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Profile: William Howard Taft IV

Positions that William Howard Taft IV has held:

  • Chief legal adviser for the US State Department

William Howard Taft IV was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Project for a New American Century publishes an open letter to President Clinton urging him put an end to diplomatic efforts attempting to resolve the situation in the Balkans. Instead, they argue, he should take “decisive action” against the Serbs. The US must “distance itself from Milosevic and actively support in every way possible his replacement by a democratic government committed to ending ethnic violence,” the group writes. [Century, 9/11/1998]

Entity Tags: William Pfaff, Peter Rodman, Peter Kovler, Paula J. Dobriansky, Richard Armitage, Richard Perle, Robert Kagan, Seth Cropsey, William Kristol, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, William Howard Taft IV, Paul Wolfowitz, Wayne Owens, Stephen Solarz, Nina Bang-Jensen, Morton H. Halperin, Elliott Abrams, Ed Turner, Frank Carlucci, Dov S. Zakheim, David Epstein, Bruce Jackson, Dennis DeConcini, Morton I. Abramowitz, Gary Schmitt, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Lane Kirkland, John R. Bolton, George Biddle, Mark P. Lagon, Jeffrey T. Bergner, John Heffernan, James R. Hooper, Jeane Kirkpatrick

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

William Howard Taft IV.William Howard Taft IV. [Source: PBS]William Howard Taft IV, the State Department’s chief legal adviser, responds to John Yoo’s January 9,2002, memo (see January 9, 2002) saying that Yoo’s analysis is “seriously flawed.” Taft writes: “In previous conflicts, the United States has dealt with tens of thousands of detainees without repudiating its obligations under the [Geneva] Conventions. I have no doubt we can do so here, where a relative handful of persons is involved.” [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] Applying the Geneva Conventions, according to Taft, would demonstrate that the United States “bases its conduct on its international legal obligations and the rule of law, not just on its policy preferences.” Taft ends with a scorching criticism. “Your position is, at this point, erroneous in its substance and untenable in practice. Your conclusions are as wrong as they are incomplete. Let’s talk.” [Le Monde (Paris), 10/25/2004]

