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:

San Francisco Protest Against Torture on 7th Anniversary of Guantanamo

By Elizabeth Fernandez, San Francisco Chronicle

Donning orange jumpsuits and black hoods, dozens of demonstrators in San Francisco today urged the immediate closure of the American detention and interrogation camp at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay.

Joined by peace activist Cindy Sheehan, the protesters also called for an end to torture of detainees in U.S. custody.

"It's important that the U.S. not engage in acts of terror," said Joe McAleese of Pleasant Hill. "To me, it is immoral."


Fast for Justice: 100 Days Campaign to Shut Down Guantanamo

By Cindy Sheehan

On July 4th, 2006, I embarked on the "Troops Home Fast" with many fellow activists all over the country. We began the fast in front of the White House and we were planning on ending it in front of the White House on September 21st (World Peace Day), but few of us made it that far.
At the end of July, Iraqi Prime Minster, Nouri al-Maliki said he would meet with Medea Benjamin (CODEPINK) and I, when he was visiting DC, if we would end the fast. Maliki, for some reason, left the Iraqi embassy without meeting with us, so the fast continued. However, some Iraqi parliamentarians were shocked and ashamed of Maliki's rude treatment of us, so we were invited to meet with the parliamentarians in Amman, Jordan, and that's when most of the fasters ended their fasts.
I lasted through Jordan and a few days back in the states when I became very ill and had to have two blood transfusions and two emergency surgeries in Waco, Texas in August of '06…during a Camp Casey protest. So, my fast lasted 37 days when I had to end it under doctor's orders.



War, Lies (Photos) and Videotapes


by Deb Della Piana
Few things have irritated me as much as Condoleeza Rice’s latest testament to the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war. According to Rice, Bush’s Middle East policies will altstand the test of time. She also asserts that she doesn’t care about being popular because she’s there to make the hard decisions. It’s good that she doesn’t care about being popular, because I can think of few people more arrogant, ignorant and generally - uncompassionate - than she is. In fact, only two immediately come to mind, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. And, believe me; the worms are turning on their way out the door.
Lies and deception are nothing new for members of the Bush administration. In fact, lying has been the norm for the past eight years. If bald-faced lying is what it took for our imperial president to get his way, then fine. For God and country and all that drivel. If the lie isn’t convincing enough, then Bush and his minions will pretty much rewrite history for you in order to make the lie stick. Part two of this equation is the arrogant part. A perfect example of this pattern is taking place on vice president Dick Cheney’s farewell tour, where he’s having no problem admitting to being a key architect of the Bush torture policy. Cheney’s command performance is indicative of the rewriting of history. According to Mr. Cheney, waterboarding isn’t torture. We know that’s a lie, of course, because waterboarding was declared torture (and a war crime) during World War II. Oddly enough, the United States tried, convicted and punished Japanese officers, like Yukio Asano, for waterboarding. He was convicted for waterboarding a US civilian and was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor for his crime.



