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Torture themes

Torture, abuse, rights' violations
Indications of Abuse
Prisoner deaths
High-level complicity
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Torture, rendition, and other abuses against captives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere: Indications that prisoners were being abused


Project: Prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere

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       Walter Schumm, a retired Army Reserve colonel, writes a piece in the Military Review making the observation that few military officers understand the legal requirements for handling prisoners. In one part of the essay he notes, “It only takes one improperly trained soldier among a thousand to commit an offense against the Geneva Conventions that would cause our nation considerable embarrassment.” [USA Today, 5/13/2004]
People and organizations involved: Walter Schumm

December 26, 2002

       The Washington Post reports on the US intelligence program of rendition (see 1993-2004) and reveals that US agents are using “stress and duress” techniques to interrogate captives detained in Afghanistan. Persons being held in the CIA interrogation center at Bagram Air Base who refuse to cooperate “are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours in black hoods or spray-painted goggles, .... held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights' subject to what are known as ‘stress and duress’ techniques,” the report says. [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] Each of the ten current national security officials who were interviewed for the article “defended the use of violence against captives as just and necessary.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] The report quotes one official who reasons, “If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job.... I don't think we want to be promoting a view of zero tolerance on this.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] Likewise, another official acknowledged that “our guys may kick them around a little bit in the adrenaline of the immediate aftermath.” A different source commented, with reference to the medical services provided for captives, that “pain control [in wounded patients] is a very subjective thing.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] Finally, in a very explicit remark, one of the officials interviewed by the Post, who is described as being directly involved in the rendition of captives, explained the program's logic: “We don't kick the shit out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the shit out of them.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] After the report is published, Maj. Stephen Clutter, the deputy spokesman at Bagram, denies the allegations, claiming that The Washington Post article was “false on several points, the first being that there is no CIA detention facility on Bagram.” He says, “The accusation of inhumane treatment is something that I can clearly refute. The things that they talked about, the inhumane conditions ... are things that do not go on here.” [Agence France Presse, 12/29/2002] “There is a facility run by the US Army, however, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that persons under control of the US Army have been mistreated,” he explains. “A doctor examines them daily. They have access to medical care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have dental care. They sleep in a warm facility and have three meals a day that are prepared according to Islamic cultural and religious norms. When they arrive, they go through an interview process to determine whether they are enemy combatants or have information that can help us prevent terrorist attacks against Americans or attacks against US forces. During this interview process, they are treated as humanely as possible. We routinely allow visits, about once a week, from the International Committee of the Red Cross to ensure their treatment is humane. If they are deemed to be enemy combatants or pose a danger, they become detainees. If they are not, they are ultimately released.” [Reuters, 12/28/2002]
People and organizations involved: Stephen Clutter

December 27, 2002

       Human Rights Watch writes to President Bush about the allegations of torture reported in The Washington Post (see December 26, 2002), asking that the allegations be investigated immediately. [Human Rights Watch 12/26/02; BBC 12/26/02; The News 12/27/02; Washington Post 12/28/02; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004] White House spokesman Scott McClellan denies that US interrogation practices violate international law and indicates no interest on the part of the administration to investigate the allegations. “We are not aware we have received the letter. ... [W]e believe we are in full compliance with domestic and international law, including domestic and international law dealing with torture.” He adds that combatants detained by the US are always treated “humanely, in a manner consistent with the third Geneva Convention.” [Washington Post 12/28/02]
People and organizations involved: Human Rights Watch, Scott McClellan  Additional Info 

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. [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 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 A. Haynes

March 9, 2003

       A New York Times article reports that the US government is rendering suspects abroad (see 1993-2004) and that “stress and duress” techniques are being used at the secret CIA interrogation center located in a hangar at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan (see (October 2001-2004)). “Intelligence officials ... acknowledged that some suspects had been turned over to security services in countries known to employ torture. There have been isolated, if persistent, reports of beatings in some American-operated centers,” the report explains. [The New York Times, 3/9/2003; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]

