Press release - "Torturing Democracy"

Washington, D.C. - In a riveting and dramatic narrative, Torturing Democracy - a major documentary film more than 18 months in the making -  tells the inside story of how the U.S. government adopted torture as official policy in the aftermath of 9/11.  With exclusive interviews, explosive documents and rare archival footage, Emmy and DuPont award-winning filmmaker Sherry Jones has crafted the definitive account of a deeply troubling chapter in recent American history.

Bill Moyers has said of Torturing Democracy, “This one will go into the record books for historians and teachers and others who look back to ask, ‘What did we do?’”

As the seventh anniversary of the first prisoners arriving at the prison camp at Guantanamo approaches and close attention is being paid to what President-elect Obama might announce on “day one” regarding both Guantanamo and torture, Torturing Democracy is – and will continue to be - relevant to the news.  The documentary goes right  to the heart of difficult issues, and has already provoked strong reactions.

One of the nation’s most popular talk radio hosts, for example, had dismissed reports of torture for years.  “And then,” Gene Burns said on KGO-AM in San Francisco, “I saw Torturing DemocracyI'm afraid, now that I have seen what I have seen, that I was wrong. …I don’t think I ever saw an organized, systematized review of what we did, and how we did it, as well presented as it was in this documentary.  And it grieves me to say, as an American citizen, that I believe the leadership of our country is responsible for crimes against humanity."

The 90-minute film relies on the documentary record to connect the dots in an investigation of interrogations of prisoners in U.S. custody that became “at a minimum, cruel and inhuman treatment and, at worst, torture,” in the words of the former general counsel of the United States Navy, Alberto Mora.  Jones carefully presents the evidence that leads straight to the top of the chain of command - and so lays to rest the “rotten apple” defense for abusive interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage describes - for the first time on-camera - being waterboarded during military training before he was sent to Vietnam.  When producer Jones asked Mr. Armitage if he considered waterboarding to be torture, he answered, “Absolutely.  No question.”  He added: “There is no question in my mind - there's no question in any reasonable human being, that this is torture. I'm ashamed we're even having this discussion.”

The documentary traces how the secret U.S. military training program – “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” or SERE – became the basis for many of the harshest interrogation methods employed first by the CIA and subsequently by interrogators at Guantanamo and in Iraq.  The tactics designed  to “inoculate“ elite American troops mirror tactics used by “a totalitarian, evil nation with complete disregard for human rights and the Geneva Conventions,” according to Malcolm Nance, former SERE master trainer for the U.S. Navy.

Among the film’s disclosures is a December 2002 document distributed at Guantanamo, “JTF GTMO ‘SERE’ Interrogation Standard Operating Procedure.”  When the document, which had not been made public, was quoted to Navy SERE trainer Nance, he reacted:  “We have recreated our enemies’ methods in Guantanamo!  It will hurt us for decades to come. Our people will all be subjected to these tactics because we have authorized them for the world now.  How it got to Guantanamo is a crime.”

Also for the first time on camera, the former chief Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army, Major General Thomas Romig, reveals the inside story of a Pentagon task force set up by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld in early 2003.  “He came in and gave us a pep talk.  I thought it a little strange that we were getting a pep talk on something like this,” Romig says.  After being presented a list of interrogation tactics, some of  which he described as torture, General Romig concludes that, “The commander in chief does not have the power to make that which is illegal under the law of war, legal.”

But the top military lawyers would not learn for more than a year that, in the end, they were deceived.  Only in the aftermath of the revelations at Abu Ghraib would they discover that Secretary Rumsfeld had given the go-ahead a year earlier to use 24 harsh interrogation techniques that they had opposed.

Torturing Democracy also details the experiences of prisoners in U.S. custody,
including Shafiq Rasul (detainee # 086), Moazzam Begg (detainee #558), and Bisher
al-Rawi (detainee #906) in their own words.  All were eventually released, with no charges filed against them and no reason given for their years in custody

The documentary’s comprehensive website,, is a collaboration with the National Security Archive at George Washington University.  It features the entire film available for streaming, a timeline of key events, extended interviews, and the memos, legal opinions and other documents highlighted in the film. 
Torturing Democracy was produced by Washington Media Associates  in association with the National Security Archive.  It was written and produced by Sherry Jones.  Peter Coyote is the narrator.  Carey Murphy is the co-producer.  It was edited by Penny Trams and Foster Wiley.