Op-Ed: State Bar should discipline William J. Haynes

Carlos Villarreal
Sharon Adams

Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Go to original article.

As legal professionals, we are aware of the high standards that all lawyers are expected to meet to remain members of the bar in good standing; and as legal professionals who believe strongly in human rights, we are particularly concerned with the role of the lawyers at the Department of Defense and the Justice Department in shaping and covering for the torture policies of the Bush administration.

For these reasons our organization, the Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, filed a complaint with the State Bar of California in March against former Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes. Haynes is now registered-in-house counsel for the Chevron Corp. in San Ramon. Unfortunately, for the time being, the State Bar has declined to take action, preferring to forward our complaint to other bar associations where Haynes is registered. We plan to request an official review.

Haynes, unlike John C. Yoo, Jay Bybee and the other high-level lawyers involved in approving torture, is registered with the California bar. The facts implicating Haynes are damning and irrefutably stated in detail by a Senate Armed Services Committee report released last month.

Haynes' office at the Department of Defense sought out illegal interrogation techniques and resistance strategies in December 2001 from military experts. In October 2002, military personnel at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center requested approval from their chain of command to use techniques already practiced at the prison camp. In response, Haynes authored a cursory memo for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recommending approval of a variety of techniques, including using dogs and forced shaving of detainees.

Haynes never acknowledged that some of those techniques might violate international and domestic law - including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Haynes also failed to mention strong concerns raised by all branches of the military.

During the time the Haynes memo was in effect, Mohamed al Kahtani was tortured, tainting the evidence against him and forcing a dismissal of all charges pending against him. Among other things, al Kahtani was forced to perform dog tricks, forced to urinate on himself, forced to stand naked, and forcibly shaved. In under two months, Rumsfeld rescinded the Haynes memo and convened a working group to analyze the legality of the harsh interrogation techniques.

Haynes directed the working group to consider as "authoritative" a memo from Justice Department lawyer Yoo. As the Senate report concluded: Haynes' action "blocked the Working Group from conducting a fair and complete legal analysis and resulted in a report that ... contained 'profound mistakes in its legal analysis.' "

These facts are in official reports and on the congressional record, so it is disappointing that the State Bar has decided to wait for other agencies and associations to take action first.

It is an important function of the State Bar to ensure that attorneys meet particular standards of education and ethics. Thousands of attorneys across the country face consequences up to disbarment for actions that do not come close to causing the degree of harm caused by Haynes. He and the other torture lawyers wielded great power with little regard for ethical and legal standards. Their actions led directly to the barbarity of torture and have so far helped shield the various actors from facing consequences for their actions.

Haynes now works for a major oil corporation that has benefited from American foreign policy, and has been accused of its own human rights violations around the world. He could easily transition into a future administration in Washington. The fact that his legal work could still do damage is obvious.

Now that the State Bar of California's chief trial counsel has punted the matter, it is up to the Audit and Review Unit to ensure the State Bar fulfills its role to protect the public from lawyers like Haynes. As Californians we must demand that it conduct a proper investigation of our complaint, revoke Haynes' status as registered-in-house-counsel and apply other appropriate discipline.

Carlos Villarreal is the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. Sharon Adams is an attorney in Berkeley and a member of the chapter's executive board.