No Comment — April 7, 2008, 5:56 pm

Torture Lawyer in the Crosshairs

I reported here and here on former Pentagon General Counsel William J. (“Jim”) Haynes II, his covert war against the JAG Corps, and the focal role played by the torture issue in this process. Haynes may have gone off to do lawyering for Chevron Inc., but it seems that as he leaves there is rising interest in getting him to account for his dealings at the Pentagon. The three lawyers who played the most central roles in the process of introducing torture techniques were David Addington, Jim Haynes, and John Yoo.

At least until Philippe Sands’s long-awaited book, The Torture Team, hits the stands, the internal story is still not sufficiently developed to narrow the field to the single key administration lawyer. But while the gregarious Mr. Yoo continues to insert himself into the limelight and is now the best-known, it’s clear that his role is subsidiary to that of Haynes and Addington. And Haynes’s role in advocating the decisive Rumsfeld December 2, 2002 order and other documents may yet yield for him the dubious distinction of being the lead torture lawyer.

Over the last four days I’ve shared notes several times with Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff, who tells me he senses a distinct gathering of storm clouds around Haynes. On Sunday, Isikoff reported that Haynes had lawyered up, hiring a prominent criminal defense attorney to advise him. Here’s the Isikoff report:

With little advance notice, Pentagon general counsel William Haynes quietly resigned at the end of February to take a top legal job at Chevron. But Haynes, a close ally of Vice President Dick Cheney, remains a key figure in a sweeping Senate probe into allegations of abuses to detainees in Defense Department custody.

Haynes was thrust back into the spotlight last week after the disclosure of a March 2003 Justice Department memo concluding that federal laws against torture, assault and maiming would not apply to the overseas interrogation of terror suspects. Haynes requested the memo (which was written by the then Justice Department lawyer John Yoo) and he and his boss, the then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, later used it to justify harsh interrogation practices on terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay. The memo’s disclosure raises new questions about the role that Haynes and other Bush-administration lawyers played in crafting legal policies that critics say led to abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

Haynes’s departure initially raised concerns about obtaining his testimony without a subpoena, especially after the panel learned that he had retained top criminal defense attorney Terrence O’Donnell, who represented Cheney during the Valerie Plame leak investigation. But O’Donnell told NEWSWEEK that Haynes has agreed to be interviewed, adding that the committee’s probe “had nothing to do” with his resignation.

It’s noteworthy that Terrence O’Donnell also cut his teeth with Cheney in the Defense Department, and was close to David Addington and Jim Haynes. Indeed, O’Donnell preceded Addington as the Pentagon’s general counsel, and was, along with Addington and Haynes, deeply enmeshed in an effort to push back against, downsize and potentially even eliminate the JAG Corps.

I’ve been looking into this trying to get a sense of what, exactly, the Armed Services Committee is so eager to discuss with Haynes. Two possibilities emerge.

First is the subject that Isikoff identifies: committee staffers have been carefully assembling secondary accounts concerning Haynes’s role in the process of authorizing highly coercive interrogation techniques, in preparing memoranda, and in soliciting memoranda to cover his advice from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Haynes’s relationship and dealings with OLC are drawing particular attention. Similarly, staffers are looking very carefully at Haynes’s prior appearances before the Committee, as well as his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in connection with his nomination to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

My hunch is that the facts and circumstances surrounding the preparation of the two “torture memoranda,” which I have dubbed Yoo Prime (August 2002) and Yoo Two (March 2003) will be right in the center of questioning. Something that Haynes said, it seems, doesn’t sit right with the investigators.

The second matter is Haynes’s role in restructuring the Military Commissions at Guantánamo and tasking prosecutors and the legal advisor to the convening authority. This is the point on which the president of the New York City Bar, apparently now joined by other bar associations, is pressing for Haynes’s examination under oath. Accusations come from the former chief prosecutor, Colonel Morris Davis, among others. Davis has recently stated that he is prepared to submit to a lie-detector test about the matter. Haynes has refused to make public comment, offering only a bland statement that he “disputes” Davis’s charges through a Pentagon public affairs spokesman.

Isikoff quotes O’Donnell as noting that Haynes will appear and testify. Previously, when invited to appear by Senator Diane Feinstein, Haynes not only refused to appear, he actually ordered uniformed military officers not to appear or testify either, setting the stage for confrontation. Haynes may now be pulling back from that. But as a private citizen and employee of Chevron Inc., his power prerogatives are obviously far more limited.

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More from Scott Horton:

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