Washington President Barack Obama will begin overhauling U.S. national security policy today with orders to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, review military trials of terror suspects and end harsh interrogations, two government officials said.
Together, the three executive orders and a presidential directive will reshape how the United States prosecutes and questions al-Qaida, Taliban or other foreign fighters who pose a threat to Americans.
A senior Obama administration official said the president would sign an order today to shutter the Guantanamo prison within one year, fulfilling his campaign promise to close a facility that critics around the world say violates domestic and international detainee rights. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the order has not yet been issued.
A draft copy of the order, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, notes that “in view of significant concerns raised by these detentions, both within the United States and internationally, prompt and appropriate disposition of the individuals currently detained at Guantanamo and closure of the facility would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.”
An estimated 245 men are being held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, most of whom have been detained for years without being charged with a crime. The administration already has received permission to suspend the trials at Guantanamo for 120 days pending a review of the military tribunals.
Two other executive orders and a presidential directive also are expected today, according to the administration official and an aide to a House Republican lawmaker who was briefed on the plans Wednesday by White House counsel Greg Craig. They include:
l An executive order creating a task force that would have 30 days to recommend policies on handling terror suspects who are detained in the future. Specifically, the group would look at where those detainees should be housed since Guantanamo is closing.
l An executive order to require all U.S. personnel to follow the U.S. Army Field Manual while interrogating detainees. The manual explicitly prohibits threats, coercion, physical abuse and waterboarding, a technique that creates the sensation of drowning and has been termed a form of torture by critics. However, the administration also is planning a study of more aggressive interrogation methods that could be added to the Army manual, a second Capitol Hill aide said.
l A presidential directive for the Justice Department to review the case of Qatar native Ali al-Marri, who is the only enemy combatant currently being held on U.S. soil.