With little advance notice, Pentagon general counsel William Haynes quietly resigned at the end of February to take a top legal job at Chevron. But Haynes, a close ally of Vice President Dick Cheney, remains a key figure in a sweeping Senate probe into allegations of abuses to detainees in Defense Department custody.
Haynes was thrust back into the spotlight last week after the disclosure of a March 2003 Justice Department memo concluding that federal laws against torture, assault and maiming would not apply to the overseas interrogation of terror suspects. Haynes requested the memo (which was written by the then Justice Department lawyer John Yoo) and he and his boss, the then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, later used it to justify harsh interrogation practices on terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay. The memo's disclosure raises new questions about the role that Haynes and other Bush-administration lawyers played in crafting legal policies that critics say led to abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
It's a role that the Senate Armed Services Committee, overseen by Sen. Carl Levin and its ranking Republican member, Sen. John McCain, has been quietly but aggressively scrutinizing during a two-year investigation. Two sources familiar with the probe, who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, say the panel's investigators have grilled a number of key players—including Special Forces operatives and FBI agents—who were never previously questioned. The panel notified the Pentagon in early February that it wanted to question Haynes. Before receiving any response, investigators learned on Feb. 25 that Haynes was leaving for Chevron in San Francisco. "How often does somebody like that give two weeks' notice and leave town?" said one government source familiar with the sequence of events.
Haynes's departure initially raised concerns about obtaining his testimony without a subpoena, especially after the panel learned that he had retained top criminal defense attorney Terrence O'Donnell, who represented Cheney during the Valerie Plame leak investigation. But O'Donnell told NEWSWEEK that Haynes has agreed to be interviewed, adding that the committee's probe "had nothing to do" with his resignation. A Pentagon spokeswoman said that Haynes had discussed his departure "some months ago" with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and that he "looks forward to … enjoying a promising private-sector opportunity."