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:

Guantánamo: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

By Andy Worthington

 On January 22, in an executive order relating to the closure of Guantánamo, President Barack Obama established a comprehensive review of the cases of the remaining 242 prisoners, to work outalt who could be released and who should continue to be held. The executive order explained that the review was to be “conducted with the full cooperation and participation” of the Attorney General, the Secretaries of Defense, State and Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but in reality, it was expected that the lead would be taken by the Justice Department.





Bush Policymaker Escapes Berkeley's Wrath

By Susannah Rosenblatt, Los AngelesTimes
February 11, 2009
In Berkeley, city leaders branded him a war criminal and human rights activists put up a billboard to denounce him. But in suburban Orange County, Professor John Yoo -- the primary architect of the Bush administration's policy on harsh interrogation techniques that many consider torture -- has found relatively calmer waters.

Yoo is a visiting professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, on leave from his tenured post at UC Berkeley to teach foreign relations law.
Although a handful of protesters, one in a Statue of Liberty get-up and another in an orange Abu Ghraib jumpsuit and hood, demonstrated against Yoo on campus recently, law students said they appreciate the prestige and exposure he could bring the law school.

But a small group of local activists said they hope to stir up anger at the 14-year-old law school in the thick of conservative Orange County.


Yoo Visits U. of Iowa: Hot Protest Outside, Academic Talk Inside

Shawn Gude - The Daily Iowan
The passionate scene outside the Boyd Law Building on Thursday drew a stark contrast to what was occurring inside the building.

Approximately 25 protesters lined up outside, some with signs - "I disapprove of Yoo," "Shame on Yoo," "Who Would Jesus Torture" - while three symbolically wore black pillow cases over their heads.

Inside, controversial University of California-Berkeley Professor John Yoo delivered a chapter from his upcoming book, Globalization and Structure, to around 25 UI College of Law faculty members and two students. A 40-minute question-and-answer session followed.

Notably absent, however, were questions about Yoo's much-debated role in former President George W. Bush's administration, which was the bone of contention for protesters outside.


Hiding Torture in U.S. and U.K.

By Andy Worthington

This has been an extraordinary week for British resident, torture victim and Guantánamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed. Last Thursday, his lawyers’ ten-month campaign to secure the disclosure of documents in the possession of the British government, which apparently  confirm details of his “extraordinary rendition” and torture, sparked a crisis when the High Court judges in his case, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones, bowed to pressure from the foreign secretary, David Miliband, not to make public a summary of the evidence because the US government had threatened to re-evaluate its intelligence sharing relationship with the UK, which “could inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat still pertains.”

This was in spite of the fact that, since last August, the judges have made it clear that they believe that a summary of what happened to Binyam should be made available in the interests of “open justice, the rule of law and democratic accountability,” and also because “The suppression of reports of wrongdoing by officials (in circumstances which cannot in any way affect national security) would be inimical to the rule of law and the proper functioning of a democracy.”


A Call to End All Renditions

by Marjorie Cohn, Jurist
Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian residing in Britain, said he was tortured after being sent to Morocco and Afghanistan in 2002 by the U.S. government. Mohamed was transferred to Guantanamo in 2004 and all terrorism charges against him were dismissed last year. Mohamed was a victim of extraordinary rendition, in which a person is abducted without any legal proceedings and transferred to a foreign country for detention and interrogation, often tortured.
Mohamed and four other plaintiffs are accusing Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. of flying them to other countries and secret CIA camps where they were tortured. In Mohamed's case, two British justices accused the Bush administration of pressuring the British government to block the release of evidence that was "relevant to allegations of torture" of Mohamed.


Obama’s Justice Department: Covering up Outsourcing of Torture and Death

By Kenneth J. Theisen

For those who thought the Obama administration would make a sharp break with Bush regime policies around extraordinary rendition (the policy of transferring prisoners to U.S. allies for torture and interrogation), the argument made by Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) on February 9, 2009 must have come as quite a shock. DOJ echoed the Bush regime’s legal claims of "preserving state secrets" in a lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen DataPlan, for its role in arranging and providing transportation for CIA-kidnapped subjects in the extraordinary rendition program. (For more details on this lawsuit, see my article on this site: “ACLU Sues Boeing Subsidiary for Complicity in CIA’s “Extraordinary Rendition.”)
Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen was brought on behalf of five victims of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. They were kidnapped and secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence altagencies overseas, where they were tortured during interrogation. In order to cover itself and its various allies in this illegal program, the Bush administration intervened in the case, asserting the "state secrets" privilege and claiming the case would undermine national security if it was allowed to be heard by the court. The Bush regime also wanted to protect the Boeing subsidiary so that private contractors would continue to cooperate in the various illegal “war on terror” programs initiated by various U.S. intelligence agencies after 9/11. The administration further wished to provide political protection to various foreign governments that participated in the extraordinary rendition program. This case, if allowed to proceed, would expose that the Bush regime was deeply involved in torture and death through its secret rendition program. It may also reveal secrets of the Clinton’s administration use of rendition.


