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:

Torture and the Need For Justice: “Now, it’s up to You”

 By a NYC World Can't Wait Activist 

 Hundreds of people turned out at the New York Society for Ethical Culture Wednesday night, for an urgent town hall meeting—“Torture and the Need For Justice” —organized by Revolution Books.   
What these hundreds got was a hard-hitting and deeply-moving program that pulled no punches: the line-up of speakers and performers powerfully underscored the staggering scope and severity of crimes committed by our government; the Obama administration’s cover-up and continuation of these crimes; and the screaming necessity for every person in the room to act immediately to resist these crimes, lest they be complicit in them.


Torture and the Need for Justice

June 3, Wednesday, 7pm
at the New York Society for Ethical Culture
2 West 64th Street at Central Park West

A Revolution Books Town Hall Meeting


Laura Flanders, journalist and host of GRITtv

Gitanjali Gutierrez, attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights representing prisoners held at Guantanamo

Chris Hedges, former New York Times Mideast bureau chief, author "American Fascists"

Sister Dianna Ortiz, survivor of torture, founder Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC)

Michael Ratner, president, Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyer for Guantanamo prisoners

Jeremy Scahill, investigative reporter and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army

Andy Zee, spokesperson for Revolution Books and author of "The Collapse of 'The Movement;' the Resistance and the Revolutionary Movement We Need"

Poetry from Guantanamo prisoners read by Geeta Citygirl (artistic director of Salaam Theatre) Fajer Al Kaisi, Aladdin and others


Taguba Saw "Video of Male Soldier Sodomizing Female Detainee"

 by: Jason Leopold

 In 2007, shortly after he was forced into retirement, Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba made a startling admission. During the course of his investigation into the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Taguba said he saw "a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee." Taguba told New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh that he saw other graphic photos and videos as well, including one depicting the "sexual humiliation of a father with his son, who were both detainees."


Obama’s Torture State

Four Things You Need to Know About Barack Obama and U.S. Torture & Detention

1.       Barack Obama did NOT end torture.  

Many people think that, upon taking office, Barack Obama ended torture. This is just not true. Under Obama, the U.S has continued to torture prisoners at Guantanamo, where more than 200 detainees are still being held without charge or trial. 

 According to a February 2009 report by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Guantanamo guards routinely subject detainees to vicious beatings, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, suffocation, repeated use of tear gas, and the force-feeding of tubes through the nasal passages of hunger strikers. Much of this torture is committed by Guantanamo’s Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) teams, which CCR president Michael Ratner has described as the “black shirts of Guantanamo.”  
Quoting from the CCR report: “Detainees are subjected to brutal physical assaults by the Immediate Reaction Force (IRF), a team of military guards comparable to a riot squad, who are trained to respond to alleged ‘disciplinary infractions’ with overwhelming force.”    And later in the report: “In Camps 5, 6 and Echo, detainees live in constant fear of physical violence. Frequent attacks by IRF teams heighten this anxiety and reinforce that violence can be inflicted by the guards at any moment for any perceived infraction, or sometimes without provocation or explanation.” (emphasis added)


The World Can’t Wait Torture Survey Results

 World Can’t Wait recently conducted a survey on its web site about prosecution of Bush Regime war criminals. The results from the first 600 participants in the survey, seen below, were compiled and summarized by a student at Cal Poly Pomona.

Question 4467: Do you favor prosecution of those who tortured during the Bush administration? Why or why not?

“Yes” Summary
The Nuremburg Trials established clarity in that war criminals, no matter the moral plea, must be tried before a court. By prosecuting these criminals it will deter future torture in America. While there is a large majority in favor of prosecution, they are split between punishing the generals and legislators while only reprimanding CIA agents, and punishing all involved. If they are not prosecuted then precedence will be established for future leaders. If we’re breaking the laws then this will lead other nations to do likewise.
“No” Summary
People who voted no were polarized. One group felt only the top heads should be prosecuted, not those acting on orders since they were not responsible for setting up the programs. The second group felt that if prosecution occurs then media coverage will cease on all other issues in society.


