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

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

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”

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.