Key Events Timeline
17 September 2001
President George Bush sent a 14-page memo to the Director of the CIA, pertaining to the Presidential approval of ‘clandestine intelligence activity’ and an authorisation for the CIA’s subsequent ‘terrorist detention and interrogation program’. The 14-page memo remains classified, despite a number of attempts by the American Civil Liberties Union to obtain its release through Freedom of Information legislation. In January 2007, the CIA filed a declaration to the Courts, revealing the topic of the memo but arguing that the document, along with two Department of Justice memos discussing interrogation techniques, were too sensitive for release.
18 September 2001
US Congress passed Joint Resolution 23: Authorization for Use of Military Force. This authorised the use of force against ‘those nations, organizations, or persons’ that planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, or [that] harbored such organizations or persons’.
7 October 2001
The US-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan commenced. This campaign was referred to by the US as ‘Operation Enduring Freedom.
13 November 2001
President Bush passed an Executive Order on the Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism. This Order provided the Pentagon with the authority to detain indefinitely any non-American, in any place in the world, as long as they were determined by the US Government to pose a terrorist threat to US interests. Together with the September 2001 memo to the CIA, this Order laid the foundations for the development of a global system of rendition and secret detention, as well as the official military detentions in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama has never overturned this Executive Order, thus maintaining the authorisation for the DoD to detain non-US citizens indefinitely in facilities around the globe.
28 December 2001
The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sent a memo to the Department of Defense advising that US federal courts cannot properly exercise habeas jurisdiction over Guantnamo detainees.
11 January 2002
The first group of twenty detainees arrived at the US Department of Defense purpose-built detention facility at the US Naval Station at Guantnamo Bay, Cuba.
7 February 2002
In a memo issued to his senior staff, President Bush declared that members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban were ‘unlawful combatants’, and as such did not qualify as ‘prisoners of war’ under the Geneva Conventions when detained. Crucially, Bush determined that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, setting down the minimum standards of treatment for detainees in armed conflict, did not apply to Al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.
19 February 2002
One of the first habeas corpus petitions on behalf of Guantnamo Bay detainees was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in the Washington DC circuit court. Rasul v. Bush, which requested that the Court hear the case challenging the detention of David Hicks, Shafiq Rasul and Asif Iqbal, was one of a number of cases that proceeded through the US District Courts and eventually reached the US Supreme Court.
30 July 2002
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the US government’s motion to dismiss the habeas corpus petitions in Rasul v. Bush [G] and the accompanying case Al Odah v. United States. The ruling was based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Johnson v Eisentrager case. This case involved habeas corpus petitions on behalf of 21 German nationals detained and tried by US military commission in China after the surrender of Germany but before the end of hostilities with Japan. In Eisentrager, the US Supreme Court ruled that writs of habeas corpus are not available to aliens held outside the sovereign territory of the United States. On the same grounds, Judge Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the District Court of Columbia ‘does not have jurisdiction to entertain the claims made’ by the petitioners, since ‘the military base at Guantnamo Bay, Cuba, is outside the sovereign territory of the United States’. The judge added that this judgement ‘should not be read as stating that these aliens do not have some form of rights under international law. Rather, the Court’s decision solely involves whether it has jurisdiction to consider the constitutional claims that are presented to the Court for resolution.
1 August 2002
Two memos relating to the use of torture were issued by Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel in the US Department of Justice. The first presented a series of arguments to Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to President Bush, which would provide the basis for approval of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment against detainees in the ‘War on Terror’. The second was sent to John Rizzo, Acting General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency, and provided authorisation for a number of ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ under the CIA’s Counterterrorist Program. For further details of these memos, and the use of ‘EITs’ and unauthorised torture techniques by the CIA, see the relevant sections within The Issues.
2 December 2002
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved a series of interrogation techniques for discretionary use at Guantanamo. These included hooding, stripping, sensory deprivation, isolation, stress positions and the use of dogs to ‘induce stress’.
19 March 2003
The US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq commenced.
28 April 2004
Challenging the practices of the Bush administration in its treatment of detainees, eight judges of the US Supreme Court determined in the Hamdi v. Rumsfeld case, that U.S. citizen Yaser Esam Hamdi had been deprived of his due process rights and that he be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the facts allegedly underlying his designation as an ‘enemy combatant’.
