Torture and Lack of Accountability

SWEDHR Research & Report. Vol 2., N° 18, 21 May 2015

By Dr Leif Elinder & Dr Martin Gelin,

 Swedish Doctors for Human Rights


Authors’ Introduction.

The American people is not responsible for the torture or for the drone missile assassinations. Responsible for these misdeeds is the executive branch of the US government, which by violating the American constitution, makes the American population itself and thousands of innocent people around the world the target. If state-sponsored torture can go unpunished, we are losing all moral standing to condemn other governments’ human rights violations. By ‘looking forwards, not backwards’ we have taken a giant leap back into the past. The message to everyone involved in committing the horrors of post-9/11 America; be it – kidnap, murders, imprisonments, torture, we will protect you from punishment. By you destroying evidence, we’ll reward you.  But, if you dare to speak out publicly, expect to be punished in harshest terms!  

Instead by openly and frankly talking about Torture, at home and abroad, we can hope to make an impact as to the degree of general awareness and hence in the long run be able to achieve an improvement in our behaviour towards our fellow human beings.

Let’s join hands and work harder to hopefully, in the foreseeable future be able to say – “We are well on our way to decrease the numbers of tortured men, women and children in our world.”

Note: This article aims to summarize important issues put forward by two US Professors of law: Jonathan Turley, Professor at the George Washington University School of Law, [1], and Marjorie Cohn, Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. [2] Other contributors to this subject in Appendix 1 Related links, down-below.


The occurrence of Torture, as described below, at times in more detail, is an attempt to give the reader an overall picture of what really goes on in this world, beyond our gaze. It is no secret that we – the general citizens – have no or limited knowledge of the widespread abuse which now and again targets fellow humans, unnervingly close to our own neighborhood. From a very large number of writers’ fine work, parts of reports have been extracted, pondered upon and reassembled in such a way, as to give a far reaching feel for this agonizingly difficult subject. Due to it’s multifaceted character it has been possible to name only the most influencial sources. 

“We tortured some folks” – This was an important statement from president Obama in late 2014. However his disregard of accountability, assures that the misdeeds will continue. ( ”If they can get away with it – why can`t we”?).

Obama has chosen to play down recent war crimes committed in America’s name. – He paints those who authorized torture as “patriots” – i.e. people who were making difficult decisions under enormous pressure.
Obama also said that torture “is contrary to who we are.” (Why then does he not demand accountability?)
By ordering and condoning torture, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are now directly and personally responsible for their actions. Under the well-established doctrine of responsibility, commanders are liable for war crimes if they knew, or should have known that their subordinates would commit them and if they did nothing to stop or prevent them from committing crimes of war.


waterboartdEditor’s update, 26 July 2015: According to the Report on Torture by the U.S. Senate (9 December 2014), at least 26 out of 119 prisoners subjected to torture were completely innocent. The image above depicts waterboarding-torture technique. Original source: “How stuff works”, Richard Johnson / National Post. See also SWEDHR Research & Reports issue on the U.S. Senate Torture Report.

There are several reasons for focussing on the US – according to Noam Chomsky and others –
The US is the most important country in the world in terms of its power and influence. The US claims that it is a democracy and that it’s goal is to promote, encourage, export or implement democracy around the globe. Therefore we must demand – .”Minimal Moral Requirement” – ”If it is wrong when they (Russia, China etc) do it – then it is also wrong when we (NATO/EU) do it” (Noam Chomsky).

The primary concern with the Senate report is that the terror the US is now carrying out in the name of democracy happens to be the larger component of the international violence.

An other reason to focus on the US is that we (in Europe) may have some impact on the US, as the US has a comparatively free press (depite the fact that 90 percent of the press is controlled by wealty/influential cooperations).
Even if the US and Western so called democracies were responsible for just a minor part of the current violence in the world, it forms a part of the brutality that we in the West may be able to gain an influence on and thus be responsible for.
The ethical value of our (the Wests) actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. “It is very easy to denounce the atrocities in some remote dictatorships around the world, on which we have little or no leverage. This has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century” (Noam Chomsky).


