Wednesday, December 31, 2008

William J. Haynes: What Was Chevron Thinking?

John Geluardi - author of The Snitch blog over at SF Weekly - put out a post last week about William Haynes, calling him "Chevron's Prince of Darkness". Apparently Haynes – who was recently hired by Chevron to serve as their chief corporate counsel - was just called out in a Senate Arms Services Committee (SASC) bipartisan investigation that found Haynes' actions while working for the Pentagon reviewing and approving of torture "deeply disturbing". Geluardi describes the hiring:

The Chevron Corporation has exposed its pestilent underbelly by hiring William J. Haynes II, a Department of Defense attorney who compiled lists of violent interrogation techniques for shadowy U.S. detention centers… In 2002 Haynes recommended a menu of 15 dehumanizing interrogation techniques to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that included stress positions, removal of clothing, light deprivation and exploitation of phobias such as the "Arab fear of dogs." Rumsfeld eagerly signed off on Haynes' recommendations and dispatched a memo to Guantanamo Bay and other detention centers so they could be used on "enemy combatants," according to the senate investigative report.

The brass of nearly every branch of the U.S. Military vigorously opposed Haynes' ghoulish techniques. The opposition was so great, the list in part spurred Bush Administration lawyers to justify certain techniques by redefining the definition of torture so the CIA would be free to use nasty little methods such as waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning. The method was invented by the syphilitic fiends who conceived the Spanish Inquisition (waterboarding was not on Haynes' list).

(More after the jump)

And it's not just Geluardi. Andrew S. Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle covered the story, in an article entitled "Report rips ex-Defense counsel, now at Chevron". Ross noted that the bipartisan report was signed by prominent Senators from both parties (including John McCain) and that when asked, Haynes defended his recommendations regarding torture. Editorials were run by the New York Times and the Miami Herald calling Haynes' advocacy of torture "deeply harmful" to the U.S.' image and urging that Haynes and the others who authorized the torture to be held accountable.

And all of this leads to the inevitable question: given all of Chevron's human rights problems around the world, why in the world would they hire William Haynes when he was so radioactive? For a company embarking in a multi-million dollar "human energy" public relations campaign, you would think they would have more sense than to hire one of the only lawyers in America who is under potential threat of facing charges as a war criminal.

But maybe they just don't care – or maybe they even see Haynes' willingness to advocate torturing prisoners as a plus. As Dugan over at Oil Watchdog stated, "with Chevron embroiled in human-rights lawsuits over oilfield pollution in Ecuador, and facing possible appeal of its exoneration in a Nigerian shooting case, Haynes (who walked straight into Chevron after leaving government in February), seems suited to the job."

Still, it seems unbelievable that Chevron really went out and paid big money to hire a guy under investigation by the Senate for human rights violations. After all, there had to be hundreds of highly competent corporate counsels around who wouldn't be putting "advocated and designed torture" as their "previous experience".

So what was Chevron thinking? Was it just that Darth Vader was unavailable?

Bloomberg Article Details Health Impact of Chevron's Ecuadorian Legacy

We've written at some length about the tremendous damage that Chevron's activities in Ecuador have caused to the local communities in Ecuador in this blog. Well, Bloomberg released a very interesting story - "Texaco Toxic Past Haunts Chevron as Judgment Looms" - today covering the health impact of Chevron's actions in Ecuador. The Bloomberg reporters really dug into the issue and provided independent verification by multiple and credible third party sources of much of what the plaintiffs suing Chevron for Texaco's actions have been alleging. The reporters cited oncologists, the court-appointed expert's report, physician Miguel San Sebastian, Mike Brune from the Rainforest Action Network, the Havoc Laboratory verifying toxin levels, former Texaco engineer Jorge Viteri, and a report published by the Ecuadorian government from before the trial began. This is the first mainstream news article I've seen that really digs deep into the cancer issue, and it is heartbreaking to read about the deaths that Texaco's substandard operations caused in Ecuador.