ACLU: Justice Dept Stands Behind Bush Secrecy In Extraordinary Rendition Case


February 9, 2009

NEW YORK – The Justice Department today repeated Bush administration claims of "state secrets" in a lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen DataPlan for its role in the extraordinary rendition program. Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen was brought on behalf of five men who were kidnapped and secretly transferred to U.S.-run prisons or foreign intelligence agencies overseas where they were interrogated under torture. The Bush administration intervened in the case, inappropriately asserting the "state secrets" privilege and claiming the case would undermine national security. Oral arguments were presented today in the American Civil Liberties Union's appeal of the dismissal, and the Obama administration opted not to change the government position in the case, instead reasserting that the entire subject matter of the case is a state secret.


Hunger Strike at Guantanamo

By Andy Worthington

On January 20, the answer to the question “who’s running Guantanamo” seemed obvious. In his inaugural speech, with George W. Bush standing just behind him, President Obama pointedly pledged to “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” — a clear indication that, as he promised in a speech in August 2007, he would dismantle the extra-legal aberrations of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror”:
"When I am President, America will reject torture without exception. America is the country that stood against that kind of behavior, and we will do so again … As President, I will close Guantánamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions … We will again set an example to the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary."
The next day, President Obama requested the military judges at Guantánamo to call a halt for four months to all proceedings in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo (the terror trials conceived by Dick Cheney and his close advisers in November 2001), to give the new administration time to review the system and to decide how best to progress with possible prosecutions.


Right to Secrecy Trumps Human Rights?

World Can’t Wait Asks, “Why Should the U.S. Government’s Right to Secrecy Trump the Right of People Not to be Tortured?

Today, five men who were flown in CIA “extraordinary rendition” and subsequently tortured by third countries are asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the case of Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan Inc.  In 2008, the Bush administration convinced U.S. District Judge James Ware to throw out the case, on the basis that making the information in the lawsuit public would harm U.S. national security.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union have direct testimony of torture from the five who were transported in CIA sponsored flights by Jeppesen Dataplan, a subsidiary of Boeing, and testimony to show that employees of Jeppesen knew they were planning flights in what has become known infamously as the “Torture Taxi.” Binyam Mohamed, says he was seized by the U.S. in Pakistan and tortured before being flown to Morocco and further tortured. He is now imprisoned at the U.S. interrogation camp in Guantanamo. 



Fire and Disbar John Yoo Campaign Arrives in Southern California



John Yoo, the architect of the infamous torture memo, has arrived in Southern California for the Spring 2009 semester at Chapman University Law School .  Carrying on with the work of the Fire John Yoo group in Berkeley, WCW-LA activists and Code Pink-Orange County joined forces on January 30th to “welcome” Yoo at a Chapman conference, "Lincoln's Constitutionalism in Time of War:  Lessons for the War on Terror?" Within minutes of standing in orange jumpsuits at the conference registration table, we were threatened with arrest for trespassing.  Private property trumps human rights! 



Panetta, Holder, Obama, Torture and Nuremberg

By Dennis Loo

In his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, Leon Panetta, Obama’s pick for the CIA directorship, “said there is no intention to hold CIA officers responsible for the policies they were told to carry out. CIA interrogators who used waterboarding or other harsh techniques against prisoners with the permission of the White House should not be prosecuted.” (Pamela Hess, “Panetta: Obama won’t ok ‘extraordinary rendition,’” The Daily Transcript, February 5, 2009.)
"Individuals,” Panetta said, “who operated pursuant to a legal opinion that indicated that that was proper and legal ought not to be prosecuted or investigated."
This declaration echoes what Eric Holder, the new U.S. Attorney General said in his Senate confirmation testimony: ‘[W]here it is clear that a government agent has acted in ‘reasonable and good-faith reliance on Justice Department legal opinions’ authoritatively permitting his conduct, I would find it difficult to justify commencing a full-blown criminal investigation, let alone a prosecution.”



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.