Law students protest Bybee’s torture memo

The speaker had hardly finished his first sentence when about 25 Yale Law School students in the audience stood up and sheathed their heads in black trash bags, in imitation of hooded military prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The students were protesting an appearance at the Law School on Thursday evening by Jay Bybee, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit who, when he was head of the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel, signed off on a controversial policy for interrogation and detention of “military combatants” — what critics have labeled the “torture memo.”

Bybee’s speech was billed as a debate with Yale Law professor Steven Duke about federalism and criminal law, but for at least two dozen audience members, the address was primarily an opportunity to confront Bybee. The event — hosted by the Yale chapter of the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative and libertarian law students — was reserved exclusively for law students and closed to the press, but the proceedings were visible from the hallway.

“Jay Bybee helped formulate policies that violated hundreds of people’s human rights,” protest organizer Darryl Li LAW ’09 said in an interview after the demonstration. “He was never held accountable for what he did but rather was promoted to a very powerful position in the federal judiciary.”

Christopher Angevine LAW ’08, president of the Federalist Society, declined to comment on the event Thursday night.

Several members of the Law School faculty have been vocal opponents of Bush administration policies on the war on terror. Dean Harold Hongju Koh testified before Congress in 2006 against the warrantless domestic wiretapping program. And last month, Law School visiting lecturer Jonathan Freiman LAW ’98 and Yale’s Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic filed suit against John Yoo LAW ’92 on behalf of Jose Padilla — who was convicted of conspiracy to murder and kidnap people overseas — for Yoo’s role in drafting Bybee’s memo.

Before the event, the protestors convened in the Law School auditorium, where Li distributed trash bags and briefed them on the plan. The participants were an informal group of students, Li said.

“This is an issue that’s important to the world and to the nation, but especially to us as law students, because Bybee is a shameful example of how placing power above principle violates the rule of law and dishonors the legal profession,” Li said.

At the door of the lecture hall, which was guarded by a police officer, two students handed out fliers titled “STAND UP TO TORTURE.” One of them said she offered a flier to Bybee when he entered, but he turned it down.

The program began at 6:10 p.m. with an introduction by the Federalist Society’s vice president for events, Adam Gustafson LAW ’09. Those in the half-full lecture hall applauded as Bybee ascended to the lectern.

But as he began to speak, the protesters, clustered in the center seats, stood and pulled the bags over their heads. A few other audience members clapped, several of the protesters said afterward. Bybee, visibly annoyed, stopped speaking.

“If you’re blocking other people from seeing, you have to leave,” Li said Gustafson told the protesters. Gustafson paused, then said, “You are blocking people. You have to leave.”

The protestors removed the bags and laid them at the foot of the lectern as they walked out. Bybee then went on the speak for about 30 minutes.

Li said he was involved in a similar protest when Bybee spoke at Harvard Law School in 2006.

Comments

  • Yale College '02

    Is this Yale Law School or is this Yale Middle School?

    And, am I the only one to think that there is something especially silly in protesting a *debate*.

  • Read again

    Any 'middle schooler' can see that they weren't 'protesting a debate.' They're protesting Bybee's role in setting torture policies.

  • S SIlverstein

    I think Yale needs to examine its own commitments to propriety before considering others'.

    At http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/powerpoint/csd5020.pps is an example.

  • Anonymous

    i find it fascinating that the author did not pay mind to the content of the actual talk and only focus on the beginning minute.

    yeah, it's big news, but I personally would want to hear what Bybee said.

  • FascistStateofAmerica

    Can the Federalist society at Yale let us know when they plan on bringing in KarlRove and Rumsfeld too? I'm fascinated by criminals being portrayed in public as normal human beings. Perhaps a series; bring in Bush and Cheney after 2009 when the MSM then portrays them as heroes. Can I suggest a name to this series?… "Fascists on Parade at Yale".

  • HumbleCritic

    Thanks to the protesters. Those citizens who would prefer we stay silent are ignorant of the law and have so shallow a grasp of history that they are not capable of recognizing the onset of state tyranny.

