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Torture, rendition, and other abuses against captives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere

 
  

Project: Prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere

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November 27, 2001

       Amnesty International calls for an inquiry into the violence at Qala-i-Janghi. “An urgent inquiry should look into what triggered this violent incident, including any shortcomings in the holding and processing of the prisoners, and into the proportionality of the response by United Front, US, and UK forces. It should make urgent recommendations to ensure that other instances of surrender and holding of prisoners do not lead to similar disorders and loss of life, and that the key role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in overseeing the processing and treatment of prisoners is facilitated.” [Amnesty International, 11/27/2001]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International
          

December 5, 2001

       Amnesty International issues a second call for an inquiry “into the large-scale killing of captured Taleban fighters and others at a fort on the outskirts of Mazar-i Sharif.” Amnesty insists that the “events at the Qala-i-Jhanghi fort must not simply be brushed under the carpet, like so many other killings before them.” [Amnesty International, 12/5/2001]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International
          

January 17-21, 2002

       Already six days after the first detainees have arrived from Afghanistan, representatives from the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) visit Guantanamo. They meet with the prison commanders on January 21 and recommend a number of improvements. [Washington Post, 6/13/2004] The ICRC has noticed some restrictions on religious expression it objects to. During the first week of the prison's operation, praying according to Islamic custom is not allowed or is at least prevented. When someone calls out the call to prayers, or Azzan, according to Asif Iqbal, guards respond “by either silencing the person who was doing it, or, more frequently, play loud rock music to drown them out.” [Sources: Composite statement by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, 7/26/2004] Notwithstanding the intercession by the ICRC, religious freedoms apparently continue to be restricted, as Mohammed Saghir, a grey-bearded sawmill owner, will later recall. “In the first one-and-a-half months they wouldn't let us speak to anyone, wouldn't let us call for prayers or pray in the room,” Saghir says. “I tried to pray and four or five commandos came and they beat me up. If someone would try to make a call for prayer they would beat him up and gag him.” [The Guardian, 12/3/2003]
People and organizations involved: Mohammed Saghir, Asif Iqbal
          

January 24, 2002

       A five-page memo prepared by military officers at Guantanamo lists twenty-nine concerns that the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) raised during its visit earlier that month (see January 17-21, 2002). The memo lays out a decision by the detention commanders to provide detainees with items valued by Muslims: cloth for their Korans, daily prayer calls, and shorts for the shower. Detainees will also be told that the orange color of their jumpsuits does not signify a death sentence, which it traditionally does in some Middle Eastern countries. This has apparently not gone unnoticed by US officials. “The detainees think they are being taken to be shot,” the same or a different memo from the Pentagon says. “Should we continue not to tell them what is going on and keep them scared?” [Washington Post, 6/13/2004]
          

March 11, 2002

       Human Rights Watch writes to President Bush about allegations of renditions and torture reported in the Washington Post (see March 11, 2002), asking that the allegations be investigated immediately. [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004; Washington Post, 3/11/2002]
People and organizations involved: Human Rights Watch
          

January 14, 2003

       Executive directors of leading human rights organizations write to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz urging that the Bush administration publicly denounce the use of torture in any form and pledge not to seek intelligence obtained through torture in a third country. The letters also ask the US to provide clear guidelines to US forces on the treatment of detainees. [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: Paul Wolfowitz
          

January 31, 2003

       Executive directors of human rights organizations write to President George Bush demanding clear statements from administration officials against torture in any form and statements ensuring that any US official found to have used or approved of torture would be held accountable. The organizations also demand that the administration take steps to inform US interrogators of international laws and treaties which define the limits of lawful interrogation methods. [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush
          

February 5, 2003

       Representatives of major human rights organizations meet with Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes asking that the US government develop clear standards to prevent the mistreatment of prisoners of war. [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: William J. Haynes
          

April 2, 2003

       In a letter to Human Rights Watch, Pentagon legal counsel William Haynes II writes that “if the war on terrorists of global reach requires transfers of detained enemy combatants to other countries for continued detention on our behalf, US government instructions are to seek and obtain appropriate assurances that such enemy combatants are not tortured.” [Letter to Human Rights Watch, 4/2/2003 cited in Amnesty International, 8/19/2003] However, in December 2002, referring to objections raised about the use of unlawful interrogation methods by Egypt, one Bush government official was quoted in the Washington Post saying, “You can be sure that we are not spending a lot of time on that now.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch
          

