Questions about President Obama's executive orders on the incarceration and interrogation of detainees

Sunday, January 25, AD 2009

The big news of this week: Obama’s first executive orders were not the reversal of the Mexico City Policy (as every major media source and not a few bloggers had predicted, and for which Obama waited until Friday) but the reversal of notable Bush administration’s policies on the incarceration and interrogation of detainees:

President Obama signed 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 are the first steps in undoing detention policies of former President George W. Bush, rewrite American rules for the detention of terrorism suspects. They 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 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.

However, while some cheerleaders for Obama are already hailing an end to the gestapo-inspired “enhanced interrogration techniques”, a review of critical responses — from the political “right” AND “left” — suggests that the President’s gesture is more symbolic and an exercise in moral posturing. It appears that serious questions remain about what is actually accomplished by President Obama’s recent executive orders.

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5 Responses to Questions about President Obama's executive orders on the incarceration and interrogation of detainees

  • Thanks for the post and for gathering the relevant links. Obama is a very shrewd politician; his strategy of making marginal changes with maximum fanfare is perfect press management in the post-election afterglow. Time will tell how effective this is long-term. For all of his talk about our nation’s collective emergence into adulthood under his administration, he has yet to make any difficult decisions.

    But symbolism is important, and even the relatively minor symbolism of an announcement that Guantanamo will be closed…at some point….in the future…is a step forward.

  • I agree with John Henry that the symbolism here is important, and I’m thankful for it. Symbols can actually accomplish a great deal. Of course, I’ll be miffed if President Obama stops at the level of the symbolic.

  • Kyle/John Henry,

    but he has expressly stopped at the level of symbolic. He still allows “enhanced interrogation” of unlawful combatants, and reserves also the right to go beyond even the US Army field manual in extraordinary circumstances, he has not suspended the extraordinary renditions, or the predator missile launches into Pakistani villages. There are no changes to the warrantless wiretapping of international calls to suspected terrorists either.

    The only thing that changes is that the rhetoric is suggesting a change, this is dishonest whether you agree with these policies, or not.

    Matt
    ps. Obama may move the site of the these detainees in a year or so, but so what? He can not, and will not make them generally entitled to the rights of US citizens/residents.

  • I suspect the opinions coming from The Obama Administration’s Office of Legal Counsel will differ from those crafted under the Bush Administration. We’ll see.

  • If I recall, the 2006 Field Manual allows one technique, Fear Up/Fear down, that some may consider torture.