How America Came To Torture Its Prisoners
I read nearly 140,000 formerly classified documents about America’s abuse of prisoners since 2001. Here is what I learned.
By Larry Siems|Posted Friday, April 20, 2012, at 1:37 PM ET
A Guantanamo detainee’s feet shackled to the floor. “Gitmo” has been a source of controversy regarding the torture of prisoners.
Michelle Shepard/AFP/Getty Images.
It began with one document.
On Sept. 17, 2001, six days after the terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush sent a 12-page Memorandum of Notification to his National Security Council. That memorandum, we know now, authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to set up and run secret prisons. We still don’t know exactly what it says: CIA attorneys have told a judge the document is so off-limits to the courts and the American people that even the font is classified. But we do know what it did: It literally opened a space for torture.
Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuita lawsuit the New York Times has called “among the most successful in the history of public disclosure”we now know much of what happened in those secret spaces the Bush administration created. Under that litigation, the American Civil Liberties Uniongathered nearly 140,000 formerly classified documents from the Department of Defense, the Justice Department, and the CIA that detail the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody in the “War on Terror.” My job, as the author of the website www.thetorturereport.org and then of the book The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program, was to dig through that incredible trove of documents and figure out for myself what, exactly, my country had done.