William J. Haynes, the Pentagon’s chief legal officer and overseer of Guantanamo’s Military Commissions, is stepping down, amid mounting controversy over the tribunal process, so he can “return to private life,” the Department of Defense announced late on Monday. Haynes’ resignation comes exactly two weeks after landmark charges were brought against six “high-value” Guantanamo detainees.
Haynes “has served the Department of Defense and the nation with distinction,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a statement. But Haynes will leave behind a commissions process that is embattled and discredited–and he bears much of the blame.
Haynes, who is legal counsel for the Pentagon–having served both Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates–has long been criticized for his role in crafting the Bush Administration’s policies regarding the interrogation and detention of prisoners captured in the “war on terror.”
His infamous memos and public statements advocated torture and the denial of habeas corpus for detainees. In a 2002 memo, he recommended techniques such as “twenty-hour interrogations, isolation for up to thirty days, deprivation of light and auditory stimuli…and stress positions such as the proposed standing for four hours.” In response to this last technique, Haynes’s boss at the time, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, wrote in the memo’s margins, “I stand 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours.” Haynes also wanted to keep death threats, waterboarding and exposure to extreme temperatures on the table as interrogation methods. He stated, “Fact: The detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are not protected by the Geneva Conventions.”
These positions and actions have led to international condemnation and a stalemate in the prosecution of Guantánamo detainees. Only one case–that of Australian David Hicks–has been adjudicated in six years.
Criticism of Haynes has sharpened in the wake of the October resignation of the Chief Prosecutor of Guantánamo’s military commissions, Col. Morris Davis, who charged that Haynes and other political appointees were interfering unlawfully in the process. Davis resigned when Haynes was inserted above him in the chain of command, saying, “Everyone has opinions, but when he was put above me, his opinions become orders.” In a Washington Post op-ed last year, Davis wrote that he had felt pressure to prosecute cases deemed “sexy” in the run-up to the 2008 elections.
And just last week, Col. Davis made the startling claim, in an exclusive interview with The Nation, that Haynes, who oversees both the prosecution and defense, said to him, “We can’t have acquittals, we have to have convictions.” According to Davis, Haynes said, “if we’ve been holding these people for so long, how can we explain letting them get off?”