Following the attacks of 9/11, lawyers from the Bush administration decided that detainees from the Global War on Terror (GWOT) were ‘enemy combatants’ who were not subject to the Geneva Conventions, an internationally recognized standard for the treatment of prisoners of war. They advocated for the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ otherwise described as torture, including the practice of waterboarding prisoners, a technique meant to simulate the experience of drowning by pouring water over a person’s face and mouth. Other techniques included sleep deprivation, withholding medical care, and binding prisoners in stress positions.
The Central Intelligence Agency, led by George Tenet, led the program of transporting detainees to a network of secret prisons, known as black sites. It is unknown exactly how many prisoners were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques by US military personnel, and exactly what elements of the program Bush himself knew and when. What is not in question is that the program altered the country’s reputation and standing on the world stage, and provided a sharp contrast with many of the lofty American ideals extolled in these panels.
In late April 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, with the release of graphic images of detainees being abused by US soldiers. Bush officials argued that the soldiers responsible were merely a few bad apples in the bunch. Administration critics contended there was a connection between the sanctioned interrogation techniques and the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other military prisons.