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Updated 08/25/2006

Torture and Abuse

Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal breaks

Photos and details of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003 were revealed to the public on the television program “60 Minutes II” and in the New Yorker magazine on April 28 and 30, 2004, respectively, confirming previous warnings by human rights groups that U.S. personnel were involved in torture. [New Yorker, 4/30/04; Human Rights Watch, 6/04; Video Archive; Washington Post, Chronology of Abu Ghraib]

CIA using abusive interrogation technique known as “waterboarding” 

The New York Times revealed that CIA interrogators were using water boarding, a technique during which detainees are made to believe they are suffocating or drowning to death, for interrogating high-value detainees. [NY Times, 5/13/04]

Secretary of Defense program used harsh interrogation techniques

Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker that Donald Rumsfeld allegedly started a secret interrogation program, initially used only in Afghanistan and later expanded to Iraq, that used harsh treatment and sexual humiliation as part of interrogation procedure. [The New Yorker, 5/15/04]

Bush administration memos released, including “torture memo”  

A series of previously confidential internal memos within the Bush administration were released in June 2004; the memos discuss definitions of torture. An August 2002 Justice Department memo contended that President Bush has the authority to suspend anti-torture laws and that the U.S. military has avenues to protect it against torture laws. The memo also allows for some use of drugs, physical pain and death threats. In December 2004 the Justice Department released a new memo omitting these claims. Subsequently, it was revealed that these memos were in response to a request by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez for a legal ruling on the President’s ability to permit “extreme” interrogation methods. [National Security Archives, 6/13/04; DOJ Memos, 8/1/02, 12/30/04; NY Times, 1/4/05]

Reports allege torture of Iraqi children in U.S. custody  

A German TV program and the Sunday Herald of Scotland reported the torture of Iraqi children at the hands of U.S. soldiers. Both cited an internal UNICEF report on the detention of children in Iraq. [The-Edge, 7/14/04; Sunday Herald, 8/1/04]

Contractor accused of torture says he was working with the Pentagon  

Jack Idema, an independent contractor in Afghanistan who was accused of torturing Afghan citizens in July 2004, said he was working with the knowledge and sanction of the Pentagon and had proof of the relationship. The Pentagon denied a relationship with Idema. Idema was sentenced in September 2004, along with another former U.S. soldier, to 10 years in prison in Afghanistan. A U.S. journalist who was filming them was sentenced to eight years. The Afghan court wouldn’t allow a video showing Idema talking with Pentagon officials. [BBC News, 7/21/04; Democracy Now, 9/23/04]

Mikolashek report released, blaming low-ranking officers

An Army Inspector General report (a.k.a. the Mikolashek report) reviewed ninety-four cases of detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq. Only low-ranking officers were blamed despite “ambiguous guidance” from senior officers. [Dept. of the Army Inspector General, 7/21/04]

Schlesinger report released, confirming 55 abuse allegations

The Schlesinger report substantiated 55 allegations of detainee abuse and cited 22 cases of detainee deaths under investigation. The investigation panel consisted of retired military personnel and civilians and was the only investigation that did not involve the military investigating itself. The panel was appointed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The report found that Rumsfeld’s policy guidelines for interrogation “migrated” from Guantánamo Bay to Iraq and Afghanistan; however, the panel did not go so far as to blame Rumsfeld. [“Final Report of the Independent Panel to Review DOD Detention Operations,” 8/24/05]

Fay report released, confirming “ghost detainees” in Iraq

The Fay report implicated a total of 27 U.S. personnel in detainee abuse in Iraq, including military intelligence and civilian contractors. The report claimed there were eight “ghost detainees” in Iraq, hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Later, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Maj. Gen. Fay put the number around two dozen while Gen. Paul J. Kern testified the number of ghost detainees could be as high as 100. [“AR 15-6 Investigation of the Abu Ghraib Detention Facility and 205th Military Intelligence Brigade,” 8/25/04; LA Times, 9/10/04]

Taguba report says Iraqi prisoner abuse is “systemic”

The so-called Taguba report (named for Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who conducted the investigation) was publicly released on Oct. 8, 2004. An executive summary had been available since May 2004. Taguba went further than previous reports by describing detainee abuse in Iraq as “systemic” and recommending senior officers for reprimand and disciplinary action. However, he only accuses senior officers within the Iraq military theater. [Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade; NBC News, 5/4/04]

