Days after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Bush administration started making decisions that led to the official authorization of torture tactics, indefinite incommunicado detention and the denial of habeas corpus for people who would be detained at Guantánamo, Bagram, or “black sites” (secret prisons) run by the CIA, kidnappings, forced disappearances and extraordinary rendition to foreign countries to exploit their torturing services.
While some of those practices were cancelled when Barack Obama took office in January 2009, others continue to characterise US detention policy in the "war on terror". Even the cancelled policies continue to stain the record because there has been a total failure to hold the intellectual authors of these illegal practices accountable or to provide justice for the victims of American torture and extraordinary rendition.
This article is the first of a five-part series that traces the detention policy debacle as it has evolved over the last ten years.
Birth of a Debacle
Initially, the driving force behind the Bush administration’s post-9/11 decision making was the legitimate need to compensate for the dearth of intelligence about al-Qaeda, which had perpetrated one of the most deadly and destructive terrorist attacks in history, and to acquire information about possible future attacks. President George W. Bush decreed the attacks an act of war, and responded in kind.
On 14 September 2001, Congress passed the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), which granted the president the authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups. The AUMF did not delineate any territorial specificity or geographical limits.
As is common in asymmetrical wars when states fight non-state groups, the need for information about al-Qaeda elevated the importance of gathering “actionable intelligence” through interrogation of captured enemies. But the decision to endorse the use of violent and degrading methods (even before anyone had been taken into custody) was a choice, not a necessity.
[The rest of this article can be read on Al Jazeera English.]