This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.
The executive orders issued by President Barack Obama during his first days in office represent a striking reversal of some of the most controversial policies of his predecessor, from torture to transparency in government to ethical behavior by high-ranking employees. Mr. Obama is running into speed bumps in the Senate on some of his Cabinet choices, but his early decisions are a solid down-payment on his promise to deliver change.
If Mr. Obama's actions are any indication of the future, the government will be more open, civil liberties will be honored and public service will be seen as a privilege, not a path to personal benefit.
Most Americans do not expect – or want – their president to act like Captain Picard of Star Trek, who could impose his will with a simple command – Make it so! – but elections do have consequences. Mr. Obama's decisions show his intent to deliver on promises made on the campaign trail. His convincing victory at the polls reflects the popular support behind these measures.
• Guantanamo. The early clamor to shut the island prison down "on Day One" was never a reasonable demand. Last week's order to shut it down within a year is a prudent caution. This sends a message to the rest of the world that the go-it-alone approach to international law favored by the Bush administration has been rejected, even as the difficult work of deciding what to do with bona fide terrorists remains on the agenda.
• Torture. Requiring all U.S. personnel to follow the Army Field Manual while interrogating detainees is another effort to restore America's good name. While the CIA is banned from operating secret prisons – at long last – Mr. Obama's order carries a worrisome loophole that leaves open the possibility that the agency might be allowed to use interrogation techniques beyond the 19 approved in the Army manual. Congress should cast a dubious eye on this.
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