Four British citizens sue Rumsfeld for torture  

In October 2004, four British citizens who were detained for two years at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others for arbitrary detention and torture. None of the detainees had been members of any terrorist group; they were released in March 2004 and returned to Great Britain without ever being charged with a crime. [Center for Constitutional Rights, "Docket: Rasul v. Rumsfeld"]

Leaked Red Cross report: Guantánamo treatment “tantamount to torture”

On Nov. 30, 2004, a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross on U.S. detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was leaked to the press. The report cited practices “tantamount to torture” and accused medical workers and psychologists of being involved in interrogations. [ICRC report, 2/2004]

Iraqis file criminal complaint against U.S. for torture  

On Nov. 30, 2004, the Center for Constitutional Rights and four Iraqi citizens filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor's Office, seeking an investigation into the responsibility of high-ranking U.S. officials for torture committed in Iraq. The German prosecutor dismissed the case in February 2005, days before a scheduled visit by Secretary of Defense Donal Rumsfeld. The plaintiffs appealed. [Center for Constitutional Rights]

Evidence gained through torture admissible at military tribunals

Government attorney Brian Boyle acknowledged in U.S. District Court on Dec. 2, 2004 that evidence gained through torture may be used in the military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The hearings were related to habeas corpus petitions filed after the Supreme Court decision in Rasul v. Bush. [AP, 12/3/04]

Declassified military documents reveal detainee abuse

In December 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union began releasing government and military documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act petition. The documents initially released included an email from an FBI agent at Guantánamo describing his observations of isolation, temperature extremes, detainees urinating and defecating on themselves, and one detainee who had pulled out his hair; a moderately redacted FBI Urgent Report citing observations of physical abuse such as strangulation and beatings of detainees in Iraq; and an e-mail from an FBI agent in Iraq citing an “Executive Order” that allows for interrogation techniques not permitted by the FBI. (The White House denied any such order.) Two Defense Intelligence Agency agents complained of brutal treatment of detainees, including beatings, and observing detainees with severe burn marks; one document describes courts martial of soldiers guilty of abuse, including shocking a detainee and setting a detainee's hands on fire. The release of these government documents bolsters the cases of detainees alleging abuse. Previous allegations by detainees were denied by the military. [ACLU, Torture FOIA, 4/29/05; Washington Post, 12/26/04]

CIA interrogation facility operated at Guantánamo

The Washington Post reported that the CIA opened and later closed an interrogation facility within the detention facility at Guantánamo. A Presidential directive allowed greater flexibility and secrecy for the CIA. [Washington Post, 12/17/04]

Interrogators confirm psychological abuse at Guantánamo

The New York Times cited interviews with unnamed Guantánamo interrogators who confirm interrogation techniques such as blaring music, flashing lights, forced enemas and sexual taunting. [NY Times, 1/1/05]

Army prison guard charged in Abu Ghraib scandal found guilty

On Jan. 15, 2005, former Army prison guard Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr. was found guilty on all counts related to detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib. He was sentenced to 10 years in a military stockade, demoted to private, and dishonorably discharged. Other soldiers convicted in the Abu Ghraib scandal included Pte. Jeremy Sivits (1 year), Sgt. Ivan Frederick (8 years), Spec. Sabrina Harman (6 months, bad conduct discharge), Spec. Meghan Ambuhl (discharged, no prison time) and Pfc. Lynndie England (3 years, dishonorable discharge). All are low-ranking soldiers. [Washington Post, 1/16/05]

Medical personnel may have been complicit in abuse

The New England Journal of Medicine reported on Jan. 6, 2005, that medical personnel in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba helped plan interrogations, shared medical files with interrogators and may have failed to report abuse. [NEJM, 1/6/05]

Congress drops prohibition on extreme interrogation methods in intelligence reform bill

In December 2005, at the urging of the White House, Congressional leaders dropped wording from an intelligence reform bill that would have prohibited extreme interrogation methods by American intelligence personnel and required the CIA and the Pentagon to report to Congress about the methods they were using. The Senate had initially approved the new restrictions by a vote of 96-2, but in “intense closed-door negotiations,” four senior House and Senate members deleted them from the final bill. [NY Times, 1/13/05] 

Detainee died in CIA custody

According to military and CIA reports reviewed by the Associated Press in February 2005, Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi died in 2003 in CIA custody in a position condemned by human rights groups as torture. Army prison guards said Al-Jamadi was suspended by his wrists, with his hands cuffed behind his back, a position known as "Palestinian hanging." A military pathologist found several broken ribs and concluded the man died from pressure to the chest and difficulty breathing. Al-Jamadi was beaten by Navy SEALs before they handed him over to the CIA. Navy prosecutors charged nine SEALs and one sailor with abusing al-Jamadi. [AP, 2/17/05]

