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Updated 08/27/2006

Government Policies and Legislation

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] 

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] 

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]   

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] 

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] 

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] 

Pentagon changes tribunals in response to criticism 

On Aug. 31, 2005, the Pentagon announced changes to the military tribunals at Guantánamo intended to subdue criticisms that they violate national and international law. The main revision involved separating the duties of military lawyers who formerly assumed the roles of both judge and jury. Critics said the changes were not substantive. [U.S. Defense Dept, 8/31/05; Human Rights First press release; 9/2/05]


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] 

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]


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] 

Senate legislation denies habeas corpus rights to detainees

The Senate voted 49-42 to strip Guantánamo detainees of their right to file habeas corpus petitions in U.S. federal courts. If passed, the law would limit detainees’ legal rights to narrow procedural challenges related to their enemy combatant status. The law would nullify the Supreme Court decision Rasul v. Bush, which allowed detainees to file habeas corpus suits in federal court. [NY Times, 11/11/05] 

Senate gives detainees right of appeal  

On Nov. 10, 2005, the Senate passed an amendment that would allow Guantánamo Bay detainees to appeal their convictions if sentenced to the death penalty or more than 10 years in prison. The appeals would be heard in federal court. Under the legislation, detainees could also challenge their status as enemy combatants in federal court. These legal avenues would be available to the detainees in lieu of habeas corpus petitions. [NY Times, 11/11/05] 

In legal shift, government indicts Padilla

In a significant shift from previous legal arguments, the United States criminally indicted Jose Padilla, an American citizen who has been held for over three years as an enemy combatant. The indictment, announced on Nov. 23, 2005, is a reversal of the administration’s former insistence that Padilla could be held indefinitely and without charges. [The Nation, 11/23/05] 

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] 

Presidential order allows NSA to spy on Americans without warrants

According to a New York Times report, a 2002 presidential order allowed the National Security Agency to spy on Americans and others living inside the U.S. without warrants. The program was limited to international phone and email communications by persons in the United States. Administration officials claimed warrantless eavesdropping was necessary to combat terrorism, but some intelligence officials and lawmakers expressed concern about the program’s constitutionality. [NYTimes, 12/15/05] 

 “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] 

Ambiguous language in new habeas corpus legislation causes disagreement

Sen. Carl Levin, one of the authors of a legislation that prohibits Guantánamo detainees from filing habeas corpus petitions in U.S. courts, criticized the Bush administration for using the law in an attempt to dismiss all pending habeas corpus lawsuits. Levin believes the law, known as the Detainee Treatment Act, applies only to new cases. The bill’s other sponsor, Sen. Lindsey Graham, disagreed with Levin, saying the law applies to all pending cases. President Bush signed the law on Dec. 30, 2005. [Washington Post, 01/05/06] 

Spying program may be illegal, according to nonpartisan research

An analysis by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan agency, questioned the legal basis of the Bush administration’s program that allowed the National Security Agency to spy on Americans without warrants. While the analysis was inconclusive, it raised doubts as to whether or not the administration acted within the law. [NY Times, 01/07/06] 

NSA whistleblower says millions of phone calls pulled into spying system Russell Tice, the whistleblower on the National Security Agency spying program authorized by President Bush, said in an interview with ABC News that millions of international telephone calls could have been included in the spying program and that anyone who placed an overseas call would likely be pulled into the system. [ABC News, 01/10/06] 

Guantánamo military trials resume

The military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, resumed in January 2006 despite fresh criticisms and uncertain legality. One of the first detainees to be tried was arrested at age 15. [Agence France-Presse, 01/11/06] 

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] 

Bush administration asks court to dismiss high-stakes case 

Bush administration lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss a case involving the legality of military tribunals for detainees, arguing that the recently passed Detainee Treatment Act eliminates the court’s jurisdiction over the case. [Washington Post, 01/13/06] 

FBI complained of NSA intelligence dead ends 

Current and former FBI officials complained about the quantity and quality of the intelligence leads they got from the NSA, according to an article in the New York Times. FBI officers complained that the NSA flooded them with names and phone numbers, virtually all of which were dead ends or innocent people. Much of the information came from warrantless eavesdropping. [NY Times, 01/17/06] 

Two groups file lawsuits to end NSA spying program

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed separate lawsuits in federal courts in an attempt to end the National Security Agency’s spying program, approved by President Bush after Sept. 11, 2001. The groups say the warrantless spying program is illegal and unconstitutional, and they are calling for its immediate cessation. [Truthout press release, 01/17/06] 

