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:

Demanding Prosecution of the War Criminals

 On Thursday April 23, World Can't Wait resisters gathered in front of the Spanish Consulate to demand that a Spanish Judge push forth with criminal investigations of 6 Bush Regime torture architects.  As part of the gathering, the group conducted a powerful live waterboarding demonstration.



Appeals Court Rules Gitmo Detainees are not 'Persons'


From the Center for Constitutional Rights website
A Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit ruled Friday that detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are not "persons" according to it's interpretation of a statute involving religious freedom.
The ruling sprang from an appeal of Rasul v. Rumsfeld, which was thrown out in Jan. 2008. "The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the constitutional and international law claims, and reversed the district court's decision that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) applied to Guantanamo detainees, dismissing those claims as well," the Center for Constitutional Rights said.
After the Supreme Court recognized, over objections from the Bush administration, that terror war prisoners have the right to habeas corpus petitions, it also directed the D.C. court of appeals to reexamine the case.
The suit, Rasul v. Rumsfeld, charges numerous Bush administration officials with "violations of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)," CCR said.


Obama Didn’t Ban Torture

 By Randolph Brickey

The nonsensical case for “moving forward.”
The current debate on how to respond to the Bush administration’s torture policies centers on the choice between seeking prosecution against its practitioners and enablers, or accepting that torture occurred and that torture is wrong, but not seeking prosecution. President Obama laid the groundwork for the latter argument when he released the Office of Legal Counsel’s so-called “torture memos” last week. He released these memos with an accompanying statement in which he foreswore prosecutions against the CIA operatives and contractors responsible for torture, referring to them as people “who carried out their duty in good faith.” The president sounded a conciliatory note, referring to the Bush administration’s torture policies as “a dark chapter in our history” from which we can now “move forward with confidence,” and that “nothing will be gained by laying blame for the past.”


Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?


By Andy Worthington

For the defendants of the use of torture by US forces — still led by former Vice President Dick Cheney — this has been a rocky few weeks, with the publication, in swift succession, of the leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (PDF), based on interviews with the 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006, which concluded that their treatment “constituted torture” (and was accompanied by two detailed articles by Mark Danner for the New York Review of Books), the release, by the Justice Department, of four memos issued by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in 2002 and 2005, which purported to justify the use of torture by the CIA, and the release of a 231-page investigation into detainee abuse conducted by the Senate Armed Services Committee (PDF).

The publication of the full Senate Committee report was delayed for four months, subject to wrangling over proposed redactions, but the Executive Summary, published last December, had already successfully demolished the Bush administration’s claims that detainee abuse could be blamed on “a few bad apples,” and, instead, blamed it on senior officials who, with the slippery exception of Dick Cheney, included George W. Bush, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington, former Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes II, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Justice Department legal adviser John Yoo, former Guantánamo commanders Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of coalition forces in Iraq.


Remembering the Past to Change the Future – We Must Hold the Torture State Accountable

By Kenneth J. Theisen

“Get the good old syringe boys and fill it to the brim
We’ve caught another nigger and we’ll operate on him
Let someone take the handle who can work it with a vim
Shouting the battle cry of freedom”
A U.S. Army marching song composed during the Philippine War entitled “The Water Cure” to celebrate a version of waterboarding used on Filipinos
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Poet and philosopher, George Santayana
Betrayal of American ideals or business as usual under imperialism?
The Obama administration has ignited another debate regarding the use of torture by the U.S. government by releasing four more “torture memos” from the Department of Justice. In this debate many arguing for prosecution of those that tortured and also of those who ordered or facilitated the torture state something to the effect that this is necessary to return the nation to its mythical “ideals,” as a nation that does not use or condone torture. But they are only half-right.
Yes! The torturers need to be prosecuted. It is crucial that Bush, Cheney, Tenet, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzales, Addington, Yoo, and many other top criminals who either ordered or enabled torture during the Bush regime be prosecuted and imprisoned. But we should be under no illusions that the U.S. began torture only under the Bush regime or that U.S. imperialism has not used torture as a regular tool to enforce its rule for its entire existence. The collective U.S. historical memory is very short, or in some cases non-existent. This is particularly true when it comes to the subject of torture. 


People of Spain: Help the World Prosecute Bush War Crimes!

To the Spanish people:

Sign the Petition:

 On April 16th, the Obama administration released four infamous Bush Regime “torture memos” that justified and orchestrated the torture of named individuals in horrendous detail. All persons of conscience consider open torture by the United States not only immoral but wrong on every level. 

At the same time, President Obama said that his administration would not prosecute those who did the torture.  His administration clarified that they also will not prosecute the war criminals responsible for the legal memos justifying and resulting in torture. This is intolerable and inexcusable.

