Saying that our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground to combat terrorism,US President Barack Obama today signed executive orders effectively ending the Central Intelligence Agencys secret interrogation program,directing the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp within a year and setting up a sweeping,high-level review of the best way to hold and question terrorist suspects in the future.
The prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where prisoners have been detained for years without charge,some subjected to interrogation that human rights groups say amounted to torture had damaged Americas moral standing in the world.
We intend to win this fight, Obama said,We are going to win it on our own terms.
As he signed three orders,16 retired generals and admirals who have fought for months for a ban on coercive interrogations stood behind him and applauded. One of Obamas orders requires the CIA to use only the 19 interrogation methods outlined in the Army Field Manual,ending former President George W Bushs policy of permitting the agency to use some secret methods that went beyond those allowed to the military.
We believe we can abide by a rule that says we dont torture,but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need, Obama said.
The orders,and Obamas televised statement,marked an abrupt break with some of the most disputed policies of the Bush administration. Critics for years have accused Bush of permitting torture,while the former president and vice president,Dick Cheney,insisted their methods were lawful and had prevented a repeat of the Sept 11,2001 terrorist attacks.
The order on Guantanamo says that the camp,which received its first hooded and chained detainees seven years ago this month,shall be closed as soon as practicable,and no later than one year from the date of this order.
It calls for a cabinet-level panel to grapple with issues including where in the United States prisoners might be moved and what courts they could be tried in. It also provides for a new diplomatic effort to transfer some of the remaining men,including more than 60 that the Bush administration had cleared for release.
The order also directs an immediate assessment of the prison itself to ensure that the men are held in conditions that meet the humanitarian requirements of the Geneva Convention. That provision appeared to be a pointed embrace of the international treaties that the Bush administration often argued did not apply to detainees captured in the war against terrorism.
The seven years of the detention camp have included four suicides,hunger strikes by scores of detainees,and accusations of extensive use of solitary confinement and abusive interrogations,which the Department of Defense has long denied. Last week a senior Pentagon official said she had concluded that interrogators at Guantanamo had tortured one detainee,who officials have said was a would-be 20th hijacker in the attacks of Sept. 11,2001.
But the orders leave unresolved complex questions surrounding the closing of the Guantanamo prison,including whether,where and how many of the detainees are to be prosecuted. They could also allow Obama to reinstate the CIAs detention and interrogation operations in the future,by presidential order,as some have argued would be appropriate if Osama bin Laden or another top-level leader of Al Qaeda were captured.
The executive order on interrogations is certain to be received with some skepticism at the CIA,which for years has maintained that the militarys interrogation rules are insufficient to get information from senior Qaeda figures like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The Bush administration asserted that the harsh interrogation methods were instrumental in gaining valuable intelligence on Qaeda operations.
A government official said Obamas order on the CIA would still allow its officers abroad to temporarily detain terrorism suspects and transfer them to other agencies,but would no longer allow the agency to carry out long-term detentions.
Obama was ready to wade deeper into the thicket of diplomacy with an afternoon visit to the State Department to welcome newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Obama could announce former Sen. George Mitchell,a seasoned international diplomat,as envoy to revive moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts,which Bush was criticised for failing to give enough attention. There was also strong speculation that Obama would name Dennis Ross,a veteran Arab-Israeli peace negotiator,as special envoy to the Middle East,with a focus on tackling Irans nuclear program. Obama has promised to pursue engagement with Tehran,in contrast to Bushs efforts to isolate it. Former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was widely seen as the top candidate for envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.