Friday, January 23, 2009

Gitmo to Close Within a Year; CIA Secret Prisons to be Shut; Torture Banned

By Ben Trott

On his second day in office, Obama - as was widely expected - announced the closure of Guantánamo Bay detention centre within a year. He also signed executive orders closing the CIA's network of secret prisons and banning torture.

The New York Times yesterday wrote,
'Mr. Obama’s orders struck a powerful new tone and represented an important first step toward rewriting American rules for dealing with terrorism suspects. But only his decision to halt for now the military trials under way at Guantánamo Bay seemed likely to have immediate practical significance, with other critical policy choices to be resolved by task forces set up within the administration.

'Among the questions that the White House did not resolve on Thursday were these: What should be done with terrorists who cannot be tried in American courts, either because evidence against them was obtained by torture or because intelligence is too sensitive to use in court? Should some interrogation methods remain secret to keep Al Qaeda from training to resist them? How can the United States make sure prisoners transferred to other countries will not be tortured?

'Members of Mr. Obama’s national security team have expressed a wide variety of views on interrogation and detention policy, and there is likely to be robust internal debate before the questions are resolved.'
In a statement published on the organisation's website, Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Council for Civil Liberties, who have been running the Close Gitmo campaign, said,
'These executive orders represent a giant step forward. Putting an end to Guantanamo, torture and secret prisons is a civil liberties trifecta, and President Obama should be highly commended for this bold and decisive action so early in his administration on an issue so critical to restoring an America we can be proud of again.

'There are, however, ambiguities in the orders regarding treatment of certain detainees that could either be the result of the swiftness with which these orders were issued or ambivalence within the Obama administration. We are hopeful that as the process unfolds and gets clarified, there will be no doubt that detainees must either be charged, prosecuted and convicted or they need to be released. That’s the American way; our legal system, while not always perfect, is the best in the world. Adherence to American legal principles requires unconditional action; there is no room for a middle-ground. It would be an enormous mistake for the Obama administration to allow for indefinite detention in any case, or to endeavor to create any system other than our centuries-old justice system for prosecuting detainees. If President Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates hold on to any part of the Bush administration’s legal farce, they will soon end up in the very same legal morass that the prior president found himself in over the last eight years.'
David Iglesias has been appointed the Judge Advocate General who will serve as prosecutor in the Guantánamo cases. Harper's magazine blogger on legal affairs, Scott Horton, describes Iglesias as a 'good man' and the appointment as marking,
'a distinct upgrade to the quality and caliber of the prosecution effort, which recently has been beset with controversy concerning its independence. Six Gitmo prosecutors have resigned or requested reassignment, many noting that political officials of the Bush Administration improperly interfered with their management of the cases or suggested the existence of vital evidence which was being withheld from the defense.'
Much of the left have, of course, been pleased with the announcement - even if several important issues regarding the detention and treatment of terror suspects still remain unresolved. Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, for example, wrote in the Guardian,
'It is, of course, right that the trials should be immediately suspended and the prison itself be closed as soon as possible. However, what follows will be just as important. If, as some have argued, secret trials on the basis of waterboarded confessions were to be repackaged and transported to the mainland, the Bush legacy of legal exceptionalism would become a permanent part of US constitutional furniture.'
Perhaps more immediately controversial, however, is likely to be the Obama administration's probable continuation of Bush-era policies on the running of wire-taps without warrants.

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