Barack Obama Ends Waterboarding (and Other Imprisonment and Coercive Interrogation Practices)

While most people seemed to be talking about closing Guantanamo, another executive order today made big changes to the interrogation practices permitted not just in Guantanamo but to all American officers and agents worldwide. Today's executive order ensuring lawful interrogations:

  • Requires all interrogation practices of anyone in the custody of any American official to conform to Army Field Manual 2 22.3.
  • Defines words like "torture" and "humiliating and degrading treatment" to mean exactly what the Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions say those words mean.
  • Closes all CIA black sites.
  • Guarantees ICRC access to all prisoners as required by the Geneva Conventions.
  • Creates a Special Interagency Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies to determine how or whether the practice of extraordinary rendition can continue.

More detail and excerpts below the cut...

The order bans not just waterboarding but all interrogation methods not consistent with Army Field Manual 2 22.3, explicitly repudiating the Bush Administration's legal justifications for the former United States coercive interrogation policy:

From this day forward, unless the Attorney General with appropriate consultation provides further guidance, officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government may, in conducting interrogations, act in reliance upon Army Field Manual 2 22.3, but may not, in conducting interrogations, rely upon any interpretation of the law governing interrogation -- including interpretations of Federal criminal laws, the Convention Against Torture, Common Article 3, Army Field Manual 2 22.3, and its predecessor document, Army Field Manual 34 52 issued by the Department of Justice between September 11, 2001, and January 20, 2009.

The new executive order also defines exactly what formerly vague words like "torture" and "cruel treatment" mean. Under new Army and DoJ directives, these words mean exactly what the Geneva Conventions define them to mean. The Geneva Conventions are now not just the law of the land, they define the language of the law of the land:

Sec. 2(f): "Treated humanely," "violence to life and person," "murder of all kinds," "mutilation," "cruel treatment," "torture," "outrages upon personal dignity," and "humiliating and degrading treatment" refer to, and have the same meaning as, those same terms in Common Article 3.

In addition to closing Guantanamo, today's executive orders also closed the CIA's black sites:

Sec. 4(a): CIA Detention. The CIA shall close as expeditiously as possible any detention facilities that it currently operates and shall not operate any such detention facility in the future.

The order provides guaranteed ICRC access to all prisoners as required by the Geneva Conventions:

Sec 4(b): International Committee of the Red Cross Access to Detained Individuals. All departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall provide the International Committee of the Red Cross with notification of, and timely access to, any individual detained in any armed conflict in the custody or under the effective control of an officer, employee, or other agent of the United States Government or detained within a facility owned, operated, or controlled by a department or agency of the United States Government, consistent with Department of Defense regulations and policies.

And the order creates a Special Interagency Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies to determine how or whether the practice of extraordinary rendition ought to continue:

Sec 5:There shall be established a Special Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies (Special Task Force) to review interrogation and transfer policies. Sec (e)(ii): The mission of the Special Task Force shall be ... to study and evaluate the practices of transferring individuals to other nations in order to ensure that such practices comply with the domestic laws, international obligations, and policies of the United States and do not result in the transfer of individuals to other nations to face torture or otherwise for the purpose, or with the effect, of undermining or circumventing the commitments or obligations of the United States to ensure the humane treatment of individuals in its custody or control.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said "The president believes that what he did today will enhance the security of the American people, that it lives up to our values as Americans, and that it will protect the men and women that we have in uniform".