The Background: U.S. Policy Shifts Ushered in Abuse
In the wake of 9/11, leaders of the U.S. government at the highest levels created a series of directives – including internal memos urging soldiers to "take the gloves off" – that created a situation in which the torture and abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody became widespread. See facts and figures outlining the scope of abuse.
Timeline of U.S. Policy Encouraging Abuse
October 11, 2002
Guantánamo officials request that additional techniques beyond those in the U.S. Army Field Manual be approved for use.
December 2, 2002
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld prescribes new interrogation policy for Guantánamo, authorizing: stress positions, hooding, 20-hour interrogations, removal of clothing, exploiting phobias to induce stress (e.g., fear of dogs), prolonged isolation, sensory deprivation, and forced grooming (e.g forcing Muslim men to shave their beards against religious edicts). These techniques soon spread to Afghanistan and later to Iraq.
FBI officials complain to Defense Department of abuses at Guantánamo.
December 26, 2002
Washington Post reports regular, systemic abuses at Bagram detention facility, including stress and duress techniques during interrogation.
Judge Advocates repeatedly object to aggressive interrogation techniques at Guantánamo but Pentagon officials "didn't think this was a big deal," so they ignored the JAGs' objections.
January 15, 2003
Secretary Rumsfeld rescinds blanket approval of some techniques but indicates techniques may continue based on his individual case approval. Secretary Rumsfeld designates "Working Group" to assess legal, policy and operational issues for detainee interrogation in the war on terrorism.
January 24, 2003
Afghanistan Commander forwards list of techniques being used in Afghanistan, including some inconsistent with Army Field Manual, to inform Secretary Rumsfeld's Working Group, including the use of dogs to induce fear, the use of stress positions, and sensory deprivation.
April 4, 2003
Working Group issues final report; recommends 35 interrogation techniques to Secretary Rumsfeld, including techniques from Afghanistan inconsistent with Army Field Manual.
April 16, 2003
Secretary Rumsfeld approves 24 of the recommended techniques for use at Guantánamo, including dietary and environmental manipulation, sleep adjustment, false flag (e.g. making detainees believe they are in the custody of a nation that is known to torture) and isolation.
Red Cross reports 200 cases of alleged detainee abuse in U.S. custody in Iraq to U.S. Central Command.
May 30, 2003
FBI reasserts its objections to Guantánamo interrogation techniques to Guantánamo commander.
Captain of unit responsible for killing two detainees in Afghanistan proposes interrogation techniques for Abu Ghraib, including stress positions, removal of clothing, lengthy isolation, sensory and sleep deprivation and use of dogs. Lt. Gen. Sanchez approves techniques.
Secretary Rumsfeld sends Guantánamo commander, General Geoffrey Miller, to Iraq to "Gitmo-ize" Iraqi detention facilities, promoting widescale deployment of more aggressive interrogation methods in Iraq.
August 31 – September 9, 2003
Guantánamo commander brings policies to Abu Ghraib; uses techniques as baseline for recommending new, harsher interrogation techniques at Abu Ghraib.
Lt. Gen. Sanchez authorizes 29 interrogation techniques for use in Iraq, including the use of dogs, stress positions, sensory deprivation, loud music and light control, based on Secretary Rumsfeld's April 16 techniques and suggestions from captain of military unit formerly in Afghanistan.
October 12, 2003
Iraqi interrogation techniques modified but still authorize officers to control the lighting, heat, food, shelter, and clothing given to detainees and permit the use of dogs in interrogations with prior authorization.
October – December 2003
Torture and serious abuses of detainees take place at Abu Ghraib.
U.S. Army report details abuses committed against detainees in Iraq by task force of military Special Operations and CIA officers, known as Task Force 121.
January 13, 2004
Joseph Darby gives Army criminal investigators CD containing the Abu Ghraib photographs depicting detainee torture and abuses.
February 24, 2004
Red Cross issues confidential report to Coalition Provisional Authority documenting widespread abuse and command failures to take corrective action.
February 26, 2004
Maj. Gen. Taguba completes investigation; reports of "systematic" and "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses" at Abu Ghraib. Read the Taguba Report
Abuse of detainees continues in Iraq.
April 28, 2004
60 Minutes II airs segment showing Abu Ghraib photos.
Abuse of detainees continues in Iraq.
August 24, 2004
Secretary Rumsfeld-appointed panel reports the Secretary's interrogation policy led to confusion in the field as to what techniques were authorized; also reports that civilian Defense Department leaders failed in their interrogation and detention duties.
Senator John McCain introduces legislation to reinforce the United States' obligation under the U.N. Convention on Torture not to engage in "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;" to restrict interrogation methods used by U.S. personnel to those listed in the Army Field Manual; to require the registration of all U.S. military prisoners with the Red Cross, and to end the practice of sending detainees abroad for interrogation by foreign governments. But Bush Administration officials and congressional allies prevents vote on legislation, saying the provisions would restrict the President's ability to fight terrorism.
Army Captain Ian Fishback provides firsthand account of widespread prisoner abuse in Iraq, describing prisoners in captivity having bones broken, being forced to form human pyramids, and having their eyes doused with chemical irritants.
October 3, 2005
Almost 30 retired military officers, including General John Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff advocate in a letter to ban all cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell adds his support to the ban.
October 5, 2005 Senate votes 90 to 9 to ban all cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and requires that all interrogations in military facility comply with the army field manual.
December 15, 2005
House of Representatives votes 308 to 122 in support of the ban and President Bush agrees to the ban, losing his fight to get CIA immunity for its acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Congress also passes Graham-Levin Amendment, which would permit evidence gained by coercion to be used in detention proceedings
December 31, 2005
President Bush signs Detainee Treatment Act into law, but adds a signing statement, writing that he would construe the law in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and Commander in Chief . . . [which] . . . will assist in . . . protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks." This is in effect a statement saying he will adhere to the law so long as he does not view it as interfering with his power as commander-in-chief, and if and when he views it as an intrusion, he will ignore it.
Human Rights First releases Command's Responsibility, documenting nearly one hundred deaths in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan and inadequate actions taken by investigators and command to address the abuses and deaths.
Department of Defense prohibits admission of evidence obtained by torture in military commission proceedings
June 29, 2006
U.S. Supreme Court rules that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to the U.S. conflict with al Qaeda, thereby prohibiting cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment.
July 7, 2006
Department of Defense orders compliance with Common Article 3.
September 6, 2006
President Bush acknowledges for the first time the CIA's secret detention program and use of "alternative interrogation procedures" on so-called "high value detainees," saying that any legislation passed by Congress must allow the program to go forward.
October 17, 2006
President Bush signs into law the Military Commissions Act, which, among other things, supporters claim eliminates habeas corpus for detainees categorized as "enemy combatant," narrows the scope of laws criminalizing humiliating and degrading treatment, and permits coerced evidence into military commission trials. The President asserts that on the basis of the new law the secret detention and interrogation program operated by the CIA could continue if need arises.