President Barack Obama Moves to Halt Guantanamo Trials
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Barack Obama has wasted no time in getting down to the business of government, asking prosecutors to halt controversial military trials at Guantanamo Bay within hours of his inauguration.
The request was issued via the Department of Defense even as President Obama and his wife Michelle waltzed their way through a series of glitzy inaugural balls.
Obama pledged during his campaign to close the prison camp on Cuba set up in 2001 to hold detainees from the 'War on Terror'. The camp's legality has always been questioned, and former inmates and human rights experts said the harsh interrogation techniques deployed inside it amounted to torture.
Last night's request was for a 120-day stay in the trials of five alleged 9/11 plotters - including the self-proclaimed 'mastermind' behind America's worst terror attack- - and of a Canadian accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan. Obama had been expected to issue an executive order as early as today for the full closure of the camp, but accepts that it might take months to rehouse some 250 inmates still held there.
Clive Stafford Smith, the British human rights lawyer who has represented Guantanamo Bay suspects, welcomed the announcement and said that he thought Obama could close the camp within his first 100 days in office.
"It's great isn't it? It isn't much like the original executive order that President Bush issued," he said. "There is no doubt it will stop the practices at Guantanamo. After all, Obama is now the commander-in-chief."
The Guantanamo request was not the only measure taken by the new Obama Administration in its first hours of office. In a memorandum signed by Rahm Emanuel, the new White House chief of staff, the order went out to put the brakes on all pending regulations that the Bush regime tried to push through in its last days.
Later today, Obama will get down to the bigger task of hauling America out of its "winter of hardship" with his first meetings at the Oval Office.
He will spend the first part of his first full day as president seeking divine blessing for his presidency at a traditional prayer service at Washington's National Cathedral. Then he is expected to call in his top economic officers and advisers to to start the task of repairing the ruptured U.S. economy and shepherd a huge $825 billion stimulus package through Congress.
In a sign of the tough task ahead, the Dow Jones Industrials Average plummeted four percent on Obama's first day in office as investors were spooked by deep problems in the banking industry.
Obama was also expected to meet his top military leaders to fulfill a campaign promise -- telling the generals to formulate a plan to get U.S. troops out of Iraq, and reorienting military efforts towards the war in Afghanistan.
Yesterday, Obama claimed his place in history as the first black president of a nation stained by the legacies of slavery and racial segregation, and told Americans they have to pull together to pick their way out of raging storms.
"We have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," the 47-year-old said in a somber speech which never reached the oratorical heights expected but still had many in a two-million strong crowd in tears.
"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America."