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Context of 'March 15, 2009: Torture Report by International Committee of the Red Cross Made Public'

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The US Senate ratifies the international Convention Against Torture, originally proposed by the United Nations in 1985. The treaty bans any officials from signatory nations from inflicting “torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” on prisoners in order to gain information. It also establishes the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT). The ban is absolute and cannot be waived: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12/10/1984; Savage, 2007, pp. 155] The treaty also forbids signatory nations from sending detainees to other countries if there is a reasonable expectation that they may be tortured. [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12/10/1984; Human Rights Web, 1/25/1997]

Entity Tags: United Nations Committee against Torture, Convention Against Torture, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The United States government creates a multi-layered international system of detention centers and prison camps where suspected terrorists, enemy combatants, and prisoners of war are detained and interrogated. [Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01] The Washington Post reports in May 2004: “The largely hidden array includes three systems that only rarely overlap: the Pentagon-run network of prisons, jails, and holding facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and elsewhere; small and secret CIA-run facilities where top al-Qaeda and other figures are kept; and interrogation rooms of foreign intelligence services—some with documented records of torture—to which the US government delivers or ‘renders’ mid- or low-level terrorism suspects for questioning…. The detainees have no conventional legal rights: no access to a lawyer; no chance for an impartial hearing; and… no apparent guarantee of humane treatment accorded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions or civilians in US jails.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01] One administration official tells the New York Times that some high-level detainees may be held indefinitely. [New York Times, 5/13/2004] Secrecy permeates the system. For example, renditions are done covertly and the locations of the secret CIA-run interrogation centers are considered “so sensitive that even the four leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who are briefed on all covert operations, do not know them.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01] In May 2004, it is estimated that there are 10,000 prisoners being held in US facilities around the world. They come from a number of countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Britain, the Palestinian territories, and Yemen. [Independent, 5/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

One of the executive jets used by the CIA to fly prisoners to Guantanamo. This one, a Gulfstream with tail number N44982 when used by the CIA, is pictured in Geneva, Switzerland in 2005 with a new tail number.One of the executive jets used by the CIA to fly prisoners to Guantanamo. This one, a Gulfstream with tail number N44982 when used by the CIA, is pictured in Geneva, Switzerland in 2005 with a new tail number. [Source: Public domain via Wikipedia]A secret arrangement is made in Brussels, Belgium, by all members of NATO. Lord George Robertson, British defense secretary and later NATO’s secretary general, will later explain NATO members agree to provide “blanket overflight clearances for the United States and other allies’ aircraft for military flights related to operations against terrorism.” [London Times, 11/25/2007] Over 700 prisoners will fly over NATO countries on their way to the US-controlled Guantanamo prison in Cuba beginning in 2002 (see January 14, 2002-2005).
Conditions of Transfer - According to a 2007 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see March 15, 2009), detainees flown on CIA rendition flights would be:
bullet Photographed both clothed and naked;
bullet Subjected to body cavity (rectal) searches, with some detainees later alleging that they were administered suppositories of some sort;
bullet Dressed in a diaper and a tracksuit, with earphones placed over the ears (through which shatteringly loud music would sometimes be played), a blindfold, black goggles, and sometimes cotton wool placed over the eyes;
bullet Shackled by hands and feet, and thus carried onto an airplane, where they would remain, without toilet privileges, from one to 30 hours.
The prisoners would usually be allowed to sit upright, but the ICRC will later find that on “some occasions detainees were transported lying flat on the floor of the plane… with their hands cuffed behind their backs,” causing them “severe pain and discomfort,” as they were moved from one location to another. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: George Robertson, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, International Committee of the Red Cross

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested.The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested. [Source: New York Times]Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is the first al-Qaeda leader considered highly important to be captured or killed after 9/11.
