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Background Attack Aftermath Evidence Misinformation Analysis Memorial


9/11 Used to Justify Torture

The implementation of repressive policies that would lead to torture began within days of the attack, with secret findings by the Bush administration as early as September 17, 2001. The abuse of U.S. prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison was only the first case of 9/11-predicated torture that became widely publicized. In fact the U.S. government is implicated in crimes against detainees in many locations across the world. 1  

In 2006 Army and Navy investigators concluded that at least 26 prisoners in custody in Iran and Iraq were likely murdered by their captors, where only one of the deaths was in the Abu Ghraib prison. 2   In 2005 it was reported that 108 U.S. detainees had died in custody, based on information provided by U.S. military officials. 3  

At least eleven U.S. detainees have been "disappeared", under rules implemented by the CIA in direct contravention of prohibitions of such disappearances enshrined in international law. 4  

The systematic implementation of torture in the wake of the 9/11/01 attack has become more apparent with the surfacing of documents since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April of 2004. 5   A timeline of events shows the Bush administration laying the groundwork for the use of torture in 2001 through a number of means, including the development of strategies for stripping detainees of legal protections such as are provided by the Geneva Conventions.

Abu Ghraib

An Iraqi prisoner hooded and wired, reportedly told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off the box

The most publicized case of torture at the hands of U.S. officials since 9/11/01 has been the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, in which Iraqi prisoners were reportedly subjected to abuse, torture, sodomy, and homicide by U.S. military personnel. 6   7  

Before photographic images of the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib were publicized in 2004, no one had been criminally prosecuted for the abuse and killing of detainees. After the photographs of abuse became public, the Pentagon began prosecutions of a number of soldiers, but not of any high-ranking officials. Human Rights Watch summarizes the findings of its April 2005 report:

As this report shows, evidence is mounting that high-ranking U.S. civilian and military leaders — including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, formerly the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Major General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — made decisions and issued policies that facilitated serious and widespread violations of the law. The circumstances strongly suggest that they either knew or should have known that such violations took place as a result of their actions. There is also mounting data that, when presented with evidence that abuse was in fact taking place, they failed to act to stem the abuse.

The coercive methods approved by senior U.S. officials and widely employed over the last three years include tactics that the United States has repeatedly condemned as barbarity and torture when practiced by others. Even the U.S. Army field manual condemns some of these methods as torture.


The Military Commissions Act contains provisions that make the prosecution of war crimes by U.S. officials more difficult.

CIA Evidence Destruction

A set of videotapes believed to show the torture of CIA detainees Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were destroyed in 2005 on the orders of Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then chief of the C.I.A.'s Directorate of Operations. 9   The New York Times disclosed the destruction of the tapes in December of 2007. The tapes were destroyed at a time when a federal judge, Leonie M. Brinkema, was seeking information from the Bush administration about the interrogation of Zubaydah. 10  


Steven Lendman, writing for PopulistAmerica.com, provides a detailed chronology of the unfolding of the post-9/11 torture by U.S. officials, reading, in part:

On September 17, 2001, George Bush signed a secret finding empowering CIA to "Capture, Kill, or Interrogate Al-Queda Leaders." It also authorized establishing a secret global network of facilities to detain and interrogate them without guidelines on proper treatment. Around the same time, Bush approved a secret "high-value target list" of about two dozen names. He also gave CIA free reign to capture, kill and interrogate terrorists not on the list. It was the beginning of events that followed.

On November 13, 2001, the White House issued a Military Order regarding the "Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism." It "determined that an extraordinary emergency exists for national defense purposes, that this emergency constitutes an urgent and compelling government interest and that issuance of this order is necessary to meet the emergency."

It defined targeted individuals as Al Queda and others for aiding or abetting acts of international terrorism or harboring them. These individuals shall be denied access to US or other courts and instead tried by "military commission" with the power to convict by "concurrence of two-thirds of the members."

