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:

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.



Lost In Guantánamo: The Faisalabad 16

 By Andy Worthington

On the evening of March 28, 2002, an armed group of FBI agents and Pakistani commandos, accompanied by a hundred local police, stormed Shabaz Cottage, an apartment in a quiet neighborhood in the city of Faisalabad, Pakistan. Their target, who had been tracked by the careless use of a satellite phone, was Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, more commonly known as Abu Zubaydah. Acknowledged as a facilitator for recruits attending the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, Zubaydah was regarded by the CIA as a far more significant figure.
Apprehended as he attempted to flee the house, Zubaydah reportedly received gunshot wounds in his stomach, one of his legs, and his groin, and after his capture was immediately rendered to a secret CIA prison in Thailand, where, as General Michael Hayden, the CIA’s Director, acknowledged in February this year, he was subjected to the ancient torture technique known as waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning. He was later transferred to other secret prisons — in Poland, and possibly on the island of Diego Garcia — until his eventual transfer to Guantánamo, along with 13 other “high-value detainees,” in September 2006.


The Last US Enemy Combatant: The Shocking Story of Ali al-Marri

By Andy Worthington

In brighter times, before a fog of fear descended on the United States, and the discourse of decent men and women was altcoarsened by an acceptance of the use of torture as a “no-brainer,” it would have been inconceivable that an American could have been held for seven years without charge or trial on the US mainland, in a state of solitary confinement so debilitating that he is said to be suffering from “severe damage to his mental and emotional well-being, including hypersensitivity to external stimuli, manic behavior, difficulty concentrating and thinking, obsessional thinking, difficulties with impulse control, difficulty sleeping, difficulty keeping track of time, and agitation.”


Slip Sliding Away and the Democrats: Is Torture Torture or Not?

By Dennis Loo

After consistently and unequivocally demanding that the Bush White House employ nothing other than the Army Field Manual in their interrogations, even introducing legislation to ensure that, Sen. Diane Feinstein – who is going to take over as Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in January - backtracked in a December 2, 2008 interview in the New York Times:

“[I]n an interview on Tuesday, Mrs. Feinstein indicated that extreme cases might call for flexibility. ‘I think that you have to use the noncoercive standard to the greatest extent possible,’ she said, raising the possibility that an imminent terrorist threat might require special measures.

“Afterward, however, Mrs. Feinstein issued a statement saying: ‘The law must reflect a single clear standard across the government, and right now, the best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual. I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new administration to consider them.’

The Times article goes on to further relate Sen. Ron Wyden’s remarks:

“Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, another top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said he would consult with the C.I.A. and approve interrogation techniques that went beyond the Army Field Manual as long as they were ‘legal, humane and noncoercive.’ But Mr. Wyden declined to say whether C.I.A. techniques ought to be made public.”

These remarks bode exceedingly ill for current and future detainees of the U.S. government and for American soldiers who might be captured, and of course, for the fate of this country and the world.

As Glenn Greenwald on December 4 noted at length, Feinstein and Wyden are now backsliding on their very public and consistent rhetorical stands opposing the use of techniques beyond what the Army Field Manual proscribes.

I hasten to point out, however, that:

The fact that no member of Congress filibustered, and thereby stopped torture forthwith, when the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was being debated, or when, even before that, torture was revealed to be going on (Nancy Pelosi knew in 2002), and the fact that no one outside of a handful of Congress, led by Dennis Kucinich, have moved for impeaching this White House of torturers, of course, would have - and still would - render all of these contortions unnecessary.

But so it goes – and continues to go: the Democrats, when left to their own devices, coalesce with the GOP, in the absence of a determined and irresistible mass movement that could force this government, Democrat and Republican alike, to do otherwise: that is, the right thing.


The End of Guantánamo?

By Andy Worthington

The repatriation from Guantánamo of Salim Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, to serve out the last month of his sentence for providing material support for terrorism in Yemen, will surely hasten the demise of the prison, as promised by President-Elect Barack Obama, even though the circumstances of Hamdan's departure were as furtive and secretive as the long years of his detention. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, his military defense attorney, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Mizer, explained, "Attorneys should have many rights under this system, and so should an accused. But those just don't happen at Guantánamo. The way things happen in Guantánamo is that your client is whisked away in the middle of the night and you find out about it in the newspapers."


Dec. 8: Berkeley City Council Votes on Resolution Critical of John Yoo

Silence In a Time of Torture Signifies Tacit Approval
Public Hearing & Vote Monday, December 8, 2008 before Berkeley, CA City Council

A message in support of a Berkeley City Council Resolution on John Yoo:

The Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission's recommendation to the City Council presents an important call for all Americans to stand in opposition to abetting John Yoo, University of California professor and author of the "Torture Memos" which were key to the establishment of a system of state torture. This Resolution calls for John Yoo to be prosecuted for war crimes and dismissed from his position as Professor of Law at Boalt Hall. The ramifications of the Resolution ensure that torture is not tolerated in the city of Berkeley and will serve as a model for other communities' efforts to hold high administration officials of torture to account. The passage of the John Yoo Resolution presents a critical step in investigating the codification, implementation, and acceleration of the authorization of torture-a responsible step that must now be taken to call for the end of torture as a pillar for endless war., a member of the No To Torture - John Yoo Must Go Coalition, supports the Commission's John Yoo Resolution and asks organizations and individual advocates to do the same. Fire John Yoo encourages directly contacting city council members to support the Resolution, and to visibly stand and speak out against torture before the City Council on December 8th. If you are unable to attend the Public Hearing, please write a statement that can be submitted to the Council. By taking these actions, we can have an enormous impact on the direction the U.S. will take in honoring its commitment to rescind the use of torture.


