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:

Center for Constitutional Rights on Guantanamo, Illinois


On December 15, 2009, in response to the announcement that the Obama administration would be transferring detainees from Guantánamo to the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois, Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Executive Director Vincent Warren issued the following statement:
"If President Obama is simply moving detainees from one Guantánamo to another, he has done nothing to honor his pledge to close the prison camp. The vast majority of detainees remaining at Guantánamo will never be charged with anything. Yet the president has made clear that he believes he can continue to hold these men, most of whom have already been in Guantánamo for eight years and should never have been detained in the first place, for as long as he wants without any trial whatsoever.


Guantanamo Conditions 'Deteriorate' During Obama’s Reign


By Andrew Wander 
On the night that Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, 21-year-old Mohammed el Gharani was sitting in a segregation cell in Guantanamo Bay's high security Echo Block.
He remembers the excitement among his fellow prisoners at the prospect of an Obama presidency. "Everyone was very hopeful; people were saying he was going to change things, that he would close the prison," Gharani, who was released in June, says.
"Even the guards were telling us that if he won, things would improve for us."


Obama – Like Bush - Intends to Detain Suspects Indefinitely

By John Byrne 

President Barack Obama has quietly decided to bypass Congress and allow the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects without charges.
The move, which was controversial when the idea was first floated in The Washington Post in May, has sparked serious concern among civil liberties advocates. Such a decision allows the president to unilaterally hold "combatants" without habeas corpus -- a legal term literally meaning "you shall have the body" -- which forces prosecutors to charge a suspect with a crime to justify the suspect's detention.


History Will Judge our Torture Record

by Aaron Leonard  this article was originally published in the Washington Square News

I've been thinking of ancient Rome recently. When it came to imperial power, Rome was known for its ruthlessness and willingness to descend to any tactic to deal with enemies. When people look back a thousand years from now, to what degree will that same image define the U.S. empire?
I thought of this after reading through the latest wave of CIA documents released at the end of August. They were full of descriptions of practices such as waterboarding, which is meant to "produce the sensation of drowning and suffocation." Or of "walling," such that a detainee is slammed "into a flexible false wall." Or of using power drills to scare prisoners. Or of how interrogators would tell prisoners that "we're going to kill your children." Or of the practice of putting "a harmless insect" into small boxes where prisoners are held. (Harmless? Like spiders?)
People tell me we've all heard enough about torture. We know what happened. But I can't help thinking that most people don't know as much as they think they do.


Binyam Mohamed: I Will Fight for Other Prisoners

 By Cahal Milmo

 Binyam Mohamed, the former Guantanamo detainee, has reversed a decision to stay out of the public eye by signalling his determination to campaign for justice for prisoners at the American detention camp and highlight the lifelong effects of torture he suffered at the hands of his interrogators.
Six months after emerging as a frail and ghostly figure from the plane which brought him back to Britain from the US military prison in Cuba, Mr Mohamed last night used his first public speech since his release to explain the legacy of his seven years in detention, which he says included his "extraordinary rendition" to a prison in Morocco where his penis was repeatedly cut with a scalpel to force him to confess as an al-Qai'da terrorist.


U.S. Torture—Depraved & Systemic

 by Alan Goodman 

 Threats to kill the children of a detainee… Threats to sexually abuse the female relatives of a detainee… Use of waterboarding in ways that greatly exceeded even the guidelines approved by Bush’s “Torture Memo” White House Office of Legal Counsel… These, and other new outrages are documented in a 2004 report from the CIA’s Office of Inspector General (IG). The report, along with other material, was made public on August 24, in response to lawsuits filed by the ACLU and Amnesty International.
The full implications of what is revealed (and what is covered up) in this report have yet to be fully identified. Large sections of the 109-page report are redacted (blacked-out by censors). But even from what is revealed in the report, it is clear that torture carried out under the so-called war on terror has been criminally inhuman; orchestrated, devised, supervised, and approved at the White House, the Justice Department, and in Congress; and deeply embedded in U.S. war-fighting doctrine.


Demanding Accountability for Torture: New Video from the ACLU

Watch Oliver Stone, Philip Glass, Rosie Perez and others read the chilling torture memos written by Bush administration lawyers, and demand a full investigation into the Bush torture program, in this new video put out by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Texas Tech Faculty Oppose Gonzales


By Sarah Nightingale, Lubbock AVALANCHE-JOURNAL
First appeared on 4:24 p.m. Friday.
More than 40 Texas Tech professors have objected in a petition to Chancellor Kent Hance's decision to hire former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, according to the petition's creator.
Petition creator Walter Schaller, a Tech philosophy professor since 1986, said Friday he decided to take action because "with the emphasis on ethics the university has adopted, a guy that misled Congress is not the kind of person we want to represent Texas Tech."
Hance said Friday evening he was aware of the petition, but had not yet seen the document. It would not affect Gonzales' appointment, he said.


Activists Demand UC Berkeley Fire “Torture Memos” Author John Yoo

 By Elaine Pasquini

 AS U.S. SUPREME Court Justice Stephen Breyer and University of California Dean of Law Christopher Edley spoke inside Chevron Auditorium on the University of California’s Berkeley campus April 10, members of the World Can’t Wait and protested outside the hall the continued employment of law professor John Yoo. Human rights activists handed some 400 attendees literature urging Edley to take a stand against torture, indefinite detention and other crimes against humanity by dismissing the professor, who was granted tenure in 1999. As former deputy assistant attorney general for the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003, Yoo drafted memoranda justifying torture during interrogation of detainees.


Torture's Ok But Simulating Torture Will Get You Arrested

By Dennis Loo

David Swanson's recent "US Government Threatens to Prosecute Waterboarding” article is posted here at World Can't Wait.

The title is an exciting development for those of us who have been waiting anxiously for precisely that headline.

Except that the waterboarding that our government is threatening to prosecute isn't the waterboarding that Cheney has touted the virtues of.

It's not for those who carried it out the 186 times that it was done to two known detainees: Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubadyah.

It's not for those in unknown and known locations like Abu Ghraib and Bagram who've been subjected to suffocation by water. 

No, in their great wisdom, the US government is threatening to prosecute those who were planning to demonstrate what waterboarding is like in DC at Thursday's anti-torture rally.

The proponents of waterboarding like to describe waterboarding as "simulated drowning."  It's not simulated anything. It's actual drowning, except the purpose isn't to fully suffocate those being tortured. The purpose is to stop just short of that finality. But let's accept their definition for the moment and say that according to our government "Simulated Drowning is OK, but Simulating a Simulation is Not." 

Swanson's article begins this way:

"People have been protesting and lobbying the Department of Justice all these months without realizing that the key to justice lay in the Department of the Interior, and specifically in the National Park Service, which has told activist Steve Lane he will be prosecuted if he attempts to demonstrate waterboarding at Thursday's anti-torture rally in Washington, D.C. The permit for the rally reads 'Waterboarding exhibit will not be allowed for safety reasons.'"

You can read the rest here.


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.