7 May 2004
The CIA Inspector General completed the ‘Special Review: Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001-October 2003)’ . The Inspector General raised doubts about the efficacy of ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ for securing intelligence, and he made it clear that the techniques violated international law on torture. He also demonstrated that the mechanisms for controlling and overseeing the use of these techniques were chaotic, and this had led to the unauthorised use of cruel treatment. He expressed considerable concern that agents involved in ‘Enhanced Interrogation’, including waterboarding, were vulnerable to prosecution under international law. (This report was not made public until 2009.)
28 June 2004
The US Supreme Court held in Rasul v. Bush that the 600 Guantnamo detainees had a right of access to the federal courts, via habeas corpus and otherwise, to challenge their detention and conditions of confinement. In one of the most important victories for those petitioning for the habeas corpus rights of the Guantnamo detainees, this landmark ruling affirmed the right of non-US citizens held in Guantnamo to challenge their detention in U.S. courts. The decision reversed the D.C Court of Appeal’s decision of 30 July 2002 in Al Odah v. United States and the petitions were remanded to the lower courts.
Following this ruling, habeas corpus petitions were filed on behalf of more than 70 Guantnamo detainees. These became the consolidated cases of Al Odah v. United States and Boumedienne v. Bush, and would eventually become the key cases for challenging the legality of the Military Commissions Act passed by the Bush administration on 17 October 2006.
7 July 2004
The US Government authorised the establishment of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) at Guantnamo. These were deliberately intended to avoid providing Guantnamo detainees any access to the US Courts, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling of 28 June 2004. It was up to military officers to review each detainee’s enemy combatant status without the involvement of lawyers representing the detainees. Evidence was permitted that had been obtained under coercion or torture, and detainees were denied access to classified evidence, which in many cases comprised the majority of the evidence against the detainee.
27 October 2004
Rasul v. Rumsfeld was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to seek damages for the arbitrary detention and torture of three British citizens in Guantnamo. The case was an attempt to hold Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to account for his complicity.
11 March 2005
The Washington Post reported that ‘top military intelligence officials at the Abu Ghraib prison had come to an agreement with the CIA to hide certain detainees at the facility without officially registering them’. According to the report, senior US Army officials told military investigators that ‘other government agencies’ and a secretive elite task force ‘routinely brought in detainees for a short period of time’ and that the detainees were held without an internment number, and their names were kept off the books.
10 May 2005
In response to the CIA’s attempt to bolster their repertoire of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, the Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo to John Rizzo, Senior Deputy General Counsel for the CIA, on Certain Techniques that May Be Used in the Interrogation of a High Value al Qaeda Detainee. For further details of the additional techniques, see the relevant sections within The Issues.
2 November 2005
In an article entitled ‘CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons’, American journalist Dana Priest, writing for the Washington Post, was the first to report the existence of secret detention centres in Europe on the basis of information leaked from CIA sources. On request from the Bush administration, the Washington Post refrained from providing the names of the European countries involved.
7 November 2005
Based on an analysis of flight records and independent investigation, Human Rights Watch released a statement confirming that secret CIA prisons had operated in Eastern Europe. Unlike the Washington Post article, HRW named the countries involved, as Poland and Romania.
5 December 2005
Stephen Hadley, advisor to the White House, stated that ‘we do not move people around the world so that they can be tortured’, and pledged that the Bush administration would deal with the issue ‘in a comprehensive way’.
6 December 2005
US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, stated that rendition was a legitimate and necessary tool: ‘The captured terrorists of the 21st Century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice’. She noted that the practice had been deployed ‘for decades’ before 9/11, and argued that ‘its use is not unique to the US, or to the current administration’, but offered repeated assurances that Al Qaeda suspects would not be subjected to torture: ‘The US does not permit, tolerate or condone torture under any circumstances.’
30 December 2005
The US Government passed the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA). While on the one hand it incorporated the McCain Amendment , which prohibited the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners, on the other, it severely limited the rights of Guantnamo detainees to seek judicial review. It did this by stripping the US courts of jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions filed on behalf of Guantnamo detainees and vesting exclusive review of final decisions of CSRTs and military commissions in the DC Circuit Court.
18 January 2006
The European Parliament established a committee to investigate the CIA’s ‘transportation and illegal detention of prisoners’. Initial documents were released on 22 January 2006.