Entity Tags: William Howard Taft IV, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty send a classified memo to the chief legal adviser for the State Department, William Howard Taft IV. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Justice Department’s interpretation of the War Crimes Act. According to Yoo and Delahunty, the War Crimes Act does not allow the prosecution of accused al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects. Yoo will cite this memo in a 2003 memo concerning the military interrogation of so-called enemy combatants (see March 14, 2003). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), American Civil Liberties Union, John C. Yoo, William Howard Taft IV, US Department of Justice, War Crimes Act, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Two weeks after Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty write a memo saying that the US should not be bound by international laws covering warfare and torture (see January 9, 2002), White House counsel Alberto Gonzales concurs (see January 25, 2002), saying: “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002] But others inside and outside the administration strongly disagree. Many will later point to Yoo and Delahunty’s memo as providing the “spark” for the torture and prisoner abuses reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth will call the memo a “maliciously ideological or deceptive” document that ignores US obligations under multiple international agreements. “You can’t pick or choose what laws you’re going to follow,” Roth will observe. “These political lawyers set the nation on a course that permitted the abusive interrogation techniques” disclosed in later months. Scott Horton, president of the International League for Human Rights, agrees. When you read the memo, Horton says, “the first thing that comes to mind is that this is not a lofty statement of policy on behalf of the United States. You get the impression very quickly that it is some very clever criminal defense lawyers trying to figure out how to weave and bob around the law and avoid its applications.” Two days later, the State Department, whose lawyers are “horrified” by the Yoo memo, vehemently disagrees with its position (see January 11, 2002). Three weeks later, State again criticizes the memo (see February 2, 2002). State senior counsel William Howard Taft IV points out that the US depends itself on the even observations of international law, and that following Yoo’s recommendations may undermine attempts to prosecute detainees under that same body of law. Secretary of State Colin Powell “hit[s] the roof” when he reads Gonzales’s response to the Yoo memo, warning that adopting such a legal practice “will reverse over a century of US policy and practice” and have “a high cost in terms of negative international reaction” (see January 26, 2002). The Bush administration will give in a bit to Powell’s position, announcing that it will allow Geneva to apply to the Afghan war—but not to Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. State Department lawyers call it a “hollow” victory for Powell, leaving the administration’s position essentially unchanged. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert J. Delahunty, Human Rights Watch, Colin Powell, Alberto R. Gonzales, International League for Human Rights, John C. Yoo, Kenneth Roth, William Howard Taft IV, Scott Horton, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Secretary of State Colin Powell asks for a meeting with President Bush, hoping to dissuade him from abandoning the Geneva Conventions in the interrogation procedures involving terror suspects (see January 18-25, 2002). Powell is unaware that he and the State Department have been deliberately cut out of the decision-making process by the Office of the Vice President.
Memo Released to Undermine Powell - Before Powell can meet with the president, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales releases a memo that paints Geneva as “quaint” (see January 25, 2002) to the administration, in an attempt to anticipate and undermine Powell’s objections. Following up on the argument that the Geneva Conventions are “quaint,” Vice President Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington, portrays Powell as a defender of “obsolete” rules devised for an earlier time. If Bush follows Powell’s lead, Addington warns, US forces would be obliged to provide athletic gear and commissary privileges to captured terrorists. State Department lawyer David Bowker later says that Powell never argued that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees deserve the full privileges of prisoners of war; while each captive deserves a status review under Geneva, he believes few will qualify because the suspects do not wear uniforms on the battlefield or obey a lawful chain of command. Bowker recalls, “We said, ‘If you give legal process and you follow the rules, you’re going to reach substantially the same result and the courts will defer to you.’” The upshot of Bush’s decision to go with Gonzales’s opinion over Powell’s has the effect of relegating the State Department to the sidelines. A senior administration official will later recall: “State was cut out of a lot of this activity from February of 2002 on. These were treaties that we were dealing with; they are meant to know about that.” State’s senior legal adviser, William H. Taft IV, is shunned by the lawyers who dominated the detainee policy, officials say; some Bush conservatives privately call Taft too “squishy and suspect” to adequately fight terrorists, according to a former White House official. “People did not take him very seriously.” [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 10/24/2004; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Memo Prompts Media Criticism of Powell - As Gonzales’s memo begins to circulate around the government, Addington says to White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan, “It’ll leak in 10 minutes.” He is correct: on January 26, the conservative Washington Times prints a front-page article that features administration sources accusing Powell of “bowing to pressure from the political left” and advocating that terrorists be given “all sorts of amenities, including exercise rooms and canteens.” The article implies that Powell is soft on the nation’s enemies. Addington blames the State Department for leaking the memo, and says that the leak proves Taft cannot be trusted. Taft later recalls, “I was off the team.” Addington had marked him as an enemy, Taft will recall, but Taft had no idea he was at war. “Which, of course, is why you’re ripe for the taking, isn’t it?” he adds. [Alberto R. Gonzales, 1/25/2002 pdf file; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: Timothy E. Flanigan, Geneva Conventions, David S. Addington, David Bowker, Colin Powell, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Taliban, William Howard Taft IV, US Department of State, Office of the Vice President, Washington Times

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

In a reply to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales (see January 25, 2002), the State Department’s Legal Director, William Howard Taft IV, tries again (see January 11, 2002) to put his view forward supporting obeying the Geneva Conventions. He writes: “The president should know that a decision that the Conventions do apply is consistent with the plain language of the Conventions and the unvaried practice of the United States in introducing its forces into conflict over fifty years.” [US Attorney General, 2/1/2002]

