No Comment — November 8, 2007, 1:39 pm

Marine Lawyer Gagged by Pentagon

Today a House Judiciary Subcommittee is holding hearings on torture—excuse me, highly coersive interrogation techniques—and how it affects potential trials before the Military Commissions. Marine Lieutenant Colonel V. Stuart Couch was invited to give testimony before the Congressional committee.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning on what happened next:

Col. Couch says he informed his superiors and that none had any objection. Yesterday, however, he was advised by email that the Pentagon general counsel, William J. Haynes II, “has determined that as a sitting judge and former prosecutor, it is improper for you to testify about matters still pending in the military court system, and you are not to appear before the Committee to testify tomorrow.” Mr. Haynes is a Bush appointee who has overseen the legal aspects of the Pentagon’s detention and interrogation policies since Sept. 11, 2001. The email was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said it was Defense Department policy not to let prosecutors speak about pending cases.

Couch was going to testify about the dilemma he faced as a prosecutor when he learned that a potential defendant against whom he was trying to build a case had been tortured. Couch was assured not to worry, the fact that the detainee had been tortured would be suppressed, so that the court would never learn about it. That would, of course, have entailed a conscious fraud on the Court—which appears to be standard Department of Defense operating procedure these days. But Col. Couch didn’t want to play that game.

Now let’s consider Bryan Whitman’s response. I’ve been tracking Mr. Whitman’s pronouncements for some time and find that they have a quite extraordinary fiction-to-fact ratio. This statement is a classic case in studied evasion. There is no doubt that sound policy opposes letting prosecutors speak to the press about pending cases. Indeed, it’s more than just “policy.” It’s a matter of ethics found in the Code of Professional Responsibility. But in this case, there is no “pending case.” Couch was not speaking to the press, he was testifying before a Congressional oversight committee on their invitation. Whitman is attempting to mislead his audience about the underlying facts and to make a decision which was political and manipulative sound like something perfectly natural.

But is it true that the Pentagon has a “policy” about not allowing prosecutors to speak about cases? If we go back and study the record, we find that just isn’t so. In fact the chief prosecutor for the Gitmo Military Commissions cases was Col. Moe Davis, and he was out speaking to the press 24/7, doing everything in his power to publicly portray the defendants as horrible hardened criminals. Was that against “policy”? It should have been. But in fact the Pentagon had a very carefully coordinated policy of doing just the opposite.

The objection here is really something different. It’s exposing the Pentagon’s practices authorizing torture and then lying about it. If Col. Couch were to embrace the Pentagon’s line, they’d have no problem with him speaking. The problem is that he was prepared to testify honestly about the torture program, and that was a show-stopper.

Note that the determination was made by William (“Jim”) Haynes, Donald Rumsfeld’s lawyer, who continues to serve as general counsel after the Senate Judiciary Committee gave a thumbs-down to his nomination for a federal judgeship in the Fourth Circuit (“Over my dead body,” in the words of one Fourth Circuit Republican). Mr. Haynes is one of the prime torture conspirators, and the author of a December 2002 memorandum endorsed by Rumsfeld that has already provided the basis for two criminal indictments of the former Defense Secretary. Haynes is one of the Bush Administration officials most likely to be indicted for his role in the torture scandal when he steps down from office. Mr. Haynes has a strong reason to prevent Col. Couch from testifying, since almost anything he would have to say would be embarrassing to, and might even incriminate, Mr. Haynes.

But then let’s consider the other side of this. The Constitution, federal law and three rulings of the Supreme Court all make clear that oversight of the Military Commissions process is vested in Congress. So on what basis do Pentagon officials obstruct Congress’s exercise of its oversight function? Mr. Whitman evidently feels under no compunction to explain that. Perhaps because he has no explanation.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2015

Loitering With Intent

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Polite Coup

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Findings

What Went Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Shooting Down Man the Hunter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Legends of the Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“A bond with reality has gone, and sometimes you wonder whether that fosters our feeling that movies are a fleeting art.”
Photograph by Alexander Perrelli
Article
What Went Wrong·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In the seventh year of his presidency, Barack Obama was presenting himself as a politician who followed the path of least resistance. This is a disturbing confession.”
Photograph by Pete Souza
Article
Surviving a Failed Pregnancy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If this woman — who spent her days studying gray screens for early signs of gestation — could not see my pregnancy, what were the chances that anyone else would?”
Illustration by Leigh Wells
Article
Interesting Facts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My husband is forty-six. I am forty-five. He does not think that, in my forties, after cancer, chemotherapy, and chemically induced menopause, I can get pregnant again, but sisters, I know my womb. It’s proven.”
Photograph by McNair Evans
Post
Kid Chocolate’s Place·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Cuban eyes often look close to tears.”
Illustration by the author

Number of British women killed last fall by lightning conducted through their underwire bras:

2

British women wear heels for fifty-one years on average, from the ages of twelve to sixty-three.

Thousands of employees of McDonald’s protested outside the company’s headquarters near Chicago, demanding their wages be increased to $15 per hour. “I can’t afford any shoes,” said one employee in attendance, “and I want Versace heels.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today