In the past 10 days, the revelation of once classified memos and Senate reports has greatly elucidated how torture happened. This timeline shows the key relevant legal and military events. New information is marked in italics.
September 11: Afghanistan-based terrorist organization al Qaeda attacks the United States. Nearly 3,000 people die.
September 14: A congressional resolution authorizes U.S. President George W. Bush to use all necessary and appropriate force to combat the countries and groups behind 9/11. Vice President Dick Cheney promises that the United States will use any means at our disposal to combat terrorism.
September 16: In an interview on NBC's Meet the Press, Cheney says the government will need to work through the dark side. He continues: We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion. ...It's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal.
September 17: Bush gives the CIA the authority to kill, capture, and detain al Qaeda operatives. The CIA lays plans for secret overseas prisons and special interrogations.
September 25: Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) lawyer John Yoo submits a memo to the White House advising that Bush may preemptively wage war anywhere in the world, against any country or organization that harbors or supports any terrorist group, linked to the 9/11 attacks or not.
November 13: Bush issues an executive order declaring that the United States will try any foreigners who commit acts of terrorism or harbor terrorists via military commission, under rules written by the executive branch.
December: The Department of Defense general counsel's office solicits information on detainee exploitation from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which advises on counterinterrogation techniques known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape).
January 11: The first 20 prisoners picked up in Afghanistan arrive in Guantnamo Bay, Cuba.
February 7: Bush issues an executive order denying Taliban and al Qaeda detainees the protections afforded under the Geneva Conventions, saying that the United States needs new thinking in the law of war. Article3 of the conventions prohibits cruel treatment and torture and the humiliating and degrading treatment of detainees.
February 19: On behalf of British and Australian Guantnamo detainees, the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based NGO, files habeas corpus petitions in the District of Columbia's circuit court.
March 28: The CIA and Pakistani intelligence service capture a top al Qaeda operative, Abu Zubayda. Zubayda is shot multiple times while attempting to evade capture.
April: A document on SERE techniques is circulated to JPRA and Department of Defense staffers.
May: The CIA asks senior White House officials, including National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, to consider the possibility of using rough interrogation tactics, such as waterboarding, in interrogations.
May 8: Jose Padilla, who allegedly planned a dirty bomb attack, is arrested in Chicago; he is currently serving a 17-year sentence in a supermax prison. He and two other combatants were held incommunicado in a Navy brig for years following their detention.
July: Richard Shiffrin, a counsel in the Department of Defense, inquires about SERE techniques -- initially designed to help U.S. soldiers captured abroad. Members of the CIA learn SERE techniques in September.
July 17: Rice meets with CIA Director George Tenet. She says the CIA may go ahead with its planned interrogation of Zubayda, if the Justice Department signs off.
July 26: Attorney General John Ashcroft concludes that waterboarding is lawful, allowing the CIA to go ahead and use the technique on Zubayda.
August 1: Jay Bybee, then head of the OLC and now a federal judge, sends a memo to John Rizzo, counsel to the CIA, about torture and Zubayda. He says 10 escalating techniques, leading up to waterboarding, do not constitute torture and may be used.
August 1: In another memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, largely written by Yoo and commonly called the Bybee Memo, the OLC concludes that only acts which result in pain equivalent to organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death, constitute torture; all lesser abuse is legal. Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh called it perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion I have ever read.
August: Zubayda is waterboarded more than 80 times over the course of the month.
September 25: David Addington, counsel to Cheney, and other high-ranking administration lawyers travel to Guantnamo to review procedures and conditions.
October 7: Bush gives a speech making the case for the link between al Qaeda and Iraq. We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases, he says. The information was false, given by a detainee under intense interrogation.
New reports suggest that the White House pressured interrogators to elicit evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda, leading to more and harsher enhanced interrogations. No such link ever existed.
November: In the Salt Pit, a secret, CIA-run prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, guards strip a detainee, chain him outdoors, and leave him there. He dies of hypothermia.
December 2: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approves coercive interrogation techniques, including inducing stress by use of detainee's fears (e.g. dogs), for Guantnamo. He jots on a memo, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?