Thursday, 22 January 2009

And so it begins...

He's had to re-take his oath (to placate the Fox News crowd who would be happy to say that 2000 and 2004 weren't a stolen and a dodgy election respectively.  BUT would try to claim that the performative speech act of the Oath taking on Tuesday was what J.L. Austin might have termed 'an unhappy performative' - though to be fair, the Fox News crowd don't tend to be au fait with either Austin or Jürgen Habermas).

- To close Guantanamo Prison Camp within 12 months at the latest
- To ensure while it is in the process of being closed that the Geneva Conventions are followed
- Suspend military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees
- To close the CIA's secret prisons around the world
- Not to undertake illegal surveillance
- Wants troop withdrawal from Iraq within 16 months
- Wants a diplomatic relationship with Iran for talks without preconditions
- To lead bi- and multi-lateral disarmament for a 'nuclear-free world'
- To disallow the seal of ex-President's papers in perpetuity a la Bush
- Wants to make the Israel / Palestine conflict top priority
- Wants to address immediately bailout funds and economic recovery plans
- Instituted a pay freeze for White House staff earning over $100,000 a year
- Is trying to distance the administration from the lure of lobbyists
- And might get a 'super encrypted' Blackberry after all!

Some of these are steps that will require congressional oversight and validation to become enacted, some are executive powers to be executed, most will have to be watched over to ensure they are not later reinstated when it becomes expedient or desireable (or if not when, then when it becomes expedient or desireable for someone - i.e., the who factor...).  These are not absolute victories - but of course what ever is?  We always must remain vigilant against the rolling back of gains and a regressive Draconianism reasserts itself.  But these are the kinds of CHANGE(s) we HOPE(d) for from Obama - long may it continue!

PS: President Obama's first proclamation was for a day of Renewal and Reconciliation does that mean that we could be due a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as in South Africa?  That would help with dealing with 9/11 and the Bush Administration and with race relations in the US.  Perhaps - who knows...

By TODD J. GILLMAN / The Dallas Morning News

"WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama began dismantling the Bush legacy Wednesday, using his first full day to overturn an order that let ex-presidents seal their papers forever.

It was one of a number of big and small steps by the new president that, taken together, amounted to a slashing denunciation of his predecessor – from an order halting military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to one meant to make unclassified records more readily available to the public."


The New York Times reports:

Obama to Shut Guantánamo Site and C.I.A. Prisons

Published: January 21, 2009

"WASHINGTON — President Obama is expected to sign executive orders Thursday directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, government officials said.

The orders, which would be the first steps in undoing detention policies of former President George W. Bush, would rewrite American rules for the detention of terrorism suspects. They would require an immediate review of the 245 detainees still held at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to determine if they should be transferred, released or prosecuted.

And the orders would bring to an end a Central Intelligence Agency program that kept terrorism suspects in secret custody for months or years, a practice that has brought fierce criticism from foreign governments and human rights activists. They will also prohibit the C.I.A. from using coercive interrogation methods, requiring the agency to follow the same rules used by the military in interrogating terrorism suspects, government officials said.

But the orders would leave unresolved complex questions surrounding the closing of the Guantánamo prison, including whether, where and how many of the detainees are to be prosecuted. They could also allow Mr. Obama to reinstate the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation operations in the future, by presidential order, as some have argued would be appropriate if Osama bin Laden or another top-level leader of Al Qaeda were captured.

The new White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, briefed lawmakers about some elements of the orders on Wednesday evening. A Congressional official who attended the session said Mr. Craig acknowledged concerns from intelligence officials that new restrictions on C.I.A. methods might be unwise and indicated that the White House might be open to allowing the use of methods other the 19 techniques allowed for the military.

Details of the directive involving the C.I.A. were described by government officials who insisted on anonymity so they could not be blamed for pre-empting a White House announcement. Copies of the draft order on Guantánamo were provided by people who have consulted with Mr. Obama’s transition team and requested anonymity for the same reason.

The executive order on interrogations is certain to be received with some skepticism at the C.I.A., which for years has maintained that the military’s interrogation rules are insufficient to get information from senior Qaeda figures like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The Bush administration asserted that the harsh interrogation methods were instrumental in gaining valuable intelligence on Qaeda operations.

The intelligence agency built a network of secret prisons in 2002 to house and interrogate senior Qaeda figures captured overseas. The exact number of suspects to have moved through the prisons is unknown, although Michael V. Hayden, the departing director of the agency, has in the past put the number at “fewer than 100.”

The secret detentions brought international condemnation, and in September 2006, President Bush ordered that the remaining 14 detainees in C.I.A. custody be transferred to Guantánamo Bay and tried by military tribunals.

But Mr. Bush made clear then that he was not shutting down the C.I.A. detention system, and in the last two years, two Qaeda operatives are believed to have been detained in agency prisons for several months each before being sent to Guantánamo.

A government official said Mr. Obama’s order on the C.I.A. would still allow its officers abroad to temporarily detain terrorism suspects and transfer them to other agencies, but would no longer allow the agency to carry out long-term detentions.

Since the early days after the 2001 attacks, the intelligence agency’s role in detaining terrorism suspects has been significantly scaled back, as has the severity of interrogation methods the agency is permitted to use. The most controversial practice, the simulated drowning technique known as water-boarding, was used on three suspects but has not been used since 2003, C.I.A. officials said.

