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First the Military Commissions, Now the Black Sites

For all the talk about Obama not governing as a progressive, take a look at his first not-even-48 hours in office. He’s suspended the Guantanamo Bay military commissions, a first step toward shuttering the entire detention complex. He’s assembled his military commanders to discuss troop withdrawals from Iraq. He’s issued a far-reaching order on transparency in his administration that mandates, among other things, a two-year ban on any ex-lobbyists working on issues they lobbied for. And now he’s shutting down the CIA’s off-the-books detention complexes in the war on terrorism.

According to my friend Eli Lake and his colleague Sara Carter at the Washington Times, Obama has a draft executive order, intended for issuance today, that closes “all permanent detention facilities overseas.” It was at sites like these that the torture of the senior-most Al Qaeda detainees, like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, took place, and despite the transfer of 14 of those detainees to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006, the network of detention facilities remained in place, though circumscribed in their functioning. Detainees taken there had no rights, only the prerogatives of their jailers, and the International Committee of the Red Cross had no access to them. The revelation that European countries like Poland and Romania cooperated with the United States in establishing the secret prisons touched off a scandal in the Council of Europe after a 2007 inquiry.

Lake and Carter also report that future detainees held by CIA must be interrogated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions-compliant guidelines of the revised Army Field Manual on interrogations. That’s something that some CIA operatives have pragmatic concerns about. Fortunately, at 10 a.m., President Obama’s nominee to become director of national intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair (Ret.), will testify to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during his confirmation hearing, so we may get some clarity later this morning. (Or, perhaps more likely, Blair will ask to go into closed session to field those questions.) I’ll have more when the hearing starts.

But for progressives, that’s a pretty robust first two days from Obama. Oh, and The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and William Glaberson add that an additional executive order will establish a cabinet-level panel to assess where in the United States detainees from Guantanamo will be tried. That sounds like a step toward civilian federal criminal trials. And Daphne, check this out:

The order also directs an immediate assessment of the prison itself to ensure that the men are held in conditions that meet the humanitarian requirements of the Geneva Convention. That provision appeared to be a pointed embrace of the international treaties that the Bush administration often argued did not apply to detainees captured in the war against terrorism.

International law. What a concept.

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