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The goal of the Torture Archive is to become the online institutional memory for essential evidence on torture. Specifically, the Torture Archive seeks to catalog and publish on the Web all primary source documents 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." Thousands of these documents are currently 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, large number of items, and lack of indexing or standard cataloging present 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. The idea is to present the documents online in a way that is fully searchable and also includes brief commentary of certain highlighted documents as well as background information in each topic area (such as in the Archive's series of online "electronic briefing books"). The Web site will ultimately allow a user to browse chronologies of events and related documents, and search the entire body of documents or a limited group of documents for information related to a particular individual, location, or government body. 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, we hope to present a comprehensive view of the war on terrorism, its foundations and its implications.

As a chronology, a database that can be searched or browsed, and a substantive electronic briefing book, the site will provide document summaries and highlights, scanned images of original documents wherever available, and a full-text searchable database created by optical character recognition (OCR) software. Together with the documentary film, Torturing Democracy, and the companion resources posted for viewers of the film, the Torture Archive will provide 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.

Sources for the documents

Special recognition for documentation efforts above and beyond the call of duty should go to the American Civil Liberties Union for its spectacularly successful Freedom of Information Act 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.

The initial catalog of torture-related documents cited in the documentary film is published here together with PDF images of the documents themselves. Subsequent postings will build the Torture Archive and ultimately include more than 7,000 original documents totaling more than 100,000 pages.