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:

Letter to Justice Department from Guantanamo Lawyer: What Kind of People Are You?

17 Chinese men, Muslims of the Uigher nationality, were arrested by U.S. forces 6/1/2 years ago after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. These men were never charged with any crime. But, initially sold by bounty hunters to U.S. troops, they remained in the fell of the U.S. military detention system, and spent most of that six ½ years in the special hell of Guantanamo. Recently Ricardo Urbina, a federal judge in Washington D.C., ordered the men released, ruling that since "the Constitution prohibits indefinite detentions without cause, their continued detention is unlawful."

But Bush Regime officials have no intention of allowing these men, who even it has never accused of being "terrorists", to be released. As U.K. journalist Andy Worthington wrote in a recent blog entry, Bush Regime officials are appealing, and that appeal "will almost certainly hold up their release for years"

The following is a letter written by Sabin Willet, lawyer for the Uighers, to the Justice Department.

Sabin Willett's letter to the Justice Department

Our Uighur clients have now been at Guantanamo for about six and a half years. After years of stalling and staying and appellate gamesmanship, you pleaded no contest - they are not enemy combatants. You have never charged them with any crime. In October a federal judge said they must be freed. They were on freedom's doorstep. The plane was at Gitmo. The stateside Lutheran Refugee services and the Uighur families and the Tallahassee clergy were ready to receive them. You blocked their release by getting an emergency stay from the Court of Appeals. Then by extending the stay. Since then we have done everything we can to try to win that release again and we have failed. And you have positioned this shrewdly. You know it will take many months to get a decision. If we win you will ask for en banc review. And if we win that you will appeal for Supreme Court review. So you know and I know what is happening here. This won't be over in one month, or in six. It will be years.


October 30: Diablo Valley (CA) College Anti-Torture Protest

October 30:  200 Students Witness Waterboarding Demonstration at Diablo Valley College, CA

By a student at Diablo Valley College

On October 30, 2008 World Cant Wait and Contra Costa Radical Action organized a waterboarding demonstration and Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, CA, (a community college in conservative suburban Contra Costa County, east of San Francisco).  This action was organized to bring awareness and hopefully motivate the students to take some kind of action against the torture and war that is going in their names. The college has a very diverse group of students and the quad area is usually congested with people standing around in groups discussing the latest trends.

About an hour before the demonstration a couple of us walked around the campus informing and inviting the students to the demonstration. We asked them if they had heard about waterboarding and if the had any opinions on it. Most had never heard of waterboarding but were interested and wanted to check out the demonstration.

We set up in the middle of the quad on a stage with large signs that read "NO TORTURE" and a bench for the waterboarding. As I walked through the crowds inviting more students to come watch I noticed that a lot of students were noticing the signs and became interested in what was going on. We ended up growing a large crowd of about 150-200 students.


New Evidence of Bush Regime War Crimes

From Revolution Newspaper

Over the last few weeks new evidence has come to light about the extent to which top-level White House officials were directly and intimately involved in the decisions to authorize and use torture against prisoners held by the U.S. in the so-called "war on terror." An October 15 front page article in the Washington Post-"CIA Tactics Endorsed in Secret Memos"-revealed that in 2003 and 2004 the White House issued two memos which explicitly endorsed the CIA's use of waterboarding and other forms of torture.


An Empty Trial at Guantánamo

By Andy Worthington

Now here's a problem that anyone with half a brain could have seen coming. Today the second trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo - in other words, the second US "war crimes" trial since the Second World War, following the underwhelming trial of Salim Hamdan this summer - opened not with a bang, and not even with a whimper, but with complete silence.


Ghost Prisoners in the "War on Terror"

Andy Worthington, author of The Guantanamo Files and a regular contributor to the World Can't Wait website, recently gave a seminar at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture in London. This foundation has four centers in the U.K., and in the past 23 years has had referrals from 45,000 victims of torture in over 100 countries.

As Andy wrote on his website, "The topic of the seminar was "Stories from Guantánamo," and it gave me the opportunity to run through a condensed history of Guantánamo, as related in my book The Guantánamo Files, specifically looking at how it came about that a regime of torture was introduced at Guantánamo. Primarily, this was because those who ended up there - mainly a mix of innocent men and Taliban foot soldiers - had no "intelligence" to provide, but were regarded as having been trained to resist interrogation by al-Qaeda.


