Obama Signs Orders to Close Guantanamo, Prohibit Torture

President also signs order setting up interagency task force on detainees

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President Barack Obama signs an executive order related to the closing of Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, during a ceremony in the Oval Office. (Source: Getty Images)

President Barack Obama signed four executive orders today that will shut down Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay detention center, prohibit torture, and review war crimes trials.

“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, as he flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and numerous retired military officers.

The first executive order mandates the closing of Guantanamo by Jan. 22, 2010. The order also established a review process with the goal of transferring the detainees before closing the facility. It also requires a review to determine whether it is possible to transfer the detainees to other countries, and if transfer isn’t approved, a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.

He signed the document in a blue folder to applause, adding, “There we go.”

The next order revokes Executive Order 13440, signed by former President George W. Bush in July 2007, that allowed the use of interrogation techniques blocked by the Geneva Convention. Obama’s order requires that all interrogations of detainees in armed conflict, by any government agency, follow the Army Field Manual interrogation guidelines.

The order is intended, he said, to improve intelligence gathering “as well as promote safe and humane treatment of individuals in U.S. custody.” He said it “assures compliance with treaty obligations of the U.S., including the Geneva Conventions.” He said it “effectively insures that anybody detained by the U.S.,” will be interrogated abiding by the Army Field Manual. “We can abide by a rule that says ‘We don’t torture,’ ” he said. He added that doing so follows a campaign promise but also “an understanding that dates back to our Founding Fathers that we are willing to observe…standards of conduct not just when it is easy but also when it’s hard.”

Another order sets up a special interagency task force on detainees made up of the attorney general, secretaries of defense, state, and homeland security, the director of national intelligence, the director of the CIA and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“They are going to provide me with information in terms of how we are able to deal with the disposition of some of the detainees that may be currently at Guantanamo that we cannot transfer to other countries, who impose a serious danger…but who we cannot try because of various problems related to evidence in an Article III court.”

The president sought verification of this interpretation of the document from White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig, who added that the task force’s recommendations

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