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:

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."


Red Cross: CIA Medics Joined in Guantánamo Torture Sessions

Linda Rigas

Medical personnel committed a "gross breach of medical ethics" by taking part in torture in Guantánamo, a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross document has revealed.
The 40-page confidential report, written in 2007, describes how medical staff working for the CIA monitored prisoners' vital signs to make sure they did not drown while being subjected to waterboarding, during which water is poured over a cloth placed over a person's nose and mouth.

Medical personnel were also said to be present when prisoners were shackled in a "stress standing position". The detainees were "monitored by health personnel who in some instances recommended stopping the method of ill-treatment, or recommended its continuation, but with adjustments", according to the report.


CIA Cover-up of Torture Tapes Destruction Continues

By Kenneth J. Theisen

Remember when the CIA destroyed 92 “enhanced interrogation” videotapes to cover-up its torture of prisoners taken in the so-called “war on terror”? The tapes showed torture, including waterboarding, being used against so-called high value detainees. The tapes were ordered to be turned over to a court trying a “terrorism” suspect and also they were supposed to have been provided to the 9/11 Commission. But the CIA denied the tapes existence, both to the court and to the Commission. The CIA then destroyed the tapes to cover-up its crimes and to protect those at the top of the Bush regime that had ordered the torture.
Unfortunately for the CIA, the destruction of evidence will not keep the matter buried. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking information on detainee abuse. As part of that ongoing lawsuit, on March 20th the CIA disclosed that it has a list of roughly 3,000 summaries, transcripts, reconstructions and memoranda relating to the destroyed interrogation videotapes. But the cover-up continues as the CIA refuses to disclose the list to the public. The CIA also refuses to publicly disclose a list of witnesses who may have viewed the videotapes or retained custody of the videotapes before their destruction. Keeping this information secret is critical to maintaining the cover-up. Revelation of these materials would undoubtedly implicate not only CIA operatives in many crimes, but also the top criminals in the Bush regime.
According to Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU, “The government is still needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA's use of torture is well known. Full disclosure of the CIA's illegal interrogation methods is long overdue and the agency must be held accountable for flouting the rule of law."


Mark Danner: Bush Lied About Torture of Prisoners

 This interview with Mark Danner was conducted by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!

The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report two years ago that the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners “constituted torture” in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The findings were based on interviews with prisoners once held in the CIA’s secret black sites. Author and journalist Mark Danner broke the story when he published extensive excerpts of the report in the New York Review of Books. The Red Cross said the fourteen prisoners held in the CIA prisons gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, waterboarding.
Mark Danner is a contributor to the New York Review of Books. He is a professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and a professor of human rights and journalism at Bard College. He is the author of Torture and Truth. His full article entitled U.S. Torture: Voices From the Black Sites, can be found here.


The Name Changes; the Torture is the Same

by World Can't Wait web team

The New York Times reported today that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush Regime’s policy of detaining people it determines to be “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo and other prisons the U.S. has scattered throughout the world. Obama will, however, no longer call them “enemy combatants”.

There is a long and ugly American history of using euphemisms to conceal, disguise, and try to evade responsibility for the monstrous crimes this government has committed against people throughout the world. Civilian deaths become “collateral damage.” Kidnapping and torturing become “rendition.” Torture becomes “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Now Obama thinks he can distance himself from the contempt for Bush era policies by continuing the practice of torture and imprisonment without trial by changing the label.
The crimes against humanity begun during the Bush years are being extended, and solidified as state policy during the Obama years. Is this the change humanity needs?
Be in the streets March 19th, demanding an end to U.S. Wars, Occupation, and Torture for empire.
The following is part of a press release by the American Civil Liberties Union immediately after the announcement was made by the Obama administration.


When Will They Stop?

This article was posted on the blog of Candace Gorman, an attorney in Chicago who represents two of the Guantanamo prisoners.
Yesterday I (and every other habeas counsel) received an email from the Department of Just (DOJ) telling us that they are going to ask Judge Hogan (the coordinating judge for the Guantanamo litigation) to amend the Protective Order (the rules that guide the litigation) and they were just wondering if we would oppose the change.... sigh.
The latest attempt to interfere with the attorney client relationship that the DOJ is proposing would forbid us from talking with our clients about information that our clients supposedly provided to the government, if we learned about that information from reviewing a classified document... unless of course our clients happened to have mentioned that same information to us in a letter or in a client meeting (of course if our client never mentioned the supposed "information" to us it could very well be that they never uttered those words!)