April 18, 2003

       The Pentagon rejects Amnesty International's request to visit the US military base at Bagram. The Defense Department declares that “access to detainees is provided to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and on a case-by-case basis to selected government officials.” In a letter, Marshall Billingslea, principal deputy to the assistant secretary of defense, writes that “in this war, as in every war, captured enemy combatants have no right to counsel or access to courts for the purpose of challenging their detention.” [Amnesty International, 8/19/2003]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International
          

May 2003

       The International Committee of the Red Cross sends a memorandum to Coalition Forces reporting that it has recorded roughly 200 allegations of mistreatment and abuse from prisoners of war being held at various detention facilities in Iraq. The report notes that the allegations are supported by medical examinations of the prisoners. [New York Times, 5/13/2004 Sources: Iraq: Memorandum on concerns relating to law and order]
          

Early July 2003

       The International Committee of the Red Cross sends the Coalition Forces a working paper reporting 50 allegations of mistreatment in the military intelligence section of Camp Cropper. Among the allegations reported in the memo are: “threats (to intern individuals indefinitely, to arrest other family members, to transfer individuals to Guantanamo) against persons deprived of their liberty or against members of their families (in particular wives and daughters); hooding; tight handcuffing; use of stress positions (kneeling, squatting, standing with arms raised over the head) for three or four hours; taking aim at individuals with rifles; striking them with rifle butts; slaps; punches; prolonged exposure to the sun; and isolation in dark cells.” The report says that medical examinations of the prisoners supported their allegations. [New York Times, 5/11/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]
          

July 23, 2003

       Amnesty International sends a memorandum to the US government and Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) titled, “Memorandum on concerns relating to law and order,” which states that the organization “has received a number of reports of torture or ill-treatment by Coalition Forces not confined to criminal suspects.” The memo explains that Coalition troops are using a number of methods, including “prolonged sleep deprivation; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights.” Amnesty makes it very clear that these actions constitute “torture or inhuman treatment” and are prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention and by international human rights law. [Sources: Iraq: Memorandum on concerns relating to law and order] The memorandum also informs the CPA that there are reports that prisoners have been killed by Coalition Forces. “Amnesty International has received a number of reports of cases of detainees who have died in custody, mostly as a result of shooting by members of the Coalition Forces. Other cases of deaths in custody where ill-treatment may have caused or contributed to death have been reported.” [Sources: Iraq: Memorandum on concerns relating to law and order] The Coalition Provisional Authority does not provide any response to Amnesty International's memo or provide any indication that the allegations will be investigated. [Amnesty International, 5/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International
          

September 2003

       The Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights (later known as Human Rights First) notices a “continuing erosion of basic human rights protections under US law and policy” since the 9/11 attacks. The organization states that “governments long criticized for human rights abuses have publicly applauded US policies, which they now see as an endorsement of their own longstanding practices.” As an example, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak is cited, who declared shortly after 9/11, that new US policies prove “that we were right from the beginning in using all means, including military tribunals, to combat terrorism. ... There is no doubt that the events of September 11 created a new concept of democracy that differs from the concept that Western states defended before these events, especially in regard to the freedom of the individual.” [Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, September 2003]
People and organizations involved: Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights First
          

September 22, 2003

       A delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) interviews a 61-year-old Iraqi who has been imprisoned in Camp Bucca. The elderly man tells the ICRC that at the time of his arrest, he was “tied, hooded, and forced to sit on the hot surface of what he surmised to be the engine of a vehicle....” The ICRC verifies his account noting that the presence of “large crusted lesions” on his buttocks were consistent with his allegation. [Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]
          

October 2003

       A delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and is appalled by the condition and treatment of the prisoners. The ICRC breaks “off [its] visit and [demands] an immediate explanation from the military prison authorities.” The delegation witnesses prisoners who are “completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness.” According to its February 2004 report to Coalition Forces, “The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was ‘part of the process.’ ” The ICRC subsequently complains to Coalition Forces. [New York Times, 5/11/2004 Sources: Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade]
          

October 7, 2003

       The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) files a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Defense and other government agencies for documents relating to detainee interrogations, deaths, abuse, and transfers to other countries since September 11, 2001. [Sources: ACLU FOIA Request for Records Concerning the Treatment of Detainees, October 7, 2003]
People and organizations involved: American Civil Liberties Union
          

