President Barack Obama has taken the right steps on U.S. counterterrorism policy. He committed to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo, Cuba, provide habeas rights to Guantanamo detainees, review military commission trials and restrict harsh CIA interrogation techniques. These steps will help repair the damage done to America's influence by the errors and excesses of the Bush administration. They reaffirm the U.S. commitment to human rights, civil liberties and the rule of law.
In spite of this, Mr. Obama's moves mark less of a sharp break from counterterrorism policies under the Bush administration than one might think. The fight against terrorism is clearly not over: President Obama ordered airstrikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan just one day after the Guantanamo executive order. More important, checks and balances by Congress and the Supreme Court had already forced the Bush administration, during its second term, to rein in many of the most troubling aspects of U.S. counterterrorism policies.
Abusive interrogation techniques of the types employed at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have been prohibited by acts of Congress and the Army Field Manual on Interrogations. Supreme Court rulings have concluded that the protections of the Geneva Conventions applied to all U.S.-held terrorism detainees - even those held by the CIA - and have affirmed the statutory and constitutional habeas rights of Guantanamo detainees to challenge the basis of their detention. Congress grounded the Guantanamo military commissions in law in 2006.