(May 2003-May 2004)

       At “various times throughout this period,” Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld relay the Red Cross' concerns about the Coalition's treatment of prisoners directly to President George Bush. [Baltimore Sun, 5/12/2004 Sources: Unnamed aid to Colin Powell]
People and organizations involved: Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld

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]

June 2003

       Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, sends letters to the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon with complaints about the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan and “other locations outside the United States.” He writes that according to unnamed officials, the prisoners are being subjected to beatings, lengthy sleep- and food-deprivation and other “stress and duress” techniques (see April 16, 2003). He asks if these techniques are indeed being employed and urges the administration to issue a clear statement that cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees will not be tolerated. The Pentagon and CIA deny that the United States is torturing its prisoners. [USA Today, 5/13/2004; Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: Patrick Leahy

June 24, 2003

       Executive directors of human rights groups write to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice asking that the US provide human rights monitors access to US prisoners and detention facilities in Iraq to verify conditions of detention. [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: Condoleezza Rice

June 25, 2003

       Department of Defense General Counsel William Haynes responds to a letter from Senator Patrick Leahy which asked for clarification on the administration's interrogation policy (see June 2003). Haynes replies that “it is the policy of the United States to comply with all its legal obligations in its treatment of detainees [and] ... to treat all detainees and conduct all interrogations, wherever they may occur” in a manner consistent with US obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment. He adds that the US “does not permit, tolerate or condone any such torture by its employees under any circumstances.” He also says that the Fifth, Eighth, and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution require the US “to prevent other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture.” Notably, he does not provide information about the specific interrogation tactics that US forces are permitted to use. “It would not be appropriate to catalogue the interrogation techniques used by US personnel thus we cannot comment on specific cases or practices,” Haynes says. [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004; Wall Street Journal, 6/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: William A. Haynes, Patrick Leahy

June 25, 2003

       US Senator Arlen Specter writes to Condoleezza Rice asking for “clarification about numerous stories concerning alleged mistreatment of enemy combatants in US custody” and requesting that she explain how the administration ensures that detainees rendered to other countries are not tortured. [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: Arlen Specter, Condoleezza Rice

June 26, 2003

       Amnesty International sends a letter to Paul Bremer, head of the Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority (OCPA). The letter specifically mentions the poor conditions at Abu Ghraib prison and calls attention to a June 13 incident (see June 13, 2003) where one Iraq detainee, Ala' Jassem Sa'ad, was shot dead and seven others were wounded when US soldiers fired into the air during a prisoners' demonstration protesting conditions and broken promises. [Amnesty International, 6/30/2003]
People and organizations involved: Ala' Jassem Sa'ad, Paul Bremer

July 1, 2003-November 3, 2003

       Two Iranian journalists, Saeed Abou Taleb and Sohail Karimi, who are filming a documentary video in Iraq, are arrested and detained. Upon being released 126 days later, they say that they were subjected to “severe torture.” “The detention was unimaginable,” Taleb says to Iranian state television after the two make it back into Iran. “The first 10 days were like a nightmare. We were subjected to severe torture.” [Agence France Presse, 11/4/2003] When a US spokesman is asked about the allegations, he responds, “The coalition does not mistreat anyone in its custody—full stop.” [Agence France Presse, 11/4/2003]
People and organizations involved: Sohail Karimi, Saeed Abou Taleb

Early July 2003

       The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 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

October 18, 2003

       The Associated Press submits a list of questions to US command about specific accounts from former detainees regarding torture, execution and poor living conditions at Coalition detention centers in Iraq. US command does not respond. [The Associated Press, 10/29/2004]