October 9, 2003

       The senior International Red Cross official in Washington, Christophe Girod, tells the New York Times: “The open-endedness of the situation [at Guantanamo] and its impact on the mental health of the population has become a major problem.” He makes this unusual public statement because previous private communications with the US government has not yielded results. “One cannot keep these detainees in this pattern, this situation, indefinitely,” Girod says. White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, says: “These individuals are terrorists or supporters of terrorism and we are at war on terrorism and the reasons for detaining enemy combatants in the first place is to gather intelligence and make sure that these enemy combatants don't return to help our enemies plot attacks or carry out attacks on the United States.” In the past 18 months, 21 detainees have made 32 suicide attempts. More detainees are treated for depression. [BBC, 10/10/2003]
People and organizations involved: International Committee of the Red Cross, Scott McClellan, Christophe Girod
          

October 20, 2003

       Amnesty International publishes a report stating that it believes that “the totality of conditions” in which “most” of the detainees at Guantanamo are being held may itself amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Amnesty notes that the Committee against Torture, established to oversee implementation of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, “has expressly held that restraining detainees in very painful positions, hooding, threats, and prolonged sleep deprivation are methods of interrogation which violate the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” [Amnesty International, 10/20/2003]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International
          

October 23, 2003

       The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) writes a letter to Gen. Janis Karpinski in relation to a recent shooting incident (see September 22, 2003) at Camp Bucca and recommends that she takes appropriate measures. The same letter also asks her to investigate another incident that took place on September 3 (see September 3, 2003) at the same camp. In that incident, three detainees doing a voluntary cleaning job were severely injured when a cluster bomb went off. [Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]
People and organizations involved: International Committee of the Red Cross, Janis L. Karpinski
          

December 24, 2003

       The US military replies to the Red Cross' November 6 letter (see November 6, 2003), claiming that the prisoners being held in cell bocks 1A and 2A of Abu Ghraib are “security detainees” who are not entitled to “full GC protection as recognized in GCIV/5 [Article 5 of the Fourth Geneva Convention].” The 3-page letter adds that “such protection will be afforded as soon as the security situation in Iraq allows it.” Article 5 allows an occupying power to exempt captives from the protection of the Conventions if they can be shown to be a continuing threat to the occupying force. However according to critics of the administration's judgment, the provision is supposed to be applied on a case-by-case basis and is not meant to include people who have valuable intelligence. [New York Times, 5/22/2004 Sources: December 24 letter From Gen. Karpinski to the International Comnmittee on the Red Cross] The letter also says that the Red Cross should schedule its visits to the cell bocks 1A and 2A ahead of time instead of showing up unannounced. The response letter—written by Army lawyers in Washington but signed by Army Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski in Baghdad—claims that such visits could interrupt interrogations. [New York Times, 5/19/2004]
People and organizations involved: Janis L. Karpinski
          

January 12, 2004

       Human Rights Watch writes to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “to express concern about incidents in which US forces stationed in Iraq detained innocent, close relatives of wanted suspects in order to compel the suspects to surrender, which amounts to hostage-taking, classified as a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.” [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: Donald Rumsfeld
          

January 15, 2004

       Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meets with Secretary of State Colin Powell and says that the ICRC has “serious concerns about detainees in Iraq,” though according to a senior State Department official, he does not detail them. During his visit, Kellenberger also meets with Condoleezza Rice and, reportedly, with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, though it is unclear what precisely is discussed. White House Spokesman Sean McCormack will later say that “Iraq was not mentioned” during the meeting with Rice. Rather the main topic of discussion was Guantanamo, he says. [The Observer, 5/9/2004; Baltimore Sun, 5/12/2004]
People and organizations involved: Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, Jakob Kellenberger, Sean McCormack
          

February 24, 2004

       The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) files a report with Coalition Authorities complaining that its soldiers and intelligence officers have been arresting and detaining Iraqis without cause, routinely using excessive force during the initial stages of detention, and subjecting prisoners to extreme physical and emotional abuse. The report is based on 29 visits to 14 detention centers in Iraq between March 31 and October 24, 2003, during which time ICRC workers privately interviewed thousands of prisoners. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004; New York Times, 5/11/2004; Washington Post, 5/12/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs] Among its findings:
According to “certain CF (Coalition Forces) military intelligence officers,” 70 to 90 percent of the detainees being held in captivity were “arrested by mistake.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Captives were not informed of the reason for their arrest or provided with access to legal counsel. “They were often questioned without knowing what they were accused of. They were not allowed to ask questions and were not provided with an opportunity to seek clarification about the reason for their arrest.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

