U.S. President Barack Obama issued executive orders to close the Guantanamo prison in Cuba on Thursday that received welcome from human right activists and defense attorneys of terrorist suspects who are held there.
Obama signed three executive orders and a presidential directive, asking for the closure of the controversial facility within one year, a systematic review of detention policies and procedures and all individual cases, and a ban on harsh interrogation methods.
"The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals," Obama said.
Brian Mizer, a defense attorney for the Guantanamo cases, described the day when the order were released "a great day for America."
Stacy Sullivan from New York-based Human Rights Watch also told reporters that she hopes "this will be a museum memorializing a really shameful chapter in American history."
However, military prosecutor Jeff Groharing said that he hopes the military trials will resume since victims of terrorist attacks "need justice to be done."
At Obama's request, military judges in Guantanamo agreed on Wednesday to suspend trials of terrorist suspects for 120 days to allow review to be conducted.
It was considered the first step for Obama's administration to finally close the facility, which was open after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Apart from the centerpiece of the closure of the prison within a year, Obama's orders also authorized other actions including creation of a task force to recommend policies on handling terror suspects who are detained in the future; requirement to all U.S. personnel to follow the U.S. Army Field Manual that explicitly prohibits threats, coercion, physical abuse, water boarding, and other harsh interrogation techniques.
"We believe that the Army Field Manual reflects the best judgment of our military, that we can abide by a rule that says we don't torture, but that we can still effectively obtain the intelligence that we need," Obama said.
His orders required the Central Intelligence Agency to close all its existing detention facilities abroad for terror suspects for good.
About 245 detainees were still held at the Guantanamo prison out of some 800 who have been sent there so far. Most of them have been detained for years without being charged with a crime.
The controversial facility has drawn a lot of criticism against the U.S. government by human right activists and other governments since detainees were suspected of being tortured and deprived of their due legal rights.