USNS Lewis and Clark

USNS Lewis and Clark

See a diagram of the USNS Lewis and Clark at Global Security

A friend sent me this link to Captives of Lewis and Clark. The writer, Bryan Finoki, looks at political and policy issues from an architectural perspective, how people use space. In this case the space is prisons the US is creating to incarcerate captives of the selective war against the Somali pirates in Somali waters, leaving the illegal unreported and unregulated, IUU, fishing fleets from around the world, and the illegal toxic dumping, to continue unimpeded.

I have long been disturbed by the way in which the US has replaced slavery with its prison system at home. During the Bush administration incarceration of poor and brown people became globalized, and far more brutal and abusive. So far Obama seems to be continuing the same pattern.

As part of a larger multinational effort, the U.S. 5th Fleet has sent additional ships into the gulf, that will be joined by the Coast Guard and other combat Marine search and seizure teams. While the UN uses UNOSAT to watch the seas from space, the Navy is using “an unmanned aerial spy plane known as the ScanEagle for target surveillance.” In what Navy Commander Stephen Murphy has described as “sort of racial profiling at sea,” the drone’s aerial footage is used “to help determine whether those on board the skiff are ethnic Somalis, and thus more likely to be pirates, or simply fishermen from elsewhere.”

The “simply fishermen from elsewhere” are simply pirates stealing the food and livelihood of the Somalis. But no one is even questioning that piracy, no one is protecting the interests of the Somalis. With the country weakened by close to two decades of war and civil strife, Somali seas are wide open to exploitation, including the illegal dumping of nuclear waste.

Yet, what interests me most in all of this is one vessel in particular that will be joining this crew – the USNS Lewis and Clark, an old 689-foot, 24,000-ton Navy cargo ship, or T-AKE supply ship, that has been converted into a naval detention facility. According to Strategy Page, this ship has had its crew reduced from 158 to 118 so accommodations for 26 prisoners could be improvised.
The T-AKE we learn “is the grandchild of the Servron” which developed out of necessity during World War II … these Servrons also acted as prison ships during WWII.

But for now, you can add the USNS Lewis and Clark to the list. In addition to concerns about mistakenly detaining innocent fisherman or innocents others, what could also be potentially very worrisome is whether this vessel will have any use or role in the roundup and rendition of ‘terrorist suspects’ in the good ol’ ‘War on Terror’ where too little transparency around unlawful detention and rendition exists.
If you read this article you will note, “Currently, six (T-AKE’s) are in service and eight are on order. The fourteen T-AKEs will replace 16 existing supply (separate ammo, cargo and fuel) ships that are reaching the end of their 35 year service life this year.” Not to read too much into things, but that could spell fourteen new prison ships soon circulating international waters. With the capacity for each to hold roughly 25 detainees, that would be 350 persons that could one day be swallowed up by the indefinite chambers of the nomadic fortress at sea.
Anyway, not to jump to any grim conclusions, all I’m sayin’ is it’s another ship to watch as the waves roll on.

Finoki ties this into a much larger picture of the use of space and the movement of peoples that are part of globalization.

…the nomadic fortress is a whole syntax of control spaces linked across multiple landscapes that constitute perhaps the world’s first universal border fence, loosely connected across continents through a kind of geopolitical geometry that super-imposes a border just as much as enforces one between the First World and the Global South. It is, you might say, the Great Wall of Globalization.

… It is in some way the final border, a border that is never at rest but is always modifying itself for greater tactical vantage; a kind of flexible mock-hydrological regime that deploys and aligns other sub-border levers and valves below it to secure the conduits of neoliberal capitalism and the flows of people who are captives of them in one way or another. A structure that utilizes an entire atlas of border fences with a range of satellite technologies, web-based border vigilantes and extra-territorial floating prisons, to feed the border as a kind of geopolitical gutter space that siphons the subjects of migration off into a swollen infrastructure of detention where billions of dollars and are spent on their bounty.

It is a fully transitional geography of unsettled coordinates, excessive legality and perpetual legal suspension. This border doesn’t take the defensive posture that borders traditionally have in the past, but instead is on the move and on the hunt for a new class of would-be border crossers who’ve been bound together in a dangerously wide-cast surveillance net that is incapable of distinguishing the refugee from the enemy combatant, the migrant from the smuggler, laborer from insurgent. It is the border as the worst kind of political blur space. It is as immovable as it is fluid, like a sea of transparent blast walls crashing on the shores of geopolitical exile.

Being incapable of distinguishing the refugee from the enemy combatant, the migrant from the smuggler, and laborer from insurgent has been a distinguishing feature of US policy, and policies of countries around the world during the Bush administration. This inability to distinguish is particularly true of the US and US proxies in Somalia and Kenya, and along the border between those two countries. I don’t feel any change in the air on this.

And to flesh out the picture, you may want to look at Finoki’s post on floating prisons coverted into housing, floating labor camps for migrant labor. Or the prisoner boxes used by the US in Iraq, where the space is the torture.

These are just a few of the blessings that AFRICOM and ongoing military liaison can bring to African “partners” that will “add value to the important endeavor of stability and security on the content of Africa and its island nations” and will “help build the capability for African partners, and organizations … to take the lead in establishing a secure environment“.