Is Chevron living up to its stated support for human rights by hiring a former Pentagon lawyer allegedly linked to abusive treatment of US detainees?

First, I apologize for this long post, but there was so much material on its subject, William James Haynes II. He is the new chief corporate counsel at San Ramon-based oil giant, Chevron Corporation, which is also a major East Bay employer and contributor to local arts, education, and social service organizations, including Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts.

Over the past few years, Chevron has been making a concerted effort to present itself as a socially responsible multinational corporation. On its website it talks about wanting to help the environment—as in developing alternative energy sources—and, most notably, about supporting human rights in the countries where it does business. In fact, in 2006 Chevron adopted a Human Rights Statement, grounded in the “Chevron Way” that is modeled after the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

While espousing its support for human rights, Chevron hired William Haynes in February 2008 to serve as chief corporate counsel. His hiring is deeply troubling to some because right before taking the Chevron job, Haynes worked as general counsel for Defense Department. There, according to a Washington Post op-ed piece written by U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, Haynes “developed and defended three of the administration’s most controversial [war on terror] policies: the refusal to treat any of the hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions of 1949; the department’s military tribunal plan for trying suspected war criminals; and even the incarceration of U.S. citizens without counsel or judicial review.”
Most notably, Haynes also advised Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on interrogation techniques used on U.S.-held detainees in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Haynes’ advice even drew the ire of key Senate Republican Lindsay Graham during one of President Bush’s attempts to secure Haynes’ a federal court appointment. Graham, of South Carolina, told the Washington Post, after Haynes’ testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2006, that the tactics Haynes pushed led to the “legal confusion” over interrogation practices that contributed to the scandal at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib.

In the past few weeks, the Senate Armed Services Committee reignited the detainee interrogation debate. It issued a damning report (signed by both Democrats and Republicans, including former Republican presidential candidate John McCain) of top Bush administration officials. The New York Times, in an editorial, says these officials were involved in “the chain of unprincipled decisions that led to the abuse, torture and death in prisons run by the American military and intelligence services.

Bush administration officials mentioned in the report include Rumsfeld and former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. Also receiving prominent notice is Chevron’s new hire, Haynes, who is reportedly a friend of Chevron’s vice president and general counsel Charles James, from the time both worked for the Bush Administration.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Andrew Ross says the report shows 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. … 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.’ “

According to the report, on November 27, 2002 “notwithstanding the serious legal concerns raised by the military services, Mr. Haynes sent a one-page memo to [Secretary Rumsfeld], recommending that he approve … techniques such as stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli. … Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora raised concerns to Haynes several times from mid-December 2002 to mid-January 2003 that these techniques ‘could rise to the level of torture.’ ”

The New York Times editorial suggests that the Senate committee report “has made what amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges” against Rumsfeld and Haynes, as well as Gonzales, and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

The Times goes on to say:

“These top officials, charged with defending the Constitution and America’s standing in the world, methodically introduced interrogation practices based on illegal tortures devised by Chinese agents during the Korean War. Until the Bush administration, their only use in the United States was to train soldiers to resist what might be done to them if they were captured by a lawless enemy. The officials then issued legally and morally bankrupt documents to justify their actions, starting with a presidential order saying that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to prisoners of the “war on terror” — the first time any democratic nation had unilaterally reinterpreted the conventions. …”

“These top officials ignored warnings from lawyers in every branch of the armed forces that they were breaking the law, subjecting uniformed soldiers to possible criminal charges and authorizing abuses that were not only considered by experts to be ineffective, but were actually counterproductive …”

Moreover, the editorial says, these practices deeply “harmed America’s image as a nation of laws and may make it impossible to bring dangerous men to real justice” and increased the danger to our troops Iraq and Afghanistan. … Alberto Mora, the former Navy general counsel who protested the abuses, told the Senate committee that ‘there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq—as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat—are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.’”

Not everyone on the committee agreed with these conclusions. Six GOP members dissented, saying the “inquiry breaks little new ground (and) 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 Wall Street Journal editorial page wasn’t happy either, calling the report “politically predetermined” and that 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.”

“Nearly every element of the narrative is dishonest,” the Journal editorial continued. “As officials testified during Mr. Levin’s committee meetings and according to documents in his possession, senior officials were responding to requests from the CIA and other commanders in the field. The flow was bottom up, not top down. … We know that the most aggressive tactic ever authorized was aterboarding, which was used in three cases against hardened, high-ranking al Qaeda operatives. … U.S. officials say the information [obtained by one operative] foiled multiple terror plots and led to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of 9/11.”

Haynes did not respond to request for a comment from Crazy in Suburbia, but in his testimony before the committee, he denied, despite Alberto Mora’s warnings, that he ever advocated torture. About the abuses the public now associates with Abu Ghraib, Haynes says it has “been consistently determined that the photographs that were so widely broadcast in 2003, and even to this day, reflect nothing that was approved interrogation. It was just flat-out abuse by people who were not being supervised.”

It’s important to consider the context of what he and other White House lawyers were dealing with in the years right after 9/11, Haynes testified: a new landscape of global terrorism where previously understood rules of warfare no longer applied. There was a paucity of law that was applicable at the time.”
Finally, Haynes said, “As the lawyer, I was not the decisionmaker. I was an adviser.”

