Washington — Breaking forcefully with Bush anti-terror policies, President Barack Obama ordered major changes Thursday that he said would halt the torture of suspects, close down the Guantanamo detention center, ban secret CIA prisons overseas and fight terrorism “in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.”
“We intend to win this fight. We’re going to win it on our terms,” Obama declared, turning U.S. policy abruptly on just his second full day in office. He also put a fresh emphasis on diplomacy, naming veteran troubleshooters for Middle East hotspots.
The policies and practices that Obama said he was reversing have been widely reviled overseas, by U.S. allies as well as in less-friendly Arab countries. President George W. Bush said the policies were necessary to protect the nation after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks — though he, too, had said he wanted Guantanamo closed at some point.
“A new era of American leadership is at hand,” Obama said.
Executive orders signed by the new president would order the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, shut within a year, require the closure of any remaining secret CIA “black site” prisons abroad and bar CIA interrogators of detainees from using harsh techniques already banned for military questioners.
That includes physical abuse such as waterboarding, a technique that creates the sensation of drowning and has been termed torture by critics at home and abroad.
For the signing ceremony, Obama was flanked in the Oval Office by retired senior U.S. military leaders who had pressed for the changes.
Underscoring the new administration’s point, the admirals and generals said in a statement: “President Obama’s actions today will restore the moral authority and strengthen the national security of the United States.”
Obama said he was certain that the nation’s security is strengthened — not weakened — when the U.S. adheres to “core standards of conduct.”
“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.
“We don’t torture,” Obama said, but Bush had said the same. The question has always been defining the word.
Later, Obama visited the State Department to welcome newly confirmed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, emphasizing the importance his administration intends to give diplomacy in his foreign policy. He told Foreign Service officers and other department employees they “are going to be critical to our success.”