Accountability for Torture

U.S. Torture: Complicity and Accountability

 

U.S. government documents released through years of litigation and advocacy by the ACLU show that after 9/11, many hundreds of people were abused or tortured by the CIA and Department of Defense, primarily in Afghanistan, Guantánamo, and Iraq, but also in other countries after unlawful rendition. Approximately 200 people died in U.S. custody, including at least a dozen during or shortly after interrogations. The records show that these illegal policies and actions were devised and approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration – but our nation has done little to make amends for the crimes committed, or to hold to account those who orchestrated the torture program.

The Obama administration must take steps in four key areas to begin to redress the abuses perpetrated in our nation’s name, restore the rule of law, fully comply with U.S. obligations under the Convention Against Torture, and rebuild American credibility and standing in the world. These actions are legal, political, and moral imperatives.

Investigation & Prosecution

Fully investigate the torture, kidnapping, and inhuman treatment inflicted by U.S. officials, prosecute wrong-doers when there is sufficient evidence, and cooperate with domestic and foreign investigations and legal proceedings.
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Investigation & Prosecution


The United States has undertaken only limited investigations into post-9/11 torture inflicted by the CIA and Defense Department. It has failed to hold accountable any of the officials who authorized the use of torture, or designed or oversaw its implementation. Only a handful of low-level soldiers have been prosecuted for prisoner abuse. This is nothing short of a scandal, and violates the United States’ obligation under international law to investigate torture. The United States must open a full investigation, including, at minimum, examination of the role played by the senior officials most responsible for the torture program. Where there is sufficient evidence of criminal activity, the offenders should be prosecuted. The U.S. government must also cooperate with pending investigations and legal actions domestically and abroad.

Continuing impunity undermines the universally recognized prohibition on torture and sends the dangerous signal to government officials at home and abroad that there will be few consequences for torture and other brutality. Accountability today is critical to stopping torture tomorrow.

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Honor Courage

Honor those U.S. servicemembers and civilian officials who had the courage to object to the torture program, even at significant risk to their careers.

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Honor Courage


An untold number of U.S. servicemembers and civilian officials risked their careers by objecting to official torture and other cruelty, even though the policy was authorized at the very highest levels of our government. However, the stories of these American heroes are largely unknown.

President Obama should formally honor the members of the military, the CIA, and other public servants who, when our nation went off course, stayed true to our most fundamental ideals and international commitments. Such public acknowledgments would send a clear message to other government officials that standing against injustice is honorable, and demonstrate to the world what we stand for as a nation.

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Transparency

Release the thousands of still-secret records documenting the torture program and the role senior officials played in devising, approving, and implementing it.

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Transparency


Too much still remains secret about U.S. torture and inhuman treatment of terrorism suspects. The Obama administration has refused to release a large number of documents that would shed further light on the extent of the abuse, and on the responsibility of senior officials in ordering it. An extensive report by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) into the use of torture and abuse by the CIA also remains classified. The administration should enable the public release of the SSCI report, and release the following records (redacting only legitimately classified information):

  1. President Bush’s September 17, 2001 memo authorizing the CIA to establish secret overseas prisons, known as “black sites.”
  2. Hundreds of CIA cables describing the use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation techniques.
  3. Over 2,000 photographs of abuse at detention facilities throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Apology & Compensation

Publicly admit the wrongs committed, acknowledge and apologize to the victims, compensate them for their torture and cruel treatment, and provide them with rehabilitation.

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Apology & Compensation


In the name of national security, the United States has cruelly victimized many hundreds. With a handful of exceptions, these men, women, and children have received no official acknowledgment of their suffering, apology for the wrongs inflicted upon them, compensation for their mistreatment, or assistance in recovering from their physical and psychological injuries. This tragedy must be corrected.

President Obama should publicly acknowledge the victims of the misguided torture policies of the years following 9/11, admit our grave misdeeds, and apologize. The United States government should appoint an independent body to provide compensation to those who suffered torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and rehabilitation to help them recover, as required under international law. Recognizing, apologizing to, and compensating victims will begin to heal the wounds our government has inflicted and help rebuild American credibility as a defender of human rights.
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The Torture Database

The Torture Database

The Torture Database documents the U.S. government's official experiment torture. At present, the database contains well over 100,000 pages of government documents obtained primarily through Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the ACLU.


The Torture Program

The Torture Program

Although much has been revealed about the Bush administration's torture program, those in the upper echelons of the administration who conceived of, crafted, and approved the program have almost entirely escaped accountability. This graphic diagrams the participation of these high-level officials in the torture program, based upon publicly available documents.


The Torture Report

The Torture Report

The Torture Report aims to give the full account of the Bush administration’s torture program. It brings together everything we know from government documents, investigations, press reports, witness statements, and other publications, into a single narrative.

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