The article is worth taking a look at over at Bloomberg.com.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A couple of great stories on the mess Chevron left in Ecuador...

We just saw that there have been a couple of great articles published recently regarding Chevron and Ecuador - Chris Kraul from the L.A. Times ran one - "Ecuador keeps up cleanup fight against Chevron" - and Frank Bajak from the AP wrote the other - "Amazon Pollution Case Could Cost Chevron Billions".

Take a look!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Real Human Energy

video

Over the past several months Chevron has rolled out a huge public relations campaign - their "human energy" campaign - (spending over $15 million dollars in October alone, according to one report) in an effort to greenwash the company's image. But I ran across this video over on youtube chronicling the real story about Chevron's "Human Energy" campaign. Take a look and let me know what you think...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Corruption: Shouldn’t We All Just Say No?

As I stumbled through the internet doing some follow-up research on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) (following up on my post from a couple of weeks ago), as I was surprised to find that I'm not the first one to look to Chevron while investigating the FCPA: Charles James, the general counsel and head lawyer for Chevron recently spoke at U.C. Berkeley's law school, Boalt Hall, at a conference on global corruption.

While there wasn't a full transcript on the event, it seems from the summary of remarks that James identified himself as "not a big fan of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act" and heavily criticized the enforcement of the law, seemingly arguing that when the law is enforced, companies like Chevron are at put at a competitive disadvantage.

James' remarks offered a very different perspective than the other panelists. Judith Miller, general counsel of engineering giant Bechtel corporation, argued that the short-term pain of losing business to companies that do pay bribes is well worth the payoff of curbing corruption, since bribes hurt the countries that receive them AND the companies that pay them (since the bribes retard development of the countries, encourage further corruption, and force the companies to incur additional operating costs to secure contracts). However, James doesn't seem to see it this way, only seeing the FCPA as putting Chevron at a competitive disadvantage because they can't legally pay foreign officials for preferential treatment.

You would think a company running a massive p.r. campaign to show their good corporate governance – the "human energy" initiative – would embrace the FCPA. But under Charles James, I guess not.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern: Chevron’s Legacy in Ecuador Left Me “Angry and Ashamed”

video

In an impassioned speech on the floor of Congress last night Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) spoke about the environmental degradation and contamination caused by Chevron's activities that he witnessed on his recent trip to Ecuador (you can see pictures taken by members of the congressional delegation here and here). On the 3 day visit, McGovern had an opportunity to see the ecological devastation for himself, to meet the people who have had their lives impacted by the effect of 26 years of Texaco's substandard drilling operations, and he had an opportunity to see how Chevron has used junk science to try to manipulate and hide the evidence of contamination. Rep. McGovern related to Congress the total destruction he had seen, describing the families who had been touched by cancer he had an opportunity to speak with, the children's skin diseases he saw, and the toxic waste pits he toured. He concluded that witnessing the pain and destruction left by an American multi-national corporation made him "angry and ashamed" as an American citizen.

The environmental devastation left in the region by Chevron is the subject of a long-running piece of litigation by the 30,000 indigenous persons impacted by the damage against the Chevron Corporation. An independent court-appointed expert has assessed the damage caused by Texaco's substandard oil drilling operations to be as high as $27 billion. Chevron, which bought Texaco in 2001, will bear any liability assessed in the case. The case is currently pending in the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador and a decision is expected in early 2009.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Needs Reform

As the Bowoto v. Chevron trial came to a conclusion in San Francisco, a disturbing trend has emerged that raises questions about Chevron's commitment to human rights. Well, at least one other disturbing trend has emerged -- much has already written about some of the disturbing threads that have emerged regarding Chevron's legal department (looking at the questionable tactics of General Counsel Charles James and the hiring of the controversial William Haynes who signed off on water boarding and other "harsh interrogation techniques" while working for Donald Rumsfeld) and some of the "interesting" defenses that the company has asked the jury in the case to buy.