Prosecuting Bush and Cheney for Torture: No One Can Be Above the Law


By Dave Lindorff
A month before he takes office, it has become the conventional wisdom in our conventional media that Barack "No Drama" Obama will not seek or even allow any prosecution of Bush administration officials for crimes committed over the past eight years-not even for authorizing and promoting the illegal use of torture on captives of America's wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and "terror."
Take that pillar of conventional thinking, the New York Times. A lengthy December 18 editorial laid out a solid case that approval for torture had come from top Bush/Cheney administration officials, and then concluded that "A prosecutor should be appointed to consider criminal charges against top officials in the Pentagon and others involved in planning the abuse." But then the paper's editors went on after that to give Obama a pass, saying, "Given his other problems-and how far he has moved from the powerful stands he took on these issues early in the campaign-we do not hold out real hope Barack Obama, as president, will take such a politically fraught step." In the view of Times' conventional-thinking editors, it would appear that the American government cannot be expected to prosecute criminals and fight a recession at the same time.
There is no mention of the obvious point that if crimes have been committed-and in the case of the authorizing of torture, which is banned by both international treaties to which the US is a signatory, and by US law, which folded the torture bans into the US Criminal Code for good measure, they clearly have been-the president and his incoming attorney general have a sworn obligation to prosecute them. That's what "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution" means, after all.
A "politically fraught" step? That should apply to not prosecuting criminals, should it not?
Note here that for the Times, and for the rest of the conventional thinkers who have reduced corporate journalism to such thin gruel that no one bothers with it any more, "politically fraught" refers exclusively to the idea that the Right will supposedly be riled up at any effort to prosecute war criminals in the outgoing administration. If people on the Left, or even the center, large numbers of whom believe strongly that the current administration should be held accountable for its crimes, get upset because there is no effort to prosecute them, that doesn't count as "politically fraught."
A new torture report, just released by the current, only narrowly Democratic, Senate Armed Services Committee, has definitively laid the blame for the sickening campaign of torture of captives by American military personnel and CIA agents, on officials all the way up to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Chief of Staff Richard Myers, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, White House legal counsel (and later attorney general) Alberto Gonzales, and others. It really traces the approval directly up to President Bush, noting that it was Bush's signing of an executive order on February 7 2002, exempting captives in the so-called (and loosely defined) "War" on Terror from protections of the Geneva Conventions, which authorized the military's and CIA's descent into rampant, brutal lawlessness.
Others, myself included (in my book The Case for Impeachment, co-authored with Stanford University law professor Barbara Olshansky, and published in 2006 by St. Martin's Press), have long argued that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney are guilty of war crimes, especially for their authorization, condoning, encouraging, protecting, and failure to halt and to punish the practice of torture by American forces under their control. But here we have a bi-partisan committee of Congress finally, belatedly, making the same case. How can the new incoming president and commander in chief not order a criminal investigation of all of those responsible for crimes that not only were grievous violations of US and international law, but that, by the admission of key American military leaders, led to practices at Guantanamo Bay and at Abu Ghraib which were "the first and second identifiable causes of US combat deaths in Iraq."
On its face, I would submit that if as president Obama blocks prosecution of Bush/Cheney administration war criminals, it will be the wounded American soldiers and their relatives, and the relatives of Americans who died in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hands of fighters in those countries who were recruited into battle by the images of the torture and abuse who will make his decision "politically fraught." (And let's not forget that failure to prosecute torture violations is itself a war crime-making Obama himself potentially culpable should he fail to act.)
I have spent the last two and a half years actively promoting the idea that President Bush and Vice President Cheney should be impeached for their crimes against the Constitution, their manifest abuses of power, and their actual statutory crimes, such as torture and lying to Congress. Thanks to the political cowardice of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, under the craven leadership of House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the gutlessness of House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, the impeachment that was so richly deserved did not happen. But my failed quest for impeachment does not mean that calls for criminal indictment for crimes committed should be equally quixotic.
It's one thing for a bunch of politicians in Congress to decide that impeachment would be "too divisive," or to decide that they "don't have the votes" to win an impeachment vote in the House or conviction in the Senate, and therefore to oppose even trying to make the case (I disagree with these arguments completely, and note that they could as easily have been made in 1973 or early 1974 with respect to Richard Nixon, in which case he never would have faced an impeachment hearing in the House or been run out of office for his crimes). But it's another thing entirely to argue, as the conventional media drones are arguing, and as President-Elect Obama has been saying, that there can be no prosecution of people in the Bush/Cheney administration for crimes committed during their two terms of office.
What kind of message is this sending to the world, and to the citizens of the United States? If you commit a crime and you are important enough, it's not prosecutable in America? This is taking the "too big to fail" argument that is being used to justify the bailout of failed enterprises like AIG, Citicorp, JP Morgan/Chase, and soon GMC and Chrysler, and turning it into "too big to prosecute" in the case of politicians.
"No one is above the law" used to be a proud motto of the US legal system. Now we are about to have our first president who is a constitutional scholar, and he appears ready, with the backing of the conventional media, to change that motto to: "No one is above the law, except for presidents, vice presidents and their top staffs."
The right answer, of course, is simple. The new president and the Congress should appoint a special prosecutor and authorize him or her to determine if there have been crimes committed by the prior administration, and then, if such crimes are found to have occurred, to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. Once such a prosecutor is appointed, the White House and Congress should step aside and let justice take its course.
As for the media, they should stop giving the new president a pass. Instead of, like the Times, saying they "do not hold out real hope" of such a step being taken, they should, in editorials, be demanding that it be taken. Meanwhile, in their news pages, they should be hard at work digging out the evidence of those crimes, and of the damage done by them.
Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). His work is available at


Cheney Admits Authorizing Torture

By Kevin Gosztola    
In an ABC News interview, Cheney made these remarks:
"I supported it," he said regarding the practice known as "water-boarding," a form of simulated drowning. After World War II, Japanese soldiers were tried and convicted of war crimes in US courts for water-boarding, a practice which the outgoing Bush administration attempted to enshrine in policy.
"I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do," Cheney said. "And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it."
He added: "It's been a remarkably successful effort, and I think the results speak for themselves."



A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror”

by Andy Worthington

Hit Me Baby One More Time
There’s an ambiguous undercurrent to the catchy pop smash that introduced a pig-tailed Britney Spears to the world in 1999 — so much so that Jive Records changed the song’s title to “… Baby One More Time” after executives feared that it would be perceived as condoning domestic violence.
It’s a safe bet, however, that neither Britney nor songwriter Max Martin ever anticipated that this undercurrent would be picked up on by US military personnel, when they were ordered to keep prisoners awake by blasting ear-splittingly loud music at them — for days, weeks or even months on end — at prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay.
The message, as released Guantánamo prisoner Ruhal Ahmed explained in an interview earlier this year, was less significant than the relentless, inescapable noise. Describing how he experienced music torture “on many occasions,” Ahmed said, “I can bear being beaten up, it’s not a problem. Once you accept that you’re going to go into the interrogation room and be beaten up, it’s fine. You can prepare yourself mentally. But when you’re being psychologically tortured, you can’t.” He added, however, that “from the end of 2003 they introduced the music and it became even worse. Before that, you could try and focus on something else. It makes you feel like you are going mad. You lose the plot and it’s very scary to think that you might go crazy because of all the music, because of the loud noise, and because after a while you don’t hear the lyrics at all, all you hear is heavy banging.”



