Obama orders closure of Guantanamo Bay

President Barack Obama signed an executive order mandating the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison camp, rejecting abusive interrogation tactics and requiring investigators to comply with the Geneva Conventions.


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AFP- President Barack Obama Thursday ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison within a year and banned the use of torture in terror interrogations in a dramatic repudiation of his predecessor George W. Bush.

The signing ceremony in the Oval Office was the latest graphic sign of Obama's vow to trigger fundamental political reform and will ultimately mean big changes in how the United States handles Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects.

Obama signed executive orders on the controversial camp, requiring US investigators to stop short of abusive methods -- which critics equate to torture -- and requiring a review of the case of the only "enemy combatant" on US soil, Qatari national Ali al-Marri.

"The message that we are sending around the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism," Obama said.

"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," the new president said in a signing ceremony inside the Oval Office.

"I think the American people, understand that we are not, as I said in the inauguration, going to continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals."

Obama did not however resolve the question of what to do with terror suspects who have been in Guantanamo for years, some without being charged or facing trial or if and how many would ultimately be prosecuted or released.

Guantanamo Bay, which still contains more than 240 terror suspects is seen by critics of the Bush administration as a potent symbol of abuses and constitutional infringements they say were committed under the war on terror.

More than 800 men and teenagers have passed through Guantanamo since it was opened on January 11, 2002, and around 245 remain there.

The Obama administration has said that it will launch a review to decide whether remaining prisoners should be released, tried or transferred.

Some outgoing Bush administration officials rejected accusations tactics used had amounted to torture and argued the camp and US interrogation tactics like "waterboarding" or simulated drowning had yielded useful intelligence.

The flurry of executive orders will cement Obama's fast start to his symbolic first 100 days in office, when a new president's powers and political leverage are at their apex.

On Wednesday, flexing diplomatic muscle on his first day in office, Obama telephoned Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Obama "used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term," his spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

He also followed through on a promise to order top military brass to start planning a "responsible" military drawdown in Iraq.

Obama also sought to make a splash on his ambitious domestic agenda, in line with a promise to purge the influence peddling and corruption staining US politics by signing a string of executive orders dealing with political ethics.

The orders tightened rules on contact between lobbyists and members of the government and restricted contact between former administration members with ex-colleagues when they leave public service.

With many Americans feeling the economic pinch, Obama also clamped a salary freeze on top staff earning more than 100,000 dollars a year.

Later Obama, and Vice President Joseph Biden were set to travel across Washington to the State Department to greet Clinton on her first day in office.

"I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America," Clinton told hundreds of diplomats and others at the entrance to the State Department as she showed up for her first day on Thursday.

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