But in light of all of this, it wasn't too surprising to learn in the Bowoto trial that Chevron regularly paid the Nigerian military forces for private protection -- including a bonus for the "special duty" that they performed in May 1998 when they shot and killed two protesters and wounded several others who had occupied a Chevron oil platform. Remember, evidence from the Bowoto trial proves that Chevron knew that these military forces had a track record of committing vicious human rights abuses. Even the US State Department had documented their abuses in the department's annual Country Reports. Yet, Chevron paid them anyway. Why? It seems that their very brutality is what made them attractive to Chevron. After all, such a reputation can be a powerful disincentive to local residents who want to protest.

Paying the soldiers of foreign countries to moonlight as a private security force is an inherently corrupting practice that undermines the rule of law and the neutrality of a foreign army. Imagine the uproaor if PDVSA, Venezuela's national oil company, decided to pay U.S. soldiers from Fort Bragg a bunch of cash to guard local Citgo gas stations with high-powered weaponry while they were on active duty. That's exactly the model that Chevron was using in Nigeria, with the primary difference being that at least a Citgo gas station would probably not be poisoning local water sources.

Payments of relatively small amounts of money can cause local soldiers, most of whom earn meager salaries, to be more loyal to company (Chevron) than to country. The risk is these soldiers can easily turn their guns on the very citizens they are supposed to be protecting in the name of providing "security" to an American company. That's the essence of what happened on Chevron's oil platform that day in Nigeria. Soldiers lost all sense of mission because they had been corrupted by an American company that essentially bribed them to turn their weapons against their fellow citizens.

You'd be surprised at how common the practice is even if the results are usually less tragic than what happened in Nigeria. In a fascinating expose, Jane Perlez of the New York Times demonstrated how the Louisiana-based Newmont Mining Company was paying soldiers in Indonesia huge salaries to protect operations in that country that were causing massive environmental damage. Similarly, the Burmese army guarding Chevron's pipeline in Burma has been accused of rape, murder, and forced conscription. In Ecuador, where Chevron is on trial for environmental damage, the company was scandalized in the national press for paying soldiers -- apparently in violation of Ecuadorian law -- for protection and housing for its lawyers at a local military base. In each of these cases military forces receiving "supplements" from Chevron became Chevron's local armed thugs who presumably were acting in Chevron's interests and under Chevron's orders.

This entire structure allows corporations to evade accountability. Because the armed forces are not directly employed by Chevron, Charles James can throw up his hands and claim Chevron had no control. Yet the victims generally cannot sue their own armed forces without risking further retaliation.

Given these dangers, Congress should extend the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to outlaw direct payments by American companies to foreign military forces. Companies should pay taxes in their host country, the proceeds of which can help professionalize these forces. If security is such a problem, companies like Chevron can hire private security guards with clear lines of accountability to the company.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Charles James: Chevron's In-House Karl Rove

Since Scott Gilmore is doing a great job chronicling the day-to-day of the landmark human rights trial of Bowoto v. Chevron, I thought I would turn my attention to one of the masterminds behind Chevron's defense.

As this trial moves into the 4th week, one of the more interesting aspects of the Bowoto case has been the role played by Charles James, Chevron's General Counsel who is often found at counsel's table, sitting and watching. James is the highest-ranking African American in Chevron, serves on the company's management committee with CEO David O'Reilly, and is considered a disciple of Karl Rove-style legal and political tactics. A product of the current Bush Administration, he served as an assistant attorney general for antitrust under John Ashcroft. One of the best examples of the importance (or lack thereof) James places on Chevron's image is his recent hiring of William J. Haynes, former General Counsel at the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (gotta wonder if Dick Cheney is next on his "to hire" list). Haynes signed off on the infamous "torture memo" that permitted waterboarding. The irony is that Chevron now has a suspected human rights violator -- Haynes -- helping to run a legal department that is trying to beat back charges that Chevron is a human rights violator itself.

