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Reckoning With Torture

Before the September 11 attacks, the United States condemned torture, protested secret tribunals, decried disappearances, and challenged secret and arbitrary detentions. But a growing public record of official documents and testimonies makes undeniably clear that prisoners were tortured, abused, and in some cases even killed in U.S. custody since 9/11, and that officials at the very highest levels of our government authorized and encouraged the mistreatment.

Although the record of abuse is growing clearer, the Obama administration—by fighting to keep secret documents that would allow the public to better understand the torture program, and seeking to extinguish lawsuits brought by torture survivors—has gradually become an obstacle to accountability for torture. The U.S.’s failure to address and redress torture undermines the rule of law in the United States and weakens our ability to encourage and spread support for the rule of law internationally.

In an effort to build support for accountability for torture, PEN American Center and the ACLU have developed a public education program that draws attention to the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody. Reckoning with Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the “War on Terror” delivers key facts of the torture program through dramatic readings of documents related to the torture program, combined with video testimonials from former Guantánamo detainees and artwork by artist Jenny Holzer that incorporates government torture records.

Help play a role in demanding meaningful accountability. Visit

A top adviser to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned the Bush administration that its use of “cruel, inhuman or degrading” interrogation techniques like waterboarding were “a felony war crime.”

What’s more, newly obtained documents reveal that State Department counselor Philip Zelikow told the Bush team in 2006 that using the controversial interrogation techniques were “prohibited” under U.S. law — “even if there is a compelling state interest asserted to justify them.”

Zelikow argued that the Geneva conventions applied to al-Qaida — a position neither the Justice Department nor the White House shared at the time. That made waterboarding and the like a violation of the War Crimes statute and a “felony,” Zelikow tells Danger Room. Asked explicitly if he believed the use of those interrogation techniques were a war crime, Zelikow replied, “Yes.”

CIA Committed ‘War Crimes,’ Bush Official Says | Wired (via pieceinthepuzzlehumanity)

Note: If you are interested in torture and human rights, check out The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program, by PEN’s own Larry Siems or participate in PEN’s Reckoning with Torture project, jointly run with the ACLU.


Actress Samantha Osaki reads at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011.

The Reckoning with Torture project is based on a simple but powerful notion: that coming to terms with human rights abuses starts with reading the documentary record. Over 130,000 formerly secret documents detailing the torture and abuse of detainees in US custody since 9/11 are now publicly available. A collaborative project with Doug Liman, the ACLU, and PEN, the Reckoning with Torture Project asks the public to read the record and spread the word.

(via » Blog Archive Reckoning with Torture: Samantha Osaki and Lili Taylor -

Secrecy and Torture | The Dissident Blog

"Last week, the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, handed down a historic judgment. It ordered South African authorities to investigate and prosecute members of Robert Mugabe’s government who had tortured their political opponents. Under South African law, the police are obliged to investigate evidence of a crime against humanity, wherever it occurs, if the rule of law does not exist there, as is the case in Zimbabwe."

(Source: The New York Times)


Samantha Osaki, a student living in Pennsylvania, reads the sworn statement of an interpreter at the Kandahar detention facility in Afghanistan who witnesses the mistreatment of a detainee: 

Here’s actress Lili Taylor reading the same statement at the Sundance Film Festival 2011:

And here’s a fragment of the original handwritten statement: 

Join Samantha and Lili in honoring this interpreter: 

1) download the statement

2) film yourself reading 

3) send us the file