Washington, D.C., August 25, 2009 - The National Security Archive announces the publication of the Torture Archive -- more than 83,000 pages of primary source documents (and thousands more to come) related to the detention and interrogation of individuals by the United States, in connection with the conduct of hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in the broader context of the "global war on terror."
The goal of the Torture Archive is to become the online institutional memory for essential evidence on torture in U.S. policy. Many of these documents are available in multiple locations on the Internet and in numerous private collections, thanks to landmark Freedom of Information Act and habeas litigation, leaks from whistleblowers, public relations releases from government, investigative reporting by journalists including the Torturing Democracy team, and Congressional investigations. But the disparate locations, enormous volume of documents, and lack of indexing or standard cataloging have presented real difficulties for users.
With support from the Open Society Institute and the JEHT Foundation since 2006, the National Security Archive has undertaken to bring together all these materials in digital formats, organize and catalog them for maximum utility and access, and publish them online in multiple packages including a comprehensive searchable database. By combining released executive branch policy memoranda, legal documents from U.S. and foreign courts, and on-the-ground information about actual practices by the U.S. military and intelligence personnel, the Torture Archive presents a comprehensive view of the war on terrorism, its foundations and its implications.
This initial launch of the Torture Archive includes the complete set of declassified Combatant Status Review Tribunal and Administrative Review Board files from the Pentagon, and thousands of documents resulting from FOIA litigation brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Archive and other plaintiffs. The Torture Archive will continue to add documents as they are released through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation or Executive discretion.
Together with the documentary film, Torturing Democracy, and the companion resources posted for viewers of the film, the Torture Archive provides multiple pathways for multiple levels of users, ranging from the high school student seeking a single key torture memo, to the dissertation writer needing a complete reference database of primary sources. Visitors can view the interactive timeline, the full annotated transcript of the film, interview transcripts, and YouTube excerpts, as well as the complete streaming video of the 90-minute film. Users can search the full database of documents by title, date, organization or keywords.
Special recognition for documentation efforts above and beyond the call of duty should go to the American Civil Liberties Union for the spectacularly successful FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Defense and other federal agencies for records on the treatment of prisoners apprehended by the United States in the "war on terror." This landmark litigation sparked strong open government rulings from federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein (Southern District of New York), is still pending in the courts, and has produced thousands of documents that would still be secret today if not for the ACLU's efforts. The ACLU filed their original FOIA requests in October 2003, together with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace. After the revelations of the Abu Ghraib photographs in April 2004, the ACLU and its partners renewed the FOIA request, and went to court in June 2004 when the government failed to respond.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has also brought major litigation that has contributed to the documentary and public record that constitutes the Torture Archive. CCR particularly has coordinated the more than 500 attorneys who have worked pro bono in representing the detainees at Guantanamo, in proceedings that have also placed much new evidence on the record. The Associated Press brought the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that first opened the identities of the detainees at Guantanamo and forced the release of thousands of pages of related hearing transcripts. And the Senate Armed Services Committee, especially under the chairmanship of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), has pursued the torture issue from Abu Ghraib to the present and has compelled the release of hundreds of key documents and illuminating testimonies.
Numerous investigative journalists have also contributed to the documentary record by posting online at various Web sites the original records they obtained through their reporting, often through leaks from whistleblowers, or by quoting the records at length in their published articles. This list notably includes Seymour Hersh and Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, Dana Priest and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, Charles Hanley of the AP, Carlotta Gall and Tim Golden and Scott Shane of The New York Times, and the staff of Salon.com. Other documents in the Torture Archive have come from the National Security Archive’s own FOIA and declassification requests.
The Archive thanks the Washington Research Library Consortium for hosting the Torture Archive in yet another example of cooperative digital publishing innovation, as pioneered by the Archive’s work with our partners here at the Gelman Library of The George Washington University.
- Document acquisition: Kristin Adair, Yvette White, Owen Davies, Yvette Chin, Tom Blanton, Peter Kornbluh, Sherry Jones, and Carey Murphy
- Document compilation and preparation: Wendy Valdes
- Indexers: Stacey Chambers, Autumn Kladder, and Lisa Thompson
- Digital acquisition: Suboh Suboh
- Digital publication: Allison Zhang (WRLC)
- Project management: Joyce Battle, Carlos Osorio, Tom Blanton
- Web production: Michael Evans