WASHINGTON—Breaking forcefully with Bush anti-terror policies, President Barack Obama ordered major changes Thursday that he said would halt the torture of suspects, close down the Guantanamo detention center, ban secret CIA prisons overseas and fight terrorism "in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals."
"We intend to win this fight. We're going to win it on our terms," Obama declared, turning U.S. policy abruptly on just his second full day in office. He also put a fresh emphasis on diplomacy, naming veteran troubleshooters for Middle East hotspots.
"A new era of American leadership is at hand," Obama said.
Executive orders signed by the new president would order the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, shut within a year, require the closure of any remaining secret CIA "black site" prisons abroad and bar CIA interrogators of detainees from using harsh techniques already banned for military questioners.
That includes physical abuse such as waterboarding, a technique that creates the sensation of drowning and has been termed torture by critics at home and abroad.
For the signing ceremony, Obama was flanked in the Oval Office by retired senior U.S. military leaders who had pressed for the changes.
Underscoring the new administration's point, the admirals and generals said in a statement: "President Obama's actions today will restore the moral authority and strengthen the national security of the United States."
Not everyone felt that way.
Criticism surfaced immediately from Republicans and others who said Obama's policy changes would jeopardize U.S. ability to get intelligence about terrorist plans or to prevent attacks.
House Minority Leader John Boehner was among a group of GOP lawmakers who quickly introduced legislation seeking to bar federal courts from ordering Guantanamo detainees to be released into the United States.
Boehner, R- Ohio, said it "would be irresponsible to close this terrorist detainee facility" before answering such important questions as where the detainees would be sent.
Obama said he was certain that the nation's security is strengthened — not weakened — when the U.S. adheres to "core standards of conduct."
"We think that it is precisely our ideals that give us the strength and the moral high ground to be able to effectively deal with the unthinking violence that we see emanating from terrorist organizations around the world," he said.
"We don't torture," Obama said, but Bush had said the same. The question has always been defining the word.
Later in the day, Obama visited the State Department to welcome newly confirmed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, emphasizing the importance his administration intends to give diplomacy in his foreign policy. He told Foreign Service officers and other department employees they "are going to be critical to our success."
The president and Clinton jointly announced the appointment of former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who helped broker peace in Northern Ireland, as special envoy to the Middle East. Former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who helped write the peace deal that ended Bosnia's 1992-95 war, was named special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But for all the talk of a new era, it remained unclear how much of a shift Obama plans for the Middle East.
Though he named high-profile envoys to regions where critics say American attention lagged under Bush, the Mideast policy Obama outlined was no different.