For Immediate Release: January 22, 2009
Washington, DC – Today President Obama signaled an abrupt departure from the Bush Administration’s polices of torture, unjust trials, and prolonged detention without criminal charge by issuing three executive orders to establish a single standard of humane treatment, end secret detentions, and set a date certain for closing Guantanamo, Human Rights First said.
“President Obama promised to reject the false choice between our safety and our ideals as a nation. Today he’s making good on that promise. These orders mark a clean break from the Bush Administration’s policies of torture, unjust trials and prolonged detention without charge. Those policies fueled terrorist recruitment and stained the reputation of the United States. Today is the beginning of the end of that sorry chapter in our nation’s history,” said Elisa Massimino, Executive Director and CEO of Human Rights First. “The message this sends to the world could not be clearer – the United States is ready to reclaim its role as a nation committed to human rights and the rule of law,” Massimino added.
“That President Obama chose to have at his side the group of military leaders that has been working through Human Rights First over the last several years to end the Bush Administration’s policies of torture and abuse of prisoners speaks volumes about their importance in this debate. The country owes these distinguished military leaders a debt of gratitude for their moral clarity and perseverance in this fight,” said Massimino.
Over the past several years, Human Rights First has worked with a group of retired military leaders who advocate for adherence to the Army Field Manual in all interrogations, including those conducted by the CIA. In December, the group met with Attorney General-Designate Eric Holder, White House Counsel Greg Craig and members of the presidential transition team. Today the group stood with President Obama as he signed these historic orders.
Executive Order on Interrogation
Today’s Executive Order on interrogation takes off the table the secret cruel interrogation techniques that were authorized for use by the CIA, such as forced standing, forced nudity and exposure to frigid temperatures. It also puts an end to secret CIA detentions and requires that the International Committee of the Red Cross be given notification of, and access to, all prisoners in the custody of U.S. intelligence agencies. And, finally, it expunges any ambiguity created by flawed Justice Department memoranda written to justify a policy of official cruelty by ordering all U.S. personnel to immediately cease relying on all such past legal advice.
“Not only will today’s order improve America’s image around the world,” said Massimino. “It will also make our troops safer by telling the world that the United States will not employ any interrogation techniques it would consider illegal if used by the enemy against captured Americans.”
Executive Order on Guantanamo
The Executive Order on Guantanamo immediately suspends all military commission proceedings and orders the closure of the Guantanamo detention facility within one year. It further directs the Attorney General to lead a process of individualized case reviews, on a rolling basis, to determine which prisoners may be transferred to third countries and which detainees may be prosecuted in accordance with U.S. law.
“By announcing an end to the policies that brought us Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, President Obama has ripped down al Qaeda’s recruiting poster,” said Massimino. “The firm and definitive one-year deadline for closing Guantanamo creates time pressure to resolve the inevitable challenges fixing this mess poses, while allowing enough time to address those problems in a thoughtful way consistent with national security,” said Massimino. “It will inspire public confidence and encourage international cooperation over the coming year.”
“The next step is to permanently dismantle the entire military commission system and to prosecute the cases that should be tried in the regular federal courts,” said Gabor Rona, International Legal Director of Human Rights First who is currently on the ground at Guantanamo Bay. “Merely tinkering with the existing military commissions or establishing another ad hoc and inferior justice system for terrorism cases would be a costly mistake,” added Rona.
Since 2002, only two military commission trials have been completed at Guantanamo, and those trials focused more attention on the deeply flawed military commission process than on the alleged crimes of the defendants. By contrast, since 9/11, more than 100 international terrorism cases have been prosecuted in the federal courts. Human Rights First’s In Pursuit of Justice studies those cases and finds that the federal justice system has adapted to the challenges of terrorism prosecutions and has successfully balanced the need to protect sensitive national security information with defendants’ fair trial rights.
For more information, please contact:
In Guantanamo, Gabor Rona, International Legal Director, RonaG@humanrightsfirst.org
In Washington, D.C., Devon Chaffee, Advocacy Counsel, (212) 370-3316, ChaffeeD@humanrightsfirst.org
In New York, Deborah Colson, Acting Director, Law & Security, (212) 845-5247, ColsonD@humanrightsfirst.org