But at the urging of the Bush administration, Congress in 2006 authorized the agency to continue using harsher interrogation methods than those permitted for use by other agencies, including the military. Those exact methods remain classified. The order on Guantánamo says that the camp, which received its first hooded and chained detainees seven years ago this month, “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.”

The order calls for a cabinet-level panel to grapple with issues including where in the United States prisoners might be moved and what courts they could be tried in. It also provides for a new diplomatic effort to transfer some of the remaining men, including more than 60 that the Bush administration had cleared for release.

The order also directs an immediate assessment of the prison itself to ensure that the men are held in conditions that meet the humanitarian requirements of the Geneva Convention. That provision appeared to be a pointed embrace of the international treaties that the Bush administration often argued did not apply to detainees captured in the war against terrorism.

The seven years of the detention camp have included four suicides, hunger strikes by scores of detainees, and accusations of extensive use of solitary confinement and abusive interrogations, which the Department of Defense has long denied. Last week a senior Pentagon official said she had concluded that interrogators at Guantánamo had tortured one detainee, who officials have said was a would-be “20th hijacker” in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The report of Thursday’s expected announcement came after the new administration late Tuesday night ordered an immediate halt to the military commission proceedings for prosecuting detainees at Guantánamo and filed a request in Federal District Court in Washington to stay habeas corpus proceedings there. Government lawyers described both delays as necessary for the administration to make a broad assessment of detention policy.

The cases immediately affected include those of five detainees charged as the coordinators of the 2001 attacks, including the case against Mr. Mohammed, the self-described mastermind.

The decision to stop the commissions was described by the military prosecutors as a pause in the war-crimes system “to permit the newly inaugurated president and his administration time to review the military commission process generally and the cases currently pending before the military commissions, specifically.”

More than 200 detainees’ habeas corpus cases have been filed in federal court, and lawyers said they expected that all of the cases would be stayed.

Mr. Obama had suggested in the campaign that, in place of military commissions, he would prefer prosecutions in federal courts or, perhaps, in the existing military justice system, which provides legal guarantees similar to those of American civilian courts.

Some human rights groups and lawyers for detainees said they were concerned about the one-year timetable. “It only took days to put these men in Guantánamo; it shouldn’t take a year to get them out,” said Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which has coordinated detainees’ lawyers.

But several groups that had criticized the Bush administration’s policies applauded the rapid moves by the new administration. Mr. Obama’s actions “reaffirmed American values and are a ray of light after eight long, dark years,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and William Glaberson from New York. Carl Hulse contributed reporting from Washington."


From Ewen MacAskill in Washington - The Guardian, Thursday 22 January 2009: 

"President Barack Obama yesterday devoted his first full day in office to ditching one discredited Bush administration policy after another - proposing the closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison and offering a new relationship to Iran.

Sitting behind the desk at the Oval Office at 8.35am after a late night of inauguration balls, he set about trying to live up to the daunting expectations for his presidency both at home and abroad.

He gathered his military commanders to set new missions for Iraq and Afghanistan, and met his economics team to discuss a proposed $800bn spending package to combat recession. He also phoned world leaders to emphasise that a new president is in charge, with a completely different agenda and world outlook.

Although Obama's team is reluctant to be compared with Franklin Roosevelt's famous 100 days that brought in the New Deal - the measurement for all subsequent presidencies - it wants his 100 days to be just as historically significant.

Addressing assembled White House staff, he said he had been inspired by the estimated two million who gathered to watch him being sworn in. He told staff he expected a higher ethical code at the White House than had existed under his predecessor, and issued executive orders imposing strict rules governing dealings with Washington's lobbyists. "Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency," he said.

He also issued a pay freeze on staff earning more than $100,000. "Families are tightening their belts and so should Washington," he said.

In an unsual move - described by the White House as an "abundance of caution" - he was administered the oath of office a second time because a word was out of sequence when he was sworn in on Tuesday. Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath in front of reporters.

The most symbolically significant act of the day was to release a draft executive order to close Guantánamo within a year. The camp, site of torture and other abuses, came to define the Bush administration. The draft executive order which Obama is expected to sign today, says: "The detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than a year from the date of this order."

In two other executive orders, he is to ban torture by all US personnel and initiate a review of the cases of all those still held at Guantánamo. He ordered judges to suspend trials under way there.

The most important meeting of the day was the one with military chiefs. He wants to fulfil campaign promises to withdraw US troops from Iraq within his first 16 months in office, and to send new troops to Afghanistan. His top commander, General David Petraeus, flew from Afghanistan to be present.

On the international front, Obama's team posted on the White House website a new direction for foreign policy, of which the most startling was an offer to negotiate with Iran. Although such a policy was a prominent feature of his campaign message of engagement with America's enemies, the White House said such negotiations would be "without preconditions".

That could pose a problem for Hillary Clinton, who was confirmed as secretary of state by the Senate yesterday by 94 votes to two. She clashed with Obama in 2007 during her battle for the Democratic presidential nomination on this issue, saying it would be a mistake to sit down with the Iranians without first setting conditions.

The Bush administration had refused to negotiate with Iran until it first suspended its uranium enrichment programme, suspected by the west as a move to secure a nuclear weapons capability.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama made a point of ensuring that his first telephone calls to world leaders were to key players in the region. He spoke to the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah of Jordan. The fact that he called them first suggests the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be a priority.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said Obama "used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term".

Some members of Obama's team are known to be privately angry with Israel over the death toll and destruction in Gaza, despite Obama's expression of sympathy for Israel over Palestinian rocket attacks."

No comments: