In a sweeping break from Bush administration policies, President Obama signed three new executive orders, the first of which calls for shutting down the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention center "as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from now," as ABC News first reported Wednesday.
"The president believes that what he did today will enhance the security of the American people, that it lives up to our values as American people. ..." White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a news conference Thursday afternoon.
The second order requires all U.S. interrogators in all agencies to adhere to rules in the Army Field Manual, and shuts down CIA detention centers around the world. As promised in his campaign, Obama's order also demands that detainees be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
"This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it's easy but also when it's hard," the president, with Vice President Joe Biden at his side, said before he signed the order.
In a press conference this afternoon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the need to go beyond the manual is "dramatically less than it was several years ago" and that he feels "very comfortable with where the executive order places us."
The third executive order establishes an interagency task force co-chaired by Gates and the attorney general to conduct a review of all 248 detainees currently in Cuba to determine who can be transferred to other countries, who should be tried in U.S. courts, and what should be done with those who cannot be tried or transferred.
The president also signed a memorandum stating that the Department of Justice would review the case of Qatar native Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, the only enemy combatant who is not in Guantanamo Bay. Behind this order is the idea that he needs to get the same kind of review that other detainees are getting.
"With those three executive orders and this memorandum, the message we are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism, and we are going to do so vigilantly; we are going to do so effectively; and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals," said Obama, surrounded by 16 retired military officers who he held a meeting with this morning. "We intend to win this fight. We're going to win it on our terms."
Obama says America is taking the moral high ground in the fight against terrorism by allowing top suspects to come to the United States to stand trial according to the rule of law and serve their time in four available prisons. Opponents are asking if the high ground is safe.
The president's sweeping orders effectively dismantled the Bush administration's system for handling terrorists, prompting criticism that his actions were shortsighted and dangerous.
Republicans such as Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, have expressed concern about where the detainees will go and say there are lots of questions still to be answered.