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Obama Orders Guantanamo Prison Closed Within One Year

  • Michael Bowman

In a major reversal of Bush administration policies, President Barack Obama has ordered the shutdown of the U.S. terror detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Mr. Obama has also ordered a review of military trials for terror suspects and acted to ban so-called "enhanced" interrogation techniques.

With three strokes of the pen, President Obama radically overhauled America's handling of terror suspects, but pledged the battle against terrorism will continue.

"We intend to win this fight. We are going to win it on our terms," he said.

The president signed an executive order mandating the shutdown of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp within a year. In addition, he set up a task force that will recommend what is to be done with about 245 remaining terror suspects once the Guantanamo Bay camp is closed.

The administration has suspended trials for Guantanamo suspects for 120 days while a review of military tribunals set up during the Bush administration goes forward.

Mr. Obama also stipulated the U.S. Army Field Manual will guide U.S. interrogations of terror suspects by all government entities. The manual forbids "enhanced" techniques like waterboarding - which simulates drowning - that were believed to have been used by CIA operatives in exceptional circumstances. Administration officials say the detainees will be covered by the Geneva Conventions on prisoner treatment. The director of the CIA has told employees they must follow the new rules without exception.

While it is not yet clear what will be done with all the detainees when the camp closes, White House officials say no terror suspects will be sent to third countries that employ torture.

Speaking in the Oval Office, the president said his administration will not continue with what he called a false choice between safety and ideals.

"We think that it is precisely our ideals that give us the strength and the moral high ground to be able to effectively deal with the unthinking violence that we see emanating from terrorist organizations around the world," he said.

Speaking on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama's pick to oversee U.S. intelligence work, Admiral Dennis Blair, described the Guantanamo detainee camp as "a rallying cry for terrorist recruitment."

"The Guantanamo detention center will be closed. It has become a damaging symbol," he said.

But Republican leaders are expressing grave misgivings about closing the facility, citing reports that some detainees that were released in recent years have rejoined al-Qaida or other terrorist organizations.

Closing Guantanamo was a central Obama campaign promise.

Set up after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Guantanamo detention facility quickly became an irritant between the United States and the world at large, including long-standing U.S. allies.

Human rights groups have blasted the indefinite nature of the detentions with few of the rights and protections mandated for prisoners of war under international law. They also have decried detainee living conditions in the early phase of the operation, as well as allegations of abuse and torture.

The Bush administration argued that those detained in the global war on terror did not qualify for prisoner-of-war status, since they fought for no internationally-recognized government and wore no uniforms. Former President Bush referred to them as "illegal combatants" and "detainees" rather than "soldiers" and "prisoners" - and maintained that the United States does not torture.

The United States has maintained a naval base at Guantanamo for more than a century. The land is leased from Cuba in an arrangement that precedes the Cuban revolution. The base will not be closed by this order.

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