Torture and Detention

Frequently Asked Questions (scroll down for article archives and further resources)

"If anyone acts like they don't know their government is torturing people on a widespread and systematic scale, they are choosing NOT to know. We have to continue to lead people to act against this -- going out to people, into classes, to institutions, and on Too many people have learned to accept this, there is not nearly enough opposition to the revelations about these top level torture meetings -- but this is something that can change quickly if a beginning core acts with moral clarity..." -Debra Sweet, Director of World Can't Wait

Indefinite Detention and Torture Under ObamaDownload this flier

Torture + Silence = Complicity!

Act Now to Stop Torture!

Has Obama put an end to torture, rendition, and indefinite detention? Facts you need to know:

1. Obama admits Bush officials tortured, but refuses to prosecute them.

Cheney has bragged about authorizing water boarding of detainees. In January 2009, Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, that he believed water boarding was torture. Torture is a violation of Geneva Conventions. The Obama administration is, therefore, not only morally, but legally, required to prosecute Bush Regime officials for torture.

2. Under Obama, the U.S. is still holding detainees without charges or trial.

During the campaign Obama declared habeas corpus to be “the foundation of Anglo-American law.”Habeas corpus is your right to challenge your detention. It is a 900-year- old right. Without habeas corpus there are no restraints on a government’s powers to detain and punish.

Contrary to his rhetoric, the Obama administration is continuing the Bush Regime’s policies of denying prisoners habeas corpus rights and has even adopted the same arguments made by Bush. In February 2009, the Obama administration declared in Federal Court that it would not grant habeas corpus rights to detainees in U.S. custody in Bagram, Afghanistan.

In March 2009 Obama’s Justice Department claimed that Guantanamo prisoners who were detained before June 2008 had no habeas corpus rights. On May 21, 2010 the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Obama administration, holding that three prisoners who are being held by the U. S. at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan cannot challenge their detention in U.S. courts.

3. Don’t be fooled just because Obama isn’t using the term “enemy combatant”

The Obama administration will no longer use the term “enemy combatant,” but it’s a change in name only: in the same court filing in which it made this announcement, Obama’s Justice Department made clear that it would continue to detain prisoners at Guantanamo without charge. As the NY Times put it:

[T]he [Obama] Justice Department argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects there without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration had asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, Obama’s executive orders do not ban indefinite detention. In addition, at his confirmation hearing, Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder said: “There are possibly many other people who are not going to be able to be tried but who nevertheless are dangerous to this country… We’re going to have to try to figure out what we do with them.” Holder suggested prisoners could be detained for the length of their war of terror which, as we know, has no set end point.

4. Guantanamo is still open. The prison at Bagram is growing and torture is being committed.

According to Reuters, abuse of prisoners worsened shortly after the election of Obama:

Abuses began to pick up in December 2008 after Obama was elected, human rights lawyer Ahmed Ghappour told Reuters. He cited beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are on hunger strike.”

Earlier this year Scott Horton reported in Harper’s Magazine on three murders of detainees in 2006 at Guantanamo that the military tried to cover up as suicides. More is coming out about torture at Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan. Recently Andy Worthington reported on the detention and torture of three teenagers in his article, “Torture and the ‘Black’Prison,” or What Obama is Doing at Bagram (Part One).”

On June 7, 2010 Chris Floyd of Empire Burlesque wrote that under the Bush Regime medical personnel experimented on detainees to prove that the techniques used did not constitute torture. The chilling history of Nazi medical experimentation on those in concentration camps lurks in this revelation. ( echoes-of-mengele-medical-experiments-torture-and- continuity-in-the-american-gulag.html)

This is a violation of Geneva Conventions and there is evidence that these experiments are going on under Obama.

5. Obama is continuing rendition.

During his confirmation hearing, new CIA director Leon Panetta made it clear the Obama administration will continue rendition. Rendition is the practice of kidnapping somebody in one country and shipping them to another country for detention. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), said “Rendition is a violation of sovereignty. It’s a kidnapping. It’s force and violence…Once you open the door to rendition, you’re opening the door, essentially, to a lawless world.”

Obama supporters have attempted to draw the distinction between this practice and “extraordinary rendition,” defined as the practice of transferring somebody to another country knowing that they will be tortured. During his confirmation hearing, Leon Panetta said that under the Bush administration, “There were efforts by the CIA to seek and to receive assurances that those individuals would not be mistreated.” So Panetta is embracing the practices of the Bush Regime by continuing rendition!

Panetta then added, “I will seek the same kind of assurances that those individuals will not be mistreated.” (emphasis added)

Articles on Torture and Detention:

The Guantánamo Files: An Archive of Articles — Part Eight, January to March 2011

By Andy Worthington

For over five years, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there over the last nine and a half years, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For nearly three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have turned my attention to the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.


Torture crimes officially, permanently shielded

American war criminals, responsible for some of the most shameful and inexcusable crimes in the nation's history -- the systematic, deliberate legalization of a worldwide torture regime -- will be fully immunized for those crimes.

By Glenn Greenwald

In August, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder -- under continuous, aggressive prodding by the Obama White House -- announced that three categories of individuals responsible for Bush-era torture crimes would be fully immunized from any form of criminal investigation and prosecution:  (1) Bush officials who ordered the torture (Bush, Cheney, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld); (2) Bush lawyers who legally approved it (Yoo, Bybee, Levin), and (3) those in the CIA and the military who tortured within the confines of the permission slips they were given by those officials and lawyers (i.e., "good-faith" torturers).  The one exception to this sweeping immunity was that low-level CIA agents and servicemembers who went so far beyond the torture permission slips as to basically commit brutal, unauthorized murder would be subject to a "preliminary review" to determine if a full investigation was warranted -- in other words, the Abu Ghraib model of justice was being applied, where only low-ranking scapegoats would be subject to possible punishment while high-level officials would be protected.


Guantánamo – Torture – Crimes WE ARE ALL CONCERNED

By Marie

The purpose of this article is not to find an answer for each question I had or wondered. Neither is it to explain all the issues of Guantánamo, but rather to show what people really think and to speak up for what I believe is fair and that which represents my values.

A week ago, the director of World Can’t Wait, Debra Sweet, and I talked about my trip to Washington, DC for the Witness Against Torture protest demanding, “Close Guantánamo”. We decided I would be free to write anything I wanted.

I then reflected it would be interesting to interview activists and people involved in organizations against torture, crimes and Guantánamo Bay, as well as American citizens and foreign tourists to collect a maximum of varied opinions.

Before writing this article, I thought I would be as neutral as possible and play the “journalist” card as my school has taught me.


Write to the Forgotten Prisoners in Guantánamo (Summer 2011)

By Andy Worthington | June 22, 2011

A year ago, two Facebook friends, Shahrina J. Ahmed and Mahfuja Bint Ammu, drew on my research about Guantánamo for a letter-writing campaign, in which they asked their friends and others on Facebook to volunteer to write to each of the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo. Shahrina announced the letter-writing campaign via a Facebook note entitled, “What if YOU were tortured … and no one knew about it??!” and I then publicized it via an article entitled, Write to the Forgotten Prisoners in Guantánamo.

Mahfuja revived that campaign two weeks ago, with a new Facebook note entitled, “Ramadhan and Eid spent tortured,” and a fresh appeal for people to write to the remaining 171 prisoners in Guantanamo — that’s just ten less than a year ago, and two of those ten left in coffins, having died at the prison.


Judges Keep Guantánamo Open Forever

By Andy Worthington

Guantanamo detaineeSeven years ago, on June 28, 2004, the Supreme Court issued a historically important ruling in Rasul v. Bush, establishing that foreign nationals held at the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right, under the “Great Writ,” first established in England in 1215, to ask an impartial judge to rule on whether there were grounds for their detention.

A bulwark against arbitrary imprisonment, habeas corpus was essential for the prisoners at Guantánamo, who, for the previous two and a half years, had been held in what Lord Steyn, a British law lord, described as a “legal black hole” in a speech in November 2003, unable to seek any redress whatsoever if, as many of them claimed, they had been seized by mistake.


Justice Department Finally Allows Attorneys to See Leaked Guantánamo Files, But Not to Download, Save or Print Them

By Andy Worthington

In the US government’s farcical world of overclassification, four reporters were banned from Guantánamo last year for reporting the name of a witness in the trial by Military Commission of the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner Omar Khadr, even though his name had been widely reported in the media, and was available online.

That was the Defense Department’s doing, but the whole story of WikiLeaks and its exposure of classified US documents — whether it is the Collateral Murder video, the Afghan and Iraqi war logs, the diplomatic cables, or the Detainee Assessment Briefs from Guantánamo — is one of overclassification across every government department, in which material that should not necessarily be secret was, until it was leaked, jealously guarded by a government that behaves as though it was not elected by the people, and is not answerable to them.


