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Top Pentagon lawyer comes under fire in federal bench confirmation hearing

[JURIST] William Haynes [official profile], the Pentagon general counsel nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website], struggled to defend defense policies Tuesday during a Senate confirmation hearing [committee materials], drawing bipartisan questions relating to coercive interrogation techniques employed by the military in questioning terrorism suspects. Haynes helped draft the Defense Department's detention and interrogation policies in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and defended those policies by saying "the armed services operate with a tradition of restraint," but also portrayed himself as a military lawyer kept outside of policy decisions.

A group of twenty retired military officers sent a letter [PDF text; JURIST report] to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] expressing "deep concern" about Haynes' fitness to sit on the federal bench. The retired officers said that Haynes "compromised military values" and "ignored federal and international law" by approving coercive interrogation techniques, including the use of dogs to scare detainees. The letter was quoted by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website], ranking member of the Senate committee, in his opening statement [text]. Leahy also said he has

concerns whether Mr. Haynes would recuse himself if issues and policies on which he worked at the Department of Defense were to come before him as a judge.... My suspicion is that a motivation of the President for making this nomination is to have another sure vote on the Fourth Circuit to uphold his actions. The Fourth Circuit and the D.C. Circuit have emerged as the courts to which the Administration directs issues on which the President asserts unitary executive power and wants to be sustained.
Other senators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) [official website], also expressed skepticism [Washington Post report] about Haynes' nomination. Though not part of the judiciary committee hearing, Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) [official website] hinted Tuesday that Haynes' nomination could be filibustered on the Senate floor. President Bush nominated Haynes to serve on the Fourth Circuit in 2003, but Democrats in the last Congress blocked his nomination. Bush resubmitted Haynes' nomination [JURIST report] in 2004. Reuters has more.

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