War on Terror Timeline

Rules bent, laws changed, and cases abandoned in the U.S. since 9/11.

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Sept. 14 – Congress authorizes President George W. Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

Sept. 18 – The Justice Department publishes an interim regulation allowing non-citizens suspected of terrorism to be detained without charge for 48 hours or “an additional reasonable period of time” in the event of an “emergency or other extraordinary circumstance.” The new rule is used to hold hundreds indefinitely until the USA Patriot Act passes in October.

Sept. 21 – Chief United States Immigration Judge Michael Creppy issues a directive instructing immigration judges to close
cases that might be of “special interest” to the September 11 investigation
to all members of the press and public.

Oct. 7 – War in Afghanistan begins.

Oct. 8 – Bush establishes Department of Homeland Security in the Executive Office of the President and appoints Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as Director.

Oct. 20 – The New York Times reports that, although 830 people have been arrested in the 9/11 investigation, there is no evidence that anyone in custody was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks.

Oct. 26 – USA Patriot Act signed into law.

Oct. 31 – Ashcroft announces the creation of a Foreign Terrorist Tracking
Force, which effectively institutionalizes his strategy of mass preventive
detention of noncitizens in order to “enhance our ability to protect the
United States from the threat of terrorist aliens.”

Nov. 8 – Justice Department announces it will no longer issue a running tally of the
number of people detained around the country in 9/11-related sweeps. As of
this date, the Washington Post puts the tally at 1,182.

Nov. 13 – President Bush authorizes a Military Order establishing military tribunals to try suspected terrorists. Anyone held under the Military Order can be detained indefinitely without charge or trial.

Dec. 4 – Senate holds hearings on 9/11 detainees. Ashcroft testifies that those who question his policies are “aiding and abetting terrorism,” and goes largely unchallenged.

Dec. 11 – In the first criminal indictments stemming from the 9/11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, is charged with conspiring with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to “murder thousands of people” in New York, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania.

Dec. 22 – British citizen Richard Reid is arrested for allegedly trying to blow up a Miami-bound jet using explosives hidden in his shoe. He later pleads guilty to all charges, and declares himself a follower of Osama bin Laden.


Jan. 9 – The White House declares that the Guantanamo detainees are, as “enemy combatants,” not entitled to the protections accorded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

Jan. 11 – First group of 20 detainees arrives at Guantanamo Bay’s Camp X-Ray.

Jan 16 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says of the (by now 80 or so) detainees at Guantanamo Bay, “I do not feel the slightest concern at their treatment. They are being treated vastly better than they treated anybody else.”

Jan 17 – By now 110 prisoners are detained by the U.S. Defense Department at Camp X-ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Jan. 18 – President Bush decides that prisoners at Guantanamo are not eligible for prisoner-of-war protection under the Geneva Conventions.

Jan 21 – A DOD memorandum (PDF) prepared by the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, details a meeting with Red Cross officials. The document also explains policies governing body searches and the use of female soldiers to escort male detainees to shower facilities at Camp X-Ray.

Jan. 22 – A memo (PDF) from Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee argues that the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Convention did not apply to al Qaeda prisoners and that President Bush had constitutional authority to “suspend our treaty obligations toward Afghanistan” because it was a “failed state.”

Jan 24 – John Walker Lindh transported to Alexandria, Virginia, to be tried in a civilian criminal court for conspiring to kill Americans. He makes his first appearance before a U.S. District Court. A criminal complaint lists four charges, including conspiracy to kill his fellow Americans in Afghanistan.

Jan 24 – A DOD memorandum (PDF) from the Pentagon’s Office of the Staff Judge Advocate explains the actions taken in response to each of the 29 concerns raised by Red Cross officials after their visit to Camp X-Ray.

Jan. 27 – Vice President Dick Cheney discards the presumption of innocence, declaring the detainees at Guantanamo “the worse of a very bad lot … devoted to killing millions of Americans.”

Feb. 1 – In a response to a State Department memo stating that Geneva Convention protected Taliban soldiers, Attorney General John Ashcroft summarizes Justice Department view that the conventions do not apply to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees.

Feb. 5 – A federal grand jury indicts Lindh on 10 counts, alleging he was trained by Osama bin Laden’s network and then conspired with the Taliban to kill Americans.

Feb. 7 – President Bush sends a memo (PDF) to members of his national security team declaring that he believes he has “the authority under the Constitution” to deny Geneva Convention protections to combatants in Afghanistan, but claims he will “decline to exercise that authority at this time.”

