USA: Violations in the name of countering terrorism

Camp X-Ray, Naval Base Guantánamo Bay, Cuba

Camp X-Ray, Naval Base Guantánamo Bay, Cuba

© US DoD [2002]

In the so-called “war on terror” that followed the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001, the United States violated international human rights and humanitarian law in many instances, sometimes in collusion with other states.

Under the administration of President George W. Bush the USA perpetrated and facilitated arbitrary detentions; enforced disappearances and other secret detentions; “rendition” (transfer of prisoners between countries without due process), including to places where the individual faced torture; violations of the right to fair trial; and torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Hundreds of people were detained for prolonged periods without charge or trial at a number of facilities around the world, including Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and Bagram in Afghanistan. The CIA, in collusion with other states, also held people in secret prisons outside the USA.

Techniques that violated the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment were applied to detainees in these centres by US forces.

Still no accountability for human rights violations

When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, he promised changes in US detention and interrogation practices, pledging that no torture or other illegal interrogation methods would be used in any circumstances.

While those promises were welcome, the Obama administration has shown few signs that it plans to address past violations.  As far as is known, no one who authorized or committed human rights violations as part of the CIA’s secret detention programme has been held accountable.

No end to detentions at Guantánamo

In January 2009, President Obama pledged to close the detention facility at Guantánamo within a year. More than two years on, the facility remains open and
more than 170 men are still detained there. Many have been held for more than nine years without charge or trial.

So far, only one detainee has been tried in a US federal court and the administration has announced its intention to try others held at Guantánamo in military commissions, which do not meet international standards for fair trial.

The vast majority of Guantánamo detainees have been released without charge, but none is known to have received compensation from the US authorities for abuses they have suffered.

Amnesty International is campaigning for:

•    Thorough, impartial and independent investigations into all allegations of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, and other human rights violations. Those who authorized or perpetrated such acts must be held accountable, including through criminal trial where crimes have been committed.
•    An end to the use of indefinite detention without charge or trial as a means of bypassing the ordinary criminal justice system. Unless charged with a recognizably criminal offence, detainees in Guantánamo and other CIA facilities should be released immediately.
•    An end to reliance on the military commission system. Prosecutions in these cases should be conducted in civilian federal courts in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards, and without recourse to the death penalty.

Read more:

USA: Digging a deeper hole. Administration and Congress entrenching human rights failure on Guantánamo detentions AMR 51/016/2011/en, March 2011

USA: “Torture, war crimes, accountability: Visit to Switzerland of former US President George W. Bush and Swiss obligations under international law: Amnesty International's memorandum to the Swiss authorities” AMR 51/009/2011, February 2011

USA: See no evil: Government turns the other way as judges make findings about torture and other abuse AMR 51/005/2011, February 2011

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