The Senate committee report strongly disagrees with Haynes’ assertion that the abuse at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was “the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.”
The report concludes by showing that military leaders, namely General David Petraeus, have since repudiated those practices:

“While some argue that the brutality and disregard for human life shown by al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists justifies us treating them harshly, General Petraeus explained why that view is misguided. In a May 2007 letter to his troops, General Petraeus said ‘Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we—not our enemies—occupy the moral high ground.’ ”

Despite the report’s findings and the New York Times view that Haynes and others should possibly be prosecuted for war crimes, Haynes, it appears, has found a home at Chevron, at least for the time being.

Kent Robertson, Chevron’s Media Relations Advisor for Policy, Government and Public Affairs, told me: “Mr. Haynes is a respected and proven lawyer who has always operated with the highest degree of ethics and integrity at Chevron, consistent with the company’s values.”
Those values include following the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights. It is interesting to note that Article 5 of this 1948 document says: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” This is just the sort of treatment that Haynes signed off on, as he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his federal court nomination. The Washington Post reported:

“Haynes addressed the development of a memo that suggested it would be legal to subject some al-Qaeda prisoners to ‘cruel, inhumane or degrading” treatment.
Responding to charges that he essentially collaborated with Justice Department lawyers on the memo, then ran roughshod over military lawyers who objected, Haynes acknowledged that there had been “spirited discussions” at the Pentagon
but that everyone received a fair hearing.

Senator Graham retorted that the military lawyers “went ballistic” when they saw the “torture memo.”

I don’t know enough about Chevron’s operations in other parts of the world to judge criticisms of the company by human rights and environmental organizations, such as the Washington D.C.-based Multinational Monitor magazine. This publication named Chevron one of the top 10 worst corporations in the world “for its refusal to take responsibility for dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon and its close relationship to the brutal Burmese military regime, among other human rights and corporate governance problems.”

For its part, Chevron responded to the devastating May 2008 cyclone in Burma by donating $2 million to the relief efforts. Chevron can also make other claims of social responsibility on the international front by launching a three-year, $30 million commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

In our East Bay suburbs, Chevron is a big supporter of arts programs at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts, including the one-day annual Chevron Family Theatre Festival in July. Chevron also donates thousands of dollars to science education programs in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, while Joan O’Reilly, wife of Chevron CEO David O’Reilly, sits on the board of advisors for Wardrobe for Opportunity. This East Bay-based nonprofit, which started in Walnut Creek, supplies a professional wardrobe and dressed-for-success advice to poor men and women looking for work. Wardrobe for Opportunity gave Chevron a 2008 Leadership Award.

So, Chevron tries to do good things, either because its leaders truly believe that these are the right things to do—or because it makes good for PR. I hope Chevron’s motives are the former. I also hope that Chevron isn’t doing the wrong thing by keeping William J. Haynes II on staff. Maybe the Harvard-trained attorney and former Navy captain has done great work and acted with honor and integrity throughout much of his 25-year legal career.

At the same time, he could be a war criminal, as some critics assert. At the very least, I think it is fair to ask Haynes’ new employer, Chevron, whether he was the only lawyer in America who could do this job for the company. And given its “Chevron Way” campaign, I think it is also important to question the company’s leaders on whether they are being consistent in their stated support for human rights by hiring Haynes, with his controversial human rights record, to be one of their top legal advisors.

5 thoughts on “Is Chevron living up to its stated support for human rights by hiring a former Pentagon lawyer allegedly linked to abusive treatment of US detainees?

  1. There are more news reports coming out about the committee report, and apparently the new Obama administration is going to review the committee’s findings. Hmm. But apparently it also includes Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice. They participated in cabinet meetings where the abuses and torture were discussed.


  2. John Brennan, the former CIA official, was supposedly pressured to withdraw his name from being considered for the CIA top job because he was working for the CIA when it was involved in using the abusive interrogation methods, including “waterboarding,” on detainees. The word is that the Obama transition team pressured him to withdraw. I guess there were some who thought it was unfair for Brennan to have to withdraw, that he wasn’t involved, and it would be hard to find any experienced CIA official who wasn’t in some way “tainted.” But I guess the Obama people realized that this guy wouldn’t work in a new administration that’s trying to turn the page. Chevron should learn a lesson from this.


  3. The website, The Public Record,is reporting that the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, has proposed legislation to create a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts to probe “the broad range of policies pursued by the Bush Administration ‘under claims of unreviewable war powers,’ including torture of detainees and warrantless wiretaps. Conyers proposal for a National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties also signals that Congress will devote significant time this year to investigating the Bush administration’s most controversial actions with an eye to rolling back its expansion of executive power.” What this means for Mr. Haynes, who knows? But it looks like this issue is not going to go away. Read about it here:


  4. From the Times Forum:Why don’t you ask Nancy Pelosi. She was one of the few members of Congress briefed, in detail, on interrogation methods the CIA was using on detainees in 2002. These methods included the one cited most often as “torture”, waterboarding. Not only did Polosi and other Democarts not have a problem with harsh interogation methods, they (along with Republican members) questioned whether the CIA was acting aggressively enough to gain information from detainees. These are facts. I understand they don’t fit your narrative but that doesn’t mean you can dismiss them six years later because they don’t fall in line with your agenda.


  5. Dear Anonymous from the Times Forum,Thanks for your comment and presenting another side to my narrative, as you call it. It will be interesting what all comes out–with regard to Bush officials or Congress members like Nancy Pelosi– in the coming weeks and months about the treatment of detainees.


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