“We intend to win this fight. We’re going to win it on
our terms,” Mr. Obama said as he signed three executive orders and a
presidential directive in the Oval Office. He explained each order before he
put his pen to them and occasionally solicited input from White House counsel
Greg Craig to make sure he was describing them correctly, according to the
In his first 48 hours in office, Mr. Obama has started to
change how U.S. prosecutes and questions al-Qaida, Taliban and other foreign
fighters who pose a threat to Americans. The efforts are being made to overhaul
America’s image abroad, which has been battered by accusations of the use of
torture and the indefinite detention of suspects at the Guantanamo military
camp in Cuba.
“The message that we are sending 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 and 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,” the president said.
Mr. Obama continues to undo the controversial detention
policies of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, ordering the Central
Intelligence Agency to close its remaining network of secret prisons abroad and
directing all government personnel to abide by the U.S. Army Field Manual while
interrogating detainees. The manual explicitly prohibits threats, coercion,
physical abuse and waterboarding, a technique that creates the sensation of
drowning and has been termed a form of torture by critics.
The field manual, however, may not exist much longer in its
current form and may be revised to include more aggressive techniques.
The president’s pick
to be the top intelligence officer, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, told the Senate
Intelligence Committee Thursday that the military field manual will be reviewed
for possible changes. The manual outlines 19 legal techniques and forbids nine.
Blair said it won’t be called the Army Field Manual. He said it will be called
“the manual for government interrogations,” the AP reported.
Blair said there needs to be a single uniform standard for
the treatment of detainees. Under the Bush administration, the CIA was allowed,
in some cases, to conduct harsh interrogations on terrorist suspects that went
well beyond the military methods.
President Obama’s centerpiece order would close the
Guantanamo facility within a year, a complicated process with many unanswered
questions that was nonetheless a key campaign promise. The administration
already has suspended trials for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo for 120 days
pending a review of the military tribunals. He ordered an immediate review of
the estimated 245 detainees to see whether they should be transferred, released
But moving detainees onto the U.S. mainland, even to the
confines of a military brig, is likely to face intense local opposition,
Washington Post reporter Peter Finn wrote Thursday.
“Transferring cases out of Guantanamo raises the
prospect that some may not stand up in court because of evidence tainted by
torture or based on intelligence material that is inadequate in court,” he
wrote. “If the administration were to create a new system of indefinite detention
for some prisoners — those considered too dangerous to release or impossible
to prosecute, for example — Obama could alienate part of his core
European allies, long concerned about Guantanamo, praised
the new president’s action. Portugal and Germany have expressed willingness to
help close the prison. European ministers are expected to discuss the matter in
a meeting in Brussels on Monday, the Post reported.
In a statement, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio,
said that “there are important questions that must be answered before the
terrorist detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay can be closed. The key question
is where do you put these terrorists?”
President Obama also directed the Justice Department to
review the case of Qatar native Ali al-Marri, who is the only enemy combatant
currently being held on U.S. soil. The review will look at whether he has the
right to sue the government for his freedom, a right the Supreme Court already
has given to Guantanamo detainees. The directive will ask the high court for a
stay in al-Marri’s appeals case while the review is ongoing. The government
says al-Marri is an al-Qaida sleeper agent.