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Return to the Moral High Ground

James Gordon Meek writes for the New York Daily News: "President Obama has rolled back Team Bush's torture policies with a bang, not a whimper, issuing four executive orders in a sweeping repudiation of his predecessor's 'war on terror.' . . .

"One of the war's most successful interrogators cheered Obama.

"'It's a significant step toward saving American lives,' said Air Force Reserve Maj. Matthew Alexander - the lead interrogator of terrorists who betrayed Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi before his 2006 killing.

"'When I was in Iraq, the No. 1 reason foreign fighters said they were coming into the country to fight was Abu Ghraib,' said Alexander, author of 'How To Break A Terrorist.'"

There's still some work to be done, however.

Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper write in the New York Times: "Mr. Obama's orders struck a powerful new tone and represented an important first step toward rewriting American rules for dealing with terrorism suspects. But only his decision to halt for now the military trials under way at Guantánamo Bay seemed likely to have immediate practical significance, with other critical policy choices to be resolved by task forces set up within the administration.

"Among the questions that the White House did not resolve on Thursday were these: What should be done with terrorists who cannot be tried in American courts, either because evidence against them was obtained by torture or because intelligence is too sensitive to use in court? Should some interrogation methods remain secret to keep Al Qaeda from training to resist them? How can the United States make sure prisoners transferred to other countries will not be tortured?"

Joby Warrick and Karen DeYoung write in The Washington Post: "Senior administration officials indicated that the military commissions established by the previous administration to try prisoners at Guantanamo Bay -- whose operations were suspended by Obama on Wednesday -- might be preserved in some form for those detainees determined to be 'unreleasable' and 'untriable.'

"The orders did not prohibit renditions, in which the CIA has secretly transferred prisoners captured in one country to another without trial. Although they mandated that the CIA adhere to interrogation guidelines used by the military, officials said that a separate 'protocol' may still be established to govern intelligence agency interrogation practices.

"Those issues and others are to be reviewed by a Cabinet-level task force that will study how to deal with the most vexing legacies of the Bush administration's detention program, Obama said."

And Greg Miller and Julian E. Barnes write in the Los Angeles Times that Obama "appeared to leave an opening for the CIA" to once again go beyond the 19 approved techniques listed in the Army field manual. "The order calls for the creation of a special task force, headed by the U.S. attorney general, to study whether the Army field manual is adequate and to recommend 'additional or different guidance for other departments or agencies.'

"Administration officials emphasized that there was no intent to create a loophole.


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