WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, moving swiftly to restore a U.S. image hurt by accusations of torture, is ready to issue orders on Thursday to close Guantanamo prison and overhaul the treatment of terrorism suspects.
A draft executive order obtained by Reuters on Wednesday sets a one-year deadline to close the controversial U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where suspected Muslim militants have been detained for years without trial.
Obama, who was sworn in on Tuesday, is expected to issue the final order on Guantanamo on Thursday, along with orders to ban abusive interrogations and review the detention of terrorism suspects, a congressional aide and a White House official said.
The White House was briefing key congressional representatives on the plans on Wednesday, the aide said.
Obama pledged during his election campaign to close Guantanamo, which became a blot on the human rights record of the United States and a symbol of detainee abuse and detention without charge under the Bush administration.
The draft order would instigate an immediate review of how to deal with the remaining prisoners held at the facility. The military commissions set up to try detainees would also be halted pending a study.
Separate orders would ban the CIA’s use of “enhanced” interrogation methods by making all agencies abide by the Army Field Manual, which bans interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning the CIA says has been used on three suspects.
Obama also would require a review of U.S. detention policies.
“The detention facilities at Guantanamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order,” the draft order said.
Anyone still in detention when the prison was shut “shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country or transferred to another United States detention facility,” it said.
Attorneys representing Guantanamo detainees said the time frame was too long. But an influential Republican said closing the camp could lead to dangerous suspects being brought to the United States and possibly being freed in legal challenges.
“It only took days to put these men in Guantanamo, it shouldn’t take a year to get them out,” said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, which has organized representation for the prisoners.
Former President George W. Bush has said that many of the countries that criticized the United States for keeping the prison open had been unwilling to take on the detainees who were held there.
But the draft order sounds an optimistic note about foreign cooperation, saying diplomatic efforts by the Obama administration could lead to new locations for a “substantial number” of current detainees.
The United States still holds about 250 men at the U.S. naval base in Cuba and wants to try about 80 of them on terrorism charges.
Washington has cleared 50 for release but cannot return them to home countries because of the risk they would be tortured or persecuted there. Around 500 others have been freed or transferred to other governments since 2002.
Editing by John O'Callaghan