Obama gets down to work

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama began overhauling national security policy yesterday with orders to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, review military trials of terror suspects and end harsh interrogations, a government official said.

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama began overhauling national security policy yesterday with orders to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, review military trials of terror suspects and end harsh interrogations, a government official said.

He also appeared ready to name a veteran politician as his special Mideast envoy.

A senior Obama administration official said the president would sign an order to shut the Guantanamo prison within one year. Critics around the world say the US naval facility violates US and international detainee rights.

A draft copy of the order notes that "in view of significant concerns raised by these detentions, both within the US and internationally, prompt and appropriate disposition of the individuals currently detained at Guantanamo and closure of the facility would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the US and the interests of justice".

The order was one of three expected on how to interrogate and prosecute al-Qaeda, Taliban or other foreign fighters believed to threaten the US. The administration has already suspended trials for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo for 120 days, pending a review of the military tribunals. An estimated 245 men are being held at the US naval base in Cuba, most of whom have been detained for years without charge.

Obama also had in hand executive orders to review military trials of terror suspects and end harsh interrogations, a key part of aides' plans that had been assembled even before Obama won the election on November 4.

Yesterday, Obama was visiting the state department to meet with secretary of state Hillary Clinton and his top national security advisers to round off a day focused on restoring the US image abroad, by making a clean break with some of the Bush administration's most controversial security policies.

White House aides announced that Obama would meet with retired military officers about the executive orders in the morning.

The Obama-Clinton meeting also was to include vice president Joe Biden and national security adviser Jim Jones and his deputy. It was to be followed by an address by Obama and Clinton to department employees.

Obama was also expected to announce George Mitchell, the former senate Democratic leader, as his special Mideast envoy. Mitchell, 75, will return to a role he had during Bill Clinton's presidency when the former senator took on difficult diplomatic assignments, including chairing peace talks on Northern Ireland.

Mitchell also led a commission to investigate violence in the Middle East. His report, issued in 2001, after Clinton had left office, called for a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and a Palestinian crackdown on terror. - Sapa-AP

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