Fire John Yoo Protest at Berkeley Law School Commencement

By Linda Rigas 

On Saturday May 16, the Fire John Yoo protest at the UC Berkeley Law School Commencement furthered a visible resistance in the Bay Area against torture. With super pickets (large backpack-like signs) displaying the messages "Silence + Torture equals Complicity," "Fire and Dis-Bar John Yoo," and "John Yoo is A War Criminal," Bay Area members of World Can't Wait along with community members, lawyers, activists, and students engaged the Berkeley Law Class of 2009 graduates and their family and friends to wear an orange ribbon and resist the continuance of torture in our names. World Can't Wait also originated the following string of messages and placed them strategically, emphasizing a torture apparatus and the presence in the Bay Area of five war criminals and what actions they took to make torture state policy.


The Torture Memos … And the Need for Justice


By Alan Goodman
A hooded man stands on a stool at the U.S. Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, with wires running under a blanket to administer electric shocks.
CIA “interrogators” waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times in one month in 2003—using a torture technique that provokes the human instinct to gasp for air when being suffocated, and is among the most horrific tortures ever devised.
Thousands of similar stories and images are yet to be revealed.
New developments have shed light on how and why an unchecked reign of torture came to be openly approved during the Bush years. On April 16, 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice released four formerly secret memos issued by Bush administration lawyers. They document how, at the top levels of government, a stamp of legality played a critical role in unleashing depraved brutality.
With the release of these memos, Barack Obama announced that: “[I]t is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”
If the perpetrators and commanders of this are “not subject to prosecution,” that would set a terrible precedent for the future.


This Ain’t Change: Barack Obama and U.S. Torture/Detention Policies

WaterboardingWorld Can’t Wait Fact Sheet

 Has Obama put an end to torture, rendition, and indefinite detention? Nothing could be further from the truth. Facts you need to know:
1)         Obama admits Bush officials tortured, but refuses to prosecute them.
Cheney has bragged about authorizing waterboarding — suffocating by water — of detainees. On January 11, 2009, Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “From my view, waterboarding is torture.” Under the UN Convention Against Torture, torture is a crime and each state that signed the treaty—including the U.S.—is required to investigate and prosecute torturers.
The Obama administration is, therefore, not only morally, but legally, required to prosecute Bush Regime officials for torture.
Imagine a serial murder kills in broad daylight. If, instead of arresting the killer, the local police department issued a statement saying, “From this day forward, we will not allow murder. But we are not going to prosecute the murderer.” This is what Obama has done by refusing to prosecute the Bush Regime. If the Bush regime can get away with openly violating the law then there is no “rule of law.” Any president can henceforth break the law without any consequences.


US Interrogators May Have Killed Dozens: Human Rights Researcher, Rights Group

 By John Byrne

United States interrogators killed nearly four dozen detainees during or after their interrogations, according a report published by a human rights researcher based on a Human Rights First report and followup investigations.  

 In all, 98 detainees have died while in US hands. Thirty-four homicides have been identified, with at least eight detainees — and as many as 12 — having been tortured to death, according to a 2006 Human Rights First report that underwrites the researcher’s posting. The causes of 48 more deaths remain uncertain.
The researcher, John Sifton, worked for five years for Human Rights Watch. In a posting Tuesday, he documents myriad cases of detainees who died at the hands of their US interrogators. Some of the instances he cites are graphic.
Most of those taken captive were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. They include at least one Afghani soldier, Jamal Naseer, who was mistakenly arrested in 2004. “Those arrested with Naseer later said that during interrogations U.S. personnel punched and kicked them, hung them upside down, and hit them with sticks or cables,” Sifton writes. “Some said they were doused with cold water and forced to lie in the snow. Nasser collapsed about two weeks after the arrest, complaining of stomach pain, probably an internal hemorrhage.”


Torture: Look Back in Anger


By Aaron Leonard
In the last couple of weeks we have learned quite a bit more about the U.S.’s use of waterboarding — that relic of the Spanish Inquisition that has reappeared in the new millennium.

As things turn out, agents of the U.S. government have been doing a lot of waterboarding over the past several years. In fact, they have been doing it on levels that ought to be unimaginable. Two prisoners in U.S. custody were each waterboarded 266 times in one month. Imagine that! Being brought to the brink of drowning eight times a day on average. That’s what we learn from reading formerly secret memos on these “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were released in the middle of April.

No sooner did the government release those memos than the commander in chief himself, Barack Obama, scurried over to CIA headquarters to reassuringly tell the agency, “Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn.” 



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.