Friday, January 23, 2009
Obama tosses out Bush's 'war on terror'
By Dana Priest • THE WASHINGTON POST • January 23, 2009 WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday removed the most controversial tools employed by his predecessor against terrorism suspects. With the stroke of his pen, he effectively declared an end to the "war on terror," as former President George W. Bush defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the U.S. government in battling its enemies will not be limitless. While Obama says he has no plans to diminish counterterrorism operations abroad, the notion that a president can circumvent long-standing U.S. laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office. Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away. The military's Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility, where the rights of habeas corpus and due process had been denied detainees, will close, and the CIA is now prohibited from maintaining its own overseas prisons. And in a broad swipe at the Bush administration's lawyers, Obama nullified every legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch after Sept. 11, 2001. It was a swift and sudden end to an era that was slowly drawing to a close anyway, as public sentiment grew against perceived abuses of government power. The feisty debate over the tactics employed against al-Qaida began more than six years ago as whispers among confidants with access to the nation's most tightly held secrets. At the time, there was consensus in Congress and among the public that the United States would be attacked again and that government should take all means necessary to thwart the threat. The CIA, which had taken the lead on counterterrorism operations worldwide, asked intelligence contacts around the globe to help its teams of covert operatives and clandestine military units identify, kill or capture terrorism suspects. They set up their first interrogation center in a compound walled off by black canvas at Bagram Air Base, and more at tiny bases throughout Afghanistan, where detainees could be questioned outside military rules and the protocols of the Geneva Conventions, governing treatment of prisoners of war. As the CIA recruited young case officers, polygraphers and medical personnel to work on interrogation teams, the agency's leaders asked its allies in Thailand and Eastern Europe to set up secret prisons, where people such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh could be held in isolation and subjected to extreme sleep and sensory deprivation, waterboarding and sexual humiliation. These tactics are not permitted under military rules or the Geneva Conventions. Secrets leak out Over time, a tiny circle of federal employees outside these teams got access to some of the reports of interrogations. Some were pleased by the new aggressiveness. Others were horrified. They began to push back gingerly, as did an even smaller number of congressional officials briefed on the reports. Eventually, their worries reached a handful of reporters trying to confirm rumors of people who seemed to have disappeared.
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