The Bowoto trial is an example of how Chevron faces the most high-profile human rights problems of any major oil company. Many believe it has to do with the fact that James, like Karl Rove, just doesn't seem to know how to finesse problems before they grow to such a point that they begin to create major risks for ownership. Some observers have opined that there is a clear parallel between James' insensitivity and clumsiness and Rove's divisive and aggressive tactics.

This lack of finesse may help explain why in the present case, Chevron finds itself on trial in San Francisco (of all places!) for helping the Nigerian military kill peaceful, apparently unarmed, protesters who had occupied an oil platform. It also helps explain why Chevron's environmental problems in Ecuador's rainforest have grown to the point where the company faces a $16.3 billion potential liability, according to an independent court-appointed expert. Chevron is also under attack for owning a pipeline in Burma that generates close to $1 billion annually for that country's brutal military regime.

James' response to these problems is simple -- he just bludgeons all of the company's opposition. He has repeatedly relied upon the same strategic playbook -- "deny everything, admit nothing, attack, attack, attack" -- each time Chevron is confronted with its human rights violations. In Ecuador, the court-appointed expert found 428 people had died from exposure to oil contamination and two of the company's lawyers are under criminal indictment for lying about the results of an earlier remediation. Yet to James and his group, everyone who challenges Chevron on human rights grounds is either a pirate, a liar, or a con man. (Larry Bowoto has been repeatedly described as a "pirate" throughout the case; Pablo Fajardo, the lead lawyer in the Ecuador environmental case, was called an "environmental con man" by Chevron earlier this year after winning the Goldman Award, the environmental movement's version of the Nobel Prize.)

So the question is: Is James acting in the best interests of Chevron's shareholders? The fact that this is even a serious question tells one how far Chevron has fallen in recent years. We now live in a world where globalization makes issues regarding human rights, the environment, and corporate responsibility directly related to a corporation's competitiveness. While Chevron is faced with increasing human rights problems, competitors BP and Shell have significant, comprehensive human rights standards in place. As oil companies are forced to negotiate exploration agreements with increasingly sophisticated governments, Chevron's reputation will necessarily affect its competitive standing -- since communities will look to partner with corporations that can generate the most profit while causing the least amount of environmental devastation. After all, given the recent mandate spelled out in the recent election results, with Democrats now in control of Washington and the country is hungering for a new energy policy, having Bush Administration retreads like James and Haynes run an oil company's legal department seems at best bizarre and at worst foolish.

In regard to the Ecuador case, James once told law students at Berkeley that Chevron will fight "until hell freezes over, and then skate on the ice". While this is a suspect stance for any lawyer to take in public, it is even more disturbing when viewed as an aspect of James' overall philosophy. His inability to head off legal disputes has cost the company millions in fees and has left it with huge potential financial and public relations liabilities.

Regardless of how the Bowoto trial turns out (and Chevron should win the legal case -- no matter what the venue, their resources alone should all but guarantee their victory), the very existence of this standoff just miles from the company's global headquarters must be seen as a huge PR disaster for Chevron. It remains to be seen if the leadership ultimately responsible to the shareholders is taking note of the way that Charles James has masterminded this case.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bowoto v. Chevron – The Flamingo Defense:

Bowoto v. Chevron continued on Wednesday, the second full day of the trial, with the examination of the plaintiff's expert and two witnesses for the plaintiffs, including the beginning of the questioning of lead plaintiff Larry Bowoto. For a better understanding of a brief background on the case and to understand what precisely is at stake in this landmark human rights case, take a look at Daniel Firger's posts here and here.

This morning I watched the beginning development of a very specific narrative thread by Chevron – the underlying claim that they did not know, and could not know, that the Nigerian military forces would flagrantly violate human rights in the manner that the plaintiffs allege.

