Barack Obama has ordered the CIA to cease the torture and mistreatment of terrorist suspects and to shut down its notorious network of secret prisons around the world. As anticipated, he signed an order yesterday which means the Guantanamo Bay jail in Cuba will be closed within a year.
Mr Obama said at the State Department that in this "twilight struggle" he wanted to send, "an unmistakable signal that our actions in defence of liberty will be (as) just as our cause". The directive said it "shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order".
The US is still holding 245 suspects in Guantanamo, only a handful of whom are believed to be senior members of al-Qai'da. Many are ordinary Arabs who were caught up in security sweeps in Afghanistan and Pakistan and have been left stateless. But it is not known how many suspects captured by the CIA were sent off to be interrogated in secret prisons.
The outgoing CIA chief, Michael Hayden, says it is "fewer than 100". Because some of the interrogators fear they could be prosecuted for war crimes, video tapes of interrogations and other records have also disappeared. The existence of a secret CIA prisons network and the policy of "rendition" – secretly removing suspects to countries where torture is practised – has caused international outrage. Decisions must now be made on whether inmates should be transferred, released or prosecuted in the US.
Mr Obama's new overall spy chief, Dennis Blair, said Guantanamo must be shut down because it had become "a damaging symbol to the world".
"It is a rallying cry for terrorist recruitment and harmful to our national security," he said. Mr Blair, a retired admiral and veteran of the intelligence community, enthusiastically backed Mr Obama's new approach and said he would rigorously enforce it. "I believe strongly that torture is not moral, legal or effective," he said.
Four inmates have killed themselves at Guantanamo and other detainees have held hunger strikes. A senior Pentagon official testified last week that a detainee, suspected of being the "20th hijacker" in the attacks of 2001, was tortured.
Mr Obama and his newly confirmed Secretary State, Hillary Clinton, also addressed diplomats, announcing a new era of engagement with the world following eight years in which diplomacy has been emasculated.
The CIA is continuing to demand the right to use aggressive interrogation techniques. Gregory Craig, the White House legal counsel, indicated to Congress that the new rules might be bent to allow certain unspecified techniques. The spy agency has used brutal force to extract information from senior figures within the al-Qai'da network, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Take two... President sworn in again
*Barack Obama has been sworn in for a second time because one word was said out of place at his inauguration. As he read the oath for Mr Obama to recite on Tuesday, the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, John Roberts, was supposed to say "faithfully execute the office of the President" but said the word "faithfully" after the word "President". White House lawyers said they decided to do it again "out of an abundance of caution". Mr Obama joked: "We're going to do it again very slowly."
Clinton takes charge for'new era'
Hillary Clinton arrived to take charge of the State Department yesterday, proclaiming the start of a new era of robust US diplomacy to tackle the world's crises and improve America's standing abroad. Before a raucous, cheering crowd, the nation's 67th Secretary of State pledged to boost the morale and resources of the diplomatic corps and promised them a difficult but exciting road ahead.
"I believe with all of my heart this is a new era for America," she said in the main lobby of the department's headquarters.
Her mandate is to step up diplomatic efforts and restore the nation's image overseas. She has vowed to make use of "smart power" to deal with challenges. After her speech, she made telephone calls to foreign leaders, toured some of the key offices and received briefings before hosting President Obama, Vice-Preisdent Joe Biden and national security adviser James Jones.
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