There were eight instances in which American guards shot at their captives resulting in seven prisoner deaths and 18 injuries. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

During the initial stages of captivity, prisoners were subjected to brutality which sometimes caused serious injury or death. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were subjected to physical and psychological coercion, which in “some cases was tantamount to torture.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were kept in prolonged solitary confinement in cells in complete darkness. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prison guards and soldiers used excessive and disproportionate use of force. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners being held in Unit 1A of Abu Ghraib were kept “completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness.” Some of the prisoners were forced into “acts of humiliation such as being made to stand naked against the wall of the cell with arms raised or with women's underwear over the [sic] heads for prolonged periods—while being laughed at by guards, including female guards, and sometimes photographed in this position.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2004; New York Times, 5/11/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners' hands were often bound with flexi-cuffs so tightly that the captive incurred skin wounds and nerve damage. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Soldiers pressed prisoners' faces into the ground with their combat boots. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were beaten with pistols and rifles and were slapped, punched, or kicked with knees or boots. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were threatened with execution and transferred to Guantanamo. Some captives were told that their family members would be harmed. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were deprived of adequate sleep, food, water, and access to open air. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were subjected to forced and prolonged exposure to hot sun on days when the temperature exceed 120 degrees. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Interviews with military intelligence officers confirmed that “methods of physical and psychological coercion used by the interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures by military intelligence personnel to obtain confessions and extract information.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Iraqi police, operating under control of the US, turned people over to Coalition Forces for refusing to pay bribes. [New York Times (Editorial), 5/12/2004]

          

March 8, 2004

       Human Rights Watch publishes a report on the human rights violations being committed by US forces in Afghanistan. The report, “Enduring Freedom: Abuses by US Forces in Afghanistan,” is based on research conducted by the organization in southeastern and eastern Afghanistan from 2003 to early 2004. It “details numerous abuses by US personnel, including cases of excessive force during arrests; arbitrary and indefinite detention; and mistreatment of detainees” depicting a system that “operates almost entirely outside of the rule of law.” For example, the report finds that prisoners in the custody of US Forces are “continuously shackled, intentionally kept awake for extended periods of time, ... forced to kneel or stand in painful positions for extended periods,” kicked and beaten, and drenched with freezing water in the winter. [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004 Sources: Enduring Freedom: Abuses by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, HRW, 3/8/2004]
People and organizations involved: Human Rights Watch
          

May 3, 2004

       Human Rights Watch sends a letter to US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice informing her that the ill treatment and torture of prisoners by the US military in Iraq is not limited to isolated incidents. The organization emphasizes that it is a systemic and widespread problem and urges the US to take immediate action to ensure that imprisonment and interrogation practices comply with international law. [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004 Sources: Human Rights letter to National Security Advisor, May 3, 2004]
People and organizations involved: Human Rights Watch, Condoleezza Rice
          

May 14, 2004

       Amnesty International publishes a report titled, “Iraq: One year on the human rights situation remains dire,” which documents a pattern of human rights violations being committed by US forces in Iraq. “Many detainees have alleged they were tortured and ill-treated by US and UK troops during interrogation,” the report says. “Methods often reported include prolonged sleep deprivation; beatings; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights. Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment has been adequately investigated.” [Sources: Iraq: One year on the human rights situation remains dire]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International
          

May 25, 2004

       The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights organizations submit a second Freedom of Information Act request to the Departments of Defense, Justice, State, Homeland Security, and the CIA. [Sources: ACLU et al. v. Department of Defense et al., 7/6/2004]
People and organizations involved: American Civil Liberties Union
          

May 26, 2004

       In its annual report, titled “Why human rights matter,” Amnesty International says that America's war on terrorism has “made the world a more dangerous place.” This is the consequence of “the US seeking to put itself outside the ambit of judicial scrutiny,” the organization says. Furthermore, “[s]acrificing human rights in the name of security at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad, and using pre-emptive military force where and when it chooses, have neither increased security nor ensured liberty,” the report adds. Practicing and apparently condoning torture, according to Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan, has resulted in the US having “lost its high moral ground and its ability to lead on peace and elsewhere.” The practice of violating human rights and the war in Iraq is believed to have a broader influence than on the immediate victims. “The war in Iraq,” the report says, “has diverted global attention from other human rights abuses around the world.” [BBC, 5/26/2004 Sources: ACLU et al. v. Department of Defense et al., 7/6/2004]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International, Irene Khan
          