Zubaida Injured during Raid - A joint team from the FBI, the CIA, and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, raids the house where Zubaida is staying. Around 3 a.m., the team breaks into the house. Zubaida and three others wake up and rush to the rooftop. Zubaida and the others jump to a neighbor’s roof where they are grabbed by local police who are providing back-up for the capture operation. One of Zubaida’s associates manages to grab a gun from one of the police and starts firing it. A shoot-out ensues. The associate is killed, several police are wounded, and Zubaida is shot three times, in the leg, stomach, and groin. He survives. About a dozen other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are captured in the house, and more are captured in other raids that take place nearby at the same time. [New York Times, 4/14/2002; Suskind, 2006, pp. 84-89] US intelligence had slowly been closing in on Zubaida’s location for weeks, but accounts differ as to exactly how he was found (see February-March 28, 2002). He had surgically altered his appearance and was using an alias, so it takes a few days to completely confirm his identity. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]
Link to Pakistani Militant Group - A later US State Department report will mention that the building Zubaida is captured in is actually a Lashkar-e-Toiba safehouse. Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistani militant group with many links to al-Qaeda, and it appears to have played a key role in helping al-Qaeda operatives escape US forces in Afghanistan and find refuge in Pakistan (see Late 2001-Early 2002). [US Department of State, 4/30/2008]
Rendition - Not long after his arrest, Zubaida is interrogated by a CIA agent while he is recovering in a local hospital (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He then is rendered to a secret CIA prison, where he is interrogated and tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After). Throughout his detention, members of the National Security Council and other senior Bush administration officials are briefed about Zubaida’s captivity and treatment. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Is Zubaida a High-Ranking Al-Qaeda Leader? - Shortly after the arrest, the New York Times reports that “Zubaida is believed by American intelligence to be the operations director for al-Qaeda and the highest-ranking figure of that group to be captured since the Sept. 11 attacks.” [New York Times, 4/14/2002] But it will later come out that while Zubaida was an important radical Islamist, his importance was probably overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).
Tortured While in US Custody - Once Zubaida has sufficiently recovered from his injuries, he is taken to a secret CIA prison in Thailand for more interrogation. [Observer, 6/13/2004; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] One unnamed CIA official will later say: “He received the finest medical attention on the planet. We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly vows that Zubaida will not be tortured, but it will later come out that he was (see Mid-May 2002 and After and April - June 2002). [New York Times, 4/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, National Security Council, Donald Rumsfeld, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed shortly after arrest. (Note: this picture is from a video presentation on prisoners the Pakistani government gave to BBC filmmakers. It has been adjusted to remove some blue tinge.)Khalid Shaikh Mohammed shortly after arrest. (Note: this picture is from a video presentation on prisoners the Pakistani government gave to BBC filmmakers. It has been adjusted to remove some blue tinge.) [Source: BBC's "The New Al-Qaeda."]Following his arrest in Pakistan (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), al-Qaeda leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) finds himself in CIA custody. After two days of detention in Pakistan, where, he will allege, he is punched and stomped upon by a CIA agent, he is sent to Afghanistan. After being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006, he will discuss his experiences and treatment with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006). Mohammed will say of his transfer: “My eyes were covered with a cloth tied around my head and with a cloth bag pulled over it. A suppository was inserted into my rectum. I was not told what the suppository was for.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Naked - He is reportedly placed in a cell naked for several days and repeatedly questioned by females as a humiliation. He is attached to a dog leash and repeatedly yanked into the walls of his cell. He is suspended from the ceiling, chained naked in a painful crouch for long periods, doused with cold water, and kept in suffocating heat. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; MSNBC, 9/13/2007] On arriving in Afghanistan, he is put in a small cell, where, he will recall, he is “kept in a standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head.” After about an hour, “I was taken to another room where I was made to stand on tiptoes for about two hours during questioning.”
Interrogators - He will add: “Approximately 13 persons were in the room. These included the head interrogator (a man) and two female interrogators, plus about 10 muscle guys wearing masks. I think they were all Americans. From time to time one of the muscle guys would punch me in the chest and stomach.” This is the usual interrogation session that Mohammed will experience over the next few weeks.
