Obama to Shut Guantánamo Site and C.I.A. Prisons
President Obama is expected to sign executive orders Thursday directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, government officials said.
The orders, which would be the first steps in undoing detention policies of former President George W. Bush, would rewrite American rules for the detention of terrorism suspects. They would require an immediate review of the 245 detainees still held at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to determine if they should be transferred, released or prosecuted.
And the orders would bring to an end a Central Intelligence Agency program that kept terrorism suspects in secret custody for months or years, a practice that has brought fierce criticism from foreign governments and human rights activists. They will also prohibit the C.I.A. from using coercive interrogation methods, requiring the agency to follow the same rules used by the military in interrogating terrorism suspects, government officials said.
But the orders would leave unresolved complex questions surrounding the closing of the Guantánamo prison, including whether, where and how many of the detainees are to be prosecuted. They could also allow Mr. Obama to reinstate the C.I.A.’s 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 new White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, briefed lawmakers about some elements of the orders on Wednesday evening. A Congressional official who attended the session said Mr. Craig acknowledged concerns from intelligence officials that new restrictions on C.I.A. methods might be unwise and indicated that the White House might be open to allowing the use of methods other the 19 techniques allowed for the military.
Details of the directive involving the C.I.A. were described by government officials who insisted on anonymity so they could not be blamed for pre-empting a White House announcement. Copies of the draft order on Guantánamo were provided by people who have consulted with Mr. Obama’s transition team and requested anonymity for the same reason.
The executive order on interrogations is certain to be received with some skepticism at the C.I.A., which for years has maintained that the military’s 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.
The intelligence agency built a network of secret prisons in 2002 to house and interrogate senior Qaeda figures captured overseas. The exact number of suspects to have moved through the prisons is unknown, although Michael V. Hayden, the departing director of the agency, has in the past put the number at “fewer than 100.”
The secret detentions brought international condemnation, and in September 2006, President Bush ordered that the remaining 14 detainees in C.I.A. custody be transferred to Guantánamo Bay and tried by military tribunals.
But Mr. Bush made clear then that he was not shutting down the C.I.A. detention system, and in the last two years, two Qaeda operatives are believed to have been detained in agency prisons for several months each before being sent to Guantánamo.
A government official said Mr. Obama’s order on the C.I.A. 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.
Since the early days after the 2001 attacks, the intelligence agency’s role in detaining terrorism suspects has been significantly scaled back, as has the severity of interrogation methods the agency is permitted to use. The most controversial practice, the simulated drowning technique known as water-boarding, was used on three suspects but has not been used since 2003, C.I.A. officials said.
But at the urging of the Bush administration, Congress in 2006 authorized the agency to continue using harsher interrogation methods than those permitted for use by other agencies, including the military. Those exact methods remain classified. The order on Guantánamo 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.”
The order 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 Guantánamo had tortured one detainee, who officials have said was a would-be “20th hijacker” in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The report of Thursday’s expected announcement came after the new administration late Tuesday night ordered an immediate halt to the military commission proceedings for prosecuting detainees at Guantánamo and filed a request in Federal District Court in Washington to stay habeas corpus proceedings there. Government lawyers described both delays as necessary for the administration to make a broad assessment of detention policy.
The cases immediately affected include those of five detainees charged as the coordinators of the 2001 attacks, including the case against Mr. Mohammed, the self-described mastermind.
The decision to stop the commissions was described by the military prosecutors as a pause in the war-crimes system “to permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration time to review the military commission process generally and the cases currently pending before the military commissions, specifically.”
More than 200 detainees’ habeas corpus cases have been filed in federal court, and lawyers said they expected that all of the cases would be stayed.
Mr. Obama had suggested in the campaign that, in place of military commissions, he would prefer prosecutions in federal courts or, perhaps, in the existing military justice system, which provides legal guarantees similar to those of American civilian courts.
Some human rights groups and lawyers for detainees said they were concerned about the one-year timetable. “It only took days to put these men in Guantánamo; it shouldn’t take a year to get them out,” said Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which has coordinated detainees’ lawyers.
But several groups that had criticized the Bush administration’s policies applauded the rapid moves by the new administration. Mr. Obama’s actions “reaffirmed American values and are a ray of light after eight long, dark years,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
[Source: New York Times, NY, 21Jan09]
State of Exception
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