Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Scott Horton on John Yoo

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John C. Yoo is a study in contrasts. He’s a soft-spoken legal scholar viewed by his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley as a model of civility. But he’s also emerged as the public face of Bush-era torture policy, the author of a series of radical legal documents described by Yale Law School’s Jack Balkin as a “theory of presidential dictatorship.”

In law-school classrooms around the country, Yoo’s name is invoked as an example of a lawyer who, stirred by political calculus, acts unethically or at least unwisely. His appearances often draw crowds of angry protestors who shower him with epithets like “war criminal” and tie him personally to the torture and death of prisoners in the war on terror. Now, under advice of counsel, Yoo has stopped booking appearances. There is a distinct chill in the air.

In one of the memoranda the Obama Justice Department released last Monday, Yoo, then deputy assistant in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, argued that President Bush was free to use the U.S. military domestically in counterterrorism operations and needn’t be bothered by the Fourth or First amendments. In an op-ed published last week in the Wall Street Journal, Yoo explained that fears about the Bill of Rights are misplaced—it was all just an exercise in justifying self-defense against a Mumbai-style attack and the references to the First Amendment are gratuitous.

But Yoo offers no clear explanation about the circumstances that led to his writing the memo nor do we know how it was used. The memo could have been written to authorize a sweeping domestic-surveillance operation put in place by military intelligence agencies, which former National Security Agency employees have now explained was actually in place and being tinkered with as Yoo was crafting his memorandum. No doubt Congress will soon give Yoo an opportunity to answer questions about the memo under oath.

One part of John Yoo seems to enjoy the public controversy and approaches debate with zeal, while another part of him must feel at least a bit of anxiety. Just as his successors at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel left behind two memoranda repudiating Yoo’s work in devastating terms—disclosed by the department last week—the Justice Department’s ethics watchdog is now finalizing its own report.

Sources at the department who have examined this report state that it echoes some of the harshest criticisms that have appeared in the academic literature, but the report’s real bombshell, they say, will be its detailed disclosure of Yoo’s dealings with the White House in connection with the preparation of the memos. It is widely suspected that the Yoo memos were requested as after-the-fact legal cover for draconian policies that were already in place (“CYA memos”). If the Justice Department internal probe concludes this is the case, that could have clear consequences for the current debate surrounding the Bush administration’s accountability for torture

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Written by Leisureguy

9 March 2009 at 11:38 am

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government

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