Cold Water - They are interrupted periodically by his removal to a separate room. There, he will recall, he is doused with “cold water from buckets… for about 40 minutes. Not constantly as it took time to refill the buckets. After which I would be taken back to the interrogation room.”
No Toilet Access - During one interrogation, “I was offered water to drink; when I refused I was again taken to another room where I was made to lie [on] the floor with three persons holding me down. A tube was inserted into my anus and water poured inside. Afterwards I wanted to go to the toilet as I had a feeling as if I had diarrhea. No toilet access was provided until four hours later when I was given a bucket to use.” When he is returned to his cell, as he will recall, “I was always kept in the standing position with my hands cuffed and chained to a bar above my head.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] However, he is resistant to these methods, so it is decided he will be transferred to a secret CIA prison in Poland (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003), where he will be extensively waterboarded and tortured in other ways.

Entity Tags: International Committee of the Red Cross, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

One of a group of 25 al-Qaeda members captured in Pakistan, Tawfiq bin Attash (see April 29, 2003), is taken into US custody and sent to a CIA-run detention facility in Afghanistan. Years later, after being transferred to Guantanamo, he will discuss his experiences and treatment with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006), who will identify him as “Walid bin Attash” in their documents.
'Forced Standing' - Bin Attash will recall his introduction to detention in Afghanistan as follows: “On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks. I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural. During the first two weeks I did not receive any food. I was only given Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] and water to drink. A guard would come and hold the bottle for me while I drank.… The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell.… I was not allowed to clean myself after using the bucket. Loud music was playing 24 hours each day throughout the three weeks I was there.” Author Mark Danner, writing of the ICRC report in 2009 (see March 15, 2009), will note that the “forced standing” technique. with arms shackled above the head, was a favorite technique of the Soviets, who called it “stoika.” Bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan, found the technique particularly painful: “After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists. I shouted for help but at first nobody came. Finally, after about one hour a guard came and my artificial leg was given back to me and I was again placed in the standing position with my hands above my head. After that the interrogators sometimes deliberately removed my artificial leg in order to add extra stress to the position.” He is checked periodically by a doctor. The doctor does not object to the ‘forced standing,’ even though the treatment causes intense pain in bin Attash’s leg; neither does the doctor object to the suspension from shackles, even though the shackles cut and abrade his wrists.
Cold Water, Physical Beatings - Bin Attash will tell ICRC officials that he is “washed down with cold water every day.” Every day he is also subjected to beatings: “Every day for the first two weeks I was subjected to slaps to my face and punches to my body during interrogation. This was done by one interrogator wearing gloves.… Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements. Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets.… I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation.”
Moved to Second Facility - It remains unclear where bin Attash is moved to after his initial detention in Afghanistan, but he will tell ICRC officials that his captors there—also Americans—“were rather more sophisticated than in Afghanistan because they had a hose-pipe with which to pour the water over me.” Danner will later note that the methods used to interrogate and torture bin Attash are somewhat more refined than those used on an experimental basis with another al-Qaeda suspect, Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002). For example, a towel was wrapped around Zubaida’s neck and used to slam him into walls, while bin Attash was given a plastic collar. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: International Committee of the Red Cross, Khallad bin Attash, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Mark Danner, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In two separate sessions, from October 6-11 and again from December 4-14, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) interview 14 detainees newly transferred from a variety of CIA secret “black sites” to Guantanamo. The transfers followed President Bush’s acknowledgment that the CIA has maintained a number of these sites and his announced intention to have a number of the detainees sent to the Cuban facility (see September 17, 2001 and September 6, 2006).
ICRC Access - The ICRC is legally bound to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; previously, it had not been allowed to see the detainees, and in some cases were never informed of their detention. The ICRC officials interview each prisoner in private, with the intention of producing “a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the CIA detention program.”