  • Anonymous

    I'd like to see a Judicial Ethics Inquiry into Bybee; and a serious discussion in the House to impeach him in re alleged Geneva violations. The kw="Justice Trail" is precedent for prosecuting judicial officers who failed to fully enforce Geneva. Geneva prohibits all abuse; whether Bybee through something was or wasn't torture is meaningless. He needs to be confronted before a judicial tribunal and prosecuted for alleged war crimes, as was done at Nuremberg.

  • ProudPrimate

    To quote Dr. King, "A time comes when silence is betrayal".

    This is more like the pamphlets of der Weißen Rose, Hans & Sophie Scholl, & al., who were executed by the Nazis for their effrontery.

    We are happily at least several years away from that state, where "white people" are being dragged off the streets for no reason (as most of the inhabitants of Gitmo were for bounty money, turned in by locals for spite or profit). But for the brown people of the world, the victims of all our wars since WWII (except the Balkans), that is cold comfort.

  • Canoe

    I agree fully with #6 HumbleCritic. Those protesters are what we in a democratic state rely upon as a bulwark against its destruction, e.g. by bullies like the Federalist Society. I've always wondered why UC Berkeley hired John Yoo, and why at least some students and faculty don't protest his teaching there.

  • JD

    I wish to thank these students.
    Fascism enablers like this judge should have nowhere to hide.

  • G.S. Carter

    Grow up children.

  • SmokeVanThorn

    Trash bags on their heads - how very apt.

  • Nick Zane

    I think it's fantastic. It's about time people started standing up against the criminal behavior of the Elite. The Violations against humanity and the constitution will only worsen if we can't stand up for what's right. While the New World Order has grown in leaps and bounds it may be too late if we can't come together and unite in cause. With 70-90% of the detainees WorldWide being innocent one can only imagine the gross violations that have taken place (See Columbia Journal Review, not to mention our own Intelligece on the wrongful rounding up of detainees) Even apart from these facts the simple fact that our rogue government continues to release large numbers of detainees from Gitmo only affirms we've tortued numerous innocents and that doesn't even include the sinister violations being committed in secret prisons in other countries. These Black Sites as they call them have no oversight and therefore offer no accountability whatsoever. The most frightening aspect of these black sites is that they are being run by countries where torture isn't illegal or in the least isn't frowned on. So it's my guess as well as others that the worst of these violations are taking place in the secret prisons. I think it's high time we wake up and take our country back and begin restoring the constitution as well as our image around the world. The protestors have my deepest respect and I can only hope they will continue in their quest to bring forth JUSTICE. I also hope that more whistleblowers on the inside will come forward and bring testimony to the corruption that is so prevelantly occurring. God Bless these PATRIOTS!

  • N. Wright

    I applaud these students for standing up for what's right, instead of only looking out for number one. If crimes occurred, there should be due process. Other nations look to our beacon.

  • Yale Grad

    The double standard here is incredible. If conservative students were doing this kind of scene in front of a liberal speaker, would this be tolerated? Of course not. Isn't there any security at these events to make sure that immature left-wing demagogues don't just silence the speech of people who disagree with them.

  • Ashamed Yale Grad

    If conservative students had done this to protest, say, a pro-abortion speaker, or a pro gay-marriage speaker, students and faculty all over Yale would be outraged. But when the speaker happens to represent political views that are contrary to left-wing dogma, then apparently any kind of silly protests are acceptable. Nevermind the fact that this was a debate and that there was already a Yale law professor to represent the views contrary to Bybee's (which is more than can be said when the American Constitution Society brings their liberal speakers with no one to represent the other viewpoint).

  • Whiny Pro-Torture Conservative

    Waaah! Hypothetical conservative speakers would possibly cause outrage!!! I'm more outraged about those subjunctives than my own nation committing torture. Waaaah!!! I'm a whiny Yale grad just like Dubya!!!!