June 2004

       In a confidential June 2004 report, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) alleges that the techniques used at Guantanamo are “tantamount to torture.” According to the report, the system in place at Guantanamo is designed to break the will of detainees by making them totally dependent on their interrogators through “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions.” In addition, the organization writes, detainees are subjected to “some beatings.” These methods, according to the ICRC, are increasingly “more refined and repressive” in comparison to what is observed during earlier missions. The report concludes: “The construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture.” [New York Times, 11/30/2004]
People and organizations involved: International Committee of the Red Cross
          

June 2, 2004

       The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and four other independent organizations file a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act demanding the release of information about detainees held by the United States at military bases and other detention facilities overseas. “The government's ongoing refusal to release these records is absolutely unacceptable, particularly in light of the severity of the abuses we know to have occurred,” says Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU staff lawyer. More than seven months have passed since the initial request (see October 7, 2003) was made to the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, and the CIA for these documents. [ACLU, 6/2/2004]
People and organizations involved: American Civil Liberties Union
          

June 4, 2004

       Bertrand Ramcharan, the acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, says the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners could constitute a war crime. He says, “Willful killing, torture, and inhuman treatment” represent a grave breach of international law and “might be designated as war crimes by a competent tribunal.” He also calls for the immediate appointment of “an international ombudsman or commissioner” to oversee the monitoring of human rights in Iraq and to regularly report on compliance with “international norms of human rights and humanitarian law.” [New York Times, 6/5/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bertrand Ramcharan
          

June 11, 2004

       Human Rights First interviews the CIA Public Affairs Officer and the Defense Department's Press Office who refuse to confirm or deny the existence of any detention facilities in Jordan controlled by the US. [Human Rights First, 6/2004]
People and organizations involved: Human Rights First
          

June 11, 2004

       A Pentagon official agrees to speak with Human Rights First about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, but tells the organization that “as a matter of policy, we don't comment on other facilities.” [Human Rights First, 6/2004]
People and organizations involved: Human Rights First
          

Mid-August 2004

       The UN's independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan, Cherif Bassiouni, visits the Afghan government's Pul-i-Charkhi prison in Kabul where 725 Taliban members and Pakistani supporters are being held. After his visit, he describes conditions at the prison as “inhuman” and says that the prisoners should be released. He also wanted to visit the US-run detention centers in Afghanistan but US authorities rejected his request. Bassiouni says the US's lack of transparency “raises serious concerns about the legality of detention and conditions of those detainees.” [Reuters, 8/22/2004]
People and organizations involved: Cherif Bassiouni
          

Mid-May 2004

       In response to what the five Britons released from Guantanamo (see March 9, 2004) have claimed about the abuses they suffered during their stay at the US detention camp, John Sifton from Human Rights Watch says, “It is now clear that there is a systemic problem of abuse throughout the US military's detention facilities—not merely misbehavior by a few bad apples.” [The Observer, 5/16/2004]
People and organizations involved: John Sifton
          

July 6, 2004

       The American Civil Liberties Union and four other human rights groups move for preliminary injunction seeking expedited release of records. [Sources: ACLU et al. v. Department of Defense et al. Amended Complaint for Injunctive Relief, United States District Court, Southern District of New York, 7/6/2004]
People and organizations involved: American Civil Liberties Union
          

August 12, 2004

       After an oral argument in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein orders the Pentagon and other government agencies to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and provide the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups documents about detention and interrogation activities regarding prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, and elsewhere. The government must comply by August 23, the court orders. [Reuters, 8/12/2004]
People and organizations involved: Alvin K. Hellerstein, American Civil Liberties Union
          

September 2, 2004

       Human Rights Watch says trials being held in Guantanamo before military commissions are “fundamentally flawed” and “fall far short of international due process standards.” [Human Rights Watch, 1/9/2004]
People and organizations involved: Human Rights Watch
          

