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Obama Shuts Bush's Network of CIA `Ghost Prisons`
By Suzanne Goldenberg and Ewen MacAskill Washington
New president embarks on wholesale deconstruction of George Bush's war on terror.
Barack Obama embarked on the wholesale deconstruction of George Bush's war on terror, shutting down the CIA's secret prison network, banning torture and rendition, and calling for a new set of rules for detainees. The repudiation of Bush's thinking on national security yesterday also saw the appointment of a high-powered envoy to the Middle East.
Obama's decision to permanently shut down the CIA's clandestine interrogation centers went far beyond the widely anticipated move to wind down the Guantanamo Bay detention centre within a year.
He cast his scrapping of the legal apparatus set up by Bush as a way for America to reclaim the moral high ground in the fight against al-Qaida.
"We are not, as I said during the inauguration, going to continue with the false choice between our safety and our ideals," Obama said at the signing ceremony. "We intend to win this fight. We are going to win it on our own terms."
In a sign of the sweeping rejection of the legal standards set by Bush, officials briefing reporters at the White House yesterday said the new administration would not be guided by any of the opinions on torture and detainees issued by the justice department after 11 September 2001.
Instead, Obama, in three executive orders, renewed the US commitment to the Geneva Convention on the treatment of detainees. All detainees will be registered by the International Committee for the Red Cross, in another departure of past practice under the Bush administration.
A group of 16 retired admirals and generals, in a meeting organized by Human Rights First, said the move would restore America's moral authority in the world, and strengthen its national security. "President Obama has rejected the false choice between national security and our ideals," they said.
As expected, Obama made good on his campaign promise to shut down Guantanamo, issuing an executive order to close the camp within a year. He also ordered a taskforce, led by the attorney general and the secretaries of defense, state and homeland security, to review the intelligence and information on each detainee and to determine whether they can be released or put on trial.
He called for a review on the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo to be completed within 30 days.
Another order directs the CIA to follow the US army field manual on interrogations, which bars such techniques as waterboarding.
Obama also directed a taskforce to study and report back within 180 days on whether new guidelines were required for intelligence officials, beyond those set down by the military. Administration officials were adamant that the review was not intended as a back door to reinstate torture. "There is not a secret annexe that allows us to bring enhanced interrogation techniques back," said one.
The final order mandates a review of the case of Ali Saleh Khalah al-Marri, a Qatari, the last enemy combatant on US soil, who is being held in a naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina.
Obama followed up the burst of activity on detention policy by announcing that his administration would put resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the top of his agenda, "actively and aggressively" seeking a comprehensive peace deal. As a sign of that intent, he confirmed that former senator George Mitchell, a veteran US mediator, would be his Middle East envoy.
Obama, who had been criticized for his silence during the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, set out a new position that, while still leaning towards Israel, was more even-handed than that under Bush. He called for Hamas to stop firing rockets at Israel, but also said that Israel must "complete the withdrawal of its forces from Gaza".
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