Obama Starts Reversing Bush Policies
Thursday, January 22, 2009
President Obama moved swiftly yesterday to begin rolling back eight years of his predecessor's policies, ordering tough new ethics rules and preparing to issue an order closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which has been at the center of the debate over the treatment of U.S. prisoners in the battle against terrorism.
Acting to address several promises he made during his campaign, Obama met with top generals about speeding the withdrawal from Iraq and gathered his senior economic advisers as he continued to push for a massive spending bill to create jobs.
He also signed a series of executive orders and directives intended to slow the revolving door between government service and lobbying, and ordered his administration to share information more freely with the public.
Today, he will issue another order calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay within a year, an immediate case-by-case review of the 245 detainees remaining there, and the application of new rules governing the treatment and interrogation of prisoners, including compliance with international treaties that the Bush administration deemed inapplicable to suspects in terrorism cases.
Just hours after his inauguration Tuesday, Obama ordered the suspension of all judicial proceedings at Guantanamo Bay under the auspices of the Bush administration's military commissions system. What is to be done with the prisoners will be part of the review, sources said. Listed options include repatriation to their home nations or a willing third country, civil trials in this country, or a special civil or military system. Prisoners are to be released or transferred on a rolling basis as soon as individual cases are reviewed and determinations made as to whether the detainees can and should be prosecuted, and where.
White House counsel Gregory B. Craig, who has spent the past several weeks drafting the orders, and discussed them with senior Democratic lawmakers in recent days, briefed House Republicans on Capitol Hill yesterday. Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) said Craig told members of Congress to expect "several" executive orders on Guantanamo Bay, including closure of the prison, but did not provide specific language.
House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement that "there are important questions that must be answered before the terrorist detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay can be closed. The key question is where do you put these terrorists?"
Sources familiar with the briefings said Obama also will sign two executive orders altering CIA detention and interrogation rules, limiting interrogation standards in all U.S. facilities worldwide to those outlined in the Army Field Manual, and prohibiting the agency from secretly holding terrorist detainees in third-country prisons.
The actions are dramatic evidence that Obama is ready to use his authority and political capital to turn back some of the most controversial practices of George W. Bush's administration. They also suggest that he believes he needs to push quickly for broad changes.
"What a moment we're in. What an opportunity we have to change this country," Obama said as he announced the new lobbying and disclosure rules during a meeting with his senior staff yesterday.
In a frenetic first full day in office, Obama was everywhere: alone in the Oval Office; in the front pew at an inaugural prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral; swearing in his staff at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building; and, for the first time, meeting with his generals in the White House Situation Room.
Out of an abundance of caution, Obama also welcomed Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to the White House to re-administer the oath of office after the two men fumbled some of the wording during Tuesday's inaugural proceedings.