  • read the damned article, #16

    "Nevermind the fact that this was a debate and that there was already a Yale law professor to represent the views contrary to Bybee's (which is more than can be said when the American Constitution Society brings their liberal speakers with no one to represent the other viewpoint)."

    Actually the debate had nothing to do with torture or Bybee's role in it, precisely because Bybee refuses to speak about it publicly, to debate anyone on torture, or to justify his actions. Without these kinds of protests, there would be no way to force Bybee to confront the consequences of his actions.

  • "Silencing"? Please!

    #15: "Isn't there any security at these events to make sure that immature left-wing demagogues don't just silence the speech of people who disagree with them."

    The article clearly says that the protesters left the room and that Bybee continued to talk for another 30 minutes, so I don't know how making an important point against torture adds up to "silencing speech."

  • Ashamed Yale Grad

    There is absolutely no place for immature protests in a community that should instead pride itself on reasoned debate. To characterize Bybee's position as "pro-torture" is the equivalent of characterizing a pro-gay-marriage position as "pro-immorality" or characterizing the pro-abortion position as "pro-death." If you can't get past silly partisan name-calling, you don't belong at a place like Yale.

    To argue that interrogation methods like waterboarding are not torture is not being "pro-torture." Likewise, to argue that the President has the authority to approve of any interrogation method as part of his authority over war and foreign affairs (as prescribed by the Constitution) is not being "pro-torture." There may be some reasonable arguments against Bybee's and Yoo's positions, but these arguments cannot be expressed by catch-phrases or silly protests.

    I hope that most of the commenters above and especially 3:39 are not actually Yalies.

  • windycityatty

    "Likewise, to argue that the President has the authority to approve of any interrogation method as part of his authority over war and foreign affairs (as prescribed by the Constitution) is not being pro-torture."

    So let me get this right. President wants to do something that is of questionable legality (enhanced interrogation including as we now know from Gen Hayden the use of waterboarding). President goes to his legal staff and asks if he can do it legally. They advise him yes, he can do x, y, and z. So president does x, y, and z.

    If Bybee and his goons hadn't said x, y and z was acceptable or legal, x y and z wouldnt have taken place. I see direct causation between Bybee et al telling the president he can legally do something and the president doing it. That "something" is TORTURE and Bybee is therefore, ipso facto, pro torture.

    And lest we forget, the constitution is the supreme law of the land and the constituion specifically states that treaties, etc.. we sign ARE ALSO part of the supreme law of the land. But Geneva Conventions, according to some, are too "quaint." And hence are not part of the supreme law of the land?

    There is only one choice left for the pro-enhanced interrogation goons…abandon the rule of law or abandon the treaties. They have chosen the former. They can all rot in hell.

  • John Sidwell

    If this is an accurate depiction of what took place, then I believe my firm will not bother recruiting at the School again this year. We need intelligent ADULTS, not self-absorbed children, in order to serve our wide and varied clients.

  • V. Hasty

    Let me get this straight. When the Federalist Society invites a speaker to debate an issue, and another speaker to debate him, the Federalist Society thereby becomes "bullies." But when masked protesters disrupt the event because they think one of the speakers analyzed the law and reached a conclusion they disagree with and disapprove, they are acting as a bulwark against the destruction of a democratic state.

  • John Sidwell

    If this is an accurate depiction of what took place, then I believe my firm will be recruiting exclusively from the School this year. We need intelligent ADULTS with belief in the law, not readily-cowed children, in order to serve our wide and varied clients.

  • 1L from the midwest

    No point was proven by this act. This man was doing his job. These elitist students need to realize that the rest of us DO have family members in harms way, and to act in such a manner does no justice to themselves and casts a shadow upon their esteemed program. No wonder Yale is Pass/Fail. It appears these folks have lost sight of their reason for being there. Don't they realize that the man they are condemning helps establish what laws and precedents their careers are based on. Pick something else if the issues are too tough and you feel a tantrum is order. When my nephew throws a temper tantrum, he sits in the corner. Sounds like some people's parents should've spanked them more.