It’s rather early in 2006 for the GC of the year award. But whoever is currently tracking bronze or silver has a long way to go to move up on the podium.
Writer Jane Mayer of The New Yorker wrote last week about a long trip in the wilderness by Alberto Mora, the recently retired GC of the U.S. Navy. It’s worth a read (but a daunting 28 pages on my printer).
Mr. Mora questioned the Bush administration’s policy on the methods used to interrogate terror suspects. That is not really news. What is news is that Mr. Mora raised his concerns not just informally, but also in writing, and that he was not a career Navy lawyer, but a supporter of President Bush and his political appointee.
This memo argued that certain coercive interrogation practices violated the law, were tantamount to torture and could potentially expose some officials to prosecution. The article includes interview excerpts as well:
In Moraâ€™s view, the Administrationâ€™s legal response to September 11th was flawed from the start, triggering a series of subsequent errors that were all but impossible to correct. â€œThe determination that Geneva didnâ€™t apply was a legal and policy mistake,â€ he told me. â€œBut very few lawyers could argue to the contrary once the decision had been made.â€
Mora went on, â€œIt seemed odd to me that the actors werenâ€™t more troubled by what they were doing.â€ Many Administration lawyers, he said, appeared to be unaware of history. â€œI wondered if they were even familiar with the Nuremberg trialsâ€”or with the laws of war, or with the Geneva conventions. They cut many of the experts on those areas out. The State Department wasnâ€™t just on the back of the busâ€”it was left off the bus.â€
Wherever you come out on the difficult issues raised in Mr. Mora’s memo, think about what it must have been like for him to sign and deliver it to (among others) his supervisor, William J. Haynes II, the general counsel of the Department of Defense (and its secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld). It puts things in perspective the next time one faces a project that has challenging policy or (corporate) political overtones.
Mr. Mora’s actions illuminate a central duty for every GC: provide counsel that the client needs, but may not want.
Mr. Mora is reportedly joining Wal-mart as GC for international operations. His official Navy bio is still here. But for how long?
The last word is from Ralph Waldo Emerson (via Professor Corn):
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”