With regards to the war on terror (Al Qaeda and the like), did the Obama administration stop torturing?

Senate report: CIA misled public on torture says that Obama has outlawed torture / "enhanced interrogation techniques"

Obama outlawed enhanced interrogation techniques soon after becoming President in 2009 and admitted in August "we tortured some folks." As commander in chief, he faces many of the same dilemmas on how to fight terrorism as his predecessor. But the tone of his response to the report was nevertheless critical.

but do external organisations (eg the UN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch) conclude that the United States stopped torturing?

(No doubt there's some actions by the United States government unrelated to terrorism that can be described as torture, such as some state-level government mistreating people who committed civilian crimes. That's outside the scope of this question)

  • 2
    Am I the only one who sees the irony in caring about an opinion of an organization which places Iran, Syria etc... on human rights bodies, on torture?
    – user4012
    Dec 10, 2014 at 21:19
  • @DVK say what you will about them, but they'll do their level best to discover and denounce any torture that the United States does. I'm not a fan of Amnesty International (Gita Sahgal sacking) or HRW (Saudi funding, Nazi memorabilia) either. Got any better suggestions for third party organisations?
    – Golden Cuy
    Dec 10, 2014 at 22:26
  • You have to take prisoners in order to have someone to torture. Obama largely switched to drone-enabled summary executions which typically results in no prisoners and no way to gain intelligence from them through torture or otherwise.
    – Readin
    Jan 5, 2018 at 1:16
  • Related question: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/1577/…
    – Golden Cuy
    Jun 8, 2018 at 8:15

1 Answer 1


Yes, the United States has stopped the use of torture as a matter of policy. This includes specific torture tactics used during the Bush administration, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation, as well as extraordinary rendition in which prisoners would be sent to another country where torture was common.

In 2011, Politifact updated their rating of Obama's promise to end torture as "Promise Kept", and referenced an ACLU report which, while it generally condemned the similarities between Obama's and Bush's anti-terrorism policies, acknowledged that Obama had taken strong steps to end torture.

Mind you, Politifact acknowledges that the secrecy surrounding terror suspects makes it difficult to prove exactly what is going on. For example, while the United States does sometimes extradite suspects, it does not do so in order that the suspects can be tortured, at least as far as we know. But we can't prove a negative, and experts seem to agree that such practices are happening less frequently or not at all:

"I see no evidence that they have engaged in this practice,” said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor.

To the degree we can know these things, the United States seems to have ended the use of torture against terror suspects.

  • Yesterday's release of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Detention and Interrogation Program may change this answer. It appears to acknowledge torture. It's not clear from my cursory view whether it's related specifically to terror suspects.
    – Flimzy
    Dec 10, 2014 at 14:06
  • 2
    @Flimzy All the specific instances I've seen in the report date from before 2009 (when Executive Order 13440 banning it was signed), so I don't think that report in particular will change the answer. Maybe future reports will (hopefully not?).
    – Geobits
    Dec 10, 2014 at 14:19
  • I think this is a good answer as things stand, but it's definitely worth keeping an eye on Politifact and the ACLU to see whether they retract and/or modify their reporting on the matter. I don't expect them to, given the timeframe of the report, but if they do, this answer definitely would need to be updated to reflect that.
    – Bobson
    Dec 10, 2014 at 15:12

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