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Mr. Obama, as he signed the order on interrogation techniques, said that “any interrogations taking place are going to have to abide by the Army field manual.”

He said the manual “reflects the best judgment of our military, that we can abide by a rule that says we don’t torture, but that we can still effectively obtain the intelligence that we need.”

He called this “an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe court standards of conduct, not only when it’s easy but also when it’s hard.”

“We are not, as I said in the inauguration, going to continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he said.

“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.”

Human rights groups and even former U.S. officials have charged that detainees at Guantanamo were subjected to torture and objected to a range of other practices under the Bush administration that were illegal under international law and harmful to the U.S. reputation abroad, particularly in the Muslim world.

Mr. Obama also directed the Justice Department to review the case of Ali al-Marri, a Qatar native, to decide whether he has the right to sue the government for his freedom. The president announced that he was creating a task force that would recommend within 30 days new policies on handling terrorist suspects in the future.

One executive order will shutter “all permanent detention facilities overseas,” a reference to the so-called black sites. There are at least eight such prisons, according to published reports. The Bush administration never revealed the number or location of the facilities, although several were said to be in Eastern Europe.

Congressional committees were informally briefed about the executive orders on Wednesday. Administration officials discussed them with senior Republican legislators late Wednesday and were briefing others Thursday opposed to changing current U.S. policies involving terrorist suspects, a former Justice Department official familiar with the drafts said. He asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The official said “there are serious concerns as to where the detainees will be held” and that sending them “into the U.S. federal court system may lead to some of them being released” because the military commissions have different guidelines regarding evidence.

A Pentagon official said it “would be to speculative to say what will happen with each detainee once the facility is closed” but “clearly there are some dangerous detainees at Guantanamo and they will continue to fight us. It’s still way to soon to make judgment calls as to what facilities they will be held in the U.S. or abroad.” The official also asked not to be named.

Meanwhile, the fallout from Guantanamo Bay is stalling the appointment of Attorney General-designate Eric Holder, who said in his confirmation hearing last week that “waterboarding is torture” and now faces questions about whether he will prosecute U.S. intelligence agents who used that interrogation method.

Awaiting an answer, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed for at least a week a committee confirmation vote on Mr. Holder that was originally scheduled for Wednesday.

The outgoing director of national intelligence, Admiral Michael McConnell, also warned publicly last week that the CIA would be hamstrung if it abided only by the Army Field Manual in conducting interrogations. “Does the [intelligence] community need interrogation techniques beyond what’s in the Army Field Manual? In my opinion we do,” he told reporters at a farewell press conference.

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.