Presentation by Army Vet Matthis Chiroux at "Stopping the Endless Wars and Torture"

The following is a presentation given by Matthis Chiroux, a U.S. Army Veteran, at the "Stopping the Endless Wars and Torture: Resisters Speak Out" event held on the evening of November 22nd, 2008, in conjunction with World Can't Wait's national conference in Chicago.

Download Audio


My name is Matthis Chiroux.
I was in the Army 5 years. I was honorably discharged last summer. I received forced activation orders this past February, which I publicly refused in the U.S. Congress this past May. The U.S. Army has decided to prosecute me for my refusal to go to Iraq. That will probably be going down in January. I'm going to fight that tooth and nail as I promised to do last May.
I want to talk about this concept of military resistance, of soldiers and sailors saying "no" to this occupation and how we as American citizens can make that decision easier for them, because it is not something that is the slightest bit easy, even for the most progressive of us. I think out of all the people I met in the Army, I was pretty much the furthest left. The fact that I had to struggle for months over whether or not to deploy to Iraq is indicative of the fact that we do not have a society here which is ready to receive GI resisters as heroes rather than traitors.


Psychologists to Obama: Don't Name Torture Apologist John Brenner CIA Director

(John Brennan is the intelligence advisor to Barack Obama.  He was floated as a possible new CIA Director, but he withdrew his name after protests like the ones below).

Open Letter to Barack Obama from Psychologists Opposed to Torture

By Stephen Soldz, Psyche, Science, and Society
November 22, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama,

We are writing to urge you not to select John Brennan as Director of the CIA. We are psychologists and allies who have long opposed the abuses of detainees under the Bush administration. We are just concluding a successful several-year struggle to remove psychologists from their roles in aiding or abetting these abuses. It has been a distressing fact that, while the Bush administration resorted to abuse and torture of those in our custody, often psychologists have been put in positions to use their psychological expertise to guide these unconscionable practices.


After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantanamo Kidnap Victims

by Andy Worthington
On Thursday, in the US District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Richard Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush, delivered a major blow to the outgoing administration's "War on Terror" detention policies by ordering the immediate release of five Algerian-born Bosnian prisoners at Guantánamo, after concluding that the government had provided no crediblealt evidence that, as was alleged, the men intended to travel to Afghanistan to take up arms against US forces.

The case of the Bosnian Algerians has long been one of the more surreal episodes in Guantánamo's long and undistinguished history of wanton cruelty and intelligence failures. The story began (PDF) in October 2001, when the US embassy in Sarajevo asked the Bosnian government to arrest six men - Lakhdar Boumediene, Mohammed Nechla, Hadj Boudella, Mustafa Ait Idr, Sabir Lahmar and Belkacem Bensayah (all aged between 32 and 40) - because of a suspicion that they were involved in a plot to bomb the US embassy. The Americans" request took the form of a diplomatic note, which contained no evidence to support the allegation, and the Bosnians refused to comply until the Americans threatened to close their embassy and withdraw peacekeeping forces unless the men were arrested. Human rights activist Srdjan Dizdarevic noted that "the threats from the Americans were enormous. There was a hysteria in their behavior."


Trampling The Rights Of The Child: The Treatment Of Juveniles In Guantánamo

By Andy Worthington

According to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (on the involvement of children in armed altconflict), to which the United States has been a signatory since January 23, 2003, juvenile prisoners - those under the age of 18 when their alleged crimes took place - "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."

In January 2003, four doctors in Guantánamo put together a fascinating document, entitled "Recommended Course of Action for Reception and Detention of Individuals Under 18 Years of Age" (PDF). This was clearly influenced by international agreements regarding the distinctions between adult and juvenile prisoners (including the Geneva Conventions, which were, in general, shredded by the administration), and it laid out, in painstaking detail, how juvenile prisoners held at Guantánamo should be treated.


20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials

By Andy Worthington

As Barack Obama and his transition team begin looking at ways to fulfill the President-Elect's pledge to close Guantánamo, Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, recalls that Barack Obama also promised to "reject the Military Commissions Act" (the legislation that revived the system of "terror trials" conjured up in the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney in November 2001), and provides 20 reasons why the Military Commissions should be scrapped.

1. David Hicks. The case of David Hicks, the so-called "Australian Taliban," was the first scheduled trial following the revival ofalt the Commissions in the Military Commissions Act in the fall of 2006, after their first incarnation was struck down as illegal by the US Supreme Court.
His case is enormously significant, as I explained in a recent article, The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, because it involved a plea bargain negotiated by Susan Crawford, the Commissions" newly-appointed Convening Authority (the overseer of the trial system), which completely sidelined the prosecutors - and in particular, the chief prosecutor, Col. Morris Davis, who later resigned, citing political interference in the process and a desire on the part of those directing the trials to allow the use of evidence obtained through torture. Crawford, a protégée of Dick Cheney and a close friend of Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington (the prime architect of the administration's post-9/11 flight from the law) negotiated the plea in March 2007 as a favor to Australian Premier John Howard, following a visit from Cheney. In exchange for admitting to providing "material support for terrorism," and dropping well-documented claims that he was abused in US custody, Hicks received a nine-month sentence, most of which was served in Australia.



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.