Briefly, in today’s New York Times, Military Lawyers Caught in Middle on Tribunals:
On Wednesday evening, the night before a crucial Senate vote on the Bush administration plan for the interrogations and trials of terrorism suspects, the Pentagon general counsel, William J. Haynes II, summoned the senior uniformed lawyers from each military service to a meeting…
Mr. Haynes sought to enlist the lawyers on the administration’s side by asking whether any would object to signing a letter lending their support to aspects of the White House proposal over which they had voiced little concern.
The lawyers agreed, but only after hours of negotiating over specific words, so that they would not appear to be wholly endorsing the plan.
What followed was a scuffle that left at least some of the military lawyers embittered and stoked old tensions at the Pentagon between civilian leaders and uniformed military officers, who under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have often found themselves privately at odds…
The top uniformed Marine lawyer, Brig. Gen. James C. Walker, said in his testimony that no civilized country ought to deny defendants the right to see evidence against them and that the United States “should not be the first.’’ The lawyers stand by those objections, military officials said…
A participant in the meeting said Admiral MacDonald told his colleagues that he could not sign a letter saying he supported the Common Article 3 definition in the White House legislation because he advocated a broader definition that relied more on international law, rather than a narrow interpretation of American constitutional law.
In the end, the military lawyers all agreed to language in the letter saying they “do not object“ to the provisions in the administration bill.
But the letter included a sentence that the clarification would be “helpful to our fighting men and women at war on behalf of their country.”
White House officials said that sentence demonstrated the military lawyers’ support.
General Dunlap said in his mind that signing the letter meant just to convey that trying to clarify ambiguous language was helpful and that it did not mean that he and his colleagues fully endorsed the administration view.