Relatives of Disputed Guantánamo Suicides Speak Out As Families Appeal in US Court

By Andy Worthington

Late on Sunday evening, I publicized a conference call taking place on Monday to discuss an appeal in a court case brought by the families of two of the three men who died at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006 under mysterious circumstances. The supposed triple suicide of the three men — Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi — was questioned when it took place five years ago by former prisoners who knew the men, as I reported in an article last year, Murders at Guantánamo: The Cover-Up Continues, and the official story was challenged in the most spectacular manner last January, when law professor and Harper’s columnist Scott Horton drew on the testimony of four soldiers who were manning the watch towers on the night in question. Their accounts indicate that the men could not have committed suicide, as alleged, and that there must be some other explanation — possibly that they were killed either by accident or design during torture sessions at a remote facility, identified as “Camp No,” located outside the main perimeter fence of the Guantánamo prison.


The Obama Administration: on the Wrong Side of Torture... Again

We received this from Rocky Anderson with High Road for Human Rights:

Torture and the Rule of Law
The Obama Administration is suggesting that the Supreme Court ignore a torture case brought by Abu Ghraib torture victims. . . 
In Saleh v. Titan a group of Iraqi civilians are seeking to hold L3 Services and CACI International accountable for torture in several Iraqi detention centers, including Abu Ghraib.  The Obama Administration "has effectively turned its back on the Iraqi civilians who were so mercilessly tortured in American detention centers by American soldiers and American contractors."

By Laura Raymond

The Obama administration has just recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court not hear a case brought by torture victims of Abu Ghraib and other detention centers in Iraq – a recommendation that leaves the Iraqi torture victims without any redress or accountability for those responsible for their torture. Through their case, Saleh v. Titan, these Iraqi civilians, many of whom still suffer from the effects of the physical and psychological harm done to them, seek to hold the two U.S. corporations implicated in their torture – CACI International and L-3 Services (formerly Titan Corporation) – accountable in a U.S. courthouse, and have their case heard by an American jury. These two corporations – military contractors – provided translation and interrogation services in the detention centers where some of the most notorious acts of torture are known to have taken place. Investigations into the torture – including investigations by the military itself – have concluded that contractors from CACI and L-3 were involved in “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses.” The acts of torture at issue in this case include severe beatings, electrocution, threatening detainees with dogs, food and sleep deprivation, shackling in painful positions for hours, confining detainees in coffin-sized boxes, urinating on them, exposing them to extreme heat and cold, forcing them to watch the beating and rape of other prisoners, including their family members, threatening them with rape and execution, and raping and otherwise sexually assaulting and humiliating them.


Bagram Prison: Worse than Guantanamo

From Human Rights First

Which prisoners held by the United States would have more due process protections if they were at Gitmo?  Answer:  The ones being held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.  Sometimes referred to as "Gitmo East," in many ways that moniker is too generous for Bagram. The 1700 prisoners there don't have the right to an attorney and can't see the evidence against them, conditions that violate minimum due process standards. Some have been locked up for eight years, without charge or trial, while the evidence, if it exists, remains secret.

These are the findings of our new report, Detained and Denied in Afghanistan: How to Make U.S. Detention Comply with the Law. Daphne Eviatar, who wrote the report after a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, points out that the system at Bagram not only violates the rights of detainees, it also "flies in the face of the well-founded wisdom of our top military leaders who have warned repeatedly of the dangers of denying Afghan detainees due process."

Guantánamo: The Definitive Prisoner List — Updated for 2011, With New Information and Photos from WikiLeaks

By Andy Worthington

Since I began my quest to discover the stories of the Guantánamo prisoners, and to bring those stories to the world, which I first embarked upon over five years ago, I have endeavoured to make that information as accessible as possible. A major step in achieving this took place in March 2009, when I first produced my four-part Definitive Guantánamo Prisoner List, providing the names and nationalities of all 779 prisoners, and, in over 90 percent of those cases, links to my own articles about Guantánamo (around 300 at that point), providing more information about them, or references for where their stories appear in my book The Guantánamo Files or in 12 additional online chapters.


Supreme Court lets Ashcroft off the hook

Time and again the Obama administration, the courts, and Congress have not only failed to hold Bush regime officials accountable for their crimes, but in fact they have “legalized” those crimes or failed to hold any real investigation into them. 

By Kenneth J. Theisen

On May 31, 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Attorney General John Ashcroft, one of the many top criminals in the Bush regime, to escape legal liability for the wrongful arrest and detention of a U.S. Citizen under the federal material witness statute.

The American Civil Liberties Union had filed a lawsuit against Ashcroft in 2005 on behalf of Abdullah al-Kidd, a U.S. citizen who was improperly arrested and abusively detained in 2003 as a material witness in a Visa case. The ACLU’s lawsuit charged that al-Kidd’s arrest was part of a pattern of pre-textual material witness arrests that occurred after Sept. 11, pursuant to a nationwide policy instituted by Ashcroft.



World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.