The New Republic recently posted a Q&A with Philippe Sands, the author of an important new book on the role of lawyers in the Bush administration’s so-called coercive interrogation techniques. A snippet:
One of the lawyers you focus on is Doug Feith–though he makes clear in his interview with you that he was not functioning in the Pentagon as a lawyer. The exchange you record with Feith suggests he was distant from the decision process, and that he had a high opinion of and supported application of the
Conventions. I remember speaking with military lawyers in 2003 repeatedly and hearing of their concern about Feith: his heavy hand, his pressure tactics, and his contempt for the Geneva Conventions and anyone who attempted to stand up for their application. What’s your assessment of Feith and his claims? Geneva
In our system of modern democratic societies, lawyers have a key role to play. They are the guardians–the gatekeepers–of legality. The rule of law requires lawyers to exercise independent judgment, and to give dispassionate, professional advice. That did not happen, at least in the upper echelons of the administration, in the Departments of Justice and Defense. Politically appointed lawyers–not the military, not the career civil servants–could be relied upon by the politicians to do what was needed, reflecting an unhappy convergence of ideology, incompetence, and weakness. Doug Feith is a lawyer, although he was not serving the administration in that capacity. He has a helpfully dodgy memory. During our conversation he spoke with pride of his role in ensuring that none of the Guantánamo detainees should be able to rely on
. He also recalled only having become involved in the new interrogation techniques late on, when Haynes’ memo reached Rumsfeld. I pointed out to him that the memo itself said that its author had already consulted Feith. His reaction? Merely to point out that I had mispronounced his name. Following a lengthy conversation–which was recorded and makes remarkable listening because of his well-developed sense of self–my perception was clear: Doug Feith was deeply involved in the decision-making process, fully supported it, and failed to address the basic questions that one would have expected the Pentagon’s head of policy to be preoccupied with. Geneva
It’s well worth reading in full, no matter what your preoccupations.