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II. A World of Abuse

As a consequence of these policies, which were approved at least by cabinet-level officials of the U.S. government, the United States has been implicated in crimes against detainees across the world — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in secret detention centers, as well as in countries to which suspects have been rendered. At least 26 prisoners are said to have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002 in what Army and Navy investigators have concluded or suspected were acts of criminal homicide.22 Overall, according to a compilation by the Associated Press, at least 108 people have died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq.23

What follows is a brief summary of what is now known:


Nine detainees are now known to have died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan — including four cases already determined by Army investigators to be murder or manslaughter. Former detainees have made scores of other claims of torture and other mistreatment.

In March 2004, prior to the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos, Human Rights Watch released an extensive report documenting cases of U.S. military personnel arbitrarily detaining Afghan civilians, using excessive force during arrests of non-combatants, and mistreating detainees. Detainees held at military bases in 2002 and 2003 described to Human Rights Watch being beaten severely by both guards and interrogators, deprived of sleep for extended periods, and intentionally exposed to extreme cold, as well as other inhumane and degrading treatment.24 In December 2004, Human Rights Watch raised additional concerns about detainee deaths, including one alleged to have occurred as late as September 2004.25 In March 2005, The Washington Post uncovered another death that occurred in CIA custody, noting that the case was under investigation but that the CIA officer implicated had been promoted.26

Guantánamo Bay, Cuba

There is growing evidence that detainees at Guantánamo have suffered torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Reports by FBI agents who witnessed detainee abuse — including the forcing of chained detainees to sit in their own excrement — have recently emerged, adding to the statements of former detainees describing the use of painful stress positions, extended solitary confinement, use of military dogs to threaten them, threats of torture and death, and prolonged exposure to extremes of heat, cold and noise.27 Videotapes of riot squads subduing suspects reportedly show the guards punching some detainees, tying one to a gurney for questioning and forcing a dozen to strip from the waist down.28 Ex-detainees said they had been subjected to weeks and even months in solitary confinement — which was at times either suffocatingly hot or cold from excessive air conditioning — as punishment for failure to cooperate during interrogations or for violations of prison rules.29

According to press reports in November 2004, the International Committee of the Red Cross told the U.S. government in confidential reports that its treatment of detainees has involved psychological and physical coercion that is “tantamount to torture.”30


Harsh and coercive interrogation techniques such as subjecting detainees to painful stress positions and extensive sleep deprivation have been routinely used in detention centers throughout Iraq. A panel appointed by the Secretary of Defense noted 55 substantiated cases of detainee abuse in Iraq, plus twenty instances of detainee deaths still under investigation.31 The earlier investigative report of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba found “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” constituting “systematic and illegal abuse of detainees” at Abu Ghraib.32 Another Pentagon report documented 44 allegations of such war crimes at Abu Ghraib.33 An ICRC report concluded that in military intelligence sections of Abu Ghraib, “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.”34

CIA “Disappearances” and Torture

At least eleven al-Qaeda suspects, and most likely many more, have “disappeared” in U.S. custody. The CIA is holding the detainees in undisclosed locations, with no notification to their families, no access to the International Committee of the Red Cross or oversight of any sort of their treatment, and in some cases, no acknowledgement that they are even being held, 35 effectively placing them beyond the protection of the law. One detainee, Khalid Shaikh Muhammed (a presumed architect of the 9/11 attacks), was reportedly subjected to waterboarding. It was also reported that U.S. officials initially withheld painkillers from detainee Abu Zubayda, who was shot during his capture, as an interrogation device.36

“Extraordinary Renditions”

The CIA has regularly transferred detainees to countries in the Middle East, including Egypt and Syria, known to practice torture routinely. There are reportedly 100 to 150 cases of such “extraordinary renditions.”37 In one case, Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian in transit in New York, was detained by U.S. authorities and sent to Syria. He was released without charge from Syrian custody ten months later and has described repeated torture, often with cables and electrical cords.In another case, a U.S. government-leased airplane transported two Egyptian suspects who were blindfolded, hooded, drugged, and diapered by hooded operatives, from Sweden to Egypt. There the two men were held incommunicado for five weeks and have given detailed accounts of the torture they suffered (e.g. electric shocks), including in Cairo’s notorious Tora prison.38 In a third case, Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian in American custody, was transported from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Egypt to Guantánamo Bay. Now back home in Australia, Habib alleges that he was tortured during his six months in Egypt with beatings and electric shocks, and hung from the walls by hooks.39