Despite the absolute prohibition of torture, as defined in international law, it continues to be practiced in more than 100 countries – from totalitarian regimes to democracies.
The US has killed many millions of people in wars over the past half-century – from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to torturing prisoners, it has sub-contracted out the violations to dozens of murderous regimes – from Pinochet in Chile to the Shah of Iran to the Saudi monarchs and Egyptian generals of today.

Alfred McCoy – US history professor – has showed that torture has been a systematic tool, used by US and British intelligence agencies, over “the past half century.” CIA agency has trained over a million police officers across 47 countries in the technics of torture (See CIA:s Human Resources Training Exploitation Manual).

The Phoenix programme was implemented by the US and South Vietnamese militaries in Vietnam between 1965 and 1972 to “neutralise” the Vietcong. The result was more than 60,000 people were tortured and killed. No senior politicians, generals or decision-makers were prosecuted for these crimes.

 The Operation Condor involved in co-ordinating the disappearance, torture and execution of dissidents in the 1970s in countries like Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. This was established at a military intelligence meeting in Chile on 25th of nov. 1975 (General Pinochet’s 60th birthday). A joint information centre was established at the headquarters of the Chilean secret police, the Dina, in Santiago.

This transnational pact apparently went far beyond Latin America, with agents of Operation Condor accused of murder plots in various other countries, including Italy and the United States. This system operated with the support of the US government through the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency and the Defence Department. These six South American regimes took part in the joint campaign to hunt down and kill their left-wing opponents. The military governments of those nations also agreed to co-operate in sending teams into other countries to track, monitor and kill their political opponents. As a result, many left-wing opponents of military regimes in the region who had fled to neighbouring countries found themselves hunted down in exile.

During the 1980s wars in Central America, the U.S. government provided manuals and training on interrogation that extended to the use of torture (According to U.S. Army and CIA interrogation manuals). These torture manuals were also distributed to military personnel and intelligence schools in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru.

Craig Murray (Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan), blew the whistle on how the CIA would render “terror suspects” to the country to be tortured by Uzbek secret police, including being boiled alive.


The Convention Against Torture (signed by President Ronald Reagan) expressly states that “just following orders” is no defense and “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever” will be considered. 

Torture is prohibited under both domestic and international law. Article 3 of the Geneva Convention prohibits torture.
The Convention Against Torture provides for states to either prosecute those responsible for torture or to extradite those individuals.
The United States has a mandatory obligation to investigate and prosecute such crimes. Nuremberg Principle IV stated ” that a person acted pursuant to orders, does not relieve him from responsibility under international law. The defendants after the World War 2 tried to argue that they were only following orders and were therefore not responsible for war crimes.

The US and its allies not only rejected that defense, but executed many of those who used it. Thus the US has prosecuted people as war criminals for doing things the US recently has been doing- such as prosecuting Japanese officers for waterboarding Americans and allied soldiers.

Magna Carta – The foundations of modern law – will soon be commemorating its 800th anniversary. However we have little resason to celebrate it. The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report in dec 2014 about tortute reinforces that view. The public has only been allowed to see 600 pages of a 6 000-page gruesome report. The Senate intelligence committee concluded –

that the agency’s use of torture was brutal and ineffective,
that the form of torture was extreme,
that the CIA repeatedly lied about the effectiveness of the torture.
that torture often resulted in fabricated information,
that the CIA interrogators told detainees they would hurt or sexually assault detainees’ children and relatives,
that prisoner died as a result of the torture,
that detainees were tortured even without the approval from CIA headquarters,
that hundreds of detainees were “wrongfully held.”
that many other countries (54) cooperated with the US programme by assisting the rendition of suspects (See ”Globalizing torture” below).

The full Senate report is 10 times longer than the 600-page declassified version. The declassified version states that 119 detainees in the “war on terror” were held at ”black (torture) sites” around the world. The names of the countries were redacted but they are thought to include Asian and African countries as well as Poland, Romania and Lithuania.

The Senate report concluded that the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective way of obtaining accurate information. Yet the CIA continually lied to the Senate telling that its torture practises “saved lives.” This excuse shielded CIA officers involved from being disciplined.

The US Senate report makes it obvious that cruel and inhumane treatment of CIA captives have been carried out on a continuous basis. Torture victims were detained outside due process, enduring extreme abuses, 180-hour sleep deprivation, “excessive force” standing for dozens of hours on broken limbs, being submerged in iced baths. Detainees were made helpless by brutilising them and removing their human dignity to the point of being more dead than alive.