October 29, 2003

       The Associated Press reports that detainees in Iraq are being subjected to torture and inhumane living conditions and tells of an instance where a prisoner was shot and killed. It recounts the story of one prisoner, Saaed Naif, who said he saw another prisoner “shot dead at Abu Ghraib when he approached the razor wire.” The report also describes a type of punishment where the victim is confined to a razor-wire enclosed area—known as “The Gardens” —and forced to lie face down, hands tied behind the back, on the burning sand for two or three hours. In one incident, when a woman was sent to the “The Gardens,” her infuriated brother attempted to leave the razor wire enclosure around his tent but prison personnel “shot him in the shoulder.” Many former prisoners of the detainment centers agreed that some of the worst atrocities at the prisons were the guards' treatment of the women, sick, and disabled. [The Associated Press, 10/29/2004]
People and organizations involved: Saaed Naif

November 5, 2003

       Major General Marshal Donald Ryder files a report on the prison system in Iraq as had been requested by General Sanchez earlier in the fall (see (Early October 2003)). According to The New Yorker, his report concludes that “there were potential human-rights, training, and manpower issues, system-wide, that needed immediate attention.” Ryder suggests that the problem may stem from methods used in Afghanistan where MPs had worked with intelligence operatives to “set favorable conditions for subsequent interviews.” Ryder recommends drawing up guidelines to “define the role of military police soldiers ... clearly separating the actions of the guards from those of the military intelligence personnel.” However Rider downplays the gravity of the situation, saying it has not yet reached a crisis point. Despite the problems, he says that he found “no military police units purposely applying inappropriate confinement practices.” [The New Yorker, 5/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: Marshal Donald Ryder, Ricardo S. Sanchez

November 6, 2003

       The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) complains in writing to Coalition Forces about the treatment of prisoners being held at Abu Ghraib prison (see October 2003). [New York Times, 5/11/2004; Associated Press, 5/16/2004; New York Times, 5/19/2004 Sources: US Army Report on Iraqi Prisoner Abuse] The ICRC's complaints are then discussed at high levels inside the Bush administration. “We knew that the ICRC had concerns, and in accordance with the matter in which the ICRC does its work, it presented those concerns directly to the command in Baghdad,” Powell will later recall on “Fox News Sunday.” “And I know that some corrective action was taken with respect to those concerns,” he adds. [Associated Press, 5/16/2004]
People and organizations involved: Colin Powell

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 13, 2004

       The Asian Wall Street Journal reports that a suspect detained by US forces in Iraq claimed that “he was ordered to stand upright until he collapsed after 13 hours” and that interrogators “burned his arm with a cigarette.” [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]

January 13, 2004

       Joseph Darby, a 24-year-old MP assigned to Abu Ghraib, slips an anonymous note under the door of the Army's Criminal Investigations Division and later turns over a CD with roughly one thousand photographs relating to the abuses that had taken place at the prison, mostly between October and December of the previous year. Within three days, a report on the photos makes its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informs President Bush. [The New Yorker, 5/24/2004; Knight Ridder News, 5/10/2004] According to one former intelligence official, the Defense Secretary's attitude is: “We've got a glitch in the program. We'll prosecute it.” The former official explains to Seymour Hersh, “The cover story was that some kids got out of control.” The Taguba report creates a problem for “Copper Green,” (see (Late 2001)) as it could potentially blow the special-access program's cover. The former official observes: “You can't cover it up. You have to prosecute these guys for being off the reservation. But how do you prosecute them when they were covered by the special-access program? So you hope that maybe it'll go away.” [The New Yorker, 5/24/2004]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush

January 15, 2004

       Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meets with US 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. A 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. [Baltimore Sun, 5/12/2004]
People and organizations involved: Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Jakob Kellenberger, Sean McCormack, Colin Powell

February 10, 2004

       “Human Rights Watch writes to US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld expressing concern about the treatment of detainees in Iraq and urges the administration to publicly clarify the status of the detainees and to make public the numbers of detainees being held.” [Human Rights Watch, 5/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: Donald Rumsfeld

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

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