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:

Justine Sharrock on Torture and the Soldiers Who Carry it Out

Chris Arendt

Chris Arendt

By Maddie Oatman

In her book Tortured: When Good Soldiers Do Bad Things, journalist Justine Sharrock takes a close look at low-ranking soldiers who engaged in acts of torture. The project started as Sharrock’s graduate school thesis, and gained momentum as she traveled around the country conducting interviews with more then two dozen soldiers, four of whom become the book’s central characters. With her intimate investigative journalism, Sharrock probes emotional landscapes as much as the political and societal contexts in which they exist.  She manages to uncover the gritty memories, looming anxieties and regrets of her subjects, and I was left wondering how in the world she got these men to reveal stories to her that they still couldn’t tell their families.

Once I met her, I understood; her enormous brown eyes, demure manner, and sweet voice instantly make her someone you want to talk to. Though she may seem soft-spoken, Tortured is anything but. With her shrewd research and unyielding tenacity, Sharrock paints a searing portrait of the disturbing circumstances that lead soldiers to torture. She also takes a look at how torture scars its perpetrators and why America’s engagement in torture has forever changed its international reputation. Tortured is a must-read for those who have not been closely following the ramifications of the Iraq war just as it is essential for those with any interest in the Guantanamo Bay detention disaster.


The Rumpus: Why did you focus on lower-ranking soldiers as subjects for your book?


Amnesty International: US must begin criminal investigation of torture following Bush admission

Statement from Amnesty International 11/10/10

Amnesty International today urged a criminal investigation into the role of former US President George W Bush and other officials in the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" against detainees held in secret US custody after the former president admitted authorizing their use.


A Small Fraction of a Man: This is the Guy

By William Rivers Pitt George Bush

George W. Bush has been all over my television, all over the newspapers, and the feelings inspired by his sudden reappearance are almost beyond my capacity to describe. There was the story about his hearty approval of waterboarding.
There was the story that had him contemplating dropping Dick Cheney from the administration. There was the story that had him describing himself as a "dissenter" on the Iraq invasion. He did interviews, and excerpts of his new book dribbled out, and it was all too much to endure.
This is the guy, I thought to myself when I saw his face or heard his voice. This is the guy.


U.K. Settles Claims of Torture Victims, U.S. Continues Stonewalling

By Kenneth J. Theisen 

The British government has announced that it is settling claims brought by 16 former Guantánamo inmates for its complicity in rendition and torture by cooperating with the U.S. in the imperialist war of terror. The sixteen victims of the U.S. and the UK governments are not the only men alleging British complicity in their mistreatment while they were detained.
Legal proceedings have been begun on behalf of others who were not taken to Gitmo, but instead were illegally detained, tortured, and interrogated by British intelligence officers in other nations.


UN Torture Rapporteur: ‘Couldn’t Be More Clear’ That Waterboarding Is Torture, ‘Immoral and Illegal’

From the site Think Progress

In a interview with the Dallas Morning News, former President Bush touted his authorization of waterboarding as a key accomplishment to “leav[ing] behind a firmer foundation for my successors.” “[W]e passed laws that Congress endorsed and embraced, like the Terrorist Surveillance Program, military tribunals andenhanced interrogation techniques. The enhanced interrogation techniques are available to presidents if they so choose to use them.”
Bush’s comments come on the heels of the revelation, published in his memoir, that he personally authorized the waterboarding of 9/11 suspects.


What is Waterboarding? It’s a War Crime, Former President Bush

By Kevin Gosztola 

From former President George W. Bush’s Decision Points book tour, one would think there was nothing wrong with waterboarding. In fact, one might conclude in order to be a strong leader, one has to have the “courage” or “guts” to request a terror suspect be waterboarded or else face the possibility of appearing weak. But, what waterboarding really happens to be is a war crime.
In Bush’s recently released memoir, he writes about the “choice between security and values” being real. He writes about consulting with “CIA experts” on “interrogation techniques.” A legal review was conducted and an “enhanced interrogation program” that “complied with the Constitution and all applicable laws, including those that ban torture” was created. The technique of waterboarding was deemed by the CIA to do “no lasting harm.”
Matt Lauer, a host on "The Today Show," recently interviewed Bush and asked why he thought waterboarding was legal. Bush answered, “Because the lawyer said it was legal…He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act. I'm not a lawyer. But you gotta trust the judgment of people around you, and I do."


