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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tables Turn: The Interrogators Face Interrogation

When it came to light in 2002 that former General Counsel for the Department of Defense William “Jim” Haynes put together the policies that advocated torture of U.S. detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and Afghanistan, it would have been easy to assume his time as an influential member of the U.S. government was over. But lo and behold, there he was in 2006, still a Bush nominee for the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Alliance for Justice knew that a man who was so willing to eschew the Geneva Conventions and exhibit a lack of regard for the U.S. Constitution clearly was not fit for a lifetime seat on the federal bench. The Senate Judiciary Committee agreed; Haynes’ nomination was opposed strongly by Democrats and Republicans alike—even Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a devout conservative, didn’t want to see him on the bench. When it became clear he would not be confirmed, his nomination was ultimately withdrawn. Crisis averted. (Well, that crisis anyway.)

Now, in the wake of the last week’s Guantanamo Bay decision from the Supreme Court, the Senate Armed Services Committee—chaired by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI)--held a hearing yesterday to determine the “origins of aggressive interrogation techniques” on foreigners held in U.S. custody. Haynes, who helped justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, was the headlining witness and the sole member of the hearing’s third and final panel.

In an ironic twist, Haynes faced some aggressive interrogation of his own. Haynes’ only allies yesterday were his criminal defense lawyers and the three words he used to skirt question after question: “I don’t recall.” His evasion drew occasional jeers from the protesters in attendance, who were clad in orange jump suits and black hoods. And the protesters—not to mention Haynes--were probably happy to see that the senators on the committee used more relaxed interrogation techniques than the ones Haynes signed off on.

But that’s not to say the senators let him off easy.

As Haynes’ selective amnesia regarding the use of coercive techniques (like sensory and sleep deprivation, stress positions, threats with dogs, and forced nudity) kicked in, so did the disgust of the committee members. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) would storm out angrily before the conclusion of the hearing. Before leaving in disgust, Senator Reed confronted Haynes, saying, “You did a disservice to the soldiers of this nation. You empowered them to violate basic conditions which every soldier respects — the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Geneva Convention...Don’t go around with this attitude of you’re protecting the integrity of the military. You degraded the integrity of the United States military.” Even the conservative Senator Graham wouldn’t give Haynes a free pass.

Given Haynes’ general refusal to meaningfully answer questions, honestly or otherwise, the only true relief to be had is the knowledge that this man isn’t serving on one of America’s most influential courts. It is mind-boggling that Haynes, who hasn’t expressed an ounce of repentance for his actions in 2002, came so close to that kind of power.

Yesterday’s proceedings kept going back to the minutes of an October 2002 meeting in Guantanamo Bay regarding interrogation techniques. CIA counterterrorism lawyer Jonathan Fredman candidly and coldly explained to intelligence and military officials that torture was all about "perception," and, “If the detainee dies, you’re not doing it right.” Given his participation in the development and approval of cruel interrogation methods that clearly contravene U.S. and international law, and his unrepentant stance yesterday, it seems obvious that Haynes would have brought that same lack of compassion and regard for the rule of law with him to the Fourth Circuit.

Yesterday’s hearing was another reminder that we must tirelessly monitor the judicial nominations put forth by the executive branch. Had Haynes been confirmed, the moral standing of our nation, along with the civil rights of American and foreign citizens, would certainly have been diminished. And that’s a chilling vision we should never ignore.

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