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Obama orders closure of Guantanamo Bay

January 23, 2009 00:42 IST

US President Barack Obama has ordered the closure of the controversial Guantanamo Bay military detention centre in Cuba within a year, fulfilling one of his key poll promises.

He also signed an order to shut down all secret Central Intelligence Agency detention centers around the world.

Human rights organisations have been alleging that the Guantanamo Bay military prison, set up by Bush Administration in 2002, was being used to detain and question terror suspects with harsh interrogation measures. The prison camp currently holds about 245 inmates.

The executive orders in this regard were signed by Obama at a White House ceremony during his meeting with the retired military officials on Thursday.

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. If there are detainees who cannot be transferred or prosecuted, the review will examine the lawful options for dealing with them.

Earlier testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dennis Blair, Director National Intelligence-designate, said the detention centre must be closed.

"I agree with the (US) President that the detention centre at Guantanamo has become a damaging symbol to the world and that it must be closed," Blair said during the course of his nomination hearing.

Signing the executive order, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to the war against terrorism and said the US is going to win the war on its own terms.

"With the executive orders... 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," Obama said.

The Order requires closure of the Guantanamo detention centre with in one year and establishes a review process aimed at disposing of the detainees before closing the facility.

The Attorney General will coordinate the review and the Secretaries of Defence, 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 Defence to halt military commission proceedings pending the results of the review. It also requires that conditions of confinement at Guantanamo, until its closure, comply with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and all other applicable laws.

Besides, the 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.

The executive order also requires that all interrogations of detainees in armed conflict, by any government agency, follow the Army Field Manual interrogation guidelines.

The Order prohibits reliance on any Department of Justice or other legal advice concerning interrogation that was issued between September 11, 2001 and January 20, 2009 by the previous Bush Administration.

It 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 such facilities in 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.

In another order, Obama 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 detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a suspected Al Qaeda operative 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.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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