Confronting the Legacy of U.S. Torture | Center for Victims of Torture

Confronting the Legacy of U.S. Torture

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government made numerous illegal and unwise decisions that led to the widespread and systematic use of torture and cruelty in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, Guantanamo, Afghanistan and secret prisons around the world. Progress was made, but vigilance is required and important work remains to be done.

Here are steps CVT has taken to push back against the legacy of torture by the U.S.


In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the CIA built a torture program, holding more than one hundred Muslim men captive in secret “black site” prisons around the world and subjecting them to abuses that many Americans rightly associate with foreign dictators, tyrants and terrorists. The torture program had profound consequences for its victims, for U.S. national security, and for the United States’ reputation in the world.

In November, 2019, Amazon studios released The Report – a film that tells the story of the work of Senator Dianne Feinstein and a team of Senate intelligence committee staff, led by Daniel J. Jones, which conducted an in-depth investigation into the CIA torture program. Jones and his team—principally Evan Gottesman, Alissa Starzak, and Chad Tanner—wrote a 6,700 page oversight report, 525 pages of which were released publicly, in redacted form, in late 2014. The rest remains classified.

The grim realities of the CIA torture program must build support for actions to ensure it never happens again, including—at minimum—declassifying and releasing the full report and excluding from government those who were complicit in torture. See our work opposing the promotion of Gina Haspel to CIA director here.


Read 15 Facts about the CIA Torture Program here.

CVT ARTICLE: Stanton Wood, strategic initiatives officer, writes here about how Hollywood is finally getting the story right on CIA torture.

CVT GUEST BLOG ARTICLE: Phyllis Kaufman, human rights advocate, lawyer, and research fellow in CVT’s D.C. office, writes that the legacy of torture still haunts Guantanamo.

VIDEO: Check out this video about what we know about the Torture Report and why it still matters today, five years after the executive summary was released.

OP ED ARTICLE: Scott Roehm, director of the Washington, DC, office, wrote this piece for Open Society Foundations Voices, “An Overdue Reckoning with U.S. Torture.”

CVT ARTICLE: “Torture survivors look to CVT for healing; they should be able to look to the U.S. for how to right the most egregious of wrongs,” writes Curt Goering, executive director, on the 5th anniversary of release of the executive summary CIA Torture Report, noting  that it is long past time to release the full report. This article is also found on Medium.

NEWS MEDIA: Twin Cities NBC affiliate KARE11 News ran this segment featuring Pete Dross, director of external relations, about CVT’s work and the importance of The Report film.

CVT ARTICLE: “As Americans, we demand to know the whole, terrible truth about what crimes were committed in our name, and how.” Curt Goering, CVT executive director, writes that the full truth about the CIA torture program must be told.The article is also on Medium.

NEWS MEDIA: John Rash wrote this column in the Star Tribune, connecting the dots between the CIA torture program and today’s crisis of accountability.

NEWS MEDIA: David Crane, a member of CVT’s National Advisory Council, wrote this op ed for The Hill, titled “Enhanced interrogation — better known as torture — took America to the dark side.”

NEWS MEDIA: Scott Roehm, director of the Washington, D.C. office, along with Sondra CrosbyBrig. Gen, (Ret.) David R. Irvine and Christian Meissner published this op ed on Just Security: “Go See The Report, Then Let’s Put Torture to Bed For Good.”

NEWS MEDIA: In an article about The Report film, Euan Kerr at Minnesota Public Radio comments that film direct/writer Scott Z. Burns and Torture Report author Daniel Jones were recently “in Minneapolis for a preview screening — not just because of the hometown connection, but also because the Center for the Victims of Torture is based in the Twin Cities.”

Torturers try to hide behind euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Read the truth about torture that leaves no scars here: The Hidden Harm.

What’s wrong with using euphemisms? Check out CVT’s video here.

What’s it like to tell people you work at the Center for Victims of Torture? Check out our video here.

Because the truth matters so much, more than 60 CVT clients who survived war and violent conflict in Iraq and Syria told their stories to CVT. Read their stories in our Reclaiming Hope report here.

The McCain-Feinstein Anti-Torture Amendment of 2015 strengthened U.S. prohibitions on torture. Read our Fact Sheet here.

Read the 500+ page Torture Report from Dec. 2014 – Executive Summary version

Ending Indefinite Detention at Guantanamo

News Media: Congress Debates Allowing Prisoners to Leave Guantanamo for Medical Care - July 15, 2020
Scott Roehm, director of the Washington, DC office, was quoted in this article in the National Journal, saying, “If there were ever a time that’s critical to have medical-transfer authority, it’s in the face of a pandemic that could easily spread throughout the entire naval base, detainee population included.”

News Media: Torture Can Be Considered in Sentencing Guantánamo Prisoners, Judge Rules. June 4, 2020
Carol Rosenberg reports in the New York Times on a military judge’s acknowledgement of C.I.A. torture. She quotes Scott Roehm, CVT director of the Washington office: “A military commission has taken a meaningful step toward a C.I.A. torture victim receiving some type of modest reparation or remedy, a step that no other U.S. government institution has taken.”

Sacha Pfeiffer at NPR also reported on the ruling, quoting Scott Roehm: "It's a big deal in Mr. Khan's case," he said. "It's an equally big deal in its potential much broader application to other torture survivors at Guantanamo."