State Department reports acknowledge torture in rendition countries  

On Feb. 28, 2005, the State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. According to the reports for Yemen, Egypt and Syria, security forces engage in torture of detainees. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, the United States is rendering detainees to these and other countries known to have poor human rights records, relying on “diplomatic assurances” that the detainees will not be tortured. [U.S. State Department, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2/28/05; Human Rights Watch, Developments Regarding Diplomatic Assurances Since April 2004]

Former Iraqi and Afghani detainees file suit alleging torture

On March 1, 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First and others filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court against Defense Secretary Donald Rumfeld on behalf of eight torture victims from Iraq and Afghanistan. The suit alleges that Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility for abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody. [ACLU, 3/1/05]

CIA captive killed; officer promoted 

In March 2005 the Washington Post reported details of a detainee death in Afghanistan that occurred in November 2002. The young Afghan, who was held in a secret CIA detention facility, froze to death after being stripped naked and left chained to a concrete floor overnight. He was never on official detention registries and his intelligence knowledge was never determined. The officer in charge was subsequently promoted. In spring 2004 the CIA referred the case to the Justice Department, which declined to prosecute, in part because of the prison's status as a foreign facility, outside U.S. jurisdiction. However, a recently convened team of federal prosecutors was taking a second look, and the case was also under investigation by the CIA inspector general. [Washington Post, 3/3/05]

Declassified government documents mention video of abuse 

The American Civil Liberties Union released a new set of government documents in March 2005 that mention a video known as “Ramadi Madness,” which depicts a wounded POW being kicked. These documents also mentioned allegations of rape of Iraqi women and shooting unarmed Iraqis. No charges were brought in any of these cases. [ACLU, 3/4/05]

Church report absolves senior commanders  

On March 10, 2005, Vice Adm. Albert T. Church released his report regarding detainee abuse by U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He found that top military officials did not provide clear interrogation boundaries, leaving unit commanders to determine proper techniques. He did not find these senior commanders directly responsible for detainee abuse or accountable for unclear interrogation policies. He identified six deaths related to abuse and reported 30 ghost detainees. The classified report includes evidence of Navy outrage at the “abusive techniques” that were being used by interrogators at Guantánamo Bay in late 2002. [U.S. Defense Department, Executive Summary of Church report, 3/10/05]

Army acknowledges Afghan detainee deaths were homicides 

The New York Times reported that the deaths of two Afghan prisoners who died while in U.S. custody in December 2002—nearly a year before the events at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq—were caused by sustained, brutal assaults. The Army had originally maintained that Mullah Habibullah and a 22-year-old named Dilawar died from natural causes, but after an investigation by the New York Times, the Army admitted the deaths were homicides. Of the 27 military personnel implicated by Army investigators, only seven soldiers had been charged as of May 2005, and none had been convicted. The prisoners died at Bagram Control Point, where Capt. Carolyn A. Wood was in charge of military intelligence. Army criminal investigative reports indicate that Wood lied to investigators by saying that the use of shackles and stress positions was intended to protect interrogators from harm, rather than to inflict pain and sleep deprivation on the prisoners. Wood was later sent to Abu Ghraib prison, where she helped develop interrogation procedures. [NYT, 3/15/05; NYT, 5/20/05]

Twenty-six detainee deaths related to abuse 

Army and Navy spokesmen confirmed at least 26 deaths related to abuse since 2002 in Iraq and Afghanistan, only a week after a Defense Department report known as the the Church report put the number at six. According to the Associated Press, at least 108 detainees have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in U.S. custody. [NYT, 3/16/05; BBC News, 3/16/05]

Army prepares new manual following abuse allegations  

The Army announced it was preparing a new manual on detainee interrogations that specifically prohibits the kind of abuse seen at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, including sleep deprivation, confinement in a dark cell, stripping prisoners and the use of police dogs. [Baltimore Sun, 3/16/05]

Officers accused of detainee deaths will not be charged

The Army announced it would not prosecute any of the 17 officers implicated in three detainee deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004. One soldier received a letter of reprimand, and one was discharged. [NYT, 3/26/05]

Released Sanchez memo allowed for harsher interrogation techniques

The American Civil Liberties Union released a memo from Gen. Ricardo Sanchez from September 2003, in which he allowed for use of dogs (though muzzled), stress positions, and environment manipulation. The techniques were similar to the techniques approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in December 2002 and rescinded in January 2003. [ACLU, 3/29/05]

