After September 11, 2001, U.S. officials authorized the cruel treatment and torture of prisoners held in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, and the CIA's secret prisons overseas.

This database documents the U.S. government's official experiment with those techniques. At present, the database contains well over 100,000 pages of government documents obtained primarily through Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the ACLU. To learn more about the database, please read the About and Search Help pages. If you're a developer, you can also access this data through our API.

Background

On October 7, 2003, the ACLU and other civil-rights and human-rights organizations filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for documents relating to the treatment, death, and rendition of detainees in U.S. custody abroad. Less than a year later, we filed suit to force the government to process our request. On September 15, 2004, United States District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein issued the first of many opinions in the suit.

The court’s opinion—which ordered the government to comply with our request—began with these words:

Ours is a government of laws, laws duly promulgated and laws duly observed. No one is above the law: not the executive, not the Congress, and not the judiciary. One of our laws is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). That law, no less than any other, must be duly observed.*

In the years that followed, the government released well over 100,000 pages of documents to the ACLU. Among them are many of the most significant U.S. interrogation documents released to date.

In the Torture Database you will find, for example, legal memos issued by the Department of Justice that authorized the CIA to use harsh interrogation techniques including one technique—waterboarding—that the United States had previously prosecuted as a war crime. You will find dozens of autopsy reports completed by Army medical examiners after detainees died in U.S. custody, some as a result of their treatment by interrogators or guards. You will find oversight reports documenting and evaluating the interrogation practices of both the military and the CIA (including one heavily redacted report by the CIA’s Inspector General, released only after years of litigation by the ACLU). And you will find a trail of emails and other correspondence linking the CIA’s and military’s interrogation policies to officials at the highest levels of our government.

You will also find inspiring and heroic stories of dissent. Countless times, American soldiers, lawyers, officials, and others resisted the abusive interrogation policies that senior political leaders approved. Those courageous efforts met fierce resistance from a handful of administration officials committed to the regime of abusive interrogation that they had created. In the end, only public disclosure of the brutality of our government’s mistreatment of prisoners brought the failed experiment to a close.

As you dig into the documents for yourself, you will also find that the Bush administration’s interrogation program consisted, in fact, of two programs: the CIA’s experiment with the “enhanced interrogation techniques” or EITs, and the military’s use of separate (although overlapping) techniques approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Both programs were based in part upon a military training regimen known as the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program, which prepared soldiers for what they might expect if captured by a country that used torture.

What’s in the Torture Database

The primary documents currently in the database are approximately 5,000 documents (totaling over 100,000 pages) obtained by the ACLU in Freedom of Information Act litigation that began in 2004. We are continuing to add more documents from related litigation as well as relevant documents released by the U.S. government or other governments.

If there are documents not yet in the database that you think should be, please contact us at thetorturedatabase@aclu.org! Our aspiration is to assemble an authoritative public repository of documents relating to the Bush administration’s policies on rendition, detention, and interrogation.

A note about WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks has released a number of documents relevant to the Bush administration’s rendition, detention, and interrogation practices. According to public reports, the government has at times prohibited individuals with security clearances from viewing or even reading articles about the WikiLeaks documents.

There are currently no WikiLeaks documents in the Torture Database. If we do add relevant WikiLeaks documents in the future, we will notify users of that change and make every effort to allow users to clearly identify those documents or to exclude them from their search results so that government employees and others with security-clearance restrictions may continue to use the Torture Database.

If you feel that a security-clearance policy unconstitutionally restricts your right to read or discuss publicly available documents (such as WikiLeaks documents or others), please contact us to discuss the matter.

API Documentation

The Torture Database API, which allows access to documents and related data in the database in XML and JSON formats, is now publicly available.