A hard road to confirmation

The Pentagon’s top lawyer drew bipartisan fire on Tuesday for coercive techniques used to question terrorism suspects as he struggled to win U.S. Senate confirmation to a seat on a federal appeals court.

William Haynes defended the Defense Department’s detention and interrogation policies for enemy combatants that he helped draft after the September 11 attacks.

“The armed services operate within a tradition of restraint,” Haynes, the department’s general counsel, told a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.

“I have, along with others, endeavored … to develop appropriate guidelines for treatment and questioning of terrorists,” Haynes said. “Information is critical.”

Yet Democrats and a few Republicans questioned if Haynes went too far, some particularly critical of the recommended use of dogs to exploit phobias of detainees.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada threatened to block President George W. Bush’s nomination of Haynes to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, citing a letter from 20 retired military officers who expressed concern about the nominee.

“We’ll do whatever is necessary to protect the judiciary,” Reid told reporters when asked if Haynes would be filibustered.

Sixty votes would be needed in the Republican-led, 100-member Senate to end a filibuster. Members of both parties said it was unclear if it could be mustered.

Haynes said the policies he embraced did not lead to abuse of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere, sand that those actions were not authorized.

Haynes also said the policies were drafted with the Justice Department and input from Defense Department “working group.”

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said, “The working group was a sham” and its concerns ignored. He declined to say if he would oppose the nominee.

An August 2002 Justice Department memo said only the most severe types of torture were not permissible under U.S. and international agreements against torture. This was later replaced with a broader definition.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the military tribunal system set up to try enemy combatants.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said he was awaiting a response from Haynes to a recent letter he sent him. “I’m not blocking it (the nomination), but I have questions,” McCain said.

© Reuters 2006