We, the undersigned, are asking the people of Spain to continue in the struggle to bring all those who are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity to justice.  We must all stand together in the fight to protect others from harm as perpetrated by individuals in the United States upon innocent people around the world, for now and for the future of our children.

We condemn these acts of torture and violence in our names.  We will not silently stand by and watch while international standards of morality are being violated and the perpetrators walk free.

We pledge to continue to build in the United States a mass movement that demands prosecution.  Indictment in Spain will help create an atmosphere of intolerance for war criminals, making prosecution in the United States more possible.  We salute the people of Spain for your role in this world-wide struggle!

Sign the Petition:


Bush Regime Tortured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 Times


By Jonathan Turley

One of the more shocking revelation from the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003. Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. Unless I am missing something, that would mean that that KSM was tortured roughly six times a day.

The disclosure can be found on page 37 of the OLC memo, which referenced the rate to torture for the two men.


The Legal Language of Torture

Four memos released by the Justice Department last week describe the torture techniques Bush Regime lawyers determined to be allowable. The first of these memos, dated August 2002, described 10 techniques already used by the Central Intelligence Agency in the torture of Abu Zubaydah, and concluded that these methods did not constitute torture under U.S. law. Subsequent memos both reaffirmed the use of these 10 torture techniques, introduced 4 others, and described the “combinations” which were allowable.

As the New York Times wrote, a seperate legal opinion in May 2005 “claimed United Nations articles did not apply and, even if they did, the interrogation program did not “shock the conscience", which is, it said, "the relevant standard.”

The following examples are taken from the manuals of torture written by U.S. Department of Justice lawyers, and were compiled in the New York Times.


Bush Regime Torture Memos Released: Obama Pledges no Prosecution

 From a lead article in today’s New York Times: “The Justice Department on Thursday made public detailed memos describing brutal interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency, as President Obama sought to reassure the agency that the C.I.A. operatives involved would not be prosecuted.

 The message below was sent out by Debra Sweet, National Director of World Can’t Wait immediately after reading of this development:
The following memos should be read this in full as soon as you can. The premeditated, systematic sadism is beyond words and needs to be immediately and loudly exposed and denounced.
Nobody in society who is familiar with these memos can any longer claim any doubt about whether torture was/is sanctioned from the highest levels of government.
And, given that Obama is releasing these memos AT THE SAME TIME as he is officially announcing he won't prosecute those who carried all of this out means --in my view - - that nobody familiar with the release of these memos can any longer claim honest confusion about whether or not Obama represents "change."
Finally, as you read it, consider the 2 quotes below.
1) George W. Bush, March 23, 2003 --

"I expect them to be treated humanely, just like we will treat any prisoners of theirs we capture humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals."

2) Barack H. Obama, April 16, 2009 --

“In releasing these memos, it 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.”


The Bush Six to Be Indicted

Spanish prosecutors will seek criminal charges against Alberto Gonzales and five high-ranking Bush administration officials for sanctioning torture at Guantánamo.

Spanish prosecutors have decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo, several reliable sources close to the investigation have told The Daily Beast.

Their decision is expected to be announced on Tuesday before the Spanish central criminal court, the Audencia Nacional, in Madrid. But the decision is likely to raise concerns with the human-rights community on other points: They will seek to have the case referred to a different judge.

The six defendants—in addition to Gonzales, Federal Appeals Court Judge and former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, University of California law professor and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, former Defense Department general counsel and current Chevron lawyer William J. Haynes II, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, and former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith—are accused of having given the green light to the torture and mistreatment of prisoners held in U.S. detention in “the war on terror.”


Protesting Torturer John Yoo at U.C. Berkeley


Friday April 10th, WORLD CAN'T WAIT and friends protested the continued employment of War Criminal John Choon Yoo by the dean of Berkeley Law, Christopher Edley. 

The venue for this action was Chevron Auditorium at International House, where U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer presented a lecture on international law, followed by a conversation with Dean Edley. In addition to the tableau pictured here, an estimated 400 attendees were presented with literature urging the dean to take a stand against torture, indefinite detention and other crimes against humanity by dismissing professor John Yoo for commission of gross violations of the law.

Professor Yoo's infamous "torture memos" ignored various laws and legal precedents and presented a justification for torture and illegal detention. They stated that in time of war the president as commander-in-chief could ignore international and domestic laws against torture. Yoo created an unprecedented "definition" of torture out of whole cloth that was then used by the Bush regime to torture and kill detainees in the so-called "war on terror."



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.