In a break from the Bush administration, President Barack Obama yesterday ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year, the immediate closure of secret overseas CIA prisons and for all agencies, including the CIA to abide by the Army Field Manual’s acceptable interrogation tactics. Obama also nullified every legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch after Sept. 11, 2001. We speak with Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: We move now to what’s been going on in the White House. In a break from the Bush administration, President Barack Obama yesterday ordered the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. He also ordered the immediate closing of secret overseas CIA prisons and for all agencies, including the CIA, to abide by the Army Field Manual’s acceptable interrogation tactics. Obama also nullified every legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch after September 11, 2001.
The Washington Post
reports that with the stroke of his pen, Obama effectively declared an end to the so-called "war on terror."
Obama signed the executive orders at a signing ceremony attended by sixteen retired generals and admirals who had spoken out against torture. He discussed the executive orders during his first visit as president to the State Department.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This morning, I signed three executive orders. First, I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture. Second, we will close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and determine how to deal with those who have been held there. And third, we will immediately undertake a comprehensive review to determine how to hold and try terrorism suspects to best protect our nation and the rule of law.
The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in its defense of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States. And that’s why, in this twilight struggle, we need a durable framework.
The orders that I signed today should send an unmistakable signal that our actions in defense of liberty will be just as our cause and that we, the people, will uphold our fundamental values as vigilantly as we protect our security. Once again, America’s moral example must be the bedrock and the beacon of our global leadership.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Questions still remain, however, over whether the CIA will continue to use secret interrogation techniques not authorized in the Army Field Manual.
At his confirmation hearing to become intelligence director, retired Admiral Dennis Blair suggested Thursday that some interrogation procedures would need to remain secret so potential adversaries could not train to resist them.
To talk more about President Obama’s executive orders, we’re joined in the firehouse by Vincent Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!
VINCENT WARREN: Thanks so much for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the orders?
VINCENT WARREN: Well, you know, the first thing is that this is a ground shift, I think, in terms of American policy. There is no question about it. After eight years of rampant lawlessness, it is wonderful to have a president that is willing to take decisive steps towards doing the right thing on his very first days in office.
There is the details that need to be considered here. And I think that with respect to the order closing Guantanamo, it is a tremendous order. The part that is problematic, particularly for the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents these men, is that the order calls for a year for the facility to be closed down. And within that year, we have a number of clients, and there are 245 men that need to be considered. Some of them have been there for six years already. We need to be focused on the fact that the administration needs to release the people that can be released home. For the people that can’t be released home because of fear of persecution and torture, they need to be quickly resettled, something that had not been done, really as a failure of diplomacy by the Bush administration. And the third piece is for the people that the government wants to try, they need to move to try them in real federal courts.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, interestingly, just the day after this order comes out, the front-page story of the New York Times
claiming that one of the former detainees there who was released has now become — reintegrated himself into the leadership of al-Qaeda, a Yemeni national who was released. And this is being obviously leaked by folks within the administration or within the government who are worried about the pending release of many of the other detainees. Your reaction to that?
VINCENT WARREN: Well, you know, my reaction, on behalf of us and the 600 lawyers that are working on this case, if the government was as good at releasing materials to the defense lawyers for these cases as they were to the New York Times
, we’d all be in a much better situation. This is clearly a ploy by the Republicans and for people who are not on board with the closing of this base as a way to scare the American public and to scare the Bush administration.
There are really kind of two pieces here. One is we’ve heard these kinds of claims before: “Trust us. These guys that have been released are going back to the battlefield.” Number one, when they’ve said that in the past, we’ve done a review of some of the people that they said went back to the battlefield, and it wasn’t even clear that some of these people were at Guantanamo to begin with. The other piece is that the people that have been released, including the person that’s referenced here, was referenced — was released pursuant just to the Department of Defense’s view that this person wasn’t a dangerous person. To the extent that he is — and I’m not conceding that he is, because I’ve been hearing “Trust me, we’re the government” for seven years, and most of it has not been true — but to the extent that he is dangerous, it is a failure of intelligence, rather than the fact that the rule of law needs to be applied to the people who really are dangerous and the people who are innocent. And there are people at Guantanamo that are innocent, and those folks should not be held captive. They shouldn’t put the cork back in the bottle because of one or two people that they’re floating out there in terms of mistakes that they made.
AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren is our guest, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. We’re going to go to break and come back and play the first questions of the veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas at the first White House press briefing, get Vince’s response, and then we’ll be speaking with Noam Chomsky about the situation in the Middle East. This is Democracy Now!
Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: At the White House press briefing on Thursday, the first White House press briefing, longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas questioned Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs on why the president is allowing other US prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan to remain open.
HELEN THOMAS: Is the President against torture?
ROBERT GIBBS: Yes.
