Thursday, January 22, 2009

President Obama and Guantanamo

In one of his first official act as President, Barack Obama is expected to sign an executive order today that will close the detention camp at Guantanamo as well a number of C.I.A. “secret” prisons. Along with closing these prisons, the executive order would set in place new procedures for the handling of suspected terrorists.

The over two-hundred terrorism suspects currently being held at Guantanamo would be reviewed immediately to determine their status and whether to release, transfer or prosecute them. The executive order will also reduce the amount of time terrorism suspects are held in custody; currently, many of these suspects are secretly being held for months and sometimes years. Finally, the order would require the C.I.A. to follow interrogation rules similar to those used by the military, disallowing any coercive interrogation techniques.

While this order is being lauded by some as a solution to current human rights violations, there are some unresolved issues in President Obama’s plan. With the closing of Guantanamo, the immediate review required will be a challenge; questions still remain as to how many prisoners will be transferred and/or prosecuted, as well as where they will be transferred to. The executive order also leaves room for President Obama, or another future President, to reopen the C.I.A. prisons that are being closed by this order, “as some have argued would be appropriate if Osama bin Laden or another top-level leader of Al Qaeda were captured.” Also, there appear to be worries within the C.I.A. that the restriction of interrogation techniques will prevent them from acquiring vital information from those high up in suspected terrorist groups.

From a human rights standpoint, it is easy to support President Obama’s plan. With the reports of torture and coercive interrogation techniques from the past year, the President is making a strong move to avoid further transgressions. Many of the suspects affected are not even necessarily officially within the government’s custody; many of these suspects have been held for longer than what many would consider a reasonable time. With the signing of this order, such prolonged and secret custody will be eliminated.

While the human rights standpoint is strong and convincing, there is still the practical matter of how to effectively and efficiently review the currently held suspects, and how and where to handle those that are determined to be transferred and/or prosecuted. As for the C.I.A.’s claim that the restriction on the interrogation techniques they can use limits their effectiveness, that is a claim that perhaps cannot be substantiated until the new standards are in effect. Once these practical issues are resolved, it appears that President Obama’s plan will prevent the continuance of such wrongdoing related to terrorism suspects.

For the full article from the New York Times, click here.

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