Guantánamo, The Torture Report and Human Rights Day: America’s Unaddressed Legacy of Torture and Arbitrary Detention


A graphic dealing with CIA torture report, whose executive summary was released in December 2014.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.


This time of year has always been a significant time for anyone concerned with human rights to reflect on what has or hasn’t been achieved in the last twelve months, and to make plans for the new year.

A crucial, and long established date is December 10, which the United Nations designated as Human Rights Day in 1950, on the second anniversary of the ratification by the UN of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which, in a Facebook post on Human Rights Day, I described as “probably the most wonderful aspirational document in human history, born out of the soul-churning horrors of the Second World War.”

The UN, on its Human Rights Day page, says of the UDHR that it “sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. Thanks to the Declaration, and States’ commitments to its principles, the dignity of millions has been uplifted and the foundation for a more just world has been laid. While its promise is yet to be fully realized, the very fact that it has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice and human dignity.”

Amongst the UDHR’s 30 articles are prohibitions on the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and arbitrary arrest, as well as the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial, all of which have long been of great significance to those like myself who have been writing about Guantánamo and working to get the prison closed.

I have regularly taken part in events on Human Rights Day. In 2008, for example, I attended an Amnesty International event in Guildford marking the 60th anniversary of the UDHR, with Bruce Kent and other speakers, in 2011 I spoke at a protest opposite Downing Street that was organized by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, at which Jeremy Corbyn was also a speaker, and last year my band The Four Fathers played a Human Rights Day gig in Deptford.

However, the most significant Human Rights Day event I took part in was in 2014, when Joanne MacInnes and I instigated the creation of a film for the We Stand With Shaker campaign that we had just founded, seeking to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, featuring David Morrissey, Juliet Stevenson and students from Regent’s University (where the film was made) reading from the ‘Declaration of No Human Rights‘, Shaker’s analysis of how the US has systematically destroyed the UDHR at Guantanamo. In another event, Mark Rylance and Vanessa Redgrave read out excerpts from Shaker’s UDNHR outside Parliament.

The Human Rights Day film is below:

Another Human Rights Day event of significance occurred on December 10, 1984, when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the text of the UN Convention Against Torture, which was eventually ratified in 1987.

That hugely significant convention — a major step forward for human rights, 36 long years after the ratification of the UDHR — was embraced by the US, but, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was swiftly jettisoned, as the Bush administration officially adopted a brutal and counter-productive torture program, involving CIA “black sites” in countries around the world, proxy torture prisons in other countries, a military-backed torture program at Guantánamo, and even the torture of US citizens in military brigs on the US mainland.

I’m proud that I was one of those who worked to expose the secret detention and torture program, which involved at least 119 prisoners in the CIA’s own program, in a report for the United Nations in 2009-10 (see here, here and here), and I also have admiration for the US system of checks and balances that — driven by Sen. Dianne Feinstein — led to the Senate Intelligence Committee spending six years investigating the CIA’s program of rendition and torture, and producing an extraordinary report on December 9, 2014 — the day before Human Rights Day — that revealed the brutality of the program, and also how the CIA lied about its efficacy, and also lied about exceeding the parameters set by cynical facilitators like John Yoo, who drafted the “torture memos” of 2002 that sought to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA.

The publication of the report was hugely significant — even though it was only the 528-page executive summary that was released, and not the full 6,700 page-report, and even though it remained quite heavily redacted — as I explained in an article for Al-Jazeera at the time, Punishment, not apology after CIA torture report.

Since then, however, all calls for the full report to be issued have been rebuffed, and the last word on the report, before President Obama left office, was that he “agreed to preserve” it under the Presidential Records Act, but only by ensuring that it “remains out of public view for at least 12 years and probably longer.” As the Guardian explained, Obama’s decision was revealed in a letter from White House counsel W. Neil Eggleston, and prevented “Republican Richard Burr, the Senate intelligence committee chairman who has been highly critical of the investigation, from destroying existing classified copies” of the report.

Daniel Jones, the former committee staffer who led the torture inquiry, and whose story was reported in a compelling series of articles by Spencer Ackerman (see here, here and here), “criticized the preservation as inadequate,” as the Guardian explained. Jones said, “The bar for positive White House action on this is incredibly low. Preserving the full 6,700-page report under the Presidential Records Act only ensures the report will not be destroyed. It does little else.”

The Guardian added that the Senate torture report would be “exempt from the Freedom of Information Act for a full 12 years. But expiration of the provision afterward does not mean that disclosure will necessarily follow.” Steven Aftergood, an intelligence policy expert at the Federation of American Scientists, said, “CIA or other agencies may contend that all or some of the classified information in the report is still classified” after 12 years, when a declassification review can proceed, “but the review may conclude that the information in it should remain classified.”

One year on, we can, perhaps, all feel relieved that Obama at least preserved the report, as Donald Trump might well have destroyed all copies of it, but it is still important that the full report should be released — and, in addition, that the full details of the proxy torture program in other countries (Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Syria) are revealed, and, of course, that Guantánamo — where some of the men held have spent nearly 16 years as victims of arbitrary detention — is closed once and for all.

In conclusion, if anyone anywhere in the US government has access to a copy of the full torture report, I can only urge them to get it out to the public. My email address is here.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, celebrating Human Rights Day (which marks the ratification, in 1948, of the first great human rights document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and the 3rd anniversary of the release of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report. I call for Guantanamo – as a disgraceful example of arbitrary detention – to be closed, and I urge someone – anyone – in the US government to release the full Senate torture report.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    This year has seen some action on the torture report, but not in a good way. In June, the New York Times reported that the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Republican Richard Burr, had asked government department sand agencies to return their copies of the full report, and that the FBI, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had done so. The Times stated that Burr’s move “raises the possibility that most of the copies could be locked in Senate vaults indefinitely or even destroyed — and increases the risk that future government officials, unable to read the report, will never learn its lessons.”

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s the story from October about how the CIA thought it had accidentally shredded the report, then found it again, prior to returning it to Sen. Burr. Christopher Sharpley, the acting CIA Inspector General, told the Senate Intelligence Committee about it during his confirmation hearing. Reuters reported, “The committee’s Democrats appeared frustrated by Sharpley’s account.” Sen. Feinstein said, “The point of distributing it to the departments was in the hope that they would read it – not look at it as some poison document – and learn from it,” noting that, as Reuters stated, “to her knowledge, not a single fact in the report has been refuted.” Sharpley “said he had not read the report, only an unclassified executive summary,” prompting Democratic Senator Ron Wyden to announce after the hearing that “he would not support Sharpley’s nomination because he had handed the report over to Burr, although there was no legal requirement to do so.”

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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