Closing Gitmo, restoring the rule of law

CLOSING GITMO, RESTORING THE RULE OF LAW…. Two weeks ago, Barack Obama promised, “We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our constitution. That is not only the right thing to do but it actually has to be part of our broader national security strategy because we will send a message to the world that we are serious about our values.”

But questions remained. How soon would the president keep his promise? How quickly would he shut down the notorious detention facility? What about the secret prisons? We got our answers this morning.

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 Guantanamo 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 Guantanamo 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.

“We are not — as I said in the inauguration — going to continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals,” the president said this morning. He added, “The message we are sending around the world is that the US 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 … We intend to win this fight, and we intend to win it on our terms.”

D-Day joked, “Obama is really setting a bad precedent of keeping campaign promises and abiding by the rule of law. It’s like the oath of office reboot, setting the horrible precedent of acknowledging mistakes and seeking to rectify them. Who does this guy think he is?”

Like Hilzoy, I was especially struck by the notion of winning the fight “on our terms.” Not only is this the polar opposite of the ends-justify-the-means attitude that’s undermined our national security strategy for far too long, it also means we’re no longer going to fight on our enemies’ terms:

Al Qaeda could never have destroyed our commitment to liberty, human rights, and the rule of law by itself. It could only hope that we would respond unthinkingly and do the dirty work ourselves. We obliged them, and in so doing did a lot more damage to ourselves than al Qaeda could ever have dreamed of doing.

It’s wonderful to see that that has changed: that we have an administration that will not sacrifice the ideals America always ought to stand for, and will not allow our adversaries to dictate the terms and the terrain on which we will oppose them.

I could get used to this.