John Yoo LAW ’92, the author of legal opinions justifying Bush administration interrogation techniques, drew crowds of protesters outside his classes in California last Wednesday.
A group of protesters gathered last Wednesday in front of California Hall at the University of California, Berkeley, where Yoo has been a law professor since 1993. The protesters called on university Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to fire Yoo for his involvement in the authorization of intensive interrogation methods for alleged terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Abu Ghraib and other military prisons under the administration of George W. Bush ’68.
While at the Department of Justice from 2001 to 2003, Yoo co-authored a series of memos written to various members of the White House Counsel. In some of these memos, Yoo provided legal justification for the controversial interrogation techniques used on suspected Al-Qaeda combatants. Bowing to pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, the administration of President Barack Obama released many of the memos on March 2. But Yoo has been under harsh criticism since 2008, when a convicted terrorist filed a civil suit, seeking one dollar in damages and a judgment ruling that the techniques Yoo justified were unconstitutional.
Jonathan Freiman, a lecturer at the Yale Law School, is currently representing the man, Jose Padilla, in a civil suit against Yoo. Padilla was convicted in 2007 of conspiring with Al-Qaeda and was sentenced to 17 years and four months in the “supermax” prison in Florence, Colo. Freiman filed the suit on behalf of Padilla in January 2008, alleging that Yoo’s legal arguments in the memos led to Padilla’s being tortured. The case is still being reviewed, and Freiman and two other Yale-affiliated lawyers working on the suit declined to comment for this article. In June, a judge denied Yoo’s motion to dismiss the suit, but the ruling is currently under appeal.
The National Accountability Action Network (NAAN), a San Francisco-based organization founded in protest of Bush administration policies, organized Wednesday’s protests. Cynthia Papermaster, the organization’s director, said NAAN hopes to see Yoo fired, prosecuted and disbarred for his role in drafting the memos.
“His work product was incompetent,” Papermaster wrote in an e-mail. “But worse, his legal advice was given to provide legal cover for illegal practices, and then later rescinded because it was concluded by the Department of Justice that the advice was wrong.”
She also said NAAN is working with a group of students at Boalt Hall, UC-Berkeley’s law school, but that the group, the Boalt Alliance to Abolish Torture, has not been involved in any protests so far. Their work, Papermaster said, focuses more on academic programs and discussions about legal issues surrounding torture and human rights abuses.
Boalt Hall Dean Christopher Edley responded to protests in August with a statement called “The Torture Memos, Professor Yoo and Academic Freedom,” in which Edley says Yoo did nothing more than offer legal advice on an issue that fell under the domain of his scholarship.
“It does matter that Yoo was an adviser, but President Bush and his national security appointees were the deciders,” Edley wrote.
Other members of the UC Berkeley community disagree vehemently. Professor Brad DeLong’s wrote on his blog that Yoo almost certainly conducted a “breach of professional ethics” and that his actions under the Bush White House are tantamount to crimes.
Yoo’s future at the university is safe for the moment. According to the “General University Policy Regarding Academic Appointees,” rules adopted by the 10-campus University of California, Yoo would have to be convicted of a crime that “clearly demonstrates unfitness to continue as a member of the faculty” in order to be eligible for dismissal.