This thread began to emerge as the plaintiffs finished examining their expert, Dr. Michael Watts. Dr. Watts characterized the military government of Nigeria in the 1990s as signaling a general "descent into flagrant authoritarianism" and testified regarding the flagrant human rights violations that the military forces of Nigeria had committed in other areas of the nation and the extensive media and non-governmental organization coverage that those abuses had attracted. Dr. Watts cited a wide-variety of sources regarding these violations, from Nigerian media reports, to Amnesty International reports, to U.S. State Departments assessments.

However, during the subsequent cross-examination, Chevron's attorneys sought to cast doubt on Dr. Watts' contention that the Nigerian military forces were widely known to be the perpetrators of massive human rights violations. The lawyers took great pains to illustrate that the human rights violations referred to in Dr. Watts' report came from a location several states away from where the Bowoto incident occurred – inferring that because the violations were so remote Chevron could not possibly have known about them.

However, the basic assertion is ridiculous. The idea that Chevron, an international oil-conglomerate that is sophisticated enough to operate in nations around the world and sophisticated enough to remain as a constant presence during shifting governmental power in Nigeria, easily surviving military coup after military coup, could not have discovered what the U.S. State Department was able to include in one of their general assessments is laughable. With a long-term presence on the ground in Nigeria, with at least two separate local offices and over two thousand employees, it is impossible to imagine that Chevron would have no idea that the military forces were, at times, something less than professional in their exercise of force. After all, even your average American with no special knowledge could tell you that African military forces aren't generally known for their restraint and respect for human dignity.

But fabricated naïveté have long been the backstop to Chevron's activities around the world, serving as the company's first line of defense against any allegations of outrageous conduct levied against the corporation, employing what I'll call the "flamingo defense" (for the ability of the company to stick it's head in the sand whenever trouble comes around). Here the corporation is arguing that it couldn't have known that the uncontrollable Nigerian forces were dangerous to send into this "nervous" situation. In Burma that company has long argued that it couldn't have known that the military government Chevron was propping up has been one of the most brutal human rights violators on Earth. In Ecuador the company has long alleged that it could not have known that applying environmental standards that were inappropriate for the sensitive ecosystem of the rainforest would have such devastating effects.

At the end of the day, Chevron is again recycling old tricks. As I wrote about yesterday, it appears that every time the corporation's back is to the wall, they reach to the same bag and pull out the same tools, pivoting to the attack along the same tired themes. Their constant position seems to be borrowed from the Karl Rove playbook of "Deny everything. Admit nothing. Attack, attack, attack." But maybe that is to be expected – Chevron's legal department is dominated by Bush administration loyalists, including Charles James and famous author of the "torture memo", William Haynes.

The trial will be continuing in coming days, with lead plaintiff Larry Bowoto launching into the heart of his testimony tomorrow morning.

I'll keep you updated.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Landmark Human Rights Trial Continues – Opening Statements and More:

Opening arguments began in the landmark Bowoto v. Chevron case today, with the plaintiffs launching into an emotional outline of the events that led to the eventual shooting of several Nigerian unarmed protestors (check out Dan Firger's blog for brief summary of the background of the case). The lead attorney for the plaintiffs – Dan Stormer – seemed to get choked up when describing the manner in which he asserted the Nigerian soldiers, whom were paid by Chevron, shot the villagers. Among those shot was lead plaintiff, Larry Bowoto, whom Stormer said was holding up his hands to show he was unarmed when he was shot. Heavy stuff.

But Chevron's lawyers were not to be outdone. Defendant's lead counsel, Robert Mittelsteadt, lead the jury through a lengthy, step-by-step explanation of Chevron's version of the trial, complete with sophisticated 3-D animation presentations of what the oil derrick looked like. Mittelsteadt spent his opening statement describing the protestors as sophisticated criminals and sea pirates who executed a commando-style raid where they stormed the oil barge, taking radio stations and heliports to prevent anyone from leaving the platform or communicating with the outside world. He described a situation where the villagers were acting on their threats to raid the platform and hold the workers of the oil derricks hostage, creating a "nervous situation" that was a "ticking time bomb" when the workers wanted to go home to their families. The bottom line, Mittelsteadt said, was that this case is about an American company's right and responsibility to protect its workers from threats.