Obama Moves to Preserve Indefinite Detention of “Terrorism” Suspects

 By Kenneth J. Theisen

On Friday, February 27, 2009 the Obama administration made a series of legal moves aimed at protecting the future use of indefinite detention for “terrorism” suspects picked up in the United States. It is also attempting to circumvent a Supreme Court hearing in this case which could possibly set a precedent limiting Obama and future presidents’ power. The former president Bush must be proud of his successor, Barack Obama.
On Friday, Obama directed U.S. military officials to transfer Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri into the civilian custody of the Department of Justice. Al-Marri is an alleged al Qaeda agent according to the federal government.
Al Marri came to the U.S. on September 10, 2001, with his family. He was studying computer programming at Bradley University in Peoria Illinois. As Jane Meyer wrote in a recent New Yorker, “that December, he was arrested as a material witness in an investigation of the September 11th attacks. However, when Marri was on the verge of standing trial, in June, 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the military to seize him and hold him indefinitely.
The Bush Administration contended that America was in a full-fledged war against terrorists, and that the President could therefore invoke extraordinary executive powers to detain Marri until the end of hostilities, on the basis of still secret evidence. That day, Marri was put on a military jet to Charleston (South Carolina), and since then he has been living as the only prisoner in an eighty-bed high-security wing of the brig, with no visits from family, friends, or the media.”


War Criminals, Including Their Lawyers, Must Be Prosecuted

 by Marjorie Cohn

Since he took office, President Obama has instituted many changes that break with the policies of the Bush administration. The new president has ordered that no government agency will be allowed to torture, that the U.S. prison at Guantánamo will be shuttered, and that the CIA's secret black sites will be closed down. But Obama is non-committal when asked whether he will seek investigation and prosecution of Bush officials who broke the law. "My view is also that nobody's above the law and, if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen," Obama said. "But," he added, "generally speaking, I'm more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards." Obama fears that holding Team Bush to account will risk alienating Republicans whom he still seeks to win over.


U.S. State Department: Extensive human rights abuses in Afghanistan by U.S.-backed government

By Kenneth J. Theisen

 On February 25th, the U.S. State Department issued its annual human rights reports for countries around the world. These annual reports are issued and generally used as a political and propaganda tool to chastise other government such as China. I just finished reading the report for Afghanistan and would urge others to take a look at it too. (The report can be read at The report is biased and attacks the Taliban and other forces that currently are fighting the U.S. in Afghanistan as violators of human rights. [The Taliban is a reactionary force and is guilty of many crimes against the people of Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan have no interest in supporting these reactionary forces.] But the State Department report also unintentionally indicts the U.S. puppet government of Hamid Karzai, even while the report tries to portray the Karzai government in the best light.
Both the Taliban and Karzai governments created a living hell
One of the alleged reasons often given to justify the continuing U.S. occupation of that war-torn nation is that the U.S. is there to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban which made daily life a living hell for most Afghans when it ruled the country. But after reading the report, it is clear the Afghan people also need protection from the puppet government installed by the U.S. after it invaded the country. Life is still a living hell for most of the population.


Worse Than My Darkest Nightmare

As I gain my freedom, I am determined that neither those who remain in detention, nor their abusers, are forgotten
Statement issued by Binyam Mohamed on his return to the United Kingdom
Binyam MohamedI hope you will understand that after everything I have been through, I am neither physically nor mentally capable of facing the media on the moment of my arrival back to Britain. Please forgive me if I make a simple statement through my lawyer. I hope to be able to do better in days to come, when I am on the road to recovery.
I have been through an experience that I never thought to encounter in my darkest nightmares. Before this ordeal, "torture" was an abstract word to me. I could never have imagined that I would be its victim. It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways - all orchestrated by the United States government.
While I want to recover, and put it all as far in my past as I can, I also know I have an obligation to the people who still remain in those torture chambers. My own despair was greatest when I thought that everyone had abandoned me. I have a duty to make sure that nobody else is forgotten.



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.