Interrogation Nation

By Dahlia Lithwick 

The old adage held that if they couldn't get you for the crime, they would get you for the coverup. But this week, it was revealed that both the crime and the coverup will go permanently unpunished. Which suggests that everything in between will go unpunished as well.

In an America in which the former president can boast on television that he approved the water-boarding of U.S. prisoners, it can hardly be a shock that following a lengthy investigation, no criminal charges will be filed against those who destroyed the evidence of CIA abuse of prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. We keep waiting breathlessly for someone, somewhere, to have a day of reckoning over the prisoners we tortured in the wake of 9/11, without recognizing that there is no bag man to be found and that therefore we are all the bag man.


Bush’s Memoir: A Crime Confession

By Bill Quigley Protesting Bush

In his memoir (which some wise people have already moved [1] in bookstores to the CRIME section) George W. Bush admitted that he authorized that detainees be waterboarded, tortured, a crime under US and international law. 

Bush’s crime confession coincides with reports that no one will face criminal charges from the US Department of Justice for the destruction of 92 CIA videotapes which contained interrogations using waterboarding.

Where is the accountability for these crimes?   


Event/Webcast - Tortured: When Good Soldiers Do Bad Things

Book Talk: "Tortured: When Good Soldiers Do Bad Things”
by Justine Sharrock
Thursday, November 11 at 7:00 at Revolution Books 146 W 26th St., NYC

Webcast at 7:15 pm Eastern - Tune in to:

Justine Sharrock Book Cover

Justine is an investigative journalist, writes for Alternet, Mother Jones, and Salon. Her 2010 portrait of U.S. soldiers is “an eye-opening exposé of America’s torture regime.”

An author reading on Veteran's Day with Justine Sharrock and her new book. This evening is co-sponsored by World Can't Wait and will be hosted by its national director, Debra Sweet.

“Powerful and important. Justine Sharrock talks to soldiers whose... patriotic duty was warped by the Bush administration, making torturers out of ordinary men and women. A must-read for all Americans concerned by the corrosive impact of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” policies on the US military.”
–Andy Worthington, journalist and author of The Guantanamo Files

Debra Sweet, reporting from Berkeley Says NO to Torture Week, October 2010:
"Justine read from her book about Chris Arendt, an anarchist, Jack Kerouac-reading punk from the Midwest who somehow ended up in a National Guard unit sent to Guantanamo. As he learned the pattern of detainee abuse, like the 'frequent flyer' program where detainees were moved every few hours to a different cell for months, he began folding the order forms into origami birds which spilled over his whole desk. Then he tried to kill himself."

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Bush's Depraved Logic and a World Engulfing "War on Terror"

By Chris Floyd  

 I had the lead letter in The Times of London today, concerning their recent interview with the book-hawking George W. Bush. The circumspect editors cut my text down to the gist -- although it was pretty circumspect already by my standards -- but at least the message got out to a wider audience. 

The Times website is now notoriously behind a paywall, of course, so I can’t link to it -- but thanks to the miracle of cut-and-paste technology, here is the letter as they ran it:


Special Prosecutor Declines to File Criminal Charges Over Destruction of CIA Torture Tapes

WaterboardingBy Jason Leopold

Nearly three years after he was appointed to investigate the destruction of at least 92 interrogation videotapes, a dozen of which showed two high-value detainees being subjected to waterboarding and various other torture techniques by CIA interrogators, Special Prosecutor John Durham has determined that he does not have enough evidence to secure an indictment against anyone responsible for the purge.

Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement Tuesday that Durham, a US Attorney from Connecticut, has "concluded that he will not pursue criminal charges for the destruction of interrogation videotapes."



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.