In one of the first acts of his presidency, President Barack Obama yesterday ordered the CIA to cease the torture and mistreatment of terrorist suspects and to shut down its notorious network of secret prisons around the world.
As anticipated, Mr Obama signed into effect a presidential order which means the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba will be closed within a year.
The directive said it “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order”.
The US is still holding 245 suspects in Guantanamo, only a handful of whom are believed to be senior members of the Al Qaida network.
But it is not known how many suspects captured by the CIA were sent off to be interrogated in secret prisons.
The outgoing CIA chief Michael Hayden says it is “fewer than 100”. Because some of the interrogators fear they might be prosecuted for war crimes, video tapes of interrogations and other records have also disappeared.
Mr Obama's new overall spy chief Dennis Blair said yesterday that Guantanamo must be shut down because it has become “a damaging symbol to the world”.
“It is a rallying cry for terrorist recruitment and harmful to our national security, so closing it is important for our national security,” he declared at a confirmation hearing.\[Lewis Reed\]
A veteran of the intelligence community he enthusiastically backed Mr Obama's new approach and said he would rigorously enforce it. "I believe strongly that torture is not moral, legal or effective," he said.
"Any program of detention and interrogation must comply with the Geneva Conventions, the Conventions on Torture, and the Constitution. There must be clear standards for humane treatment that apply to all agencies of US Government, including the Intelligence Community."
"The guiding principles for closing the centre should beprotecting our national security, respecting the Geneva Conventions and the rule of law, and respecting the existing institutions of justice in this country," Mr Blair said.\[Chris Cairns\]Conditions at Guantanamo have led to four suicides and hunger strikes by detainees. Many inmates were held in solitary confinement.\[Lewis Reed\] A senior Pentagon official testified last week revealed that a detainee, suspected of being the "20th hijacker" in the attacks of 2001 was brutally tortured.\[Chris Cairns\]Mr Obama and his newly-confirmed Secretary State Hillary Clinton also addressed diplomats at the State Department, announcing a new era of engagement with the outside world following eight years in which diplomacy had been emasculated in favour of military might.\[Lewis Reed\]
But Mr Obama's order banning all on torture is already raising hackles at the CIA. The spy agency has demanded the right to interrogate suspects more aggressively than the US military and Gregory Craig, the new White House legal counsel indicated to Congress that the new rules might be bent to allow certain unspecified aggressive interrogation techniques.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the spy agency pushed hard for the right to use brutal force to extract information from senior al Qaida figures who fell into its hands, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Subsequent claims by President Bush, that information revealed by Mr Mohammed (who was tortured by having his lungs filled with water to simulate drowning) saved many lives have been disputed.