Senate Report Links Bush to Detainee Homicides; Media Yawns


By Glenn Greenwald
The bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee report issued on Thursday -- which documents that "former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. officials share much of the blame for detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba" and "that Rumsfeld's actions were 'a direct cause of detainee abuse' at Guantanamo and 'influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques ... in Afghanistan and Iraq'" -- raises an obvious and glaring question:  how can it possibly be justified that the low-level Army personnel carrying out these policies at Abu Ghraib have been charged, convicted and imprisoned, while the high-level political officials and lawyers who directed and authorized these same policies remain free of any risk of prosecution?   The culpability which the Report assigns for these war crimes is vast in scope and unambiguous:
The executive summary also traces the erosion of detainee treatment standards to a Feb,. 7, 2002, memorandum signed by President George W. Bush stating that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the U.S. war with al Qaeda and that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or legal protections.



Whither Rendition? Ex-CIA Officer Predicts Obama Will Adopt Rendition

By Dennis Loo

On December 13, 2008 the New York Times published the following OpEd by Reuel Marc Gerecht, ex-CIA officer and a member of Foundation for Defense of Democracies. FDD is a neocon think tank that includes Steve Forbes, Bill Kristol, Jack Kemp, Louis J. Freeh, Joseph Lieberman, Newt Gingrich, Max Kampelman, Robert Macfarlane, and James Woolsey. FDD's Board of Advisors are Gary Bauer, Rep. Eric Cantor, Frank Gaffney, Gene Gately, Charles Jacobs, General P.X. Kelley, Charles Krauthammer, Hon. Richard D. Lamm, Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland, Sen. Zell Miller, Richard Perle, Steven Pomerantz, Oliver "Buck" Revell, Hon. Francis J. "Bing" West (This list courtesy of Wikipedia).
In his OpEd Gerecht postulates a "ticking time bomb" scenario:
"[I]f we’d gotten our hands on a senior member of Al Qaeda before 9/11, and knew that an attack likely to kill thousands of Americans was imminent, wouldn’t waterboarding, or taking advantage of the skills of our Jordanian friends, have been the sensible, moral thing to do with a holy warrior who didn’t fear death but might have feared pain?"
Interestingly, the US government did have information about a pending attack on the US, with the World Trade Center Twin Towers specifically mentioned by more than one source. What did the Bush White House do about this?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Not only did they have information, they had a great deal of information, from diverse and multiple sources, all without engaging in rendition and without employing torture. Imagine that: you can actually get useful information without drowning people, beating them to a pulp, suffocating them or sending electricity through their genitals? Fancy that.





By Larry Jones
On December 10, people throughout the world observed the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed by the three-year-old United Nations in 1948. That visionary statement has been consistently ignored by its most prominent signatory, the United States. Here are some examples:
Just one day before the December 10 anniversary, the case of a Canadian citizen came before a federal appeals court in New York. Maher Arar had sought damages against the U.S. government for arresting him as he changed planes in at Kennedy International Airport on his way home from a vacation in Tunisia. Even though the Declaration of Human Rights states that any human being arrested has the right to an attorney and a fair trial, none was provided for Arar. Instead, in what has become known as “extraordinary rendition,” he was shipped off to Syria where he was viciously tortured.



Berkeley City Council Supports Prosecution of Law Professor

 By Amy Brooks

(This article is reprinted from the Daily Cal)
At the end of its raucous meeting last night, the Berkeley City Council voted to support the prosecution of UC Berkeley professor John Yoo, but rejected a stronger recommendation on the same subject from the Peace and Justice Commission.
In the presence of several orange-suited protesters wearing black bags over their heads and a packed crowd wearing orange ribbons in support of the commission item, the council voted to reissue an earlier resolution supporting the prosecution of Yoo, a professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law, to attorney generals of the U.S. and Northern California.
If Yoo is found guilty of human rights violations, the second part of the item urges UC Berkeley to fire him.


Demonstrators Demand: “Justice for Maher Arar”

About 40 people gathered in downtown Manhattan Tuesday, December 9 to support Maher Arar, and to denounce the torture he endured thanks to the United States government. Arar, a Syrian-born citizen of Canada, was on his way home to his family in September 2002 when federal agents detained him at JFK airport. He was held in solitary confinement for two weeks in the U.S. before the Bush Regime rendered him to Syria. Once in his home country, the Syrian government held him for a year without charge and tortured him; after a year, the government released him, and the Canadian government later acknowledged Arar had no connections to terrorism.




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.