WASHINGTON --- President Barack Obama yesterday signed an executive order ordering the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to be shut down within a year, banning the use of "enhanced interrogation" methods, and ending the CIA's secret overseas prisons. The Muslim Public Affairs Council heralded the announcement as a "victory for the rule of law and human rights."
"For seven years, Guantanamo Bay has undermined our national commitment to human rights and soiled America's image abroad," said MPAC Executive Director Salam Al-Marayati. "President Obama is demonstrating his commitment to renewing our nation's ability to fight terrorism while sticking to the principles that define us."
Obama was flanked by 16 retired generals and admirals who have fought for months for a ban on coercive interrogations, as he signed the order. On Tuesday night, Obama also ordered an immediate halt to the military commission proceedings for prosecuting detainees at Guantanamo until a broad assessment of detention policy can be undertaken.
The Attorney General, Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence will now be tasked with exploring what should happen to the remaining detainees, whether the Army Field Manual should remain the only standard for interrogators, and reviewing the practice of extraordinary rendition.
The order also calls for an immediate assessment of the detention center to ensure detainee conditions meet the humanitarian requirements of the Geneva Convention.
MPAC has repeatedly urged government officials to close Guantanamo, prohibit the use of torture in interrogations, and has opposed the Bush administration's decision to try the detainees using military tribunal rules. Military tribunal rules do not guarantee an independent trial court, do not provide for impartial appellate review, and do not prohibit the use of coerced testimony despite extensive evidence that coercive interrogation techniques have been used at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. In August 2007, MPAC joined a coalition of public interest and religious groups to file a joint friend-of-the-court, amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of basic Constitutional rights.
Since it was opened in 2002, Guantanamo Bay held as many as 750 men and today holds 248 prisoners. At least four detainees have committed suicide, and dozens of others have carried on extended hunger strikes protesting their treatment. Many detainees, some as young as 14 years old, have been held for more than six years without access to any court, legal counsel or family visits. Many of these detainees allege they have been subjected to torture or other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, according to an Amnesty International Report entitled "Guantanamo: Lives Torn Apart."
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