Human Rights News

Timeline of Detainee Abuse Allegations and Responses

Allegations of torture and mistreatment of detainees by U.S. forces in Iraq do not involve isolated cases, but are part of a broader pattern of what the Army’s own investigation into the matter called “systemic abuse.” Concerns about mistreatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in other undisclosed detention facilities set up after September 11, 2001, have been raised many times by the media, human rights organizations, and Congress. This is a partial listing of such reports.

December 25, 2002
The Washington Post reports:
  • 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, according to intelligence specialists familiar with CIA interrogation methods. At times they are 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….”
  • “ ‘If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job,’ said one official who has supervised the capture and transfer of accused terrorists. ‘I don’t think we want to be promoting a view of zero tolerance on this.’ ”
  • “According to one official who has been directly involved in rendering captives into foreign hands, the understanding is, ‘We don’t kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them.’”
  • “Bush administration officials said the CIA, in practice, is using a narrow definition of what counts as ‘knowing’ that a suspect has been tortured. ‘If we’re not there in the room, who is to say?’ said one official conversant with recent reports of renditions.” (The Washington Post, Dec. 25, 2002)
December 27, 2002
  • Human Rights Watch writes to President Bush about allegations of torture reported in The Washington Post, asking that the allegations be investigated immediately.
January 14, 2003
  • Executive directors of leading human rights groups write to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz urging that the administration publicly state that torture in any form or matter will not be tolerated, that the U.S. will not seek intelligence obtained through torture in a third country, to be accompanied by clear guidelines to U.S. forces.
January 31, 2003
  • Executive directors of human rights groups write to President George Bush demanding “unequivocal statements by [Bush] and [his] Cabinet officers that torture in any form or matter will not be tolerated…[and] that any U.S. official found to have used or condoned torture will be held accountable....These statements need to be accompanied by clear written guidance applicable to everyone engaged in the interrogation and rendition of prisoners,” they conclude.
February 5, 2003
  • Representatives of major human rights groups meet with DoD General Counsel Haynes to urge the administration to develop clear standards to prevent the mistreatment of detainees.
February 6, 2003
  • Newsday reports that Vincent Cannistraro, a former intelligence official, told reporters that, “Better intelligence…has come from a senior Al-Qaeda detainee who had been held in the U.S. base at Guantanamo, Cuba, and was ‘rendered to Egypt after refusing to cooperate. ‘They promptly tore his fingernails out and he started to tell things.’ ” (Newsday, February 6, 2003)
March 4, 2003
  • The New York Times reports, "The United States military has begun a criminal investigation into the death of an Afghan man in American custody in December, a death described as a "homicide" by an American pathologist....Two former prisoners, Abdul Jabar and Hakkim Shah, who recalled seeing Mr. Dilawar at Bagram, said the conditions to which they themselves were subjected at the time included standing naked, hooded and shackled, being kept immobile for long periods and being deprived of sleep for days on end."(The New York Times, March 4, 2003)
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that an unnamed U.S. law enforcement official said, “because the [Convention Against Torture] has no enforcement mechanism, as a practical matter, ‘you’re only limited by your imagination’ ” A detainee “isn’t going to be near a place where he has Miranda rights or the equivalent of them,” the official said. “God only knows what they’re going to do to him. You go to some other country that’ll let us pistol whip this guy.’ ” (The Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2003)
March 9, 2003
  • The New York Times reports that “Intelligence officials also 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,” and that in the case of Omar Al-Faruq’s interrogation, “[t]he Western intelligence official described Mr. Faruq’s interrogation as ‘not quite torture, but about as close as you can get’…over a three-month period, the suspect was fed very little, while being subjected to sleep and light deprivation, prolonged isolation and room temperatures that varied from 100 degrees to 10 degrees.” (The New York Times, March 9, 2003)
June 2, 2003
  • “Unnamed administration officials have suggested in several press accounts that detainees held by the United States have been subjected to ‘stress and duress’ interrogation techniques, including beating, lengthy sleep, and food deprivation,” Leahy writes to Rice. He asks the administration if such techniques are being employed and urges the administration to issue a clear statement that cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees will not be tolerated.
June 24, 2003
  • Executive directors of human rights groups write to Rice asking that human rights monitors have access to prisoners and detention facilities under operation by U.S. forces to verify conditions of detention.
June 25, 2003
  • Haynes responds to Leahy’s inquiry. “It is the policy of the United States to comply with all its legal obligations in its treatment of detainees,” he writes. Haynes states that it is U.S. policy “to treat all detainees and conduct all interrogations, wherever they may occur” in a manner consistent with U.S. obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment. He adds that the term “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” means any treatment that would be prohibited in the U.S. by the Fifth, Eighth, and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution—a standard that would clearly forbid most of the “stress and duress” techniques reported in the media, as well as degrading treatment later revealed in Iraq. “It would not be appropriate to catalogue the interrogation techniques used by U.S. personnel…thus we cannot comment on specific cases or practices,” Haynes writes.