7 June 2006
The Council of Europe’s investigation into the complicity of European states in rendition, led by Dick Marty, published its first report. The report set out the nature of the ‘global spider’s web’ of rendition and secret detention, and provided substantial new evidence of individual rendition operations.
29 June 2006
In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld the US Supreme Court decided that detainees did have the right to pursue habeas corpus cases in civilian courts, regardless of the Detainee Treatment Act. It also ruled that the military commissions, as defined under the President’s 2001 Executive Order, violated military law and the Geneva Conventions.
6 September 2006
In a speech on terrorism, George W.Bush admitted for the first time the existence of a CIA programme to secretly detain ‘a small number of suspected terrorist leaders’. He named Abu Zubaydah and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed as being among this group held in the secret CIA programme. He stated that the CIA had used ‘an alternative set of procedures’ to interrogate detainees that resisted conventional interrogation methods. He insisted, however, that torture was not used and had not been authorised. Bush claimed that the programme was one of the most vital tools in the ‘War on Terror’. As part of the speech, Bush announced plans to seek authorisation from Congress for the continuation of military commissions to try terror suspects. He also stated that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and 11 other individuals in CIA custody had been transferred to Department of Defense custody at Guantnamo Bay, where they would face trial by military commission.
26 September 2006
The US and Afghanistan sign the ‘Accommodation Consignment Agreement for Lands and Facilities at Bagram Airfield’. The Agreement ‘consigns all facilities and land located at Bagram Airfield (…) owned by (Afghanistan), or Parwan Province, or private individuals, or others, for use by the United States and coalition forces for military purposes’. This leasehold is to continue ‘until the United States or its successors determine that the premises are no longer required for its use’.
28 September 2006
This first habeas corpus petition on behalf of a detainee held at the Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Fadi al-Maqaleh v. Gates et al was filed by the International Justice Network on behalf of Fadi al-Maqaleh, detained at the detention facility at Bagram.
17 Oct 2006
The US Government passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA). This was a direct response by the Bush administration to the Supreme Court’s decision of 29 June 2006, which had ruled that detainees did have the right to pursue habeas corpus cases in US courts. The MCA stripped the US courts of jurisdiction over the appeals in relation to any aspect of detention or treatment of all non-citizen detainees determined to be ‘enemy combatants’ or ‘awaiting such determination’. The MCA also ratified the severely limited CSRT review process, established under the DTA, as a substitute for habeas corpus. President Bush announced that the Act would enable the CIA’s rendition programme to continue.
14 November 2006
The new chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, the Democrat Senator Carl Levin, revealed that he was ‘not comfortable’ with the rendition system and said it was making the US less secure. He therefore announced an investigation by the Committee into abuses carried out under the CIA’s secret programme of extraordinary rendition.
30 January 2007
The European Parliament published its final Report on the Alleged Use of European Countries by the CIA. It found that more than 1200 CIA-operated flights had used European airspace between 2001-2005. The report was approved by the European Parliament on 14 February 2007.
27 January 2007
A Canadian Judicial Inquiry released its findings into the rendition and secret detention of Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, who was detained at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport in 2002 during a stopover on his way home to Canada from a holiday with his family in Italy. The United States turned him over to Syria, where he says he was tortured and kept in a dark cell for nearly a year. As the Guardian reported, the inquiry found he had no links to extremists or terrorist groups. It criticised the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for wrongly labelling him an extremist and a security threat, and said Canadian law enforcement officials had fed misleading and unfair information to the US authorities.
18 February 2007
An Italian judge ordered 26 Americans, almost all CIA agents, to stand trial on charges of kidnapping a terrorism suspect in 2003 and flying him to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. The Guardian reported that the Milan judge set a trial date for June 8. Prosecutors alleged that five Italian intelligence officials worked with the Americans to abduct Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (Abu Omar).
2 April 2007
On appeal, the Supreme Court declined to hear the combined cases Boumedienne v. Bush and Al Odah v. United States on the grounds that the detainees should exhaust the remedies available through the Combatant Status Review Tribunals established by the Detainee Treatment Act and Military Commission Act. However, three of the judges issued a statement of dissent, arguing that the case ‘raises an important question: whether the Military Commissions Act of 2006 […] deprives courts of jurisdiction to consider their habeas claims, and, if so, whether that deprivation is constitutional’. The dissenting judges were of the view that the petition for certiorari should have been granted ‘to help establish the boundaries of the constitutional provision for the writ of habeas corpus’.
