Obama outlaws torture, rendition flights and secret jails run by CIA
PROPELLING the United States rapidly away from the Bush era, President Barack Obama yesterday banned torture and closed the CIA's infamous "Black Site" prison network, the secret locations used to interrogate terror suspects.
A series of presidential orders will see the agency shut down prisons believed to operate in countries including Poland, Thailand and Morocco, and at Britain's naval base on Diego Garcia, where al-Qaeda suspects have been tortured far from the eyes of legal watchdogs.
The orders will also mean the end of so-called extraordinary-rendition flights, in which the CIA transported hundreds of bound-and-gagged suspects around the world, using airports including Prestwick for refuelling, so the detainees could be interrogated in "friendly" states that permit torture.
All army and security personnel will be forced to follow strict guidelines when interrogating terror suspects. The orders will ban the use of threats, coercion, physical abuse and waterboarding – a process which simulates drowning.
Human rights groups applauded the decision. Jennifer Daskal, of New York based Human Rights Watch, said it was a step toward restoring America's moral authority around the world.
The moves came after Mr Obama, in one of his first acts in office, suspended trials of Guantanamo Bay inmates by military commissions – courts castigated by rights groups for lack of due process.
Mr Obama also ordered an immediate review of the cases of all 245 detainees still held at Guantanamo Bay, many of whom have been there, without trial, for seven years.
The orders bring to an end one of the most controversial aspects of George Bush's presidency: his directive that the CIA could snatch terror suspects from around the world and interrogate them without regard for the law. An unknown number have been kidnapped, hooded and flown to so-called black sites since the war on terror was declared more than seven years ago.
While the CIA will still be able to arrest suspects on foreign soil, the new orders mean it must at once hand them over to other US agencies for interrogation, with any detention to take place in the US.
The new president said Guantanamo Bay would close "no later than one year from now", with his new national intelligence director, retired admiral Dennis Blair, branding it "a damaging symbol".
Also yesterday, George Mitchell was appointed Middle East envoy, in an indication that Mr Obama is turning to experience and proven ability to push forward the stalled peace process. The 75-year-old former senator won plaudits for helping to broker peace in Northern Ireland.
If you don't get it right first time……you just have to do it all over again
HARMLESS mistake, or dastardly conspiracy? That's the question being asked across the United States after Barack Obama gave the wrong oath at Tuesday's presidential inauguration, and then did it again with the correct words, but minus a Bible, a day later.
The problem started as Chief Justice John Roberts, the senior judge given the job of swearing in the president, accidentally switched the word order when he administered the oath, saying, "I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully", instead of, "I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States."
Mr Obama briefly interrupted the chief justice by starting the oath before Mr Roberts finished reciting the first part, and then repeated back the line as Mr Roberts had said it.
And within minutes the blogosphere was alive with conspiracy theories.
"Obama's refusal to recite the oath was thinly and incompetently masked by a staged flub by the judge administering the oath," wrote blogger Alexander Cornswald, a "mid-western conservative Christian".
"Foreign-born and now refusing to take the oath, no US employee is obligated to follow his orders."
Other bloggers pointed to a subliminal meaning in Mr Obama's words, with his promise of "I will execute" being a warning of dastardly crimes against his country.
By Wednesday it was not just the bloggers making noise, but White House lawyers, concerned that, technically, Mr Obama had never taken the oath of office.
So that night, using what the White House counsel, Greg Craig, called an "abundance of caution", there was a repeat in the map room of the White House, with Mr Obama becoming the third of America's 44 presidents compelled to do the oath twice because of blunders. But far from silencing the conspiracy theories, it has emboldened them, because the oath was said without Mr Obama putting a hand on a Bible. In vain have White House officials insisted there was no Bible to hand when the second ceremony was done, or that a Bible is not a legal requirement for the oath of office: conservative bloggers who have long since insisted that Mr Obama is a closet Muslim say they have the proof.
"Obama screws up on purpose!" wrote an anonymous blogger on Godline.
Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychology professor, said Mr Roberts had joined the Flubber Hall of Fame, but claimed he was in good company, saying: "Diana Spencer accidentally reversed her wedding vows in 1981, announcing she was marrying Prince Phillip Charles, actually the name of the prince's father."
The new president himself was more relaxed about the situation, telling reporters the oath was being repeated because it was "so much fun".
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