But that statement is ridiculous. Of course American companies have a right and responsibility to protect their workers from harm – no reasonable person would argue that a company has no right or responsibility to protect its employees. The question isn't if they can protect their workers but instead if a company can kill unarmed protestors and ignore basic human rights in doing so. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said when addressing concerns of land owners worried about productivity during the Great Depression, "I may not be a lawyer, and I do not know much about the law, but I do know that you don't shoot your neighbor for trespass". Chevron is basically arguing that unarmed and peaceful protestors can be shot for merely trespassing on property that they claim is causing environmental contamination that is killing them.

And Chevron knows this – and they know that the soldiers working for them were out of control. During the plaintiff's opening statement Mr. Stormer showed the jury an email from one of Chevron's local directors referencing an incident from 1997, a year before Larry Bowoto and the other villagers were shot, in which the Nigerian soldiers that Chevron employs shot and killed a schoolteacher. In this communiqué the director calls the soldiers "uncontrollable" and suggests that Chevron purchase rubber bullets to equip the soldiers with, so as to avoid any other unnecessary killings. Needless to say, Chevron neglected to take any action to either reign in the out of control soldiers or equip them with rubber bullets, setting the stage for the tragedy on the oil derrick that day.

So now Chevron's lawyers have spent their day characterizing the protestors as criminals and sea pirates who were intending to cause harm to their property. Hell, even Mr. Mittelsteadt basically admitted that the protestors may not have been armed, stating at one point that "an oil derrick is a very dangerous place for untrained people. If they turned a valve the wrong way, it could cause an explosion." So, I guess, since there was a danger in having untrained personnel on the oil derrick Chevron decided to solve that problem by having the untrained people shot. Hmm – not sure if that really fits with Mr. Mittelsteadt's assertion that Chevron didn't want anyone to be hurt.

But this tactic is old hat for Chevron – when confronted with individuals attempting to call out the corporation for human rights abuses, Chevron pivots to the attack, characterizing anyone standing up to them as greedy, money-grubbing, and out for a quick buck. Or worse, as in this case, Chevron calls them pirates and human rights violators themselves. They've used the same process in the long-running environmental litigation in Ecuador, where they've called Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza (the recipients of the Nobel Prize of the environmental movement, the prestigious Goldman Award and the recipients of a CNN Heroes Award) "environmental con men" who are attempting to embezzle money from Chevron. The corporation conveniently ignores or discounts the scientific evidence gathered in Ecuador over 16 years, including the assessment of an independent, court-appointed expert who found that Chevron was responsible for massive toxic contamination and faces a $16.3 billion dollar liability as a result.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed in plaintiff counsel's failure to see this coming. In their emotional opening statement this morning, Mr. Stormer failed to effectively preempt Chevron's basic point that Chevron was exercising its basic right and responsibility to defend its workers. Rather than simply highlighting that basic argument and emphasizing that Chevron has a right to defend their employees but cannot simply shoot unarmed protestors wholesale, the plaintiffs instead focused on the powerful emotion of their narrative, almost as if they were expecting that simply standing up and saying that Chevron shot unarmed people would carry the day for them. As a lawyer, I just don't think that is a sufficient response to Chevron's argument – you have to anticipate the arguments from the opposing side and explain how they are insufficient to address your point.

I thought that Chevron's lawyers got the better of it this morning – I hope that the counsel for the plaintiffs will start anticipating Chevron's responses as we move forward. I'm eagerly anticipating some drama in the days to come.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Landmark Human Rights Litigation has Chevron on the Run

Just in: A landmark human rights trial, Bowoto v. Chevron, has finally begun in federal court in San Francisco, and a handful of Nigerian villagers have Chevron's corporate brain trust scrambling to defend itself.