Human Rights Watch report implicates Rumsfeld, others 

Human Rights Watch released "Getting Away With Torture?"—an overview of revelations regarding torture since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. In addition to providing a thorough look at torture developments, the report made strong legal cases against Donald Rumsfeld, Ricardo Sanchez and others. [HRW, 4/05]

U.N. human rights expert accuses U.S. of abuses

Cherif Bassiouni, appointed by the United Nations as an independent human rights expert in Afghanistan, released a report in April 2005 accusing coalition forces of breaking into homes, arbitrarily arresting residents and torturing detainees. Days after he released his report, the U.N. Human Rights Commission ended his mandate. [Democracy Now!, 4/28/05]

Green report absolves 4 of 5 senior officers in Iraq  

The Army inspector general, Lt. Gen. Stanley E. Green, released his findings, absolving 4 of the 5 senior Army officers in Iraq of any wrongdoing related to abuse. He found unsubstantiated the allegations from previous inquiries that suggested the actions of top military officials led to confusion of interrogation policies and the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, and Col. Mark Warren were exonerated, while Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who maintained from the beginning of the scandal that she would be used as the scapegoat, was given a reprimand and relieved of command. [Army Public Affairs, 5/5/05]

Detainees sent to Egypt for torture, says Human Rights Watch report  

A Human Rights Watch report entitled “Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt” identified 61 people who have been rendered to Egypt, a country the State Department acknowledges still practices torture, since 1994. The report also cited analysts who believe the number of detainees sent to Egypt since Sept. 11, 2001, is between 150 and 200. [Human Rights Watch, 5/05]

Military prosecutors complain that tribunals are unfair

Confidential emails, mainly from March 2004 and later obtained by the New York Times, among the prosecution team of the military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, show that two senior prosecutors complained that the tribunals were arranged to be sympathetic to the prosecution, that judges were “handpicked” by the prosecution, and that evidence helpful to the defendant—including evidence of torture—was “lost” or withheld. [NY Times, 8/1/05]

Yemenis held in secret detention, says Amnesty report

An Amnesty International report, “Torture and secret detention: Testimony of the ‘disappeared’ in the ‘war on terror’” revealed descriptions by two Yemeni detainees who say they were held in secret U.S. detention centers for over a year and a half without access to family, lawyers or the Red Cross and without being charged with any crime. At the time of the report’s release, the men were being held in a Yemeni prison without charge at the request of U.S. officials, according to Yemeni authorities. [AI, 8/4/05]

Officer reports new allegations of abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, criticizes Army investigation

In September 2005, Human Rights Watch released a report containing the testimonies of two soldiers and one officer describing human rights violations at detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The officer, Capt. Ian Fishback, also wrote a letter to Sen. John McCain outlining his concerns. Fishback later complained that questioning by Army investigators after the Human Rights Watch report was released was geared toward discovering the identities of the soldiers who disclosed the abuses rather than the soldiers who committed them. After the new abuse revelations were made, McCain began work on an anti-torture amendment to the defense bill. [Human Rights Watch, 9/05; NYTimes, 9/28/05]

White House threatens veto if anti-torture amendment is passed  

On Sept. 30, 2005, the White House issued a statement threatening to veto a defense spending bill in the Senate. The White House argued that the $440.2 billion defense allowance was insufficient, and the statement warned senators against amendments prohibiting torture or setting up a commission to investigate abuses. [Reuters, 9/30/05]

Video shows U.S. soldiers taunting Taliban with burnt corpses

An Australian television program showed footage of American soldiers in Afghanistan in October 2005 burning the bodies of two Taliban combatants and then using the charred corpses as a means to taunt other fighters. [Dateline, 10/19/05]

McCain anti-torture bill passes 90-9  

On Oct. 5, 2005, the U.S. Senate voted 90-9, against the threat of a presidential veto, in favor of the detainee treatment bill proposed by Sen. John McCain. The measure would prevent military and government officials, including the CIA, from using cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in the interrogation of anyone detained in U.S. custody anywhere in the world. [Washington Post, 10/6/06]

Bush administration proposal exempts CIA from torture prohibition  

On Oct. 20, 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney submitted a proposal to Sen. John McCain that would exempt CIA officials from legislation prohibiting cruel and degrading treatment of any detainees held by the United States. McCain, the primary sponsor of the legislation, reportedly rejected the proposal. [Washington Post, 10/25/05]