Interviews - The 14 have been held for periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.” The ICRC’s report, never intended for public consumption, will be released to the CIA several months later (see February 14, 2007) and revealed in a book in early 2009 (see March 15, 2009). Some of the detainees, concerned about the possible repercussions that may ensue from their discussions, ask the ICRC to withhold their names from some allegations, though most of the report attributes specific narratives and allegations to particular prisoners. Almost every allegation is independently corroborated by other, named detainees.
'Striking Similarity' - In 2009, author Mark Danner will write, quoting the ICRC report: “[I]ndeed, since the detainees were kept ‘in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention’ throughout their time in ‘the black sites,’ and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantanamo, the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. ‘The ICRC wishes to underscore,’ as the writers tell us in the introduction, ‘that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.’”
Topics of Report - The report covers the following areas:
bullet Main elements of the CIA detention program;
bullet Arrest and transfer;
bullet Continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention;
bullet Other methods of ill-treatment;
bullet Suffocation by water (the ICRC term for waterboarding);
bullet Prolonged stress standing;
bullet Beatings by use of a collar;
bullet Beating and kicking;
bullet Confinement in a box;
bullet Prolonged nudity;
bullet Sleep deprivation and use of loud music;
bullet Exposure to cold temperature/cold water;
bullet Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles;
bullet Threats;
bullet Forced shaving;
bullet Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food;
bullet Further elements of the detention regime.
Conclusion - The report concludes: “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” Danner will write, “Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms ‘torture’ and ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment’ are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn’t be more significant.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, Mark Danner

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law.President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law. [Source: White House]President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law. [White House, 10/17/2006] The MCA is designed to give the president the authority to order “enemy detainees” tried by military commissions largely outside the scope of US civil and criminal procedures. The bill was requested by the Bush administration after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004) that the US could not hold prisoners indefinitely without access to the US judicial system, and that the administration’s proposal that they be tried by military tribunals was unconstitutional (see June 28, 2004). [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] It is widely reported that the MCA does not directly apply to US citizens, but to only non-citizens defined as “enemy combatants. [CBS News, 10/19/2006] However, six months later, a Bush administration lawyer will confirm that the administration believes the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Sweeping New Executive Powers - The MCA virtually eliminates the possibility that the Supreme Court can ever again act as a check on a president’s power in the war on terrorism. Similarly, the law gives Congressional approval to many of the executive powers previously, and unilaterally, seized by the Bush administration. Former Justice Department official John Yoo celebrates the MCA, writing, “Congress… told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror” (see October 19, 2006). [Savage, 2007, pp. 319, 322]
'Abandoning' Core 'Principles' - The bill passed the Senate on a 65-34 vote, and the House by a 250-170 vote. The floor debate was often impassioned and highly partisan; House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called Democrats who opposed the bill “dangerous,” and Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said this bill showed that the US is losing its “moral compass.” Leahy asked during the debate, “Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had said he would vote against it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face,” but then voted for it, saying he believes the courts will eventually “clean it up.” Specter’s attempt to amend the bill to provide habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants was defeated, as were four Democratic amendments. Republicans have openly used the debate over the MCA as election-year fodder, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) saying after the vote that “House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists,” and Boehner decrying “the Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies.” Democrats such as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) say they will not fight back at such a level. “There will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be called everything from cut-and-run quitters to Defeatocrats, to people who care more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans,” Obama says. “While I know all of this, I’m still disappointed, and I’m still ashamed, because what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics.” [Washington Post, 10/19/2006] After winning the vote, Hastert accused Democrats who opposed the bill of “putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.” Hastert said the Democrats “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives” and create “new rights for terrorists.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Enemy Combatants - The MCA applies only to “enemy combatants.” Specifically, the law defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as a person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents,” and who is not a lawful combatant. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch says the definition far exceeds the traditionally accepted definition of combatant as someone who directly participates in hostilities. But under the MCA, someone who provides “material support” for terrorists—whether that be in the form of financial contributions or sweeping the floors at a terrorist camp—can be so defined. Worse, the label can be applied without recourse by either Bush or the secretary of defense, after a “competent tribunal” makes the determination. The MCA provides no guidelines as to what criteria these tribunals should use. Taken literally, the MCA gives virtually unrestricted power to the tribunals to apply the label as requested by the president or the secretary. Mariner believes the definition is both “blatantly unconstitutional” and a direct contradiction of centuries of Supreme Court decisions that define basic judicial rights. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] Under this definition, the president can imprison, without charge or trial, any US citizen accused of donating money to a Middle East charity that the government believes is linked to terrorist activity. Citizens associated with “fringe” groups such as the left-wing Black Panthers or right-wing militias can be incarcerated without trial or charge. Citizens accused of helping domestic terrorists can be so imprisoned. Law professor Bruce Ackerman calls the MCA “a massive Congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants,” and warns that the law may “haunt all of us on the morning after the next terrorist attack” by enabling a round of mass detentions similar to the roundup of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. [Savage, 2007, pp. 322]
Military Commissions - The MCA mandates that enemy combatants are to be tried by military commissions, labeled “regularly constituted courts that afford all the necessary ‘judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’ for purposes of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” The commissions must have a minimum of five commissioned military officers and a military judge; if death is a possible penalty, the commissions must have at least 12 officers. The defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; convictions require a two-thirds vote. Sentences of beyond 10 years require a three-quarters vote, and death penalties must be unanimously voted for. Defendants may either represent themselves or by military or civilian counsel. The court procedures themselves, although based on standard courts-martial proceedings, are fluid, and can be set or changed as the secretary of defense sees fit. Statements obtained through methods defined as torture are inadmissible, but statements take by coercion and “cruel treatment” can be admitted. The MCA sets the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005) as a benchmark—statements obtained before the December 30, 2005 enactment of that law can be used, even if the defendant was “coerced,” if a judge finds the statement “reasonable and possessing sufficient probative value.” Statements after that date must have been taken during interrogations that fall under the DTA guidelines. Defendants have the right to examine and respond to evidence seen by the commission, a provision originally opposed by the administration. However, if the evidence is classified, an unclassified summary of that material is acceptable, and classified exculpatory evidence can be denied in lieu of what the MCA calls “acceptable substitutes.” Hearsay evidence is admissible, as is evidence obtained without search warrants. Generally, defendants will not be allowed to inquire into the classified “sources, methods, or activities” surrounding evidence against them. Some human rights activists worry that evidence obtained through torture can be admitted, and the fact that it was obtained by torture, if that detail is classified, will not be presented to the court or preclude the evidence from being used. Public access to the commissions will be quite limited. Many experts claim these commissions are illegal both by US constitutional law and international law. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
Secret Courts - The military tribunals can be partially or completely closed to public scrutiny if the presiding judge deems such an action necessary to national security. The government can convey such concerns to the judge without the knowledge of the defense. The judge can exclude the accused from the trial if he deems it necessary for safety or if he decides the defendant is “disruptive.” Evidence can be presented in secret, without the knowledge of the defense and without giving the defense a chance to examine that evidence, if the judge finds that evidence “reliable.” And during the trial, the prosecution can at any time assert a “national security privilege” that would stop “the examination of any witness” if that witness shows signs of discussing sensitive security matters. This provision can easily be used to exclude any potential defense witness who might “breach national security” with their testimony. Author and investigative reporter Robert Parry writes, “In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel ‘star chamber’ system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and elimination of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.” [Consortium News, 10/19/2006]
Appeals - Guilty verdicts are automatically appealed to a Court of Military Commission Review, consisting of three appellate military justices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has extremely limited authority of review of the commissions; even its authority to judge whether a decision is consistent with the Constitution is limited “to the extent [that the Constitution is] applicable.”
