama programme has used US and Iraqi government sources to research how much some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding.

A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations.

The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies.

. . .

To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq.

. . .

Henry Waxman, who chairs the House committee on oversight and government reform, said: "The money that's gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, it's egregious. "It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history."

And what about that "volunteer" army?
The U.S. military's top uniformed officer told an audience of Army troops Wednesday the unpopular "stop loss" policy won't end anytime soon, and he predicted a small rise in the number of troops forced to serve past their re-enlistment or retirement dates.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience of 600 soldiers at Fort Stewart he understands the strain the stop loss practice and multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have placed on service members.

"I would like to see an end to the stop loss policy, but I don't see it happening in the near future," Mullen said during a question-and-answer session with the troops. "I see a slight growth in the next couple of years based on predictions right now."

Mullen said about 11,000 Army troops are now serving under the stop loss policy, which critics have referred to as a "backdoor draft." Retaining troops beyond the date they're due to leave the military has been necessary to keep units stocked with trained soldiers ready to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

The stop loss question came up as Mullen spoke to noncommissioned and junior officers from the 3rd Infantry Division who returned from a 15-month deployment to Iraq in the last few months.

The 20,000-soldier division was the first tapped by the Army to serve a third tour in Iraq since 2003, and about half the soldiers in the room raised their hands when Mullen asked how many had deployed three times or more.

Looking up some links, I noticed this choice fact from Amy Goodman's interview with a torture survivor: the Democrats learned about the "black site" renditions in 2002. And did nothing.

But don't worry, Obama will be different. This time he'll change.

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