01.22.09

Comments On Executive Orders Related To Detainees

“As I have urged, President Obama has not lost a day in seeking to restore America to our place as a world leader in championing human rights.  These executive orders add to his actions yesterday in making good on his promise to ‘reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.’ 

“President Obama’s new executive orders are important steps toward bringing to an end some of the Bush administration’s most damaging national security policies.  These orders require the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to be closed within one year; explicitly ban torture and require that all interrogations follow the Army Field Manual; close all secret CIA prisons, and  require that the government find lawful means to detain people captured in connection with an armed conflict or in counterterrorism efforts. 

“I have long called for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and I look forward to working with the President to implement this plan.  I support President Obama’s decision to  revoke President Bush’s Executive Order allowing the CIA to continue the use of harsh interrogation techniques on individuals in U.S. custody and his steps to ensure that they are treated lawfully and in accordance with our treaty obligations and will not be transferred to other countries where they will be tortured.  These orders call for comprehensive interagency reviews, a refreshing new approach after eight years of secrecy and efforts to cast all blame on individual guardsmen and soldiers for abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere that derived from decisions made at the highest levels of the Bush administration. 

“I am encouraged by President Obama’s commitment to a thorough review of the legal basis for many of the Bush administration’s detainee policies.  By prohibiting any federal agency from relying on legal opinions regarding interrogations issued between September 11, 2001, and January 20, 2009, President Obama has shown a commitment to the rule of law and an interest in ensuring that that the government’s detainee policies and practices are on sound legal ground.  Of course, the Bush administration stonewalled congressional efforts to review these documents and resisted my requests over several years to review these opinions.  I am encouraged that the Justice Department will no longer provide legal opinions, like the so-called ‘torture memos,’ that were designed to shield the government from accountability and provide cover for illegal activities. 

“These orders are first steps.  Congress must work in a bipartisan way with President Obama to implement them.  The Justice Department will share much of the responsibility for carrying out these orders, which is yet another reason why we should act swiftly to confirm the nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder.  Our new President is sending a clear signal that we are moving forward and demonstrating to the world that we can both protect our national security and remain a nation of laws that respects human dignity.” 

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