Entity Tags: William Howard Taft IV, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The White House declares that the United States will apply the Geneva Conventions to the conflict in Afghanistan, but will not grant prisoner-of-war status to captured Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Though Afghanistan was party to the 1949 treaty, Taliban fighters are not protected by the Conventions, the directive states, because the Taliban is not recognized by the US as Afghanistan’s legitimate government. Likewise, al-Qaeda fighters are not eligible to be protected under the treaty’s provisions because they do not represent a state that is party to the Conventions either.
Administration Will Treat Detainees Humanely 'Consistent' with Geneva - In the memo, President Bush writes that even though al-Qaeda detainees do not qualify as prisoners of war under Geneva, “as a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.” The presidential directive is apparently based on Alberto Gonzales’s January 25 memo (see January 25, 2002) and a memo from Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington (see January 25, 2002).
Bush Chooses Not to Suspend Geneva between US and Afghanistan - The directive also concludes that Bush, as commander in chief of the United States, has the authority to suspend the Geneva Conventions regarding the conflict in Afghanistan, should he feel necessary: Bush writes, “I have the authority under the Constitution to suspend Geneva as between the United States and Afghanistan, but I decline to exercise that authority at this time.” Though not scheduled for declassification until 2012, the directive will be released by the White House in June 2004 to demonstrate that the president never authorized torture against detainees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. [George W. Bush, 2/7/2002 pdf file; CNN, 2/7/2002; Newsweek, 5/24/2004; Truthout (.org), 1/19/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 191]
Overriding State Department Objections - Bush apparently ignores or overrides objections from the State Department, including Secretary of State Colin Powell (see January 25, 2002) and the department’s chief legal counsel, William Howard Taft IV (see January 25, 2002). Both Powell and Taft strenuously objected to the new policy. [Savage, 2007, pp. 147]
Ignoring Promises of Humane Treatment - The reality will be somewhat different. Gonzales laid out the arguments for and against complying with Geneva in an earlier memo (see January 18-25, 2002), and argued that if the administration dispensed with Geneva, no one could later be charged with war crimes. Yet, according to Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, sometime after the Bush memo is issued, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld decide to ignore the portions promising humane treatment for prisoners. “In going back and looking at the deliberations,” Wilkerson later recalls, “it was clear to me that what the president had decided was one thing and what was implemented was quite another thing.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 190-191]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, William Howard Taft IV, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, re-reading the July 14, 2003 column by conservative columnist Robert Novak that outed covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003) and Novak’s current column about the leak October 1, 2003), realizes that he was one of Novak’s sources (see July 8, 2003). In Armitage’s words, Novak wrote that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from “a non-partisan gun slinger.” Armitage calls his boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and says, “I’m sure that was me.” He tells the FBI investigators probing the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity of his role in outing the agent. “I told them that I was the inadvertent leak,” Armitage will admit in 2006. But he does not hire a lawyer. He will explain, “First of all, I felt so terrible about what I’d done that I felt I deserved whatever was coming to me. And secondarily, I didn’t need an attorney to tell me to tell the truth. I was already doing that. I was not intentionally outing anybody.” [CBS News, 9/7/2006] Within hours, William Howard Taft IV, the State Department’s legal adviser, notifies a senior Justice Department official that Armitage has information relevant to the Plame Wilson investigation (see September 26, 2003). Armitage will discuss the matter with FBI investigators the next day (see October 2, 2003). [Newsweek, 9/4/2006]

Entity Tags: William Howard Taft IV, US Department of State, US Department of Justice, Richard Armitage, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Colin Powell, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, having told State Department officials that he was one of the sources for Robert Novak’s July 2003 outing of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see October 1, 2003), is questioned by FBI agents investigating the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity. Armitage admits to passing along classified information to columnist Robert Novak that identified Plame Wilson as a CIA official working on WMD issues (see June 10, 2003). According to a 2006 Newsweek article, the three State Department officials who know of Armitage’s involvement—Secretary of State Colin Powell, State Department counsel William Howard Taft IV, and Armitage himself—do not take the story public, and Armitage’s role remains secret. [Newsweek, 9/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Colin Powell, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Armitage, William Howard Taft IV, Robert Novak, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to a number of general counsels: the State Department’s William Howard Taft IV, the Defense Department’s William Haynes, the White House’s chief counsel for national security John Bellinger, the CIA’s Scott Muller, and the White House’s Alberto Gonzales. The memo is a draft opinion that concludes the US government can withdraw “protected persons” (a classification of the Geneva Conventions) who are illegal aliens from Iraq to other countries to facilitate interrogation—in other words, the US can subject them to rendition. Goldsmith says the US can also rendition so-called “protective persons” who have not been accused of a crime and who are not illegal aliens in Iraq, as long as the custody is for a brief period. [US Department of Justice, 3/19/2004 pdf file; Cross, 2005; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] The memo correlates with another Justice Department memo rejecting “protected person” status for some who are detained by US forces in Iraq (see March 18, 2004).

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Geneva Conventions, Alberto R. Gonzales, Jack Goldsmith, John Bellinger, William J. Haynes, William Howard Taft IV, US Department of Justice, Scott Muller

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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