Sunday, April 13, 2008

Chevron in Ecuador

Given Chevron's existing links to the White House (Condoleeza Rice sat on the board of Chevron for many years), it is perhaps unsurprising that another name connected to the White House has joined the company. However, given the recent revelations about the extent to which those at the seat of power had authorised torture techniques, it is quite surprising to learn who this man is, a certain William Haynes II.

Haynes was general counsel to the Pentagon from 2001 until February this year. As general counsel, Haynes was heavily involved in crafting legal policies that led to the horrific abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. So involved was Haynes, that he is currently under investigation by the Senate for his role at the Pentagon during this period. Perhaps his most important contribution to the Bush terror regime, was a memo relating to a further memo that claimed that torture conducted overseas is not covered by federal law. Consequently, Haynes and his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, used this memo to justify harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. In short, Haynes was a crucial component of the Bush presidency who was particularly close to both Bush and Dick Cheney. In fact, he was such an ally to Bush, he even volunteered to make calls on Bush's behalf when Bush was up for election in 2000.

Haynes' role as chief corporate counsel could have serious repercussions for Chevron's ongoing battle in Ecuador relating to a charge of environmental damage. The damage is such that Richard Cabrera, a geologist appointed by the court, set a minimum of $7 billion in damages to remediate damage. He also added a maximum figure of $16 billion which would include penalties for "unjust enrichment." Of course, Chevron dismissed the findings out of hand and have attempted to have the report struck from the case claiming it is "flawed and patently partisan". Furthermore, there have been numerous accusations about Chevron's conduct during investigations, particularly regarding the efforts of Cabrera.

During the course of the investigations, Chevron has been accused of "engaging in a pattern of vicious,defamatory and unethical attacks" . These attacks include full page advertisements accusing Cabrera of being a criminal, stalking him whilst he was completing his fieldwork and filing a separate motion with another court to have him removed from the case. In fact, the harassment became so grave, that the trial judge 'ordered security agents to keep Chevron representatives away from Cabrera so he could complete his field work without interference or fear of intimidation'. Furthermore, although there is no proof that Chevron were responsible, Cabrera's office was broken into and a laptop containing files relating to the case went missing. Undoubtedly, there have been real concerted efforts to de-rail this case by Chevron. The efforts they have gone to underline quite how damaging this court case could be if they are ordered to pay damages to the people of Ecuador.

Chevron have already shown how far they prepared to push the boundaries of the law in Ecuador in order to protect their interests in the country. With the addition of Haynes to the team, there is no doubt that Chevron seem set to explore new methods to achieve their aims. If Chevron are willing to appoint a man who is partially responsible for gross human rights abuses in the name of national interest, one wonders just how far they are prepared to go in defending corporate interest. One can be sure that both Chevron, and Haynes, are preparing to take this battle to another level - a level that could have serious consequences for those seeking justice in Ecuador.

Further Information: ChevronToxico: Clean Up Ecuador Campaign