In April, the administration released four Justice Department memorandums from 2002 and 2005 providing legal approval for various "enhanced interrogation techniques" against detainees held in secret CIA custody. The techniques included forced nudity, prolonged sleep deprivation, and "waterboarding" (simulated drowning). Among other things, the memorandums revealed that Abu Zubaydah, the subject of the 2002 memorandum, had been "waterboarded" more than 80 times in August 2002, and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed some 183 times in March 2003. President Obama and Attorney General Holder stressed that anyone who had relied "in good faith" on the advice in the memorandums would not be prosecuted.
In August further details of the torture and other illtreatment of detainees held in the CIA programme were released into the public domain. Attorney General Holder announced a "preliminary review" into whether "federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations".
The administration resisted further release of details of the actual treatment of detainees in the now terminated secret CIA programme on the grounds of national security.
Detainee interrogation and transfer policy
In August, the Special Task Force on Interrogations and Transfer Policies, set up under the 22 January executive order on interrogations, issued its recommendations to the President. These included the formation of a High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group and guidance for interrogators from the military and other agencies. Impunity and lack of remedy Impunity and lack of remedy persisted for human rights violations committed during what the Bush administration termed the "war on terror".
In January, the Convening Authority for the military commissions, Susan J. Crawford, revealed that she had dismissed charges against Guantánamo detainee Mohamed al-Qahtani in 2008 because he had been tortured in US custody. By the end of the year no criminal investigation had been opened into the case.
In a policy U-turn, the new administration moved to block publication of a number of photographs depicting abuse of detainees in US custody in Afghanistan and Iraq. In October new legislation granted the Pentagon the authority to suppress photographs deemed harmful to national security.
On 4 November in Milan, Italy, 22 US agents or officials of the CIA and one military officer were convicted of crimes for their involvement in the abduction of Usama Mostafa Nasr (Abu Omar), who was abducted in Milan and transferred to Egypt where he was allegedly tortured. The US officials were tried in their absence.
Torture and other ill-treatment - electro-shock weapons
At least 47 people died after being struck by police Tasers, bringing to more than 390 the number of such deaths since 2001. Among them were three unarmed teenagers involved in minor incidents and an apparently healthy man who was shocked for 49 continuous seconds by police in Fort Worth, Texas, in May. These and other cases raised further concern about the safety and appropriate use of such weapons.
- Fifteen-year-old Brett Elder died in Bay City, Michigan, in March, after being shocked by officers responding to reports of unruly behaviour at a party. The coroner ruled that the boy, who was of small stature, died from alcohol-induced excited delirium, with the Taser shocks a contributory factor.
Thousands of prisoners were held in long-term isolation in US super-maximum security prisons, where conditions in many cases fell short of international standards for humane treatment.