Early 2002 intelligence document says Niger-Iraq uranium sale unlikely

A declassified State Department intelligence analysis, written in March 2002, claimed that the sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq was unlikely. President Bush used the supposed sale in his 2003 State of the Union address as justification for the Iraq war. [NY Times, 01/18/06] 

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] 

Attorney General claims Patriot Act not needed to investigate al-Qaeda

A memo written by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested that the Bush administration does not need the Patriot Act to be extended in order to investigate al-Qaeda. Gonzales argued that when Congress gave President Bush broad wartime powers to fight terrorism, surveillance was included in those powers. The Bush administration has argued that Congress must renew the Patriot Act in order to stop terrorism. A Patriot Act extension has been approved twice by the Senate, and the legislation is set to expire on March 10, 2006. [Boston Globe, 01/25/06] 

Government monitoring anti-war activists  

Government documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have been monitoring anti-war protestors and other activists in the Atlanta area. [WXIA-TV (Atlanta), 01/27/06] 

Senator claims Gonzales misled Congress 

Sen. Russ Feingold sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Jan. 30, 2006, demanding to know his reasoning for misleading the Senate about the NSA spying program. During Gonzales’ confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, Feingold asked the nominee if the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping. Gonzales called the question “hypothetical” and refused to answer, though he added he would hope to advise Congress if the president decided to conduct such a program. Gonzales has acknowledged his role in the development of the spying program. [Washington Post, 01/30/06] 

Lawsuit filed against AT&T for involvement in domestic spying

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed suit against AT&T on Jan. 31, 2006, for their alleged cooperation with the National Security Agency’s warantless spying program on Americans and others living in the United States. [CNET News, 01/21/06] 

Democrats and Republicans argue over NSA spying program

A Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on national security threats led by Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte erupted into a partisan battle over the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program. Democrats complained that the administration was withholding pertinent information from the committee while Republicans and administration officials argued that the problem wasn’t the program itself but those who leaked information on its existence. When Sen. Russ Feingold asked Negroponte if there were other intelligence gathering programs on which the full committee had not been briefed, Negroponte declined to answer. [NY Times, 02/03/06] 

Telecommunications firms allow government eavesdropping

AT&T, Sprint, MCI and other telecommunications agencies are cooperating with the National Security Agency’s warrantless spying program. Telecommunications firms normally require court orders before allowing security officials to eavesdrop on calls. [USA Today, 02/05/06] 

Republican intelligence leader calls for inquiry into warrantless wiretapping  

Rep. Heather A. Wilson became the first Republican on the House or Senate Intelligence Committee to call for a full Congressional inquiry into the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretap program. Other Republicans have expressed concern over the program’s legality. The White House has resisted any type of inquiry, maintaining that the program is authorized under the broad wartime powers given to the president after Sept. 11. [NY Times, 02/08/06] 

Republican committee members reject resolutions on torture policy 

Democratic members of the House International Relations Committee proposed three resolutions on U.S. torture policy. The resolutions sought to find out more information on extraordinary renditions, secret European jails and documents on U.S. policy toward U.N. anti-torture conventions. The resolutions were defeated along party lines. [AP, 02/08/06] 

Over half of Guantánamo detainees never committed hostile acts against U.S., according to lawyers  

Two lawyers for Guantánamo Bay detainees released a report saying that, according to government documents, 55 percent of the prisoners at Guantánamo never committed hostile acts against the United States or its allies. Only eight percent are thought to be al-Qaeda fighters, and only seven percent were captured by U.S. or coalition forces. [Agence France-Presse, 02/09/06] 

Veterans Affairs nurse charged with sedition for criticizing Bush administration 

A V.A. nurse in New Mexico has been charged with “sedition” after writing an editorial letter to a local newspaper that criticized the Bush administration. After Laura Berg’s letter was published, V.A. administrators seized her computer at work. Her bosses subsequently confirmed that the editorial was not found on her computer but maintained that she was still under investigation for sedition. The New Mexico American Civil Liberties Union has taken on the case. [The Progressive, 02/08/06] 

Judge orders release of domestic spying information

A federal judge ruled that the Bush administration must release documents on its warrantless surveillance program or release a list of what it is withholding. The ruling was in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the National Security Archive Fund. [AP, 02/16/06] 

