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General Counsel Nominee to Promote Collaboration

By Sara Moore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2009 – The nominee for the Defense Department’s general counsel said in his confirmation hearing yesterday that he will foster collaborative relationships between himself and military lawyers at all levels to best advise the defense secretary.

Jeh C. Johnson, whose legal career includes being a partner at a New York law firm, serving as the Air Force’s general counsel under the Clinton administration and as the assistant U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York, is poised to become the chief legal officer for the department.

Johnson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he looks forward to bringing his experience to the department and working with military lawyers to provide the best recommendations to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

“My style of legal analysis, decision-making, putting together recommendations for the secretary is collaboration,” he said. “I want all points of view. I'd want to hear from the two-star, now three-star judge advocate, as well as the major who works the issue who understands it better than anybody.”

Johnson said he considers himself a “traditionalist” when it comes to the mission of the military, and he believes the military needs the ability to detain enemy combatants captured on the battlefield. However, when it comes to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and the cases against them, he said he expects to be part of an interagency review that reconsiders how those cases are handled.

While he admitted he needs to learn more about the subject, Johnson said he tends to agree with President-elect Barack Obama that the Guantanamo detainees should be tried in U.S. civilian courts as opposed to military commissions.

“But I think that … we need to also be mindful of the future, not just the 250 or so detainees at Guantanamo,” he said. “We are certainly going to have detainees in the future. So we need do build a system that has credibility and survives legal scrutiny for the future as well as the people that are currently there.”

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