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Great-grandson of a president advises International Red Cross

By Laurie Bennett

January 15, 2010 at 11:01am

As it is in nearly every major disaster, the Red Cross is at the forefront of relief efforts in Haiti.

The American Red Cross has committed $10 million, and the International Committee has sent staff and supplies.

At the international level, the organization’s U.S. adviser is the great-grandson of a president and a veteran of government service himself.

William H. Taft IV, law professor at Stanford and of counsel to the law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, is the fifth generation of a family steeped in American and international politics. (President William Howard Taft was the son of Alphonso Taft, who was U.S. attorney general and secretary of war under Ulysses S. Grant.)

Taft has advised several Republican administrations. Gerald Ford named him general counsel of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Ronald Reagan appointed him to the same position in the Defense Department. During George W. Bush’s first term, he advised the State Department.

Despite his roots, Taft has not shown blind loyalty to Republican presidents. He opposed the Bush administration’s decision not to comply with the Geneva Conventions in the interrogation of military detainees.

As journalist Jane Mayer writes in The Dark Side, Taft wrote 40-page memo arguing that the policy was “untenable,” “incorrect” and “confused.”

Taft was outmaneuvered by then-Vice President Dick Cheney. A week after Taft wrote the memo, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld notified the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the military didn’t need to follow Geneva’s rules in their questioning of Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.

Taft’s wife, Julia Vadala Taft, was assistant secretary of state during Bill Clinton’s administration, coordinating the U.S. response to disasters in foreign countries, including the 1987 earthquake in Armenia. She died in 2008.

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