8 June 2007
The first trial testing the CIA’s controversial practice of extraordinary rendition opened in a Milan court. The case involved charges against 26 Americans, almost all CIA agents, relating to the kidnapping of a terrorism suspect in 2003 and flying him to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. Prosecutors alleged that five Italian intelligence officials worked with the Americans to abduct Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (Abu Omar).
11 June 2007
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights released the second report of its inquiry, led by Dick Marty, into renditions and secret detentions. The report concluded there was ‘now enough evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular Poland and Romania’, and also that governments of these countries were aware and may have authorized the facilities.
29 June 2007
In the first reversal in 60 years, the US Supreme Court overturned its decision of 2 April 2007, and announced that it would hear the consolidated Boumedienne v. Bush and Al Odah v. United States cases in the 2007-08 Supreme Court term.
24 July 2007
By Executive Order 13440, President Bush reaffirmed that members of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces were unlawful enemy combatants who were not entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions. However, he also revealed that the CIA continued to operate a detention and interrogation program, and determined that this program complied with the obligations set out by Common Article 3 (as interpreted by the US President). Specifically, he determined that the CIA program did not include methods of interrogation which would fall within the definition of torture in the US Code, or which were outlawed by the MCA or the DTA.
12 June 2008
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favour of the detainees in the consolidated cases of Boumedienne v. Bush and Al Odah v. United States, by reversing the Court of Appeal’s decision, and granting detainees the writ of habeas corpus. The Supreme Court held that the detainees in Guantnamo have a constitutional right to habeas corpus and that the review process under the Detainee Treatment Act was not an adequate substitute for full habeas review. The Court also recommended that all future cases be channelled to a single District Court ‘to reduce the burden habeas corpus proceedings will place on the military, without diluting the writ’s protections’. Following this judgment future cases were remanded to the US District Court for the District of Colombia for further proceedings. See the ruling here.
7 January 2009
Judge Bates orders the US Government to file information regarding the detainees held in Afghanistan. He requests the following: 1) the number of detainees at Bagram Airbase; 2) the number of Bagram detainees captured outside of Afghanistan; 3) the number of Bagram detainees who are Afghan.
16 January 2009
The US government releases information on the Bagram detainees to the US District Court for the District of Columbia. A redacted version is released to the public. All the data in the public version is blacked out.
22 January 2009
Immediately upon entering office, President Obama signed three Executive Orders. Together, these ordered the closure of existing CIA detention facilities, an end to the use of secret detention by US officials, and an end to the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. Rendition itself was not outlawed, and indefinite military detention is still authorised. For further details of Obama’s Executive Orders, and the changes they did and did not mandate, see the relevant sections of The Issues.
20 February 2009
The Obama administration affirmed that the District Court for the District of Columbia had no jurisdiction to hear the Bagram habeas corpus petitions under the Military Commissions Act. This was in response to Judge Bates’ invitation to the Obama administration to declare if they should wish to refine their position regarding the consolidated case of al-Maqaleh v Gates et al, three of whom are not Afghani (al-Maqaleh, al-Bakri, al-Najar), and one of whom is Afghani (Wazir). Habeas corpus rights of Bagram detainees were to continue to be denied under the Obama administration.
24 August 2009
Following the recommendations of President Obama’s Special Task Force on Interrogations and Transfer Policies, the Attorney General announced that rendition would continue, but would more closely monitor the treatment of detainees to ensure that they are not tortured.
16 September 2009
In releasing flight data to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the Polish authorities became the first government to reveal details of their involvement in rendition and secret detention.
19 February 2010
The United Nations released its Joint Study on Global Practices in Relation to Secret Detention in the Context of Countering Terrorism.
7 March 2011
President Obama issued Executive Order 13567, authorising the US Department of Defense to resume military tribunals at Guantnamo Bay. This was a reversal of his earlier halting of the military commissions on 22 January 2009, and of his plan to bring detainees to trial in US Courts. The Order was issued as part of a Periodic Review of Individuals Detained at Guantnamo Bay Naval Station Pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force. A factsheet was issued accompanying the Executive Order.