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CCR Praises Obama Orders, Cautions Against Escape Hatch for Torture

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CONTACT: press@ccrjustice.org

January 22, 2009, New York –  In response to President Obama’s signing of new executive orders today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued the following statement:

We welcome the beginning of the end of lawlessness. Under the previous administration, executive orders became synonymous with secrecy, torture and attempts to override the Constitution. It is genuinely uplifting to see them now used to set things right. President Obama’s orders today are an important first step in restoring the rule of law; let us take the next steps with great care not to open the way for a return to the darkness of these last years.

The order to close Guantánamo, though it provides little detail and allows perhaps too much time to get it done given the pressing issues at stake, is a good start. We believe the President will be able to close Guantánamo in less than a year: the priority must be to repatriate the many men who can go home and find safe havens for the approximately 60 who would face torture or persecution.

The government has to charge the rest of the detainees in federal criminal court. There can be no third way, no new schemes for indefinite or preventive detention or alternative national security courts. Any move in that direction would discredit all of the new administration’s efforts in the eyes of the world.

The order to close the CIA black sites where people were held in secret for the purpose of torture is to be applauded. There is no place for such black holes in a democracy. Their intended purpose is to circumvent the Geneva conventions and our own laws. If the order leaves the option of reviving those sites, it is more symbolic than a true reversal.

The order to make all agencies abide by the Army Field Manual’s acceptable interrogation tactics is perhaps the most important gesture toward restoring our moral authority as a nation. The Center for Constitutional Rights represents so many men who were brutally tortured by our government that this hits home for us in a way that it may not for those with no faces and lives to attach to the story. 

Again, we caution that the order may leave an escape hatch if the CIA should want more tactics, i.e. torture, available in its arsenal. The Geneva conventions should be the only arbiter of what is possible for governments to do to human beings. 

Today’s orders are filled with promise. In addition, to ensure no future administration will take us back to these dark times, there needs to be individual accountability for the torture program,  and other crimes committed. Prosecution is the only way to deter future lawbreakers. These orders are the right start, let us make sure this does not happen again.

To read the text of the executive orders, click here or download the attachments below.

CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last six years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee.” CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at Guantanamo, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation. CCR represented the detainees with co-counsel in the most recent argument before the Supreme Court on December 5, 2007.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.