By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 22, 2009 - President Barack Obama today called for the closing of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within one year. In a series of executive orders concerning the treatment of detainees in American custody, Obama also ordered the creation of a group tasked with detainee disposition, governmentwide use of the Army field manual's interrogation rules and the delay of a high-profile hearing.
"The message that we are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism," the president said at the signing ceremony here. "And we are going to do so vigilantly, we are going to do so effectively, and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals."
The directive comes two days after Obama asked Pentagon officials to pause legal proceedings involving alleged terrorists being held and tried at Guantanamo.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who responded to the presidential request Jan. 20, has recommended shutting down the Guantanamo detention center since early in his two-year tenure.
A thorny legal question surrounding the closure of the detention center is the fate of some of the roughly 250 people currently held there.
Obama today ordered the formation of an interagency task force responsible for providing recommendations on handling such detainees. The group will comprise Gates; Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Dennis C. Blair, the director of National Intelligence; CIA Director Leon Panetta; and the secretary of Homeland Security and other officials.
"They are going to provide me with information in terms of how we are able to deal in the disposition of some of the detainees that may be currently in Guantanamo that we cannot transfer to other countries, who could pose a serious danger to the United States, but we cannot try because of various problems related to evidence in a [federal] court," Obama said.
Another directive Obama endorsed today calls for all U.S. interrogations to abide by rules articulated in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3. The manual, released in September 2006, lays out specific guidelines for military members involved in detention and interrogation, and Obama's order extends the mandate to all U.S. government personnel.
"We believe that the Army Field Manual reflects the best judgment of our military; that we can abide by a rule that says we don't torture, but that we can still effectively obtain the intelligence that we need," the president said. "[It's] an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard."
Obama also called for a delay in the Supreme Court hearing of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident detained in Peoria, Ill., in 2001, after then-President George W. Bush deemed him an enemy combatant. A Defense Department news release at the time said Marri received this designation "due to recent credible information provided by other detainees in the war on terrorism."
Marri's case has generated attention from news outlets questioning the legality of the enemy combatant designation applied to him.
"He is clearly a dangerous individual," Obama said of Marri. "His case is currently before the Supreme Court, [and] we have asked for a delay in going before the Supreme Court and dealing with this case so that we can properly review the evidence against him and the various policies that have been presented up until this time."