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The Army’s Judge Advocate General, Major General Thomas J. Romig, hastily meets with JAG lawyers Colonel Lawrence Morris and Brigadier General Scott Black to prepare suggestions for improving a draft presidential order establishing military commissions (see Late October 2001 and November 9, 2001), with an eye on bringing the order closer to existing military legal standards. The order is modeled on a single World War II military commission (see 1942), and ignores the body of relevant law that came after that commission, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions (see November 6, 2001). In their view, the Bush administration seems determined to ignore 60 years of law and go back to a rough system of justice that, Romig will later say, “was going to be perceived as unfair because it was unnecessarily archaic.” The three work through the Veterans’ Day weekend on a number of suggestions that would bring the order closer to existing military legal standards. The final order, however, will include none of the lawyer’s recommendations. “They hadn’t changed a thing,” a military official will later recall. (Golden 10/24/2004; Savage 2007, pp. 137-138)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signs Military Commission Order No. 1 prescribing the procedures of the military commission trials (see November 10, 2001). The order says a two-third majority is required to determine a sentence and unanimity for applying the death penalty. It fails to provide for the possibility of appeals. It also says evidence submitted before a commission “shall” be declared admissible if the presiding officer or a majority of the commission members consider that it “would have probative value to a reasonable person.” (US Department of Defense 3/21/2002 )
Fundamental Violations of Defendant Rights - Thus, if the presiding member or a majority considers a statement made under any form of coercion, including torture, to have some “probative value,” it “shall” be admitted. Professor Neal Katyal of Georgetown University later says this is a break with standard proceedings in civil courts and courts-martial and calls it “clearly at odds with American military justice.” (Hendren 8/18/2004) Under the rules, the “Accused” is assigned a military officer to conduct his defense, but may select another officer. He may also retain a civilian attorney; however, he may only choose a lawyer who is vetted by the military. Unlike a military attorney, the civilian lawyer can be excluded from the trial if the presiding member of the commission decides to hold closed proceedings. This prompts Amnesty International to observe that the commissions “will restrict the right of defendants to choose their own counsel and to an effective defense.” (Amnesty International 10/27/2004) Under the rules of the military commissions the military is allowed to monitor private conversations between defense lawyers and their clients. This violates, as Human Rights Watch remarks, “the fundamental notion of attorney-client confidentiality.” (Human Rights Watch 1/9/2004)
Extraordinary Procedures for a 'Special Breed of Person' - In a discussion of the new rules, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, in an appearance on the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, explains that the detainees being held in Guantanamo are “dangerous people, whether or not they go before a military commission.” He adds, “We’re dealing with a special breed of person here” and thusly new and far more draconian rules must be applied. (PBS 3/21/2002)
Battle with JAG Lawyers - Rumsfeld worked with lawyers from the Pentagon’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) office to create the procedures for the commissions. The JAG lawyers viewed the commissions as well outside the established rule of law, both in due process as mandated by the Constitution and in the protections mandated by the Geneva Conventions. But Rumsfeld and his group of political appointees considered the JAGs too closed-minded, and insisted on procedures that horrified the military lawyers—low standards for convictions, denial of civilian attorneys, imposition of the death penalty without unanimous consent of the panel of officers judging the case, and other proposed procedures. The JAGs argued that some of the proposals floated by Rumsfeld and his staff would violate their own ethical standards and put them at risk for later prosecution for war crimes if adopted. One top JAG official threatened to resign if the procedures were not brought more in line with established military law. The final version is a compromise between the two camps. Major General Thomas Romig, the head of JAG, later says that the final version still is not what the JAGs would have created on their own. As reporter and author Charlie Savage will later write, based on Romig’s comments: “While less draconian than the political appointees’ initial plans, the military commissions were still legally objectionable in several respects. The commission rules, for example, allowed secret evidence that would be kept hidden from a defendant and allowed the admission of evidence obtained through coercive interrogations [torture]. Moreover, the special trials still had no explicit congressional authorization.” (Savage 2007, pp. 138-139)
Legal experts and media observers react with shock and anger at former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s defense of his March 2003 torture defense (see April 2, 2008). Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale and American University, says: “This is a monument to executive supremacy and the imperial presidency. It’s also a road map for the Pentagon for fending off any prosecutions.” (Mazzetti 4/2/2008) Thomas J. Romig, the Army’s judge advocate general at the time the memo was issued, says that Yoo’s memo seems to argue that there are no rules in a time of war, an argument Romig finds “downright offensive.” (Eggen and White 4/2/2008) Retired Air Force General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the memo was written, says that he never saw the document authorizing harsh military interrogations and that its narrow definition of torture is “absolutely ludicrous.” Myers adds: “I frankly don’t know anyone in the military who bought into that as a good definition of when you cross the line. In the end, you want to do the right thing. I worry most about reciprocity, how other countries will treat us.” (Eggen and White 4/4/2008) Legal experts (see April 2-6, 2008) and media observers (see April 4, 2008) join in criticizing Yoo’s rationale for the torture memo.
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