October 15, 2004

       The CIA says in a court filing that it cannot confirm or deny the existence of documents being sought after by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) “because to do so would tend to reveal classified information and intelligence sources and methods that are protected from disclosure.” The ACLU sued the government for access to the documents two months earlier. The documents, which a US District Court ordered the government to provide (see August 12, 2004), relate to the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo and Afghanistan. [Boston Globe, 12/27/2004]
People and organizations involved: American Civil Liberties Union
          

October 27, 2004

       In a new report on human rights abuses in the US, Amnesty International says that the poor conditions at Guantanamo cause detainees “severe psychological distress.” [Amnesty International, 10/27/2004]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International
          

December 21, 2004

       Five agencies, under an agreement worked out by US District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, release approximately 9,000 pages of internal reports, investigations, and e-mails containing information about prisoner abuse in Cuba, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The massive disclosure marks the end of a more than 13-month long effort (see October 7, 2003) by five human rights groups to access the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents demonstrate that the abuses were far more widespread and systemic than previously acknowledged by the government. The documents include information about numerous abuses, such as threatened and mocked executions, thefts of private property, physical assaults, shocking detainees with electric guns, the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners at Guantanamo, shackling detainees without food and water, and murder. In many of the cases, the Army chose to punish offenders with non-criminal punishments rather than court-martial them. Reporting on the disclosure, the Washington Post notes, “The variety of the abuse and the fact that it occurred over a three-year period undermine the Pentagon's past insistence ... that the abuse occurred largely during a few months at [Abu Ghraib], and that it mostly involved detainee humiliation or intimidation rather than the deliberate infliction of pain.” [Washington Post, 12/22/2004]
People and organizations involved: Alvin K. Hellerstein
          

January 30, 2005

       The American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) calls for the creation of a Special Counsel “to investigate and prosecute any criminal acts by civilians in the torture or abuse of detainees by the US Government” and appeals to senators to insist that Alberto Gonzales commit to appointing one, before voting on his nomination as attorney general. “[I]t is likely,” the ACLU concludes, that between the production of the August 1, 2002 OLC memo (see August 1, 2002) and its official replacement by another legal opinion on December 30, 2004 (see December 30, 2004), “criminal acts occurred under the looser interpretations in effect for more than two years.” According to the ACLU, “The appointment of an outside special counsel—with full investigatory and prosecutorial powers—is the only way to ensure that all civilians who violated federal laws against torture will be held responsible.” [American Civil Liberties Union (Press Release), 1/30/2005]
People and organizations involved: American Civil Liberties Union, Alberto R. Gonzales
          

February 17, 2005

       The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtains 988 pages of files of investigative records from the Army Criminal Investigation Division, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. They include accounts of photographs that were destroyed (see Early July 2004) showing US troops abusing detainees in Afghanistan. “These raise the question of how many other allegations of abuse were buried in the same way,” says Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU, adding, “[M]aybe there is a whole layer of abuse that we haven't seen.” He also claims the files show that the military investigators closed cases too quickly, often stating a lack of evidence as a reason. “What we do see here is more evidence of a pattern in which the government failed to aggressively investigate credible allegations of abuse,” he says. [Boston Globe, 2/18/2005]
People and organizations involved: Criminal Investigation Division, American Civil Liberties Union, Jameel Jaffer
          

March 1, 2005

       The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights First file a lawsuit against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the northern district of Illinois, his home state. They do so on behalf of eight men formerly detained in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay who claim to have been tortured. “Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility,” for the former prisoners' treatment, says ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. [CBS News, 3/1/2005] ACLU's Lucas Guttentag, lead counsel in the lawsuit, says, “Secretary Rumsfeld bears direct and ultimate responsibility for this descent into horror by personally authorizing unlawful interrogation techniques and by abdicating his legal duty to stop torture.” The parties seek a court order declaring that Rumsfeld violated the US Constitution, federal statutes, and international law, and compensatory damages for the inflicted harm that the eight men suffered due to torture, abuse, and degrading treatment. The civil rights groups are joined as co-counsel by a number of prominent legal experts, among them former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, retired Rear Admiral John D. Hutson; former Chief Judge of the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals, retired Brig. Gen. James Cullen; and former Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee. [Human Rights First, 3/1/2005]
People and organizations involved: Bill Lann Lee, Anthony D. Romero, American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First, Donald Rumsfeld, John D. Hutson, Lucas Guttentag, James Cullen
          


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