However, a Capitol Hill aide says that the administration also is planning a study of more aggressive interrogation methods that could be added to the Army manual – which would create a significant loophole to Obama’s action Thursday.
by: CBS News
President wants review of terror suspect trials and ban of harshest interrogation methods.
Washington – President Barack Obama began overhauling U.S. treatment of terror suspects Thursday, signing orders to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, review military trials of suspects and ban the harshest interrogation methods.
With three executive orders and a presidential directive signed in the Oval Office, Mr. Obama started reshaping how the United States prosecutes and questions al Qaeda, Taliban or other foreign fighters who pose a threat to Americans.
The centerpiece order would close the much-maligned U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year, a complicated process with many unanswered questions that was nonetheless a key campaign promise of Mr. Obama’s. The administration already has suspended trials for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo for 120 days pending a review of the military tribunals.
In other actions, Mr. Obama:
- Created 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.
- Required 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, a Capitol Hill aide says that the administration also is planning a study of more aggressive interrogation methods that could be added to the Army manual – which would create a significant loophole to Obama’s action Thursday.
- Directed 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. The review will look at whether al-Marri has the right to sue the government for his freedom, a right the Supreme Court already has given to Guantanamo detainees. The directive will ask the high court for a stay in al-Marri’s appeals case while the review is ongoing. The government says al-Marri is an al Qaeda sleeper agent.
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. Among the sticky issues the Obama administration has to resolve are where to put those detainees – whether back in their home countries or at other federal detention centers – and how to prosecute some of them for war crimes.
Mr. Obama has also vowed to move swiftly to meet challenges in the Middle East and other troubled overseas regions.
On his first full day in office, Mr. Obama made telephone calls Wednesday to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Mr. Obama emphasized that he would work to consolidate the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Gibbs said.
“He used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term, and to express his hope for their continued cooperation and leadership,” Gibbs said.
During his two-month stint as the president-elect, Mr. Obama promised he would have plenty to say on the Mideast conflict as soon as he was in office, but the country could only have one foreign policy voice at a time.
Mr. Obama was starting his day Thursday with a private meeting on the nation’s struggling economy, a signal to the millions of Americans struggling with tighter credit, increasing home foreclosures and the dollar’s shrinking value.
Mr. Obama’s plan to award a $500 tax credit to most workers is expected to advance through a key House panel today.
Democrats are preparing his $825 billion economic recovery plan for a floor vote next week.
Plans to extend and boost unemployment benefits, give states $87 billion to deal with Medicaid shortfalls and help unemployed people retain health care will also advance.
But as Mr. Obama’s plan to stimulate the ailing U.S. economy moves through the House, Republican opposition to massive spending increases is stiffening despite pledges on both sides to work together.
On Thursday, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia said Republicans want a meeting with Mr. Obama to discuss concerns they have over the level of spending in the $825 billion economic recovery program.
Cantor, interviewed on CBS’s “The Early Show,” said Republicans want to cooperate with the new administration to help reset the faltering economy, but that many facets of the program being pushed by majority Democrats would fail to create new jobs.
At the same time, Timothy Geithner, Mr. Obama’s nominee to become treasury secretary, won approval by the Senate Finance Committee Thursday, despite acknowledging “careless mistakes” in failing to pay $34,000 in payroll taxes. His confirmation by the full Senate is expected soon.
And signs point a Wall Street jittery about the prospect of the U.S. nationalizing banks, reports CBS News correspondent Priya David.
“We’re moving towards a situation where the government is kind of quietly nationalizing these banks anyway,” Stephen Gandel, senior editor at Time, told CBS News. “We’re putting 20 billion in here 20 billion in there, eventually we own the bank. The government is already the largest shareholder in Citibank, in fact you can already say that we’ve kind of nationalized Citibank, but the difference is we’re not running it.”
But few economists feel the government has the desire or the ability to run the nation’s banks.
“Just because you put the banks in the hands of government doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to make better loans,” NYU economist Ann Lee told CBS News.
Some of Mr. Obama’s other promises already were being implemented on his first full day in office. On Wednesday, he signed executive orders to limit his staff’s ability to leave the administration to lobby their former colleagues. He also limited pay raises for his senior aides making more than $100,000 a year – a nod to a flailing economy and voters’ frustrations.
The new commander in chief held his first meeting in the Situation Room, where he, Biden and senior military and foreign policy officials discussed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama campaigned on a pledge to withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq within 16 months, and to beef up the commitment in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama asked the Pentagon to do whatever additional planning necessary to “execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq.”
Mr. Obama also had Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts readminister the oath of office he fumbled on Inauguration Day.