Article: Guantanamo’s COVID-19 Precautions Must Safeguard Detainees’ Rights - Mar. 31, 2020
As COVID-19 expands its reach, Scott Roehm, CVT director of the Washington DC office, writes “. . . the virus’ local presence, coupled with certain measures that the Defense Department is undertaking to prevent a larger outbreak, endanger both the detainees and the already limited rights they have been afforded.” Read his article in Just Security.

Letter:  Action Required for Guantanamo Detainee - Mar. 31, 2020
CVT and Physicians for Human Rights wrote this letter to Defense Secretary Esper urging immediate action in connection with the deteriorating health of one detainee at Guantanamo Bay prison.

On Sept. 10, 2019, human rights, civil liberties and faith groups joined CVT in a letter to Defense Secretary Esper, expressing grave concern regarding detainee Sharqawi Al Hajj, who attempted suicide at Guantanamo Bay prison.

REPORT: Deprivation and Despair: The Crisis of Medical Care at Guantánamo
On June 26, 2019, CVT and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) launched this joint report detailing widespread medical deficiencies at the Guantánamo Bay detention center. Read the press release and landing page for the report and associated supporting documents. 

In addition, on June 26, 2019, Scott Roehm, director of the Washington office, published an article at Just Security, “Deprivation and Despair: The Crisis of Medical Care at Guantánamo,” describing the above report. He notes, “In a welcome sign, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have begun to acknowledge, to varying degrees, the medical care crisis at Guantánamo and are working toward pursuing some legislative improvements consistent with what we recommend.”

On May 6, 2019,  Scott Roehm published this article titled “For the Military Commissions, a Fork in the Road on Torture,” in Just Security, regarding the case of Guantanamo detainee Majid Khan. The previous week, CVT filed an amicus brief in support of Khan's sentencing before the military commissions.

On January 25, 2018, CVT filed an amicus brief with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in support of the joint habeas motion filed January 11th by 11 of the remaining Guantanamo Bay detainees. CVT’s brief speaks to the serious medical consequences associated with prolonged detention without charge or trial, and the plight of torture survivors trapped in a constant reminder of their trauma where meaningful treatment is not, and cannot be made, available. Read the press release here.

As President Obama’s tenure came to an end without closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison, Curt Goering, CVT executive director, wrote this blog post titled “Time to Close this Ugly Chapter in American History,” Jan. 11, 2017.

Curt Goering also published this letter to the editor in the New York Times, titled “America’s Lasting Shame: The Torture of Detainees,” Oct. 12, 2016.

The serious physical and psychological harm that results from indefinite detention can constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Read details here.

Closing Guantanamo Bay prison isn't enough; indefinite detention must end. Read CVT's press release here.

CVT continues to call on the President to end indefinite detention without charge or trial of prisoners held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo.

Read CVT’s position statement on Hunger Strikes and Forced Feeding at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo.

CVT Opposed Gina Haspel's Nomination to CIA Director

Because of Gina Haspel’s involvement in the CIA torture program, CVT strongly opposed her 2018 nomination to CIA director. This was only the second time in CVT’s more than 30-year history that the organization opposed a presidential nominee. Read CVT’s statements and publications here.

Strengthening U.S. Ban on Torture

President Donald Trump resurfaced the specter of U.S. use of torture during his 2016 presidential campaign when he spoke out in news interviews in favor of torture, stating that he believes it is effective. Read “The Unchanging Truth About Torture,” a blog post by Curt Goering, published on President Trump’s Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2017.

As confirmation hearings for President Trump’s cabinet nominees began in January 2017, CVT published this blog post listing considerations regarding the prohibitions against torture and protections for refugees that are central to American values and CVT’s mission.

President Trump’s remarks about torture run counter to long-standing and bi-partisan opposition to torture.  In commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Reagan Administration signing the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, CVT issued the policy report, “U.S. Bi-Partisan Leadership Against Torture.” The report highlights historical bipartisan opposition to torture and calls for the United States to regain its global leadership against torture and cruel treatment. Read our op-ed in the Huffington Post, “The Convention against Torture 25 Years Later.”

In 2008, CVT helped coordinate a bipartisan coalition of more than 200 foreign policy experts, retired military leaders, intelligence experts, security chiefs and faith leaders calling for the President to sign an Executive Order to ban torture and cruelty. The bipartisan group of supporters included six former Secretaries of State or Defense, three former National Security Advisors, four former members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and more than forty retired flag officers. 

In January 2009 President Obama signed an executive order banning torture and cruel treatment of detainees, thus ending the post-9/11 torture program.

In December 2014, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released the executive summary of this landmark and bipartisan report on CIA torture. Within its 500-plus pages, it exposes a shameful chapter in American history by describing a more brutal, widespread, and deceitful CIA torture program than had been previously known. Prominent military, national security, foreign policy, religious leaders, media, and others expressed support for the public release of the CIA torture report.

In November 2015, led by John McCain (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Congress enshrined key elements of the 2009 Obama executive order into U.S. law. Read more about the McCain-Feinstein Amendment here

And in September 2016, responding to calls for torture made during the Presidential election campaign, more than 100 leaders from the foreign policy, national security, military and faith sectors joined together in signing CVT’s declaration, the “Call to Reject Torture.” In this document, these prominent, bipartisan leaders called on all Americans and public officials to reject torture unequivocally and without exception, in keeping with American law and values. Read the release here.



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