HELEN THOMAS: Is the goal of these executive orders against torture, which the President’s successor believed in?
ROBERT GIBBS: Yes, the President believes that torture is wrong. He said that throughout the campaign. And we’ve taken steps today to make sure that those beliefs are upheld as it relates to detainees in interrogation.
HELEN THOMAS: Why not to all the prisons that we control?
ROBERT GIBBS: Well, as Greg said, the charge that the administration — I’m sorry, the charge that the President gave to his administration was to look at Guantanamo Bay, and that’s what we’ve been working on today.
HELEN THOMAS: There are many, many outrages occurred in others — in Iraq and Afghanistan.
ROBERT GIBBS: Well, I think that the President — I think that’s one of the reasons the President acted, was to uphold our values, while ensuring that the country is safe.
HELEN THOMAS: [inaudible] torture in Iraq and Afghanistan?
ROBERT GIBBS: Well, under him, that will certainly stop, as it relates to Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s new press secretary at the first press briefing. In fact, President Obama came out to meet the journalists there.
Vince Warren is our guest today, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. This issue of other prisons, like the Bagram Air Base, who is being held there?
VINCENT WARREN: Bagram Air Base and other places in Afghanistan, there are a number of people that continue to be picked up, people who the government claims have been picked up with respect to the battlefield. Some people who, like some women, who have not been sent to Guantanamo, have been picked up because they’re perceived to be dangerous. And it really does — Bagram and other places and places like Pul-e-Charkhi Prison really do speak very clearly to what I think the President was talking about in Guantanamo, the idea that it’s a global detention process that he has. These fields — these places need to be looked at. They need to be dealt with in the very same manner that Guantanamo has been dealt with. And I think that it’s fairly shortsighted, but politically cautious, for him to focus on Guantanamo and not focus on these other prisons, because we have some of the same issues that are happening there.
JUAN GONZALEZ: What about his orders on the use of the Army Field Manual? Do you have any concerns about that, in terms of how the government will proceed on torture?
VINCENT WARREN: Well, I think there, there are two pieces of that. One, it is great. We’ve been calling for this for a while to use the techniques and the guidelines within the Army Field Manual. And the idea there is to rein the CIA in. The CIA had an incredible power to create prisons and to have these detention policies that were secret. And so, to the extent that the executive order calls for that compliance, it’s a very good thing.
I think the loopholes are in terms of it allows the CIA and other groups to, “consistent with national security” — that’s the quote — to consider what types of interrogations they should be doing. There’s a huge loophole there, which is you need to comply with the Army manual unless national security dictates otherwise. That’s how I read it. And if that is the case, then we are really back to where we were before.
AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren, you’ve got the prisons, and you’ve got extraordinary rendition. We haven’t heard reference to that. That’s when people are illegally taken off the street and sent to a third country where the US knows they will engage in torture.
VINCENT WARREN: Right. It’s a tremendous problem, and I think it’s a glaring hole. I think that one way that the Obama administration could have dealt a more decisive blow to the illegal Bush policies and even the rendition policy, which originated under Bill Clinton, is to specifically reference this and to say that we are going to disavow this policy, and we’re going to make right the renditions that we’ve — that the government has done in the past, including to the Center for Constitutional Rights client, Maher Arar, who was kidnapped and sent to Syria, even though he was on his way to Canada. I think that the Obama administration, likely because of pressure from the CIA, in trying to get that team together, has waffled, and it’s not engaged this issue yet. I am concerned that the Obama administration would even consider continuing this as a policy to effectuate the so-called war on terror or whatever it is he’s going to call it.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And his sweeping cancellation of all previous opinions within the Bush administration on interrogations, what effect will that have on possible legal procedures that would go against any suspects that were interrogated under the previous directives of the Bush administration?
VINCENT WARREN: Well, I think the way that President Obama is thinking about this is as a forward-looking piece, that from henceforth, we can say unequivocally, as he said, the US doesn’t torture. So, moving forward, I think for people that are detained and interrogated, I think that those guidelines apply. With respect to people that have been detained and interrogated already, it is less than clear at least what his intention is. But I think as a practical matter, because this president has the courage to recognize torture when he sees it, doesn’t absolve the previous administration, the previous interrogators and the people that designed that policy from their responsibility for what was clearly torture, even before this president said we’re not going to do it anymore.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But what I’m saying is that wouldn’t — as defense lawyers, for instance, for any of those people who might end up in a federal court, would the defense lawyers be able to say, “Look, even the government itself now recognizes that these policies were torture, because the President has canceled them all”?
VINCENT WARREN: I think the defense lawyers could say that, but I think, Juan, the real point is — and I think the piece that’s been around for the last eight years is — it doesn’t matter what any administration calls it. The law knows it to be called torture. And that alone should be enough to have a court do the right thing with respect to those clients.
AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren, I want to thank you very much for being with us, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.