War Criminals Watch: William J. Haynes II

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Report rips ex-Defense counsel, now at Chevron

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A little over a week ago, the Senate Armed Services Committee released a report,"Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody." The product of an 18-month investigation, the report concluded that "former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. officials share much of the blame for detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

One of the "senior U.S. officials" prominently featured in the report is William J. Haynes II, currently the chief corporate counsel for San Ramon's Chevron Corp.

From 2001 until February, Haynes was general counsel for the Department of Defense. The general counsel "provides oversight, guidance, and direction regarding legal advice on all matters arising within the Department of Defense, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense," according to the Pentagon's job description. In Haynes' case, that included advising on interrogation techniques used on U.S.-held detainees in the U.S. war on terror, and in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The bipartisan report - signed by Democrats and Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. - found that Haynes' opinions on the legality of various interrogation techniques were a key contributor to their being given the go-ahead. For example, then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld authorized the techniques only after Haynes recommended their approval, according to the report. It also states that Haynes' office sought information on harsh interrogation techniques even before a list of such techniques was drawn up by military officials for possible use at Guantanamo Bay. In the report's conclusions, the senators said they found some of Haynes' actions "deeply troubling."

From the report:

-- In December 2001, Haynes' office "had already solicited information on detainee 'exploitation' from (a U.S. military) agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions."

-- On Nov. 27, 2002, "notwithstanding the serious legal concerns raised by the military services, Mr. Haynes sent a one page memo to the secretary, recommending that he approve all but three of eighteen techniques in the GTMO request. Techniques such as stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs) and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval."

-- "Secretary Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002 approval of Mr. Haynes' recommendation contributed to the use of abusive techniques in Afghanistan and Iraq."

-- Haynes' "effort to cut short the legal and policy review of the GTMO request was inappropriate and undermined the military's review process."

-- "Further, Mr. Haynes' reliance on a legal memo produced by GTMO's Staff Judge Advocate that military lawyers called 'legally insufficient' and 'woefully inadequate' is deeply troubling."

The response: Haynes, hired as Chevron's chief corporate counsel soon after he left the Pentagon, could not be reached for comment. Kent Robertson, a Chevron spokesman said, "We aren't in a position to speak to the report."

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June, Haynes said he did "not remember" requesting information on harsh interrogation techniques in 2001. He said he had "misgivings" about the process for approving interrogation techniques. "This is not something that I did as a rubber stamp, or did lightly. I continue to stew on that, frankly," he said. However, he added at another point in his testimony, "As the lawyer, I was not the decisionmaker. I was an adviser."

He also defended the recommendations he made to Rumsfeld. "There is a paucity of law that was applicable at the time, and my job, as the lawyer, is not to say no, but to say, 'Where is the area or discretion available to the client?' - in this case, the secretary of Defense. And that was my determination, and I stand by it."

Reactions: The Wall Street Journal, in a lengthy editorial Friday, castigated the Senate committee report as "politically predetermined." It said the "real purpose" of the committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., "is to lay the groundwork for war crimes prosecutions of Bush officials like ... Jim Haynes who acted in good faith to keep the country safe within the confines of the law." In a statement dated the same day, six GOP members of the committee dissented from the report's conclusions. "The implication that this abuse was the direct, necessary or foreseeable of policy decisions made by senior administration officials is false and without merit."

The Journal's editorial and the GOP letter came a day after a New York Timeseditorial, which said the Senate report provides "a strong case for bringing criminal charges against ... Rumsfeld; his legal counsel, William J. Haynes; and potentially other top officials." The editorial doubted that such a step would be taken, but hoped the incoming Obama administration would "appoint an independent panel to look into these and other egregious violations of the law."

Further reading: To read the executive summary of the Senate Armed Services Committee report (most of the investigation details remain classified), go tolinks.sfgate.com/ZFTC. To read Haynes' testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, go to links.sfgate.com/ZFTF. For the Wall Street Journal editorial, go tolinks.sfgate.com/ZFTD. For the New York Times editorial, go tolinks.sfgate.com/ZFTE.

Tips, feedback: E-mail bottomline@sfchronicle.com

This article appeared on page D - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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This page contains a single entry published on December 23, 2008 10:28 AM.

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