Annan and other international leaders call for Guantánamo’s closure  

Following the release of a U.N. report on the treatment of detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the United States to close the prison as quickly as possible. The European Parliament also called on the United States to close the detention center, as did the British, French and German ambassadors to the United States. [AP, 02/16/06; Deutsche Welle, 02/20/06] 

Senate committee rejects domestic spying inquiry  

The Senate intelligence committee voted along party lines against an investigation into the Bush administration’s warrantless domestic spying program, virtually killing the movement for a Congressional inquiry. Senate Republicans formerly open to an investigation were placated by promises of new legislation. The House intelligence committee is still investigating the program and its legality. [Washington Post, 02/17/06] 

Bagram detention center harsher than Guantánamo  

The New York Times reported on the oft-forgotten and highly secretive detention center at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan in February 2006. According to military officials who have been to the site, the conditions are much harsher than those of Guantánamo, visitors are not allowed to tour the facility, and detainees are not allowed access to lawyers. Though it was originally opened as a screening center, some detainees have been held without charges for up to three years. The influx of detainees increased following a June 2004 Supreme Court ruling that Guantánamo detainees had rights to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts. No such case has been filed regarding detainees at Bagram. Insiders say that some former prisoners of CIA black sites are now part of the 500 detainees at Bagram. [NY Times, 02/26/06] 

Bush administration rejects special investigator for domestic spying program

The Bush administration rejected a request by 18 House Democrats to appoint a special counsel to investigate the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic spying program. The group received similar rejections from watchdog groups at the Justice and Defense departments. The Democrats claim that the spying program violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which prohibits domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens and residents without court approval. The Bush administration maintains that the domestic spying program is not subject to that law. [AP, 02/28/06] 

Government settles in detainee lawsuit

The Justice Department has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle one of several lawsuits brought by non-citizens, mostly Muslim, who were detained, some for months, in the New York area following the Sept. 11 attacks. The plaintiff, Egyptian Ehab Elmaghraby, was held for almost a year in a Brooklyn detention center, where he says he was beaten and sexually assaulted before being cleared of terrorism charges and deported to Egypt. He was one of 762 non-citizens, nearly all Muslim men or men from Arab countries, who were swept up by law enforcement in the New York area following Sept. 11. [NY Times, 02/28/06] 

Bush administration lawyers say anti-torture bill does not apply to Guantánamo Bay  

Justice Department lawyers argued in court that the anti-torture bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain does not apply to prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The Bush administration contends that the Detainee Treatment Act, which included the McCain bill, prohibits Guantánamo detainees from challenging the government in U.S. courts; therefore, detainees cannot claim mistreatment under the McCain bill. Lawyers for the Yemeni detainee claim that he has been systematically tortured while in the detention center and that the force-feeding measures used to break his hunger strike were violent and humiliating. [Washington Post, 03/03/06] 

Pentagon releases documents on Guantánamo Bay 

The Pentagon released documents containing the names and identities of many of the detainees held in the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The information was released after a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Associated Press. Defense Department officials claimed they did not want to release the names to protect the privacy of the prisoners. The documents included testimony from military tribunal hearings. During one hearing, a detainee repeatedly referred to international law. A colonel responded, “We are not concerned about international law,” and had the detainee removed from the courtroom. [AP, 03/04/06] 

Bush administration cracks down on intelligence leaks 

Bush administration officials began interviewing and in some cases polygraph testing employees of various intelligence agencies in an effort to cut back on leaks about programs such as the NSA’s domestic spying program. The Justice Department also warned reporters that they could be prosecuted for revealing national security information under the Espionage Act of 1917. [Washington Post, 03/05/06] 

Congress renews Patriot Act 

On March 7, 2006, Congress renewed the U.S.A. Patriot Act, an anti-terrorism law enacted following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Bush administration has argued that the law is necessary to combat terrorism, while civil libertarians say many of the law’s provisions violate individuals’ privacy. The law makes it easier for federal agents to tap phones and obtain library records, among other provisions. There were some changes to the renewed law that were intended to safeguard civil liberties. For example, traditional libraries will no longer be subject to subpoenas for electronic and financial records. [Washington Post, 03/08/06] 

More than 100 surveillance violations reported for 2004-2005  

A Justice Department Inspector General’s report revealed that the FBI reported more than 100 suspected surveillance violations in 2004 and 2005. The violations included tapping the wrong phone, intercepting the wrong emails, receiving transcripts of conversations rather than billing records, and surveillance beyond a warrant’s expiration. Of the possible violations, only four merited a full investigation, according to the report. [Washington Post, 03/09/06]