Publisher Council on Foreign Relations Press
Release Date February 2009
President Barack Obama, in one of his first moves in office, reversed some of the most controversial detention and interrogation policies of the Bush administration. His three executive orders mandated the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility within a year, and suspended both military commission proceedings and the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program. But the interagency task force established by the executive orders has a difficult task ahead: it must not only determine the future of the remaining detainees at Guantánamo, but also shed light on how to detain and interrogate future terrorist suspects in a manner consistent with American law and American values.
This study finds that even if the United States successfully solves some of the most high-profile counterterrorism issues on the table, it will still lack a comprehensive, coherent, and sustainable framework for dealing with the strategic challenge posed by transnational terrorism. It argues that sharp disagreements over national security and civil liberties, as well as errors and overreach in U.S. counterterrorism practices, have stood in the way of America’s ability to forge a critical and sustainable foreign policy accord on how to address terrorist detention and trials, as well as domestic intelligence policies. The study recommends that the United States reexamine the scope and limits of its war against al-Qaeda, treating national security and the protection of individual liberties as coequal objectives. It calls on Congress and the president to engage these issues in a bipartisan fashion and craft comprehensive long-term counterterrorism policies that reaffirm the U.S. commitment to core values. Only then, it argues, will the United States be able to achieve the kind of foreign policy agreement necessary to prevail against the modern terrorist threat.