  • U.S. Senator Arlen Specter writes to Condoleeza Rice asking for “clarification about numerous stories concerning alleged mistreatment of enemy combatants in U.S. custody ” and to explain how the administration ensures that torture does not occur when it sends detainees to countries that are known to practice torture.
June 26, 2003
  • In honor of United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, President Bush releases a statement saying that the U.S. is “committed to the world-wide elimination of torture and [is] leading this fight by example.” Bush called on all nations to join the U.S. in “prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent cruel and unusual punishment.”
August 28, 2003
  • The Associated Press reports, “The U.S. military opened a hearing Wednesday into allegations that four U.S. Army reservists abused Iraqi prisoners of war at a camp in [Umm Qasr]...They are alleged to have punched and kicked several Iraqis, breaking one man’s nose, while escorting a busload of prisoners to a POW processing center…The soldiers say they acted in self-defense” (Associated Press, August 28, 2003)
September 9, 2003
  • Leahy responds to Haynes’ letter of June 26, 2003, urging greater clarity in how the standards he outlined are implemented and communicated to U.S. personnel in the field and asking for assurances that other agencies, including the CIA, respect the same standards as the U.S. military.
October 6, 2003
  • The Associated Press reports, “The U.S. military has shut down Camp Cropper, an increasingly notorious makeshift prison where hundreds of Iraqi detainees were crowded into tents through Baghdad’s scorching summer.” (Associated Press, October 6, 2003)
October 10, 2003
  • The New York Times reports that the senior Red Cross official in Washington said it was unacceptable that the 600 detainees should be held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay without legal safeguards and "its impact on the mental health of the population has become a major problem...In the past 18 months, 21 detainees have made 32 suicide attempts, and many more are being treated for depression." (The New York Times, October 10, 2003)
October 19, 2003
  • The Associated Press reports, “Eight marine reservists face charges ranging from negligent homicide to making false statements in connection with the mistreatment of prisoners of war in Iraq.” (Associated Press, October 19, 2003)
November 18, 2003
  • Department of Defense (DoD) Principal Deputy General Counsel Daniel Dell’Orto writes to Senator Patrick Leahy to confirm that earlier DoD statements about the treatment of detainees bind the entire executive branch, but sidesteps specific questions about interrogation guidelines, and adds that articles alleging improper treatment of detainees “often contain allegations that are untrue.”
December 13, 2003
  • The Washington Post reports, “A battalion commander in Iraq who fired his pistol near the head of an Iraqi detainee after his soldiers had punched the prisoner was fined $5,000 yesterday as part of a nonjudicial disciplinary proceeding that effectively ends his Army career.” (The Washington Post, December 13, 2003)
December 17, 2003
  • The Associated Press reports, “Marine reservists running a detention facility in Iraq ordered prisoners of war to remain standing for hours until interrogators could question them, according to testimony at a military court hearing…” (Associated Press, December 17, 2003)
January 12, 2004
  • Human Rights Watch writes to Rumsfeld to express concern about incidents in which U.S. 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.
January 6, 2004
  • The Associated Press reports, “The U.S. Army discharged three reservists and ordered them to forfeit two months’ salary for abusing prisoners at a detention center in Iraq.” (Associated Press, January 6, 2004)
January 13, 2004
  • The Asian Wall Street Journal reports that a suspect detained by U.S. 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.” (The Asian Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2004)
January 17, 2004
  • The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that “the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq has ordered a criminal investigation into reports of abuse of prisoners at an unspecified coalition detention center.” (The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 17, 2004)
January 18, 2004
  • London’s Sunday Times reports claims by a detainee held by coalition forces in Iraq that during his three months in detention he was, “beaten frequently, given shocks with an electric cattle prod, and had one of his toenails prised off.” (The Sunday Times, January 18, 2004)
February 10, 2004
  • Human Rights Watch writes to U.S. 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.
February 23, 2004
  • Reuters reports that, “U.S. forces investigation allegations of mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at a prison west of Baghdad have suspended 17 soldiers including a battalion commander and a company commander,” pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations of abuse of detainees. (Reuters, February 23, 2004)
March 8, 2004
  • Human Rights Watch releases a report revealing how U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan have arbitrarily detained civilians, used excessive force during arrests of non-combatants, and mistreated detainees. Released detainees testified that U.S. forces severely beat them, doused them with cold water and subjected them to freezing temperatures. Many said they were forced to stay awake, or to stand or kneel in painful positions for extended periods of time.
May 1, 2004
  • The Washington Post reports, “Arab countries reacted with rage and revulsion yesterday after images of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners were broadcast around the world. Bush administration and U.S. military officials scrambled to contain the furor and to assuage concerns among allies. The photos showed U.S. troops celebrating as prisoners were sexually humiliated and otherwise abused.” (The Washington Post, May 1, 2004)
May 3, 2004
  • Human Rights Watch writes to U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that the ill treatment and torture of prisoners by the U.S. military in Iraq were not limited to isolated incidents, but reflected, in the words of the U.S. army’s own inquiry, “systemic and illegal abuse of detainees.” Human Rights Watch urges immediate action to reverse the harm these actions have caused in U.S. detention centers around the world.