MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. Today, President Obama signed three executive orders that could significantly alter the way the U.S. treats suspected terrorists. The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba is to be closed within one year.
Mr. Obama also ordered a high-level review of how detainees are handled, and he prohibited the CIA from using interrogation techniques that are not allowed in the Army Field Manual. The three orders appear sweeping in scope, but as NPR's Tom Gjelten reports, they left many questions unanswered.
TOM GJELTEN: These are probably the most anticipated actions of the Obama administration. Closing Guantanamo and outlawing torture were promises Barack Obama made throughout his campaign. He followed through 48 hours after taking office, insisting he'd still be tough on terrorists.
President BARACK OBAMA: The United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism, and we are going to do so vigilantly, 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.
GJELTEN: The first executive order requires the closure of the Guantanamo facility within one year, but the new administration still doesn't know what to do with the roughly 245 detainees there now - nor with suspected terrorists detained in the future. Those are questions that will be reviewed.
A second order establishes a task force co-chaired by the attorney general and the secretary of defense to come up with some options. Some House Republicans were quick to weigh in, introducing legislation today that would bar Guantanamo detainees from coming into the United States.
The third order would put an end to the coercive interrogation techniques used by the CIA to get information from high-value detainees. One of those techniques, waterboarding, has already been categorized as torture by Mr. Obama's pick for attorney general, Eric Holder. That and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques will be off limits, though President Obama had some trouble making himself clear on this point.
President OBAMA: Anybody detained by the United States, for now, is going to be - any interrogations taking place are going to have to abide by the Army Field Manual.
GJELTEN: The key words here are, for now. President Obama is apparently leaving the door open to some techniques not outlined in the Army manual. The interrogation order sets up a task force to evaluate whether the interrogation, quote, "practices and techniques" in the Army manual provide, quote, "an appropriate means of acquiring the intelligence necessary to protect the nation."
If, for example, Osama bin Laden is captured, can the CIA only use Army techniques on him? Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, the president's pick to be director of national intelligence, addressed such questions at his Senate confirmation hearing today.
(Soundbite of Senate confirmation hearing for Retired Admiral Dennis Blair)
Retired Admiral DENNIS BLAIR (Appointee, Director of National Intelligence, Barack Obama Administration): The choice of what we do in the future is a subject of another review for apprehension, detention, interrogation.
GJELTEN: This could be a loophole. A senior administration official said today the task force will not suggest different interrogation techniques, even though the executive order said it could. The apparent contradiction has not yet been explained.
On Capitol Hill, the new executive orders brought a mixed reaction. Democrats praised them, but some Republicans were skeptical. Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the new guidelines, quote, "put hope ahead of reality."
And the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kit Bond of Missouri, speaking at Admiral Blair's confirmation hearing, criticized those who he says are content to go back to the old way of doing counterterrorism business.
Senator KIT BOND (Republican, Missouri; Ranking Member, Senate Intelligence Committee): They call for terrorists to be given the same constitutional protections as our citizens. They forget that our entire way of life is just a few minutes away from annihilation if terrorists were to succeed in obtaining a weapon of mass destruction or carry out an unrecoverable attack on our nation's infrastructure.
GJELTEN: The outgoing CIA Director says the enhanced interrogation techniques that would now be prohibited have produced valuable intelligence and saved American lives. Admiral Blair says he is familiar with those arguments, but he is not convinced they should dictate interrogation policies from here on.
Retired Admiral BLAIR: I've heard stories. I've gotten phone calls from people who've been in the business. You've got to sort this out and look at it objectively and find out what the right answer is.
GJELTEN: Blair said the immediate tactical benefit gained through harsh interrogations is one thing, but then he raised the larger question - what about the effect on America's reputation? Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.