[Case background excerpted from Firger's blog on the case from this morning on the Huffington Post - Landmark Human Rights Trial Bowoto v. Chevron Set To Begin October 27]

Bowoto v. Chevron began in 1998 when Larry Bowoto and approximately 100 other community members staged a peaceful protest at one of Chevron's offshore oil platforms, demanding a meeting between company representatives and village elders to negotiate for the job training and education programs they had been promised in exchange for the severe environmental harms they had been forced to endure. They were unarmed, and after receiving word that Chevron would attend a meeting in a nearby village the following day, they prepared to leave the platform peacefully.

Before they could do so, three company helicopters carrying Nigerian military personnel swooped down on the platform and opened fire, killing two people and injuring several others, including Bowoto. Though Chevron claims the soldiers were firing in self defense, at least one of the men killed was shot in the back (my edit - AMW). Allegedly acting at the direction of Chevron, soldiers detained and tortured several other protestors, after which company personnel paid them for their services.

Bowoto and his co-plaintiffs filed their suit in 1999 in United States District Court in San Francisco. After nearly a decade of legal wrangling, the case now stands as an important milestone in the history of international human rights law:, a U.S. company could potentially be held liable in U.S. courts for gross human rights abuses committed in their overseas operations.

[End excerpt]

The case finally began today, and it appeared that Chevron was feeling the heat. Chevron turned out in force for today's first hearing, dispatching at least a dozen different lawyers and public relations personnel, including Vice-President and General Counsel Charles James, to the courthouse to combat the threat posed by these villagers. It was a surreal experience sitting in the courtroom and watching the contrast between the plaintiffs and the defendants: Larry Bowoto and his compatriots sitting calmly in their multicolored traditional garb contrasting sharply with Charles James and his lawyers and their expensive suits.

And the Chevron P.R. machine was in full swing, with familiar pro-Chevron blogger "Zennie62" attending the trial and meeting with Chevron's P.R. people immediately – at least until Judge Susan Illston issued a gag-order ordering both sides to refrain from issuing any statements or commenting on the case (let's see if that keeps Zennie quiet…Zennie has long been known to be a mouthpiece for Chevron in the 'blogosphere' and he has been under attack along with San Francisco writer Pat Murphy for being paid by Chevron to post blogs that mysteriously get google-bombed to the top of search engines. Neither Chevron, Murphy or Zennie has ever denied they get paid by Chevron even though they don't disclose such payments on their blogs.)

Judge Illston's gag order was the source of the biggest drama of the day – in a stunning setback for Chevron, Judge Illston forced Chevron's lead attorney to admit that Chevron has been paying Google to give priority to the website that give's Chevron's side of the story (purchasing "sponsored links" so that anyone searching "bowoto" or "bowoto chevron" would have the search send the user to Chevron's website first), then ordering Chevron to take down their links and stop any effort to manipulate search results by paying for sponsored-links, indicating that she was "disturbed" by Chevron's attempt to manipulate public perception of the trial.

I don't have any connection to Nigeria, and I don't have any ties to the plaintiffs, but as lawyer involved in the Amazon Defense Coalition, I think it's important to keep an eye on Chevron's rising human rights problems. Unfortunately, the tactics that Chevron has employed in this case – deny, delay, confuse, deny, attack, delay, and deny again – are all too familiar to anyone who has watched Chevron's attempts to deal with their rising human rights problems around the globe. From Nigeria to Ecuador to Burma, it is becoming clear that Chevron has a major problem when it comes to human rights and environmental policies – hopefully cases like Bowoto and the ongoing litigation in Ecuador will force the company to finally realize how out of step it is with the rest of the world and even its competitors in the oil industry, many of whom have developed sensible human rights policies while Chevron falls behind. The Amazon Defense Coalition released a press release on Monday about precisely this issue.

In any event, this case is just getting started – we'll be keeping an eye on it for the rest of the week. Stay tuned, and we'll keep you abreast of the drama as this landmark human rights trial unfolds…