September 19, 2006
For The Record
Nat Hentoff's column "Seeking Justice," about the administration's relationship with military lawyers — members of the Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAGs) — is replete with inaccuracies (Op-Ed, September 11).
For example, in the development of interrogation policies in 2002 and 2003, civilian political decision-makers did not "ignore the Uniformed Code of Military Justice" (UCMJ).
Instead, JAGs led the analysis of the UCMJ part of that work because of their expertise with that body of law. Most important, far from being "kept out" of the work on interrogations, JAGs participated actively in the 2003 working group discussions on interrogation policy, and as Rear Adm. James McPherson testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in July 2005, "we did have an impact."
More recently, concerning draft legislation for trials of captured terrorists, the top military lawyers for each service, their staffs, and civilian Department of Defense leadership worked together closely for many hours over several weeks developing and reviewing successive proposals leading to the one President Bush submitted to Congress last week.
It is therefore a misrepresentation to claim that the administration's consultation consisted of only one meeting between Department of Justice lawyers and a working group of military lawyers. To the extent that the administration's proposed legislation differs from the recommendations of individual JAGs, that difference is not occasioned by lack of JAG involvement — rather, it results from considered administration determinations, after careful attention to all points of view.
The truth is that the Department of Defense and the administration have relied extensively on the expertise of JAGs in the field and JAGs at the Pentagon in addressing the very difficult issues that have arisen in the ongoing war against global terrorism, and it is wrong to portray the military lawyers as a distinct group who all adhere to a single viewpoint, distinct and opposed to the civilian lawyers and the administration.
Bryan G. Whitman, Deputy assistant secretary, Public affairs, Office of the Assistant Secretary, Defense Department, Washington