AMERICA has been waiting these couple of weeks since now-President Barack Obama arrived back in the nation's capital, and finally that "change" that the new commander in chief and supporters keep talking about made its grand entrance on center stage yesterday.
With three bold strokes of the pen and a "there you go," Obama signed orders to close the controversial prison camp for alleged terrorists at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba within a year, and to end secret CIA jailings, assuring the world that "we don't torture."
Just two days into the 44th presidency, Obama's matching orders were the most dramatic change from the anti-terrorism policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, that so divided the nation and alienated much of world opinion.
And although the president had promised this sea change during his many months as a Democratic candidate for the job, the move still sparked an uproar - especially among conservatives on Capitol Hill worried that closing Guantanamo will ultimately free terrorists to wage jihad against America.
Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner, of Ohio, paid lip service to working with Obama but quickly added that "it would be irresponsible to close this terrorist-detainee facility" before "important questions" were resolved. Among these, said Boehner, are: Where will the detainees go when Guantanamo is closed and how will they be secured? Some critics expressed alarm that sworn al Qaeda members might be jailed in the United States.
As the strains of "At Last" from Tuesday's dozen inaugural balls faded into the background, substantial policy issues dominated the second full day of the Obama presidency - or maybe it was the first, if you factor in Wednesday's "do-over" of the botched inaugural-day swearing-in.
Indeed, with the cable news channels still focused on all-Obama-all-the-time, the critical debate over torture and how America combats terrorism blended with a lot of trivia.
That included maxed-out coverage of the new $3,300 high-security BlackBerry that the president will be using to communicate - albeit with a new classified e-mail address.
No presidential transition is silky-smooth, and Obama's replacement of the Bush administration has proved no exception. Besides the botched oath, which the president re-recited with Chief Justice John Roberts in what Obama aides called "an abundance of caution," there were already battles between the White House press corps and the new team.
Obama had signed orders on Tuesday that signaled more openness about access to public records than under the Bush administration, saying that "transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."
But just a day later, reporters were angry that there was no video of the second swearing-in ceremony with Roberts, and also complained about a lack of Oval Office photo access on Day One.
And there was a "Milli Vanilli moment" when it was revealed that the music that Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman appeared to be playing live at Obama's inauguration was actually pre-recorded because of the cold weather.
But if many things were still a work in progress little more than 50 hours into the Obama presidency, the announcement on Guantanamo and related issues came off as supporters had expected.
Obama got down to business on the divisive torture issue. He and other critics of the Bush administration have said that allegations of torture and lengthy detainments at Gitmo were harming the nation's image abroad and fomenting more anti-Americanism.
Echoing a much-discussed phrase from his inaugural address, Obama said at yesterday's signing that his administration would not "continue with a false choice between our safety and our ideals" - an express slap at policies that had been pursued by Bush and strongly advocated by former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Obama's central order would close the much-maligned U.S. prison camp within a year - after the new administration already had suspended trials for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo for 120 days pending a review of the military tribunals.
In other actions, Obama set up a task force that would have 30 days to recommend policies on handling terror suspects who are detained in the future and where Guantanamo detainees should be housed once it has closed.
He also signed an order requiring all U.S. personnel to follow the "Army Field Manual" while interrogating detainees, and told the Justice Department to review the case of Qatar native Ali al-Marri, who is the only enemy combatant being held on U.S. soil.
Separately, retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair, Obama's pick to oversee the intelligence community, told a Senate confirmation hearing that the manual would no longer be called the "Army Field Manual." He said it will be called "The Manual for Government Interrogations."
"We intend to win this fight," Obama - who was surrounded by retired generals who belong to a group that opposes torture - said yesterday. "We are going to win it on our own terms."
His actions may have been controversial at home, but they were hailed around the globe.
Husain Naqi, an official with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that the decision shows Obama to be a man who keeps his promises.
"It has harmed the U.S. image worldwide," Naqi told the Associated Press by phone. "The decision to close the center may help improve the image and confidence of the U.S. administration." *
The Associated Press contributed to this report.