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If there were a support group for overworked government bureaucrats who accepted administration posts before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks without any inkling of what issues they would be forced to confront, Paul “Whit” Cobb Jr. would fit right in. Cobb, deputy general counsel for legal counsel at the Department of Defense, accepted his post on Sept. 7, 2001. He expected to run an elite shop of lawyers overseeing high-level department litigation. Instead, he has found himself planning for the first U.S. military commissions to be held in more than half a century and essentially writing the rules for a new system of wartime justice. The job may not be the one the 38-year-old Cobb signed on for, but it is one he clearly relishes. “We are very excited about the prospect of starting military commissions,” says Cobb. “We’ve thought long and hard about these issues. We’ve consulted with a lot of very experienced lawyers. We think we’ve got a good system in place. “It is basically a new system of criminal justice,” Cobb adds. “Figuring out what the system should look like has been a creative challenge.” In addition to playing a major role in writing the regulations for military commissions, Cobb has served as a sort of program manager for the commissions, grappling with funding questions, briefing Congress, and recruiting lawyers for the prosecution and defense teams. Marine Lt. Col. William Lietzau, a former military judge detailed to work on the military commission regulations in January 2002, calls Cobb a “brilliant lawyer” and a “fast study.” According to Lietzau, Cobb has “an amazing penchant for details” and can recall the names of individual Guantanamo detainees. “He can see where policies ought to go, while at the same time he can dig into the details,” Lietzau says. Now, as the Pentagon prepares to begin holding trials, Cobb will shift to supervising only prosecution activities. A separate deputy GC (the office has eight) will oversee the defense team. Meanwhile, Cobb continues to monitor significant litigation involving the Defense Department — a diverse docket including major government contract cases, class action employment disputes, and high-profile challenges to administration actions taken in the war against terrorism. For instance, Cobb works closely with the Justice Department in litigation involving Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi — two U.S. citizens designated as enemy combatants who are being held at military installations. Cobb also supervises several habeas corpus claims brought on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Over the past 18 months, he has made at least six trips to Guantanamo Bay, including one with Solicitor General Theodore Olson. While the military commissions and the enemy combatant cases have sparked considerable controversy, Cobb himself has maintained a remarkably low profile. Several attorneys involved in litigation against the department say they have never met him. Cobb — a Yale Law School graduate, former Army captain, and one-time Jenner & Block partner — was recruited for the post by Defense Department General Counsel William Haynes II, a longtime colleague. “Whit is a real workhorse with a brain that I envy,” Haynes says. “He’s able to produce work of a very high quality.” Those who have worked with Cobb call him “careful” and “level-headed.” “He’s relatively quiet,” says Jenner & Block partner J. Alex Ward. “When he speaks, what he says is worth listening to.” International law Professor Ruth Wedgwood, an informal adviser on the military commission regulations, describes Cobb as both “practical-minded” and “erudite.” “He lives with his legs in two different communities,” says Wedgwood, who taught Cobb at Yale. “He was reared at Yale. At the same time, he has a very long history with the military.” Indeed, Cobb appears more gentle-natured and soft-spoken than one expects of a former Army officer. He has fine features, delicate hands, and his complexion gives the impression that he does not often get out of his office during daylight hours. A Durham, N.C., native, Cobb attended high school in Rockville, Md., and now lives in Chevy Chase, Md., with his wife, Mary DePasquale, and their two daughters, ages 3 and 5. He attended Duke University on an ROTC scholarship and went on to graduate from Yale Law School in 1990. After a clerkship on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Cobb entered the service as a uniformed attorney in the Army general counsel’s office. He was hired by Haynes, then-Army general counsel. During this first stint at the Pentagon, which ran from 1991 until 1995, Cobb focused on intelligence matters. A large part of his job entailed closing down classified facilities deemed unnecessary after the end of the Cold War. One such facility: the emergency congressional shelter beneath the Greenbriar Hotel in West Virginia. A framed photo of the shelter’s vault-like entrance still hangs on Cobb’s office wall. “It kind of felt like we were turning off the lights after the Cold War,” he recalls. Fannie Mae Deputy General Counsel Donald Remy met Cobb while working for the Army GC. “He’s phenomenally intelligent, very logical and practical,” recalls Remy, a Justice Department official in the Clinton administration. “He’s the type of person you want to think thoroughly through an issue.” In 1995, Cobb left the Pentagon for a prestigious fellowship with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, where he worked on policy issues facing the federal judiciary. He then joined the D.C. office of Chicago’s Jenner & Block, where he focused on complex government contracts. One of Cobb’s major clients was the General Dynamics Corp., where Pentagon GC Haynes worked as an in-house lawyer. Haynes’ involvement in Cobb’s career over the years is unmistakable, as is his admiration for Cobb’s legal skills. Haynes says he brought Cobb on board as a troubleshooter to turn to with the department’s most complex legal questions. The biggest challenge, Cobb says without hesitating, has been laying the groundwork for military commissions. “When I say challenge, I don’t mean a bad thing,” he adds. “It’s been a lot of good, honest work.”

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