Obama Moves to Halt ‘Harsh’ Interrogations, Close Gitmo
January 22, 2009 - 6:51 PMPresident Barack Obama took action Thursday to roll back Bush administration policy in the war on terror, signing executive orders to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison in a year and prohibit what some Democrats have called "torture."
Obama signed a total of four directives to change certain national security policies carried out under the Bush administration.
The first executive order would close the Guantanamo Bay prison (Gitmo) in Guantanamo Bay, on the southern end of Cuba, within a year. However, the administration disclosed no plan about what to do with the more than 200 terror suspects held at the prison, saying it has passed that assignment to a special task force.
A Pentagon report last June said that “36 ex-GTMO men ‘confirmed or suspected of having returned to terrorism … with Kuwait ex-detainees Abdulla Saith Al-Aimi’s confirmation of a suicide bombing in Iraq, the figure is 37.” In total, 7 percent of those released from GITMO are believed to have returned to committing acts of terrorism. See Previous Story
The second executive order requires the CIA to abide by the rules of the Army Field Manual, which prohibits certain interrogation techniques, including water-boarding, a form of simulated drowning.
Another order requires the executive branch to review the case of terror suspect Al Saleh Kaleh al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident who has been held by the federal government since 2003. The al-Marri case was singled out because he is not being held in Gitmo. Thus, the order was to ensure he would get the same legal review as Gitmo prisoners.
Obama also announced that he is appointing a task force to review interrogation and national security policy for dealing with future detainees and what to do with Gitmo prisoners.
“We intend to prosecute the war on terror in an effective way that is consistent with our values and ideas,” Obama said when signing the orders.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the federal government cannot suspend habeas corpus rights of terror suspects.
Republicans on Capitol Hill were skeptical about Obama’s move.
“In briefings yesterday, the administration could not answer questions as to what they will do with any new jihadists or enemy combatants that we capture,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
“What are we to do with these people, bring them to the very place they hoped to attack: The United States? What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators, offer them jail cells in American communities?” Hoekstra added.
“Given the stakes and unanswered questions, it seems premature for the president to have signed the orders today,” Hoekstra said. “One of the biggest challenges we face is that many decisions made early on after 9/11 were made without a clear plan. Is the president risking the same mistakes by making decisions before having a clear plan in place?”
The Gitmo detainees will be divided into three categories, senior administration officials said Thursday.
The first category is prisoners that can be transferred and held in another country; the second category will be prisoners who are not transferable but can be tried in the United States, court marshaled, or tried in a military court; and the third category is prisoners who cannot be transferred and cannot be tried.
The third category falls into place when there is evidence a prisoner can commit another attack but such evidence is not admissible in court, senior administration officials said.
An interagency task force involving the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and the director of intelligence will determine how to deal with the third category.