This abuse has nothing to do with interrogation; it was about exploitation and control. It was about the assertion of power. 

One of the most hideous techniques the CIA applied on detainees was called “rectal rehydration” or “rectal feeding” without medical necessity – a sanitized description of rape by a foreign object. A concoction of pureed “hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins” was forced into the rectum of one detainee.

Other “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT) included being slammed into walls, hung from the ceiling, kept in total darkness, deprived of sleep – sometimes with forced standing – for up to seven and one-half days, forced to stand on broken limbs for hours on end, threatened with mock execution, confined in a coffin-like box for 11 days, bathed in ice water, dressed in diapers. Several detainees were waterboarded, a technique whereby water is poured into the nose and mouth to cause the victim to belive that he going to drown. One detainee in CIA custody was tortured with waterboarding 183 times; another was waterboarded 83 times. Waterboarding has long been considered torture, which is a war crime. Indeed, the United States hung Japanese military leaders for the these kinds of war crimes after World War II.

Sol Rahman froze to death in 2002, after being stripped and shackled to a cold cement floor There was a detailed account of what took place at the ”Salt Pit” – prison in Afghanistan.
Al-Jamadi died after he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists, which were bound behind his back. A military police officer, Tony Diaz, who was present during al-Jamadi’s torture, said that blood gushed from his mouth like “a faucet had been turned on” when he was lowered to the ground.

Ultimately, the Obama administration chose to give a free pass to those responsible for those two deaths.
The American Psychological Association – the largest association of psychologists in the world – secretly colluded with CIA abuses. The Senate report says that two senior psychologists were paid $81 million to help design the CIA’s torture methods, including some of the most abusive tactics.
The APA’s probe was prompted by revelations by Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times investigative reporter James Risen. In his new book, “Pay Any Price”, Risen reveals how after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, the APA formed a task force that enabled the continued role of psychologists in the torture program. “Health professionals who participated in these crimes betrayed the most fundamental duty of the healing professions – to do no harm. They must be held accountable in order to restore trust in our professions and ensure this never happens again.” (New York, NY – 12/16/2014).

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is conducting an ongoing investigation into some of the crucial unanswered questions raised as a result of US Senate’s shocking report on CIA torture. Many details have been withheld, including the locations of the CIA’s secret prisons, the involvement of foreign governments in key information regarding the rendition, detention and torture of individual prisoners.
The Bureau for Investigative Journalism is a determined to uncover the fate and whereabouts of 119 prisoners and publish more information about the CIA’s torture programme.

The secret prisons in which individuals were tortured by the CIA did not exist in isolation. They formed part of a global network of detention facilities, connected to one another through hundreds of ‘rendition flights’ operated by the CIA. These aircraft were used to transfer prisoners and other US officials between prisons, in flights undertaken entailing multiple violations of international law. The Rendition Flights Database contains over 11,000 individual flights.

“More than 9,000 people are held by U.S. authorities overseas, according to Pentagon figures The detainees have no conventional legal rights: no access to a lawyer; no apparent guarantee of humane treatment accorded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions”.

Torture by proxy – In total 54 countries were involved in the CIA’s “programme” of rendition. In the “war on terror” this has evolved into extraordinary rendition, the delivery of prisoners or others recently captured, including terrorism suspects, to foreign governments known to practice torture are Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Afghanistan and several unnamed Eastern European countries such as Poland, Romania, Lithuania.

On January 2009, nine days before Obama was sworn into office ABC News confronted the newly elected president whether Obama would investigate torture by members of the Bush administration. Obama responded: “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward, as opposed to looking backward”

Obama did not ban torture in 2009. Instead he rehabilitated torture with a carefully crafted Executive Order that has received little scrutiny. He did not ban the CIA’s use of secret prisons thus permitting indefinite detention of people without due process.
Outsourcing of torture – Under the Obama administration it has still remained a US policy, to employ “rendition”. This is still documented at Bagram (Afghanistan), in Iraq, at Guantanamo and also at Somalia according to reporting from american journalits such as Jeremy Scahill and others. Dennis Blair, Obama’s director of national intelligence (2009), told the Senate intelligence committee that the Army Field Manual would be amended to allow new forms of harsh interrogation, but that these changes would remain classified:

Two irrefutable conclusions flow from the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture:
1, The United States, during the Bush administration, committed criminal acts in violation of international and domestic law;
2) None of those responsible for these crimes will prosecuted
under international law, torture is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions (where it is categorized as a war crime) and the Convention against Torture, which requires signatories (including the United States) to prosecute violations of the convention. Under the Convention against Torture, the ban on torture is absolute. There are no exceptions.
The UN Special Representative on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, Ben Emmerson has reminded us that “torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction”.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, said that the United States, which ratified the U.N. Convention Against Torture in 1994, has an obligation to ensure accountability.

The American the Constitution does not allow assassination of Americans or foreigners, But after 9/11 attacks President Bush issued a decree stating his national-security establishment – i.e., the military and the CIA – wielding the power to assassinate both Americans and foreigners.

The CIA torture program has now been replaced by equally criminal policies – drone assassinations, which are causing the deaths of thousands of mostly innocent people all over the world. (See –
Bush’s power to assassinate Americans and foreigners was passed on to President Obama. It will be also passed on to Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, or whoever is elected president in 2016.

The federal judiciary has made it clear that it has no intention of interfering with the national-security state power to assassinate people.

The Supreme Court has unconstitutionally accepted that the “National – Security branch – now is made the most powerful branch of the federal government.

Members of Congress are not likely to interfere with the president’s power to assassinate. Taking on the CIA is something that the members of Congress have no interest in doing.

John Brennan (Obamas current CIA chief) – who was a high-level official in the CIA during the Bush administration – helped to oversee the torture program and publicly defended it. Obama made Brennan his top counter-terrorism adviser, where he oversaw the administration’s drone assassination program. Once reelected, Obama moved to place John Brennan at the head of the main US spy agency CIA. Obama declared his “full confidence” in Brennan only one day after the release of a CIA inspector general’s report which exposed the CIA chief for making several public untrue statements.

The US has an obligation to investigate and prosecute any officials responsible for torture. Instead, both the Bush and Obama Administrations threatened countries like Spain and England for even investigating aspects of these crimes. United States has refused to hold its own officials to the same standards that we impose on other countries. Furthermore the Administration has blocked torture victims from seeking judicial reviews and assistance in US courts.

CIA destroyed its own video tapes before the US Senate committee could get its hands on them. Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA official, admitted destroying videotapes showing the torture of captives. He was not held accountable.

Futhermore there are urgent domestic violations to be solved:
* All evidence of U.S. torture must be declassified
* Remaining 122 detainees at Guantánamo must be released or tried in civilian courts and the prison must be shut down.
* People held in U.S. prisons must be protected from long-term solitary confinement. As many as 80,000 prisoners are believed to be in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons today – a form of torture.

Torture, clearly defined in the Geneva Convention is illegal in the US as a signatory of that Convention. The Geneva Convention, which as a treaty, according to the US Constitution, states clearly that: “No circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
UN Special Rapporteur for the Commission on Human Rights, Sir Nigel Rodley, believes that “impunity continues to be the principal cause of the perpetuation of torture.” The US Constitution states the president “shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed.”

Yet Obama refuses to prosecute those responsible for torture. No one who ordered or committed torture under the Bush program has been prosecuted – a lesson that will not be lost on future government officials in this country and abroad. Obamas own words about torture – following his admission of ordering the drone assassination of US citizens – makes him a possible war criminal.


John Kiriakou – former CIA agent – is one of six government whistleblowers who have been charged under the Espionage Act – once an obscure WWI-era law passed in 1917 that aimed at punishing Americans who gave aid to the enemy. He is the only person indicted in the Bush-era torture program.
Kiriakou said torturing prisoners neither worked nor prevented any terrorist attacks. If state-sponsored torture can go unpunished, we lose all moral standing to condemn other governments’ human rights violations. By ‘looking forward, not backward’ we have taken a giant leap into the past.” The message to everyone involved in the horrors of post-9/11 America. – kidnap, kill, imprison, torture, and we’ll cover for you. Destroy evidence, we’ll reward you. Speak out, expect to be punished.


