Bellevue Hospital memorial to victims of the World Trade Center attacks in New York, September 19, 2001.  On September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda hijackers turned four commercial airliners into instruments of terror, killing nearly 3,000 people and devastating the lives of thousands more. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States triggered rights abuses by successive US administrations and foreign governments around the globe that reverberate to this day – torture, secret and indefinite detention, unlawful airstrikes, profiling of Muslims, overbroad counterterrorism laws, and intrusive surveillance, among others. No one has been held to account for plotting the 9/11 attacks, nor have the architects of the US torture and detention program. Meanwhile, indefinite detention without charge continues at Guantanamo Bay, harming detainees and providing a recruiting card for extremist armed groups. Below is a sample of the research and reporting that Human Rights Watch has produced over the past two decades in the long wake of 9/11.August 15, 2002

Presumption Of Guilt:

Human Rights Abuses Of Post-September 11 Detainees

Presumption of Guilt: Human Rights Abuses of Post-September 11 Detainees (August 2002)

The September 11, 2001 attacks created a sense of urgency about protecting the United States from extremist armed groups. Then-US President George W. Bush said the attacks constituted an assault on the fundamental freedoms on which the US was founded. However, the “global war on terror” launched by the US government after the attacks trampled on many of these freedoms. In this report, Human Rights Watch documents abuses against hundreds of non-citizens rounded up in the US in the months following the 9/11 attacks, including arbitrary detention and violations of due process that ran roughshod over the presumption of innocence. 


Women hold candles and American flags at a memorial in Dearborn Michigan, September 2001.

November 14, 2002

‘We Are Not the Enemy’

Hate Crimes Against Arabs, Muslims,and Those Perceived to be Arab or Muslim after September 11

“We Are Not the Enemy”: Hate Crimes Against Arabs, Muslims, and Those Perceived to be Arab or Muslim after September 11 (November 2002)

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Arabs and Muslims in the United States, and those perceived to be Arab or Muslim, were victims of a severe and violent backlash of hate crimes, including murder, shootings, beatings, arson, attacks on mosques, vehicular assaults, and verbal threats.  In this report, Human Rights Watch documents the backlash and the inadequate local, state, and federal government responses to it. Drawing on research in six large cities, Human Rights Watch identifies ways authorities could have mitigated these hate crimes.  


March 7, 2004

“Enduring Freedom”

Abuses by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan

“Enduring Freedom”: Abuses by US Forces in Afghanistan (March 2004)

This report, based on research conducted in 2003 and early 2004, focuses on arrests and detentions by US forces in Afghanistan that violated international human rights and humanitarian law, and endangered the lives of Afghan civilians. The abuses undermined efforts to restore the rule of law in Afghanistan and called into question the US military’s commitment to upholding basic rights.

Read More >>June 8, 2004

The Road to Abu Ghraib

The Road to Abu Ghraib (June 2004)

When in April 2004 the first photographs of US military personnel humiliating, torturing, and otherwise mistreating detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq appeared, the US government sought to portray the abuses as isolated incidents.  In this report, Human Rights Watch documents that to the contrary, the Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib were subjected to a pattern of abuse that resulted from decisions made by the Bush administration to bend, ignore, or cast aside international law banning torture and ill- treatment. In this report, Human Rights Watch documents the widespread prisoner abuse that damaged efforts to build global support for countering terrorism.


June 26, 2005

Witness to Abuse

Human Rights Abuses under the Material Witness Law since September 11

Witness to Abuse: Human Rights Abuses Under the Material Witness Law since September 11 (June 2005)

Dozens of men – almost all Muslim – were picked up in the United States in the months following the September 11 attacks and detained indefinitely without charge in US federal prisons. Authorities exploited a 1984 federal material witness law to secure the indefinite incarceration of those it wanted to investigate as possible terrorism suspects. This report shows that as a result of the misuse of this law, people with no connection to terrorism became the hapless victims of the US government’s zeal. 


June 9, 2008

Locked Up Alone

Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo

Locked Up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantanamo (June 2008)

The US government claimed prisoners at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were not technically in solitary confinement because they were able yell at each other through the gaps underneath their cell doors, talk during recreation time, and receive periodic visits from lawyers. The reality, as this report documents, was starkly different: the detainees, all foreign Muslims, were held 22 hours a day alone in small cells, apart from two hours a day of exercise in small outdoor pens, with no contact with family. Human Rights Watch found that these conditions caused the mental health of many prisoners to deteriorate, leading a number to commit or attempt suicide.


November 24, 2009

Cruel Britannia

British Complicity in the Torture and Ill-treatment of Terror Suspects in Pakistan

Cruel Britannia: British Complicity in the Torture and Ill-treatment of Terror Suspects in Pakistan (November 2009) 

Despite denials by the United Kingdom government, the evidence is clear: The UK intelligence and security agencies were complicit in the torture of five UK citizens by Pakistan security between 2004 and 2007. Based on accounts from victims and their families, among other information, this report documents the cases of five UK citizens of Pakistani origin tortured and ill-treated by the Pakistan’s military-controlled Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, the civilian-controlled Intelligence Bureau (IB), or other Pakistani security agencies.


July 12, 2011

Getting Away with Torture

The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees

Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees (July 2011)

Human Rights Watch builds on its previous research to make the case that there is sufficient basis for the US government to order a broad criminal investigation into alleged crimes focusing on former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet.


June 29, 2012

In the Name of Security

Counterterrorism Laws Worldwide since September 11

In the Name of Security: Counterterrorism Laws Worldwide since September 11 (June 2012)

Following the September 11 attacks, countries around the world adopted sweeping new counterterrorism laws or revised existing ones. By 2012, over 140 countries had done so, ushering in a dangerous expansion of powers to surveil, arrest, detain, and prosecute in the name of security. While governments have a responsibility to protect their population from harm, this report documents that governments have used these laws not only to detain and prosecute people suspected of terrorism-related crimes, but also to target peaceful protesters, journalists, political opponents, ethnic and religious minorities, and others with no links whatsoever to extremist armed plots or attacks.


October 22, 2013

“Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda”

The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen

“Between a Drone and Al Qaeda”: The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen (October 2013)

This report documents six US lethal airstrikes against alleged terrorists in Yemen, often using armed drones. It finds that the strikes in some cases killed civilians in violation of the laws of war, and in others may have targeted individuals who were not valid military targets. The report also finds that the trikes did not meet US policy guidelines for targeted killings that President Barack Obama disclosed in May 2013.  The strikes created a public backlash, undermining US efforts against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).


July 28, 2014

With Liberty to Monitor All

How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy

With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy (July 2014) 

The United States has long held itself out as a model of freedom, democracy, and open, accountable government. But as this report documents, these freedoms are being threatened by large-scale electronic surveillance on the practices of journalism and law, professions that enjoy special legal protections under the US constitution as cornerstones of a healthy democracy. 


July 21, 2014

Illusion of Justice

Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions

Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions (July 2014)

After the September 11 attacks, more than 500 individuals were prosecuted in US federal courts for terrorism or related offenses — 40 cases per year on average until 2014. Many prosecutions properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terrorist attacks. But many American Muslims targeted by the government did not appear to have been involved in any crime at the time they came under investigation.  Human Rights Watch documents the significant human cost of counterterrorism practices such as aggressive sting operations, as well as unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement, for American Muslims.


illustration of two dangling figures

December 1, 2015

No More Excuses

A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture

No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture (December 2015)

Following the September 11 attacks, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operated a global, state-sanctioned program in which it abducted scores of people throughout the world, “rendered” them to various countries where they were held in secret detention, sometimes for years, and in many cases tortured or otherwise abused them. The program officially ended in 2009. But this analysis of new information released in December 2014 shows that the cover-up of these crimes continued for much longer. It lays out a path for criminal prosecutions of the architects of these abuses at the highest levels of the US government.



October 31, 2019

“They’ve Shot Many Like This”

Abusive Night Raids by CIA-Backed Afghan Strike Forces

“They’ve Shot Many Like This”: Abusive Night Raids by CIA-Backed Afghan Strike Forces (October 2019)

This report documented 14 cases from late 2017 to mid-2019 in which CIA-backed Afghan strike forces committed serious abuses, some amounting to war crimes, in the pursuit of Al-Qaeda, Taliban forces, and militants affiliated with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). These crimes included killing civilians during night raids, forcibly disappearing detainees, and attacking healthcare facilities for allegedly treating insurgent fighters.