ACLU Announces Publication of Administration of Torture, a Groundbreaking Account of Prisoner Abuse in U.S. Custody Abroad

October 22, 2007 12:00 am

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Book Contends that Senior Government Officials Should be Held Accountable for Systemic Abuse

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union and Columbia University Press today announce the publication of Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. Written by ACLU attorneys Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh, the book presents a detailed account of the treatment of prisoners held in U.S. detention centers in Afghanistan , Iraq , and Guantánamo Bay. Based on thousands of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the book supplies substantial evidence that the torture and abuse of prisoners was systemic and resulted from decisions made by senior U.S. officials, both military and civilian.

The book builds on work that the ACLU and its partners have been doing in recent years. In October 2003, the ACLU — along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace—filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for records concerning the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody abroad. While the government continues to withhold key records, litigation (which is ongoing) has resulted in the release of thousands of government documents totaling more than 100,000 pages. Administration of Torture collects and presents some of the most significant of these documents. In an extended essay that relies almost entirely on the documents, Jaffer and Singh draw the connection between the policies adopted by senior officials and the abuse that took place on the ground.

Administration of Torture exposes the stark contradictions between the Bush administration’s public disavowals of torture and the facts established by the administration’s own documents. Jaffer and Singh write, “The fact that the Abu Ghraib photographs depicted abuse at a single prison allowed senior administration officials to claim, as they did repeatedly, that the abuse was confined to that facility. This claim was completely false, and senior officials almost certainly knew it to be so.” They note that government documents show that prisoners were beaten, kicked, and abused at other detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq; that autopsy reports record numerous deaths in U.S. custody as homicides caused by strangulation, suffocation, or blunt-force injuries; and that documents from Guantánamo describe prisoners shackled in excruciating “stress positions,” held in freezing-cold cells, forcibly stripped, hooded, terrorized with military dogs, and deprived of human contact for months. The authors also show – using the government’s own documents – that officials were aware of the scope of the abuse problem well before the Abu Ghraib photographs were broadcast to the public.

Administration of Torture also contends that the abuse of prisoners took place because of policy, not in spite of it. Jaffer and Singh write, “the maltreatment of prisoners resulted in large part from decisions made by senior officials, both military and civilian. These decisions …were reaffirmed repeatedly, even in the fact of complaints from law enforcement and military personnel that the policies were illegal and ineffective, and even after countless prisoners …were abused, tortured, or killed in custody.” They continue, “The documents show that senior officials endorsed the abuse of prisoners as a matter of policy – sometimes by tolerating it, sometimes by encouraging it, and sometimes by expressly authorizing it.”

The documents presented in Administration of Torture include many details that warrant public attention and further inquiry. Documents presented in the book show, for example,

  • that Gen. Michael Dunlavey, who asked the Pentagon to approve more aggressive interrogation methods for use at Guantánamo, claims to have received “marching orders” from President Bush;

  • that according to an Army investigator, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in overseeing the interrogation of Mohammed al Qahtani, a Guantánamo prisoner who was stripped naked, paraded in front of female interrogators, made to wear women’s underwear on his head, led around on a leash, and forced to perform dog tricks. According to the investigator, while Rumsfeld did not himself authorize those specific methods, he failed to place a “throttle” over abusive “applications” of the “broad techniques” that he did authorize;

  • that interrogators who used abusive “SERE” (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) methods at Guantánamo did so because the Pentagon had endorsed those methods and required interrogators to be trained in the use of those methods;

  • that FBI personnel who complained of abuse at Guantánamo were complaining of abuse that had been authorized by the Defense Department chain of command;

  • that some of the Abu Ghraib photos showed prisoners being subjected to the very same interrogation methods that Rumsfeld had endorsed for use at Guantánamo;

  • that the plan of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller to “Gitmoize” Abu Ghraib was endorsed by senior Defense Department officials;

  • that though the President and other senior officials insisted that abuse was limited to Abu Ghraib, a Defense Department “Information Paper” shows that, three weeks before the Abu Ghraib photos were leaked to the press, the Army was aware of at least 62 allegations of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of which did not relate to Abu Ghraib;

  • that the Defense Department held prisoners as young as 12 years old;

  • that the Defense Department approved holding prisoners in cells as small as 3.1 x 4.0 x 1.5 feet, and that special forces held prisoners in cells only slightly larger than that.

Jaffer and Singh write, “It is imperative that senior officials who authorized, endorsed, or tolerated the abuse and torture of prisoners be held accountable, not only as a matter of elemental justice, but to ensure that the same crimes are not perpetrated again.”

Administration of Torture includes more than 350 pages from government documents concerning the abuse and torture of prisoners. The book also includes a foreword by ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero and ACLU Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro. Published by Columbia University Press, the book is available in many bookstores and from,, and

More information about Administration of Torture is available at:

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