President Barack Obama is set to issue orders today to close Guantánamo prison and overhaul the treatment of terrorism suspects.
A draft executive order circulated in Washington yesterday sets a one-year deadline to close the controversial US military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where foreign terrorism suspects have been detained for years without trial.
Mr Obama is expected to issue the order on Guantánamo today. He will also ban abusive interrogations and order a review of detention policies for captured militants, said congressional aides and a White House official.
Yesterday, Mr Obama also retook his oath of office. Chief Justice John Roberts had inadvertently switched a word while administering it during the inauguration on Tuesday.
The new president pledged during his election campaign to close Guantánamo, which became a blot on the human rights record of the United States and a symbol of detainee abuse and detention without charge under the Bush administration.
The draft order would require an immediate review of how to deal with the remaining Guantánamo prisoners. The military commissions set up to try detainees would also be halted pending a study.
A military judge yesterday suspended the cases of five suspected plotters of the September 11th, 2001, attacks on the United States and of a young Canadian man at Guantánamo, a day after Mr Obama sought a 120-day suspension of pending cases.
Another presidential order would ban CIA use of “enhanced” interrogation methods by making all US agencies abide by the Army Field Manual, which bans techniques such as waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning the CIA says was used on three terrorism suspects.
Outgoing CIA chief Michael Hayden has defended the harsh techniques and called the Army manual too restrictive but says the agency would abide by limitations. The CIA declined comment on the reports.
Mr Obama is also expected to order a review of all U.S. detention policies.
Former president George W. Bush has said many countries that criticised the United States were unwilling to take any detainees. But the draft order says diplomatic efforts by the Obama administration could lead to new locations for a “substantial number” of current detainees.
The United States still holds about 250 men at the US naval base in Cuba and wants to try about 80 of them on terrorism charges.
Two al-Qaeda suspects have been convicted by the military commissions at Guantánamo and one pleaded guilty. Two of the men have already returned to their home countries.
Washington has cleared 50 detainees for release but cannot return them to home countries because of the risk they would be tortured or persecuted there. Around 500 others have been freed or transferred to other governments since 2002.
On his first full day as US president, Mr Obama contacted Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders, telling them he would engage actively in the pursuit of peace in the region from the beginning of his administration.
“In the aftermath of the Gaza conflict, he emphasised his determination to work to help consolidate the ceasefire by establishing an effective anti-smuggling regime to prevent Hamas from rearming, and facilitating in partnership with the Palestinian Authority a major reconstruction effort for Palestinians in Gaza,” his press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
Mr Obama is expected to ask former senator George Mitchell, who helped to broker the Belfast Agreement in 1998, to take on the role of Middle East envoy.
The new president announced yesterday that senior White House staff would accept a pay freeze, as he unveiled tough new ethics rules for his administration and promised a new era of transparency.
Additional reporting Reuters
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