Page last updated at 04:14 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Obama plans Guantanamo deadline

Barack Obama in Chicago, US, 17 December 2008
Obama was speaking to Time having been named its Person of the Year

Barack Obama has said he aims to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and put a clear end to torture in the US within two years of becoming president.

The president-elect told Time magazine he aims to restore the balance between US security needs and the Constitution.

Outgoing Vice-president Dick Cheney has said he does not see how the Guantanamo facility can be responsibly closed until the "war on terror" was over.

He also justified using water-boarding on some detainees during interrogation.

He said the technique, which simulates drowning, was an appropriate means of getting information out of suspects such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 11 September attacks on the US.

'Clear end to torture'

US President-elect Obama was speaking to Time having been named its Person of the Year for having what the magazine called "the confidence to sketch an ambitious future in a gloomy hour".

Asked how voters would know whether his administration was succeeding in two years, Mr Obama listed a series of benchmarks his team had set during his presidential campaign.

"On foreign policy, have we closed down Guantanamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our constitution?" he said.

It is clear President-elect Obama wants to drastically change US foreign policy, reports the BBC's Andy Gallacher from Washington, but critics say closing the military prison will be no easy task.

There are some 250 men still being held at the facility, some of whom have expressed concerns about being persecuted if they are returned to their home countries, our correspondent says.

Mr Obama listed among his other priorities:

  • Withdrawing US troops from Iraq
  • Strengthening the US position in Afghanistan - militarily, diplomatically and in terms of development
  • Reinvigorating international institutions to deal with transnational threats such as climate change

'Pretty good team'

Speaking to ABC News a month before the Bush administration leaves office, Mr Cheney defended the use of waterboarding and opposed the closure of the military facility on Cuba.

US Vice-president Dick Cheney, file pic from October 2008
The outgoing vice-president praised Mr Obama's national security team

Asked when the US could responsibly close the Guantanamo centre, Mr Cheney said: "I think that that would come with the end of the war on terror".

He was referring to the war launched by President George W Bush after the 9/11 attacks, but added that no-one knew when its end would be.

The outgoing vice-president also praised Mr Obama's national security nominations, calling them "a pretty good team".

Earlier this month, Mr Obama picked his former White House rival Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and retired General James Jones as national security adviser, while saying he would retain Robert Gates as defence secretary.

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