Omar Khadr: The Guantanamo Files

By Andy Worthington

When is a child not a child? Apparently, when he is Omar Khadr, a 15-year old Canadian who was shot in the back after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. Omar has been in US custody ever since, first at a prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, and for the last six years in Guantánamo. Disturbingly, he has never received any treatment befitting his status as a juvenile - someone under the age of 18 when the crime they are accused of committing took place - even though the United States is a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (on the involvement of children in armed conflict), which stipulates that juvenile prisoners "require special protection." The Optional Protocol specifically recognizes "the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities", and requires its signatories to promote "the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict."


The Torture Time Bomb

By Philippe Sands

As the US presidential election reaches a climax against the background of the financial crisis, another silent, dark, time bomb of an issue hangs over the two candidates: torture. For now, there seems to be a shared desire not to delve too deeply into the circumstances in which the Bush administration allowed the US military and the CIA to embrace abusive techniques of interrogation - including waterboarding, in the case of the CIA - which violate the Geneva conventions and the 1984 UN torture convention.


The Trail of Torture

By Andy Worthington

That the White House authorised 'waterboarding' is disturbing. But that no one in mainstream US politics seems to care is worse

The revelation, in yesterday's Washington Post, that the Bush administration "issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency's use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaida suspects" will increase calls for the administration to be held to account for its actions.

It is unlikely, though, that this revelation will lead to significant activity, beyond adding more voices to grassroots impeachment campaigns in the United States - although it may lead to a strengthening of plans in various European countries to indict senior officials for war crimes. As law professor Scott Horton explained in June, the best that opponents of the regime can hope for is that the "Bush administration officials who pushed torture will need to be careful about their travel plans."


Secret Memos: Bush Regime Advocated, Endorsed Torture

An article in today's Washington Post reveals that, in 2003 and 2004, Bush Regime officials issued a pair of memos to the CIA that explicitly and categorically advocated the use of torture on "suspected terrorists".

Two developments ensued the memos. One - countless bodies and minds were destroyed by the systematic use of water boarding, crushing testicles, sleep deprivation, bodies smeared with dog shit and set upon by German shepherds, savage beatings, and other unimaginably barbaric torments carried out by U.S. intelligence and military officials - in the name of the American people. Two - an endless stream of evasions, distortions, cheap "justifications", equivocations, and of course outright lies by every significant representative of the Bush Regime, starting with Bush himself, from day one right down to today.


Newly Released Guantánamo Manual Confirms Use of Banned Techniques

ImageBy Andy Worthington

Published on the website of the new documentary Torturing Democracy, and immediately reported by psychoanalyst and psychologist Stephen Soldz, the Standard Operating Procedure for SERE interrogations at Guantánamo - based on the counter-interrogation techniques taught by the US military at its SERE schools (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) - is not quite the smoking gun some of us would have hoped for.

There is, for example, no mention of religious humiliation, sexual humiliation, the use of loud music and noise, and the manipulation of national flags for psychological effect, even though all of these were used at Guantánamo, and are, moreover, part of the most confrontational level of SERE training, known as Level C. As Jane Mayer explained in The Experiment, her devastating exposé of the SERE techniques in the New Yorker in 2005, Level C SERE training "includes a grueling exercise in which trainees endure days of physical and psychological hardship inside a mock prisoner-of-war camp."


In Historic Move, Court Orders Release of 17 Innocent Gitmo Prisoners Into U.S.

From the Center for Constitutional Rights

On October 6, for the first time, a federal court ordered the release into the United States of 17 innocent Uighur men who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay for nearly seven years. The men are refugees who would face persecution and imprisonment, if not death, if returned to their native China.

"In the history of our Republic, the military never imprisoned any man so harshly, and for so long, let alone men who are not the enemy. We have broken faith with the rule of law, and been untrue to the generosity of spirit that is our national character," said Sabin Willett, Partner at Bingham McCutchen who argued the case for the detainees today.



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.