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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 1, December 20, 2008

Behind the CIA-run Prison in Thailand

Sunday 21 December 2008, by Mansoor Ali

The CIA is still running dozens or even hundreds of so-called secret prisons in different parts of the world. After the exposure of the CIA-run network of secret prisons in Europe, George W. Bush has evidently chosen to move them to Asia. One of these is in Udon, the capital of a province in Thailand, located 560 km northeast of Bangkok, the Thai capital. The Thai Air Force has a base in Udon known as “Kong Bin 203” and US military transport and private planes frequently land there with terror “suspects” of the CIA. At night these individuals from the countries of Africa and the Middle East are secretly transported in military lorries to the US listening post in Bang Dung district (Amphoe Ban Dung), about 65 km from the airport; this military site was selected and developed in the 1970s to monitor China, being camouflaged as the regional relay station of the Voice of America. Thais have no access to it with Americans controlling both its outer and inner perimeters. Prisoners brought to the station are held in an underground bunker with limited space for inmates—and thereafter what happens to them only God knows.

Many of the Thai Generals now in power actually fought in Vietnam and their ties with the US military are quite strong. As is well known, several Thai Generals studied at Army Staff Colleges in the US. So their relations with the USA remain intact and are of a durable nature regardless of the fate of the governments in Thailand that come and go one after another.

When there were elections in Thailand during the Cold War, the US funnelled millions of dollars to the Generals and their proxies, so that they could win the elections. There has always been a high level of cooperation between the Thai and US intelligence; the CIA trains a considerable number of Thai intelligence officers. The US has been having rendition prisons in Thailand for decades.

Months before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington, the US and Thailand established a Counterterrorism Intelligence Centre (CIC), a secret unit presciently joining the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Thai intelligence officials to gather information about the regional terror groups.

As one of the US’ closest allies, Thailand was a logical and secure destination for situating secret intelligence facilities. Thailand is conveniently not a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture; but it has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which broadly protects human rights, including the right to a fair and speedy trial of those charged with crimes.

Although the US ratified the ICCPR in 1992, it has frequently violated the Covenant’s provisions on the twisted and somewhat spurious legal argument that several of its articles are not “self-executing”. As it conducts its “war on terror” Washington has recently persuaded its regional strategic allies—Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Manila—to either ignore or reverse their prior multilateral commitments to such international laws and covenants like the ICCPR protecting basic human rights in exchange for preferential trade and military deals.

In 2003 Washington rewarded Bangkok with the bilateral assurance of negotiating a free-trade agreement and upgraded Thailand to the status of a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) ally thus allowing the Thai military to procure, sometimes at concessional rates springing from their bilateral friendship, sensitive military technologies.

US and Thai officials no doubt continue to seek to dissociate the CIA’s torture prisons from the Thai military’s controversial tactics in southern Thailand, including implementation of what some rights advocates refer to as “US-style” torture techniques; it is telling, they say, that the US has in the main remained silent about its Thai ally’s sustained and by now well-documented use of torture while interrogating Muslim militant suspects.

Viewed through the prism of realism, that policy posture is explained by the US’ need to maintain its cordial ties with Thailand which till now has been used by Washington as its regional hub for carrying out its “war on terror”. That also goes to elucidate why, despite some reduction in bilateral aid (which are not of any material value) and finger-pointing for public consumption, the US preserved with Thailand its close bilateral relations and intimate military-to-military ties after the September 2006 military troop which ousted Thaksin’s democratically-elected government.

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