On December 28, 2001, Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals, Patrick Philbin and John Yoo, sent a Memorandum to General Counsel, Department of Defense, William Haynes II titled: "Possible Habeas Jurisdiction over Aliens Held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." It said federal courts have no jurisdiction and cannot review Guantanamo detainee mistreatment or mistaken arrest cases. It further stated that international laws don't apply in the "war on terror." This laid the groundwork for abuses in all US torture prisons.

On January 18, 2002, Bush issued a "finding" stating that prisoners suspected of being Al Queda or Taliban members are "enemy combatants" and unprotected by the Third Geneva Convention. They were to be denied all rights and treated "to the extent....consistent with military necessity." Torture was thus authorized. The 2006 Military Commissions Act (aka the "torture authorization act") later created the Geneva-superceded category of "unlawful enemy combatant" to deny them any chance for judicial fairness.

International law expert Francis Boyle spoke out about this lawless designation: "this quasi-category (created a) universe of legal nihilism where human beings (including US citizens) can be disappeared, detained incommunicado, denied access to attorneys and regular courts, tried by kangaroo courts, executed, tortured, assassinated and subjected to numerous other manifestations of State Terrorism" on the pretext of as protecting national security.

Regarding "international treaties and federal laws on the treatment of individuals detained by the US Armed Forces (in) Afghanistan....the laws of armed conflict (don't) apply to the conditions of detention and the procedures for trial of members of al Queda and the Taliban militia." These treaties "do not protect members of the al Queda organization (or) the Taliban militia."

On January 19, 2002 Donald Rumsfeld sent a memo to the Joint Chiefs titled: "Status of Taliban and al Queda." It stated that these detainees "are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949." It gave commanders enormous latitude to treat prisoners "to the extent appropriate with military necessity" or essentially as they saw fit.

On January 22, 2002, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee (now a federal judge), issued a Memorandum to Counsel to the President, Alberto Gonzales and William Haynes II. It was titled: "Application of Treaties and Laws to al Queda and Taliban Detainees." It covered the same ground as the Yoo/Delahunty memo plus added misinterpretations of international law with regard to war.

On January 25, 2002, Alberto Gonzales, then issued a sweeping memo to George Bush. In it he called the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and "obsolete" and said the administration could ignore Geneva law in interrogating prisoners henceforth. He also outlined plans to try prisoners in "military commissions" and deny them all protections under international law, including due process, habeas rights, and the right to appeal. In December 2002, Donald Rumsfeld concurred by approving a menu of banned interrogation practices allowing anything short of what would cause organ failure.

On February 7, 2002, the White House issued an Order "outlining treatment of al-Qaida and Taliban detainees." It stated that "none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al-Qaida (or Taliban detainees) in Afghanistan 'or elsewhere throughout the world...' " It meant they'd be afforded no protection under international law and could be treated any way authorities wished, including use of torture as was later learned.

A virtual blizzard of similar memos followed covering much the same ground to allow all measures banned under international and US law (including the 1996 War Crimes Act, 1994 Torture Statute and the Torture Act of 2000). The War Crimes Act is especially harsh. It provides up to life in prison or the death penalty for persons convicted of committing war crimes within or outside the US. Torture is a high war crime, the highest after genocide.



1. A World of Abuse, hrw.org, [cached]
2. The Conflict in Iraq: Detainees; U.S. Military Says 26 Inmate Deaths May Be Homicide, New York Times, [cached]
3. US detainee death toll 'hits 108', bbc.co.uk, [cached]
4. The United States’ 'Disappeared' The CIA’s Long-Term 'Ghost Detainees', hrw.org,
5. A timeline to Bush government torture, salon.com,
6. The General's Report, NewYorker.com, [cached]
7. 'Other Government Agencies', Salon.com, Nov. 4-5, 2003 [cached]
8. Getting Away with Torture? Command Responsibility for the U.S. Abuse of Detainees, hrw.org, 4/2005
9. Tape Inquiry: Ex-Spymaster in the Middle, New York Times, 2/20/2008 [cached]
10. C.I.A. Destroyed Tapes as Judge Sought Interrogation Data, 2/7/2008
11. Torture As Official US Policy, PopulistAmerica.com,

page last modified: 2008-09-04