Feb. 13 – John Walker Lindh pleads not guilty to a 10-count federal indictment that charged him with conspiring to kill Americans and aiding Usama bin Laden’s terrorist network. His attorney serve notice they will try to keep the statements he made in Afghanistan from being used at his trial.

Feb. 21 – A federal judge dismisses a challenge to the Guantanamo detentions.

March 21 – The Bush administration announces new military tribunal regulations.

April 3 – The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel issues an opinion that local law enforcement agencies have authority to enforce immigration laws.

Apr. 5 – Yasser Hamdi is transferred from Guantanamo to a naval brig in Norfolk, Virginia.

May 3 – A University of Michigan poll finds that a majority of Americans, post-9/11, would give up some civil liberties in the name of greater security.

May 8 – Jose Padilla, a United States citizen arrived in the United States via a regular scheduled commercial airliner, is detained at Chicago’s O’Hare airport as a material witness for the 9/11 investigations. President Bush subsequently declared Padilla an “enemy combatant.”

June 26 – Bush declares two U.S. citizens, Jose Padilla and Yassar Hamdi, “enemy combatants” who can be held until the end of the war on terrorism, without access to an attorney or to challenge their detention in federal court.

July 2 – Florida becomes the first state to sign an agreement with the DOJ to allow state law enforcement officials to enforce immigration laws.

July 15 – John Walker Lindh pleads guilty to two charges in a deal with prosecutors in which he would serve two 10-year prison sentences and cooperate fully with U.S. authorities in the investigation of the Al Qaeda and terrorism.

July 16 – Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS) announced. The program is to allow volunteers, whose routines make them well-positioned to recognize suspect activities, to report what they see to the Justice Department.

Aug. 1 – Jay Bybee, of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, sends a memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales that concludes that techniques used to interrogate al Qaeda operatives would not violate anti-torture treaties and might be legally defensible. Famously, the memo says that “certain acts may be cruel, unusual or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity” to be considered torture. To be considered torture, the physical pain must be equivalent to “organ failure, impairment of bodily function or death.” This memo would later be repudiated in 2004 by the White House.

Aug. 26 – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit
rules that the press and public must be allowed to witness
immigration hearings for suspects detained in the Sept. 11 investigation,
strongly rebuking the Bush administration for its policy of maximum secrecy
in the war on terrorism. “Democracies die behind closed doors,” wrote the
senior judge in the court’s opinion.

Oct. 4 – Six suspected members of al Qaeda operating near Buffalo are indicted.

Oct. 27 – The United States
releases four prisoners — three Afghans and a Pakistani — from Guantanamo.

Nov. 25 – Bush signs the Homeland Security Act of 2002, establishing the Department of Homeland Security.

Dec. 2 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approves a memo (PDF), written earlier by the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes II, approving specific interrogation techniques that could be used on detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Dec. 4 – U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey rules that although the president could hold those deemed enemy combatants until the end of the hostilities, Padilla did have the right to meet with counsel and offer evidence contesting the government’s allegations. The government, however, has refused to comply with the decision and has claimed that allowing Padilla to meet with his attorneys would be too great a security risk.


Jan. 8 – A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ends a public defender’s attempt to represent Yaser Hamdi.

Jan. 15 – Donald Rumsfeld rescinds his approval for some interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay. The new memo (PDF) allows commanders to seek Rumsfeld’s direct approval to use the tougher techniques if they are “warranted in an individual case” but would require a “thorough justification.”

Feb. 7 – News breaks of Patriot Act II.

Mar. 11 – A federal appeals court rules that the 650 Guantanamo detainees
have no legal rights in the United States and may not ask courts to review their detentions.

Mar. 18 – DHS chief Tom Ridge announces “Operation Liberty Shield,” requiring automatic detention of asylum seekers from 34 countries where terrorist groups have been active.

Mar. 19 – Iraq war begins.

April 16 – Defense Department officials approve (PDF) controversial interrogation techniques for Gitmo detainees. This action is reported a year later in the Washington Post.

May 27 – The U.S. Supreme Court
declines to review a 2-1 decision of the Court of Appeals
for the Third Circuit in North Jersey Media Group v. Creppy and
leaving intact the right of the government to conduct secret
immigration hearings in this case.

Jul. 3 – President Bush announces that six of the 650 prisoners at Guantanamo are eligible to be tried by military tribunal.

Aug. 6– News breaks that John Ashcroft will start promoting the Victory Act.

Oct 9 – A DOD memorandum outlines a meeting where Red Cross officials noted improvements at Camp X-Ray but expressed additional concerns regarding due process rights, the use of caged cells, detainee isolation and detainee repatriation rates.

A public statement by The Red Cross notes “deteriotation in the psychological health of a large number” of Guantanamo detainees.

Dec. 13 – Saddam Hussein captured.

Dec. 18 – Padilla wins a court victory. The court orders that Padilla—who has been held since June of 2002 on his suspected connection to a “dirty bomb” plot—must either be charged, be declared a material witness or be released within thirty days.

Furthermore, the three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the President had no authority under the Constitution to imprison an American citizen as an enemy combatant without any charge and without judicial review when he was arrested on U.S. soil, unarmed, and far from any field of combat. The government appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which granted review.


Jan. 5 – The ACLU warns that a new immigrant tracking program, known as US VISIT, would increase confusion among immigrants coming to America, and would primarily target Arabs and Muslims.

Jan. 22 – Maher Arar, a dual citizen of Canada and Syria, files a lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft. Earlier, the Justice Department had seized Arar in 2002 while he was changing planes and deported him to Syria. Arar avows that he was tortured during his year there. The CIA claims that it had received assurances that Syria would not torture Arar.

Jan. 26 – A federal judge declares a portion of the USA Patriot Act unconstitutional. The section in question bars anyone from giving advice or assistance to groups designated as terrorist organizations. It is the first time a court has declared part of the Act unconstitutional.

Feb. 2 – A DOD memorandum (PDF) describes a meeting between military and Red Cross officials at Guantanamo Bay. Red Cross officials visited Camp X-Ray in early February to oversee the departure of juvenile detainees and to visit new prisoners. The discussion references changes in security at Camp X-Ray.

Feb. 5 – Abdel Ghani Mzoudi, a Moroccan man accused of assisting the September 11 hijackers, is cleared by a court in Hamburg due to a lack of evidence. Prosecutors have appealed the decision.

Feb. 11 – Shortly after the Supreme Court agreed to review the case, Yasser Hamdi is finally allowed to see his lawyer, Frank Dunham, albeit with military officials recording the meeting and with a ban on any discussion of Hamdi’s prison conditions.

Feb. 24 – Two detainees held at Guantanamo Bay—Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul of Yemen and Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi of Sudan—are finally charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes. The two are currently being tried by a military commission under procedures that include: the legal presumption of innocence; a requirement for proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; representation by a military defense counsel free of charge, with the option to retain a civilian defense counsel at no expense to the U.S. government; an opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses; and a prohibition against drawing an adverse inference if an accused chooses not to testify.

Apr. 8 – Mounir Motassadeq, the only man ever convicted of aiding the September 11 hijackers, is released from jail. Back in March, an appeals court had ruled that his original trial had been compromised, because the judges hadn’t considered the U.S. government’s refusal to provide evidence from al Qaeda operatives in secret custody. German courts are currently retrying Motassadeq’s case.

Apr. 20 – The Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments on the status of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The court gets ready to consider whether the United States government can hold foreign nationals as “enemy combatants” without hearings and without charges.

Apr. 28 – The Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments in both the Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla cases.

Apr. 29 – The town of Tisbury, Massachusetts becomes the 300th local or state government to pass a resolution denouncing the USA Patriot Act. (A complete list of local and state resolutions against the act can be found here.

Apr. 30 – Seymour Hersh breaks the Abu Ghraib story in The New Yorker.

May 3 – The Council on American-Islamic Relations announces that alleged harassment attacks on Muslims in the United States reached a record high in 2003.

May 6 – Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer living in Oregon, is arrested after the FBI reportedly finds his fingerprints on a bag containing detonating devices in Madrid. Mayfield is held for two weeks as a material witness, without access to his family. Two weeks later, on May 21, Spanish authorities announce that the fingerprinting ID was incorrect.

May 13 The ACLU files a lawsuit challenging a provision in the USA Patriot Act that requires telephone companies and Internet Service Providers to hand over a customer’s records to the FBI without the consent of the customer. Judge Victor Marrero eventually ruled the provision unconstitutional.

May 20 – A federal judge throws out a case brought by the Justice Department against Greenpeace, an environmental-activist group. Two Greenpeace activists had been accused of boarding a cargo ship from Brazil in April, 2002, and unfurling a banner to protest illegal logging.

Jun. 17 – The FBI announces that it will share its databases with British intelligence.

Jun. 22 – The Justice Department announces that it will review all legal advice from the department’s Office of Legal Counsel on the subject of interrogations.

Jun. 28 – The Supreme Court decides three landmark cases in the war on terror:

Of the three decisions, that of Hamdi et al v. Rumsfeld turned out to be the most significant. The case concerned the fate of Esam Hamdi, an American citizen captured in Afghanistan and held in a Navy brig in South Carolina. The administration had argued that the president had the right to designate any American an “enemy combatant” without first consulting the courts. The Supreme Court’s 8 to 1 majority opinion concluded that while the president could keep Hamdi away from the battlefield, that detention could last only until the end of “active combat operations in Afghanistan.” After that time, Hamdi must be granted a trial and legal counsel in order to contest his status as an “enemy combatant.”

In Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court granted foreign nationals detained at Guantanamo the right to file lawsuits to contest both their detentions and conditions at the base.

In Rumsfeld v. Padilla et al, the court essentially punted, arguing that Jose Padilla should have brought his case before South Carolina, where he is being held indefinitely. Nevertheless, Padilla’s case will likely resolve itself along the lines of Hamdi, meaning that Padilla will get to contest his status as an “enemy combatant” before civilian courts.

Jul. 8 – President Bush vows to veto a Congressional spending bill if it includes an amendment to curb features of the Patriot Act. The amendment eventually fails on a 210-210 vote, with the Republican leadership holding the floor open for longer than the traditional 15 minutes in order to get the votes it needed. The amendment would have limited the Justice Department’s ability to force book dealers, librarians, and others to surrender records.

Jul. 28 – The Department of Homeland Security revokes a work visa for Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Swiss Islamic scholar who had been hired by Notre Dame for an endowed chair in its International Peace Studies Institute. Ramadan has been accused of advocating Muslim extremism. DHS invoked a Patriot Act provision that authorizes such an act solely on the basis of the subject’s speech.

Aug. 12 – Two top al Qaeda operatives in US custody—Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheik Mohammed—tell the U.S. that a Moroccan man on trial in Hamburg, Mounir Motassadq, knew nothing about plans for the September 11 attacks. (The U.S. government had earlier refused to admit Binalshibh as evidence in Motassadeq’s first trial; as a result, Motassadeq’s conviction was overturned, and he is currently awaiting the verdict from a retrial.)

Aug. 20 – A federal judge orders the government to bring Yaser Esam Hamdi to a federal court if prosecutors fail to reach a deal to free him.

The Justice Department introduces secret evidence not available to the public in its legal battle with the ACLU over portions of the USA Patriot Act.

Aug. 26 – The first military tribunal since World War II opens in Guantánamo Bay as Salim Ahmed Hamdan is charged with conspiring with Osama bin Laden.

David Hicks—a former Australian cowboy who allegedly attended an al Qaeda training camp and fought alongside the Taliban—pleaded not guilty as his military trial opened in Guantanamo Bay. Hicks is the only defendant from outside the Middle East to be formally charged and brought before the military commissions thus far.

Sept. 3 – A federal judge threw out the terrorism convictions of two Arab immigrants on Thursday, undoing what the Justice Department once proclaimed was its first major courtroom victory in the war on terror. The ruling means that John Ashcroft has not successfully prosecuted a single terrorist case thus far.

Sept. 13 – The Fourth Circuit Court rules that alleged 9-11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui cannot have access to key al Qaueda detainees to build his defense. The Court also rules that Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty, and clears the way for a trial in the spring of 2005.

Sept. 16 – The Combatant Status Review tribunals review the case of Ali Hamza Ahmed Sulayman al Bahlul. It is the first time an independent panel has reviewed the case of a detainee who has already been charged by the military.

Sept. 17 – The Army drops charges against Col. Jackie Duane Farr, who was charged in 2003, along with Muslim chaplain James Yee, with trying to take classified material from Guantanamo prison. Farr had allegedly disobeyed orders by transporting classified materials without a proper security container. A Guantanamo spokesman said the charges were dropped “to more quickly resolve the matter.”

Two men—Adham Amin Hassoun and Mohamed Hesham Youssef—are indicted in Florida for allegedly providing financial support and recruitment for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The men are also charged with helping suspected “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla attend training camps in Afghanistan.

Sept. 21 – Yusef Islam, the peace activist and singer known as Cat Stevens, is removed from a flight from London to the United States. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge accuses Islam of having an “unspecified relationship with terrorist activity.”

Sept. 23 – The House Leadership introduces its intelligence reform bill which includes provisions for “extraordinary rendition”—sending detainees to other countries to be tortured—along with measures that require states to provide the federal government with a wide range of personal information. The bill also requires states to set up a central database for driver license records that would be available to federal investigators.

Sept. 30 – A federal judge in New York rules unconstitutional a portion of the USA Patriot Act that allows the FBI to demand information from Internet service providers without judicial oversight or public review. (Most of Judge Victor Marrero’s ruling, however, did not focus on the Patriot Act, but rather earlier statutes upon which the Patriot Act expanded.) John Ashcroft promises to appeal the decision.

Oct. 5 – U.S. authorities charge Saajid Badat, 25, with attempted murder, trying to destroy an aircraft, and other crimes. Badat is accused of conspiring with Richard Reid, a British member of al Qaeda who tried to ignite shoe bombs to blow up planes.

Oct. 11 – Both the House and the Senate approve an anti-torture amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). The amendment affirms the United States’ commitment not to engage in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Yasser Essam Hamdi is released by the U.S. and sent to Saudi Arabia.

Oct. 12 – Human Rights Watch reports that 11 al-Qaeda suspects have “disappeared” in U.S. custody, and may have been tortured. The prisoners are being held without access to their families, lawyers, or the Red Cross, and are possibly being held outside the United States.

Oct. 14 – A federal appeals court upholds the Fourth Circuit court’s ruling that Zacarias Moussaoui cannot interview al Qaeda detainees to build his defense. The government had objected on national security grounds.

Three months after the Supreme Court ruled that hundreds of detainees in Guantánamo have the right to challenge their imprisonment in courts, the Washington Post reports that none has appeared in the courtroom. Most detainees have not yet spoken to lawyers, and have not yet been given a reason for being held. Defense attorneys are currently engaged in negotiations with the Justice Department over security clearances for detainees.

Oct. 17 – The New York Times reports that detainess at Guantánamo Bay were regularly subjected to harsh and coercive treatment.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rules unanimously that authorities may not search people at a protest simply because they fear a terrorist attack. The court declared that September 11 “cannot be the day liberty perished.”

Oct. 20 – A U.S. district judge ruled that Guantanamo detainees can meet alone with their lawyers, rejecting a government proposal to monitor the meetings.

Oct. 25 – A new legal opinion by the Bush administration declares that some non-Iraqi prisoners captured by American forces in Iraq are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

Nov. 17 – The Department of Homeland security requires that its 180,000 employees and contractors sign a secrecy pledge, covering sensitive but unclassified information.

Dec. 16 – A U.S. district judge begins an investigation into whether the United States was involved with the detention of a 23-year-old America, Abu Ali, who is currently being held in Saudi Arabia. Ali has been interrogated repeatedly by the FBI while in Saudi custody.

Dec. 18 – The U.S. government cuts the satellite feed of al-Manar, Hizbullah’s television station. The administration declares the station a “terror organization.”

Dec. 26 – At least ten current and former detainees at Guantanamo Bay lodge new allegations of prisoner abuse, most of which corroborate recently released FBI descriptions of those incidents. The detainees allege, among other things, that “military personnel beat and kicked them while they had hoods on their heads and tight shackles on their legs, left them in freezing temperatures and stifling heat, subjected them to repeated, prolonged rectal exams and paraded them naked around the prison as military police snapped pictures.”

Dec. 31 – The Justice Department revises its definition of torture. The new guidelines retreat from an August 2002 definition that asserted that mistreatment amounted to torture only if it produced pain on the level associated with organ failure or death. However, the guidelines stay silent on the question of whether the president has the legal right to override anti-torture laws.


Jan. 1 – The Washington Post reports that the administration is preparing long-range plans to hold indefinitely those detainees whom it does not want to set free or turn over to the courts.

Jan. 6 – Nominated for Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales is sharply questioned by Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings. Gonzales claims he does not view the Geneva Conventions as either “obsolete” or “quaint,” and says that “torture and abuse will not be tolerated by this administration.” However, he defends his decision arguing that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the war against al Qaeda.

Jan. 6 – An Egyptian detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Mamdouh Habib, files a petition to prevent his transfer back to Egypt. Habib claims that before he came to the U.S. in 2001, he was tortured for nearly six months by the Egyptian government.

Jan. 18 – White House counsel Alberto Gonzales says that the CIA and other nonmilitary personnel are not bound by a 2002 presidential directive that pledged the humane treatment of prisoners in American custody. Gonzales also claims that a Congressional ban on cruel, unusual treatment had a “limited reach” and did not apply in all cases to “aliens overseas.”


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That means we're going to have upwards of $350,000, maybe more, to raise in online donations between now and June 30, when our fiscal year ends and we have to get to break-even. And even though there's zero cushion to miss the mark, we won't be all that in your face about our fundraising again until June.

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