US President Barack Obama.

© 2009 Reuters

(Washington, DC) - In his first 100 days in office, President Barack Obama has made significant progress in reforming the Bush administration's abusive counterterrorism policies, but his administration has also made a few serious missteps, Human Rights Watch said in a background paper released today. 

The paper, "A Report Card on the Obama Administration's First 100 Days," assesses President Obama's reforms, analyzes his missteps and makes recommendations about what remains to be done. 

"President Obama got off to a great start when he issued executive orders to close Guantanamo and ban CIA prisons on his second full day in office," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. "But his administration's failure to reject the substance of the Bush-era ‘war on terror' framework was a tremendous disappointment."

Among the administration's key accomplishments, Human Rights Watch cited executive orders to: close the secret CIA prisons; implement the ban on torture and other mistreatment; and set a one-year deadline for closing the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. 

Human Rights Watch welcomed the release of four Justice Department legal memos on Bush-era interrogation abuses and urged Obama to ensure that those responsible for authorizing torture are held accountable.

Human Rights Watch criticized the administration for a March 13 court filing in which it claimed the authority to pick people up anywhere in the world on suspicion of support for or association with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and hold them indefinitely in military detention.

"A major test for the administration is how it will close Guantanamo," said Mariner. "Guantanamo's closure will mean little if detainees are merely transferred to US soil and held indefinitely without trial."

Human Rights Watch said that the Obama administration's banning of abusive practices would pay dividends in combatting terrorism because the United States would be better positioned to obtain the cooperation of foreign governments to successfully fight terrorism. Bush-era abuses at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere provide a boon to terrorist recruiters, Human Rights Watch said.