Torture is barbaric and immoral and goes against all civilized norms of behavior. There are those who argue that that is trumped by the fact that it generates information that can prevent even worse outcomes.

The Senate report has made clear that torture is not useful for getting information since tortured people will tell you whatever you want to hear to stop the torture.

CIA has tortured people in the past, during the Korean war, and during the contra-backed proxy war with Nicaragua, and they then concluded that torture doesn’t work. So why did they do something that was unquestionably evil even when they knew it would not serve any purpose? As it has nothing to do with interrogation; it seems to be about exploitation, control and the assertion of power. There undoubtedly seems to be an element of sadistic pleasure that Bush, Cheney, Hayden, Tenet, Yoo, and Addington, Bybee, Gonzalez and all these other ”tough’” guys got from knowing that they were enabling people to be brutalized. The neoconservative Michael Ledeen reportedly said in a speech: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business”.

Since the release of Senate findings in dec 2014 the assumption was that the CIA’s torture program’s sole motive was post-9/11 self-defense. The exertion of unchecked power is done to terrorize the local population. It scares potential dissenters into silence and capitulation.

However the media coverage is missing the bigger picture: CIA has succeeded in stripping the Senate report of anything that could lead to accountability. ”We have seen former CIA leaders in charge of the torture-denial regime being handed royalty status by the American media.” The agents were not only protected from punishment for their actions but even promoted. Also protected are the names of the dozens of countries that helped the CIA carry out it’s torture regime. This includes many of the world’s worst dictators. Instead of focusing on the illegal nature of the torture, investigators worked to document torture’s ineffectiveness. The debate, now, is whether torture worked. It didn’t. But the debate should be: Why aren’t these torturous evildoers in jail?

Furthermote this systematic abuse has been used to manufacture false intelligence to justify endless war. It is now recognized that the GW Buch administration tortured prisoners to extract information that could tie al-Qaeda to Saddam Hussein and thereby justify the invasion of Iraq. While the Senate report say that torture produced false information. To extract knowingly false information could have been one of the program’s actuals goals to produce false intelligence that could build a case for the Iraq war. Lawrence Wilkerson – chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell – who helped to prepare Powell’s infamous speech to the United Nations claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which he has since renounced. Wilkerson states that the claim was partially based on statements extracted from a prisoner tortured by Egypt on the CIA’s behalf, who later recanted his claim.

A “former senior U.S. intelligence official” said, quote, “There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder.”

The Senate report lack of suggesting any prosecution or official condemnation ensures that these crimes will occur again. Demanding other countries abide by international law, when western nations blatantly ignore it, is the height of hypocrisy.


In December 2014, 165,000 Americans called for Senator Mark Udall to submit the full Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report to the Record.

The Open Society Initiative report – “Globalizing Torture” states that at least 136 individuals who were allegedly subjected to secret detention and rendition. The report identifies 54 foreign governments that aided the United States in these operations. The countries include Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

Khalid El-Masri – a German/Lebanese citizen was in 2005 mistakenly abducted by the Macedonian police and rendered to the U.S. and transferred to Afghanistan to be questined and tortured.

Maher Arar, was a Canadian citizen, seized by the CIA at JFK airport in New York and bundled off to pre-civil-war Syria for interrogation and torture at the request of Americans. He was completely innocent.

 Sami Al-Haj a journalist for the Al Jazeera In 2001, while on his way to do camera work for the network in Afghanistan, he was arrested by the Pakistani army and handed over to CIA who brought him to Guantanamo.
Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad al-Zery were in dec 2001 deported from Sweden to Egypt with assurances from Egypt not to torture them, but they were tortured.


Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science to stop human rights violations. PHR was founded on the idea that health professionals possess unique skills that lends credibility to the investigation and documentation of human rights abuses.
One of the most effective tools for ending impunity related to torture, promoted by PHR, is the Istanbul Protocol, which outlines specific guidelines on how to conduct effective legal and medical investigations into allegations of torture and ill treatment.

Leif Elinder & Martin Gelin, Swedish Doctors for Human Rights.



Other imprortant contributers to this article – See appendix.

Appendix 1. Related links *

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *