With a few strokes of a pen, President Obama this morning reversed linchpins of the Bush administration's war on terror.
He signed executive orders to shut down the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center within a year and to ban harsh interrogations -- what critics say are tantamount to torture .
Obama signed the orders after meeting with 16 retired military officers, who he said pleaded with him to stand up for human rights and American values in combatting terrorism.
"They made an extraordinary impression on me," said Obama, as they stood behind him and applauded.
After signing the orders, Obama said, "the message we are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism, and we are going to do so vigilantly; we are going to do so effectively; and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals."
"We think that it is precisely our ideals that give us the strength and the moral high ground to be able to effectively deal with the unthinking violence that we see emanating from terrorist organizations around the world," he said. "We intend to win this fight. We're going to win it on our terms."
Human Rights First issued a statement on behalf of the retired military officers.
“President Obama’s actions today will restore the moral authority and strengthen the national security of the United States. It is vital to the safety of our men and women in uniform that the United States never sanction the use of interrogation methods that we would find unacceptable if inflicted by an enemy against captured Americans," the statement said.
"We commend President Obama for acting quickly through these executive orders to enforce a single standard of humane treatment for all US intelligence interrogations. As commander-in-chief, he has provided clarity throughout the military chain of command. By unequivocally rejecting torture and other cruel and inhumane treatment, shutting down secret prisons, providing Red Cross access to prisoners in US custody, rejecting the legal opinions that facilitated and excused torture, and announcing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison, President Obama has rejected the false choice between national security and our ideals. Our nation will be stronger and safer for it.”
The military-run prison camp at the US Navy base in Cuba, where about 245 terrorism suspects are being detained, has become a symbol of the Bush administration's policies and a magnet for critics who say it violates human rights.
To lay the groundwork for the closing, on Wednesday the ongoing military tribunals -- including one for five Al Qaeda members accused in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- were suspended for 120 days.
Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama's incoming director of national intelligence, told Congress today that the detention center must be closed because it is "a damaging symbol to the world."
"It is a rallying cry for terrorist recruitment and harmful to our national security, so closing it is important for our national security," Blair said in prepared remarks.
The summaries of the executive orders, as provided by the White House, are below:
Executive Order regarding Guantanamo Bay detainees
Executive Order requires closure of the Guantanamo detention center no later than one year from the date of the Order. Closure of the facility is the ultimate goal but not the first step. The Order establishes a review process with the goal of disposing of the detainees before closing the facility.
The Order sets up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security. If transfer is not approved, a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum. The preference is for prosecution in Article III courts or under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), but military commissions, perhaps with revised authorities, would remain an option. If there are detainees who cannot be transferred or prosecuted, the review will examine the lawful options for dealing with them. The Attorney General will coordinate the review and the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security as well as the DNI and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will participate.
The Executive Order directs the Secretary of State to seek international cooperation aimed at achieving the transfers of detainees.
The Order directs the Secretary of Defense to halt military commission proceedings pending the results of the review.
Finally, the Executive Order requires that conditions of confinement at Guantanamo, until its closure, comply with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and all other applicable laws.
Executive Order regarding Detainee Policy
Executive Order creates a Special Task Force, co-chaired by the Attorney General and the Secretary of Defense, to conduct a review of detainee policy going forward. The group will consider policy options for apprehension, detention, trial, transfer, or release of detainees. Other Task Force participants include the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Special Task Force must submit its report to the President within 180 days.
Executive Order regarding Interrogation
Executive Order revokes Executive Order 13440 that interpreted Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. It requires that all interrogations of detainees in armed conflict, by any government agency, follow the Army Field Manual interrogation guidelines. The Order also prohibits reliance on any Department of Justice or other legal advice concerning interrogation that was issued between September 11, 2001 and January 20, 2009.
The Order requires all departments and agencies to provide the ICRC access to detainees in a manner consistent with Department of Defense regulations and practice. It also orders the CIA to close all existing detention facilities and prohibits it from operating detention facilities in the future.
Finally, the Order creates a Special Task Force with two missions. The Task Force will conduct a review of the Army Field Manual interrogation guidelines to determine whether different or additional guidance is necessary for the CIA. It will also look at rendition and other policies for transferring individuals to third countries to be sure that our policies and practices comply with all obligations and are sufficient to ensure that individuals do not face torture and cruel treatment if transferred. This Task Force will be led by the Attorney General with the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence as co-Vice Chairs.
Presidential Memorandum on Review of the Detention of al-Marri
The President instructed the Attorney General, the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence to conduct a review of the status of the detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri who is currently held at the Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina. This will ensure the same kind of legal and factual review is undertaken of the al-Marri case that is being undertaken of the Guantanamo cases.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.