Military brings charges against two soldiers for abuse in Afghanistan

On Oct. 30, 2005, the military announced assault charges against two American soldiers in Afghanistan. The soldiers reportedly punched two Afghan detainees repeatedly in the chest, shoulders and stomach; however, neither needed subsequent medical treatment, according to military officials. [USA Today, 10/30/05]

The Washington Post reports on CIA “black sites”

According to a Washington Post report, the CIA has been operating a clandestine interment system for terrorism suspects since shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. Persons held within the secret prisons, known as “black sites,” are not on detention rolls, have no access to families or lawyers, are not charged with a crime, are not visited by the Red Cross, and are held for indefinite periods of time. The system has at various times included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several Eastern European countries, the names of which the Post did not publish, at the request of senior U.S. officials. At the time of the report, there were an estimated 100 prisoners within the system. [Washington Post, 11/2/05]

Senate measure requires details on clandestine prisons  

On Nov. 10, 2005, the Senate voted 82-9 to pass an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill that would require the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, to report to Congress on all clandestine detention facilities. The measure came after sharp criticisms of alleged CIA “black sites” overseas. [Senate Press Office, 11/17/05]

Inaccurate justification for Iraq war allegedly obtained through abuse

According to government officials, the Bush administration used now-discredited information as justification for the war in Iraq that may have been obtained through torture. A suspected al-Qaeda operative was detained by U.S. forces and then transferred to Egypt for further interrogation. There he gave interrogators descriptions of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, later used by the Bush administration. After being returned to U.S. custody, he recanted his testimony, saying he had been abused. [Guardian (UK), 12/9/05]

Investigator confirms allegations of secret U.S. prisons in Europe

On Dec. 13, 2005, a Swiss senator investigating CIA “black sites” in Europe confirmed allegations of the clandestine U.S. prisons in some European countries. The Council of Europe set a three-month deadline for European countries to reveal what they know about the transfer and detention of U.S. prisoners in Europe. [Reuters, 12/13/05]

Bush administration agrees to McCain anti-torture amendment

The Bush administration announced on Dec. 15, 2005, after several weeks of opposition, its support of Sen. John McCain’s amendment barring the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody. The agreement did not include exempting CIA officials from the ban, as proposed by Vice President Dick Cheney, but did extend an additional defense option for CIA interrogators, already available to the military, of saying they were obeying a legal order. [International Herald Tribune, 12/15/05]

Swiss open investigation into legality of CIA flights 

On Dec. 16, 2005, Swiss officials announced a criminal investigation into CIA flights carrying terrorism suspects that crossed Swiss airspace. Officials say the flights may have violated the country’s laws. [AP, 12/17/05]

“Signing statement” allows Bush to circumvent anti-torture law 

When President Bush signed John McCain’s anti-torture bill on Dec. 30, 2005, he also issued a “signing statement” saying he would interpret the law within the context of his constitutional authority. Both administration insiders and critics say the statement would allow the President to bypass the new law. [Boston Globe, 01/04/06]

Amnesty report reveals new torture allegations

In January 2006 Amnesty International released new testimonies of Guantánamo detainees alleging frequent physical and psychological abuse at the U.S. detention center. Allegations included an American soldier kicking a detainee until he vomited blood and an interrogator urinating on the Koran. [AI testimonies, Case Sheet 15, Case Sheet 16, 01/06]

Pentagon task force would not use Rumsfeld-approved interrogation techniques 

Documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union show that a Defense Department investigative task force operating at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were told not to employ interrogation techniques approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2002, fearing the techniques violated policy and would not yield useful information. [Washington Post, 01/12/06]

Former commander declines to testify in abuse case 

On Jan. 12, 2006, a spokesperson for Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of the Guantánamo Bay detention center and a commander in Iraq, announced that Miller had invoked military Article 31—akin to pleading the Fifth Amendment—and would not testify further in a case involving abuse at Abu Ghraib. [Washington Post, 01/12/06]

Documents show secret task force abuse allegations 

Military documents released in response to an American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Act lawsuit reveal evidence of a mysterious military unit known as Task Force 6-26. An Iraqi detainee alleged abuse by members of the unit, but investigators dropped the case, citing difficulties accessing information because the unit used fake names and “had a major computer malfunction which resulted in them losing 70 percent of their files.” [Reuters, 01/13/06; AP, 01/13/06]

Human Rights Watch report says abuse is government policy

According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2006, abusive interrogation was a policy choice by U.S. government officials. The report also included evidence that other countries used the “war on terror” as a means to attack their political enemies. [HRW World Report 2006, 01/18/06]