Types of Crimes - Twenty-eight specific crimes fall under the rubric of the military commissions, including conspiracy (not a traditional war crime), murder of protected persons, murder in violation of the bill of war, hostage-taking, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, rape, sexual abuse or assault, hijacking, terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
CIA Abuses - The MCA, responding to the recent Supreme Court decision of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) that found the CIA’s secret detention program and abusive interrogation practices illegal, redefines and amends the law to make all but the most pernicious interrogation practices, even those defined as torture by the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions, legal. The MCA actually rules that the Geneva Conventions are all but unenforceable in US courts. It also provides retroactive protection under the law to all actions as far back as November 1997. Under the MCA, practices such as waterboarding, stress positioning, and sleep deprivation cannot be construed as torture. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] The MCA even states that rape as part of interrogations cannot be construed as torture unless the intent of the rapist to torture his victim can be proven, a standard rejected by international law. The MCA provides such a narrow definition of coercion and sexual abuse that most of the crimes perpetrated at Abu Ghraib are now legal. [Jurist, 10/4/2006] Although the MCA seems to cover detainee abuse for all US agencies, including the CIA, Bush says during the signing of the bill, “This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives.” International law expert Scott Horton will note, “The administration wanted these prohibitions on the military and not on the CIA, but it did not work out that way.” Apparently Bush intends to construe the law to exempt the CIA from its restrictions, such as they are, on torture and abuse of prisoners. [Salon, 5/22/2007]
No Habeas Corpus Rights - Under the MCA, enemy combatants no longer have the right to file suit under the habeas corpus provision of US law. This means that they cannot challenge the legality of their detention, or raise claims of torture and mistreatment. Even detainees who have been released can never file suit to seek redress for their treatment while in US captivity. [FindLaw, 10/25/2006]
Retroactive Immunity - The administration added a provision to the MCA that rewrote the War Crimes Act retroactively to November 26, 1997, making any offenses considered war crimes before the MCA is adopted no longer punishable under US law. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007 that the only reason he can fathom for the change is to protect administration officials—perhaps including President Bush himself—from any future prosecutions as war criminals. Dean will note that if the administration actually believes in the inherent and indisputable powers of the presidency, as it has long averred, then it would not worry about any such criminal liability. [Dean, 2007, pp. 239-240]

Entity Tags: Human Rights Watch, Joanne Mariner, US Supreme Court, Patrick J. Leahy, Military Commissions Act, John Dean, George W. Bush, Scott Horton, Geneva Conventions, Bruce Ackerman, Dennis Hastert, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Detainee Treatment Act, Arlen Specter, War Crimes Act, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Boehner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The International Committee of the Red Cross sends its report on the detention and torture of 14 detainees formerly in CIA custody (see October 6 - December 14, 2006) to the CIA’s acting general counsel, John Rizzo. The report is never intended to be made public, but it is documented in an article and subsequent book by Mark Danner (see March 15, 2009). [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Mark Danner, John Rizzo, International Committee of the Red Cross

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 pdf file; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
bullet The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
bullet Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
bullet Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
bullet While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
bullet The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Journalist and author Mark Danner, who has just published a lengthy examination of torture under Bush administration policies (see March 15, 2009), says as long as the press continues to dodge the use of the word “torture,” the country will continue to have trouble coming to grips with the issues surrounding the policies. Danner, appearing on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, says the press continues to engage in a “semantic debate” over whether the US committed torture under the Bush administration. “One can continue to talk about torture is in the eye of the beholder, etc., etc., but frankly, nobody of any legal reputation believes that,” says Danner. Danner adds he is “frustrated by the practices of the press” that are “interfering with a clear debate.” Danner says: “I think the definitional question is extremely important, and… I think it’s extremely important to get by it already. We’re debilitated in that by some degree by the practices of the American press, frankly, which is that as long as the president or people in power continue to cling to a definition that they assert is the truth—as President Bush did when it came to torture, he said repeatedly the United States does not torture—the press feels obliged to report that and consider the matter as a question of debate.” [Think Progress, 3/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Danner, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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