New York, January 22, 2009—PEN American Center praised President Barack Obama’s quick action in signing executive orders closing Guantanamo Bay and other secret detention facilities and explicitly banning torture, actions the organization has called essential to restoring respect for the rule of law in the U.S. and around the world. “With today’s actions, President Obama has once again put the United States on the right side of American and international law, which guarantees the rights of every human being on earth, without exception, to due process and humane treatment,” said Francine Prose, president of PEN American Center. “We applaud his decisive leadership, and we thank him for sending this clear, strong message to governments around the world that the foundation for justice is respect for our most basic and inherent human rights.”
The orders come less than two days after President Obama’s inauguration, where he announced that “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” That night, he signed executive orders suspending the military commission proceedings against a handful of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Under the orders he signed today, the detention facility and other secret detention sites elsewhere in the world are to be closed within a year, and an investigation will be launched on detention policies in general and individual cases in particular. The president also signed an order requiring all interrogations by U.S. personnel to be conducted under the auspices of the Army Field Manual, which explicitly bans all forms of torture and abusive treatment.
Joining Francine Prose today in celebrating the signing of the executive orders were PEN’s two immediate past presidents, Salman Rushdie and Ron Chernow. Together, the three have led PEN’s Campaign for Core Freedoms, which has been fighting since 2004 to reverse post-9/11 policies that undermine freedom of expression and human rights in the U.S. and around the world.
“It’s good to see the new American administration, on which so many of our hopes rest, beginning so well, and to see the United States regaining the moral strength which it so rashly set aside in the last eight years,” said Salman Rushdie, PEN American Center president from 2004 to 2006.
“How splendid that President Obama is prepared to use the power of our ideals, and not just our military might, to combat global terrorism,” said Ron Chernow, who was PEN American Center president from 2006 to 2007. “His executive orders to dismantle Guantanamo and abolish torture show that the U.S. Constitution isn't an obsolete parchment but a living presence in our national life, even in the most dangerous of times.”
PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s Campaign for Core Freedoms, please visit www.pen.org/corefreedoms
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