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Obama Reverses Bush Policies On Detention and Interrogation

President Obama is expected to sign an executive order that would close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within the next year. Yet his administration faces a slew of legal and diplomatic hurdles, and if the effort stumbles, it could bring steep political costs.

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"There will be a process" that will comply with U.S. and international laws while "not compromising national security," said a senior administration official who briefed reporters, while insisting on anonymity, about the administration's policy discussions.

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Obama's executive order on CIA interrogations mandated a permanent halt to the agency's use of secret prisons as well as coercive measures such as waterboarding. The order essentially puts the CIA out of the incarceration business and imposes strict limits on how the agency handles suspected terrorists who may be held temporarily for questioning.

The CIA -- together with all other government agencies -- would have to rely on the same 16 interrogation techniques approved for military interrogators in a guidebook known as the Army Field Manual.

The administration left open the possibility that the CIA could be given more leeway in the future, not on what the Bush administration called "enhanced interrogation techniques," but on other interrogation-related guidelines. A "separate protocol" would take into account the differences between battlefield interrogations and those aimed at eliciting intelligence about terrorist groups and their plans, the senior administration official said. But he added that the same ban on coercive measures would apply.

"We're not talking about different techniques," the official said, adding that there will be no "secret annex" to the orders.

CIA renditions would continue to be permitted during the task force review, an official said. Renditions, he said, could be both useful and justifiable in some cases, but "there will not be renditions to any country that engages in torture."

The Bush administration and the CIA have denied that they knowingly caused any detainees to be tortured, either while in U.S. custody or in foreign prisons. The outgoing CIA director, Michael V. Hayden, has said that the coercive techniques were used in fewer than 100 cases, and that waterboarding was used only on three high-level al-Qaeda operatives, all of them before 2004. In 2006, Hayden presided over the transfer of all prisoners held secretly by the CIA at that time to Guantanamo Bay.

In an internal message yesterday to CIA employees, Hayden said the agency would carry out the new administration's policies "without exception, carve-out or loophole."

In a separate order, Obama directed the government to review the status of a detainee, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who is held in a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. The directive will ensure the same kind of legal and factual review that is being undertaken for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the White House said.

Backing Obama as he signed the orders was a phalanx of 16 retired flag officers, part of a larger group of military and political leaders who pressured the new administration, publicly and privately, to set a new course on interrogations.

One of the officers, retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, said taking the moral high ground on interrogation would help protect U.S. troops in the future. He said the use of torture was "for the lazy, the stupid and the pseudo-tough" and called it a "recruiting tool for terrorists."

Some Republicans worried that the new president had rushed into policy changes that could damage national security.

"This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality -- it sets an objective without a plan to get there," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee."

Staff writers Robert Barnes, Walter Pincus, Michael D. Shear and Ann Scott Tyson and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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