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:

Conscience is Contagious: The Growing Opposition of UC law Profs and Grads to John Yoo’s Torture Theories

 by David A. Sylvester 

The long line of UC law school graduates approached the protest with some hesitation.
Crossing from the opposite side of Gayley Avenue on the northern edge of UC’s campus, the professors in their colorful medieval robes were the first to see the photos, the orange suited inmate, the leaflets against torture. Then some 250 students followed in their black caps and gowns, streaming toward the Greek Theater for their graduation ceremonies.
They saw once again the unforgettable images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. A color photograph of a naked young man with a black hood stretched to a metal bed frame, a man in an orange jumpsuit kneeling and in chains. And they filed past a dozen of us handing out pamphlets and orange ribbons to protest American torture policies.


Obama’s Department of Justice: Bush Regime Torturers Yoo, Bybee are Not Criminals

What are You Gonna Do Now?   
From World Can’t Wait, San Francisco
The Department of Justice has released the results of its Office of Professional Responsibility’s five year “investigation’ into John Yoo and Jay Bybee, lawyers who were key players on the Bush administration’s Torture Team. The report mildly chastises Yoo and Bybee for “poor judgement”.
These are men covered with the blood of countless victims of unspeakably cruel torture, rendition, and imprisonment without any recourse to trial in hell hole dungeons across the planet. The OPR report essentially exonerates Yoo and Bybee – and those who ultimately called the shots for them, Bush, Cheney, Rice, and the rest of the criminal gang - and clears the way for embedding the practices of torture as an integral, condoned element of U.S. policy. These practices are, in fact, continuing today under the administration of Barack Obama, as they did in the years of the Bush Regime.


Center for Constitutional Rights: Investigate and Impeach Torture Lawyers Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury

 In response to the release of the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) report on the conduct of the lawyers involved in crafting and providing legal cover for the illegal torture program, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:

At first look, the long-awaited OPR report makes it abundantly clear that the decisions about the torture program took place at the highest level, and the damning description of the program further show that the torture memos were written to order by the lawyers from the Office of Legal Counsel who played a key role in creating the program. The report underscores the need for a more thorough investigation that has more scope and powers to follow the evidence.


Dick (War Criminal) Cheney: “I Was a Big Fan of Waterboarding”

 by: Jason Leopold 

Dick Cheney is a sadist.
On Sunday, in an exclusive interview with Jonathan Karl of ABC News' "This Week," Cheney proclaimed his love of torture, derided the Obama administration for outlawing the practice, and admitted that the Bush administration ordered Justice Department attorneys to fix the law around his policies.
"I was a big supporter of waterboarding," Cheney told Karl, as if he were issuing a challenge to officials in the current administration, including President Barack Obama, who said flatly last year that waterboarding is torture, to take action against him. "I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques..."


Torture in Afghanistan and Guantánamo: Shaker Aamer’s Lawyers Speak

By Andy Worthington  

In December, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, won an important court case in which judges ordered the British government to release information in its possession regarding claims that MI5 agents were present in the US prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when Shaker Aamer wassubjected to torture, prior to his transfer to Guantánamo.
Paul Cahalan of the Wandsworth Guardian, covering the borough that Shaker Aamer once called home (and where his British wife and four children live), wrote about this story at the time, and on Thursday he provided important updates, speaking to Shaker’s US lawyer, Brent Mickum and his London-based lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, director of the legal action charity Reprieve.


Inside a Prison Outside the Law: Guantanamo Lawyers Speak at Revolution Books

By Fran Korotzer   

NEW YORK — On the evening of January 28, at the Revolution Bookstore in the Chelsea area of NYC, people filled the store to hear 2 of the lawyers defending detainees at Guantanamo tell their client’s stories which are in the book, The Guantanamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison, Outside the Law, edited by Mark P. Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz.

Andy Zee of Revolution Books addressed the group first. He pointed out that we can only hear the stories of the prisoners from their lawyers because the prisoners are not allowed to speak. Torture is still dangerous now because it is being denied, it is being codified, and torturers are not being indicted. He asked, what kind of system does this to people? Zee also mentioned the huge loss of Howard Zinn, the people’s historian, who had died the day before.


Lying About Guantanamo “Recidivists”: A Poisonous Fog Spreads from Pentagon to White House to Your T.V.

By Andy Worthington  
What is to be done about the idiocy that has spread, like a poisonous but imperceptible gas, from the Pentagon to Congress, and is now wafting through the White House, deranging all it touches?
As it travels, this dismal infection transforms statistical impossibilities into magic numbers, which appear, to the uninformed observer, to confirm the most shameless lies of former Vice President Dick Cheney: that Guantánamo was teeming with hardcore terrorists, who couldn’t wait to “return to the battlefield.”


Sentence First, Verdict Afterwards: The Show Trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

By Margaret Kimberley  

The United States government has held Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Guantanamo ever since his capture in 2003. He was one of many “enemy combatants” held there without charge or trial. Not only did he suffer from this violation of American and international law, but Mohammed suffered through water boarding torture an incredible 180 times in just 30 days.
In November 2009 the Obama administration Justice Department announced that Mohammed would finally be tried in federal court in Manhattan. The courthouse is located just blocks away from the World Trade Center site that Mohammed is now charged with plotting to destroy.


Center for Constitutional Rights: Rendition, Torture Victim Maher Arar Must Have his Day in Court

The following press release is from the Center for Constitutional Rights 

Maher Arar Seeks to Hold U.S. Officials Accountable for Complicity in Torture
CONTACT: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
February 1, 2010, New York –  Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) asked the United States Supreme Court to take up the case of Canadian citizen Maher Arar against U.S. officials for sending him to Syria to be interrogated under torture and arbitrarily detained for a year. Lower courts concluded that Mr. Arar’s suit could not proceed because it raised sensitive foreign policy and secrecy issues. If the Court of Appeals’ ruling is allowed to stand, the federal officials involved will effectively be immunized from any civil legal accountability for what they did to an innocent man.  

Maher Arar is not available to comment in person, but is issuing the following statement: “With renewed hope I am asking the Supreme Court of the United States to hear my plight and eventually overturn lower courts’ rulings which essentially gave the government the green light to continue the abuse of its executive powers in matters related to National Security.”


U.S. “War on Terror” Spawns a Global Network of Secret Prisons, Torture

By Andy Worthington 

A major new report on secret detention policies around the world, conducted by four independent UN human rights experts, concludes that, "On a global scale, secret detention in connection with counter-terrorist policies remains a serious problem," and, "If resorted to in a widespread and systematic manner, secret detention might reach the threshold of a crime against humanity."
The 226-page report, published on Wednesday in an advance unedited version, is the culmination of a year-long joint study by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. It will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March.


Murders at Guantánamo: Scott Horton Exposes the Truth about the 2006 “Suicides”

Andy Worthington | January 18, 2010

It’s hard to know where to begin with this profoundly important story by Scott Horton, for next month’s Harper’s Magazine  (available on the web here), but let’s try this: The three “suicides” at Guantánamo in June 2006 were not suicides at all.

The men in question were killed during interrogations in a secretive block in Guantánamo, conducted by an unknown agency, and the murders were then disguised to look like suicides. Everyone at Guantánamo knew about it. Everyone covered it up. Everyone is still covering it up.



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.