“Reverse Renditions”

Detainees arrested by foreign authorities in non-combat and non-battlefield situations have been transferred to the United States without basic protections afforded to criminal suspects. `Abd al-Salam `Ali al-Hila, a Yemeni businessman captured in Egypt, for instance, was handed over to U.S. authorities and “disappeared” for more than a year-and-a-half before being sent to Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.40 Six Algerians held in Bosnia were transferred to U.S. officials in January 2002 (despite a Bosnian high court order to release them) and were sent to Guantánamo.

[22] Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmitt, “The Conflict in Iraq: Detainees; U.S. Military Says 26 Inmate Deaths May Be Homicide,” The New York Times, March 16, 2005, p. A1.

[23] “US Detainee Death Toll ‘Hits 108’” BBC News World Edition, March 16, 2005 [online],

[24] See Human Rights Watch, “Enduring Freedom: Abuses by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan,” A Human Rights Watch Report, March 2004 [online],

[25] Human Rights Watch to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, open letter, December 13, 2004 [online],

[26] Dana Priest, “CIA Avoids Scrutiny of Detainee Treatment; Afghan’s Death Took Two Years to Come to Light,” The Washington Post, March 3, 2005.

[27]See Human Rights Watch, “Guantánamo: Detainee Accounts,” A Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, October 2004 [online],; Center for Constitutional Rights, “Composite Statement: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay; Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed,” August 4, 2004 [online],

[28] Paisley Dodds, “Guantánamo Tapes Show Teams Punching, Stripping Prisoners,” Associated Press, February 1, 2005.

[29]See Human Rights Watch, “Guantánamo: Detainee Accounts,” A Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, October 2004 [online],; Center for Constitutional Rights, “Composite Statement: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay; Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed,” August 4, 2004 [online],

[30] Neil A. Lewis, “Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo,” The New York Times, November 30, 2004, p. A1.

[31] Schlesinger report, pp. 12-13.

[32] Major General Antonio M. Taguba, Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade (“Taguba report”), p. 16.

[33] Major George R. Fay, Article 15-6 Investigation of the Abu Ghraib Detention Facility and 205th Military Intelligence Brigade (“Fay report”), p. 7.

[34] ICRC, Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the Treatment by the Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Protected Persons by the Geneva Conventions in Iraq during Arrest, Internment and Interrogation, February 2004, para. 24. A copy of the report, whose existence was first disclosed by The Wall Street Journal on May 7, 2004, can be found at

[35] See Human Rights Watch, “The United States’ ‘Disappeared’: The CIA’s Long-term ‘Ghost Detainees,’” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, October 2004 [online],; The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the detainees are being held in a top-secret interrogation facility in Jordan (Yossi Melman, “CIA Holding Al-Qaida Suspects in Secret Jordanian Lockup,” Haaretz, October 13, 2004).

[36] See Human Rights Watch, “The United States’ ‘Disappeared’: The CIA’s Long-term ‘Ghost Detainees,’” A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, October 2004 [online],

[37] Douglas Jehl and David Johnston, “Rule Change Lets C.I.A. Freely Send Suspects Abroad to Jails,” The New York Times, March 6, 2005 (late edition), Section 1, p. 1.

[38] “The Broken Promise,” Kalla Fakta Program, Swedish TV4, May 17, 2004 [English transcript online],; Craig Whitlock, “A Secret Deportation of Terror Suspects: 2 Men Reportedly Tortured in Egypt,” The Washington Post, July 25, 2004 (These cases and nine others are compiled from news reports in Association of the Bar of the City of New York and Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Torture by Proxy: International and Domestic Law Applicable to “Extraordinary Renditions” (New York: ABCNY & NYU School of Law, 2004)).

[39] Raymond Bonner, “Australian’s Long Path in the U.S Antiterrorism Maze,” The New York Times, January 29, 2005 (late edition), p. A4.

[40] Human Rights Watch, “Cairo to Kabul to Guantánamo,” A Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, March 2005 [online],

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