President Barack Obama won the praises of some religious leaders on Thursday when he signed executive orders to close the controversial U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year, ban torture and end the CIA's secret overseas prisons.
The executive orders signed by the new president on his second day at the helm sought to send a message to the world that the United States will not tolerate torture and will abide by domestic and international laws concerning the treatment of detainees.
"The religious community has labored faithfully for three years to end U.S.-sponsored torture," said the president of the interfaith group National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Linda Gustitus. "We are grateful today for this important step. The dark, dark days of the past are behind us, and we all must work to make sure they never return again."
NRCAT had urged Obama to issue an executive order to end torture on his first day as President. As part of their campaign to end U.S. practice of torture, the group featured a countdown clock on its Web site that counted up from Obama's first day in office to track how long it takes the new administration to ban torture.
But even though Obama has essentially banned U.S. torture practice, religious leaders are still concerned about possible questionable techniques that could be permitted.
Under the executive orders, the CIA is now required to abide by the restrictions in the Army Field Manual in conducting interrogations of detainees. But a task force has also been established to study whether the CIA should be able to use additional interrogation techniques beyond those approved in the Army Field Manual.
As a result, some religious leaders have called for any additional interrogation tactics to be "humane, effective, and available for public scrutiny."
"We cannot afford to risk a return to the secret abuses of the past," Gustitus said. "Specifically, the President should publicly affirm that any additional interrogation techniques comply with the 'golden rule' - that they would be both moral and legal if used upon a captured American."
Dr. David P. Gushee, president of Evangelicals for Human Rights, also raised similar concern about the special task force and the possible introduction of additional techniques.
He has called for news laws regarding the issue, noting that executive orders while being powerful can also be reversed by new presidents or under new circumstances.
But while Gushee and fellow anti-torture activists rejoice over the swift torture ban, others are hesitant to join the celebration. Those concerned over the executive orders question if the changes could be harmful to the safety of Americans.
Obama, however, assured that his action has strengthened the country's security, not weakened it.
"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," Obama said Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
Now what is left is to figure out the details of how to close the prison camp at Guantanamo and what to do with the some 245 detainees remaining there within the next 12 months.
Analysts, however, say the act is feasible within the timeframe, according to National Public Radio.