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Dec. 30 2009 - 10:01 am | 166 views | 1 recommendation | 5 comments

John Yoo: No regrets

Photograph of John Yoo

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This week, John Yoo, Bush’s chief legal torture architect, got to plug his book in NY Times Magazine.

Side-note: Interviewer Deborah Solomon drilled Yoo with exactly as much “no guff” gusto as she offered Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane in a legendarily uncomfortable interview. (Solomon may hate torture, but she hates Family Guy more.)

But back to Yoo. If you can make it through the page-long interview without vomiting from fury-rage, here are some of the gems you shall encounter:

Q: Which president would you say most violated laws enacted by Congress?

A: I would say Lincoln

You know, I was just thinking that. For a second, I thought it was the president, who along with his evil henchman lawyer, allowed torture, the warrantless wiretapping of US civilians, and argued the President has inherent authority to subordinate independent government agencies, plenary power to use force abroad, and the sole authority to interpret international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions. But then I remembered it was Lincoln. That bearded son of a bitch!

Q: Are you implicitly comparing the Civil War with the war in Iraq, in order to justify President Bush’s expansion of executive power?

A: The idea is that the president’s power grows and changes based on circumstances, and that’s what the framers of the Constitution wanted. They wanted it to exist so the president could react to crises immediately.

Actually, the Founding Fathers had just escaped the reign of a tyrannical king, so they were wary of the whole “unchecked power of the leader” thing. Hence, the creation of the “checks” in America’s system of Checks and Balances. The Founding Fathers wanted the greater power to lie with Congress precisely so a crazy president couldn’t, ya’ know, invade countries for no good reason.

Q: Do you regret writing the so-called torture memos, which claimed that President Bush was legally entitled to ignore laws prohibiting torture?
A: No, I had to write them. It was my job. As a lawyer, I had a client. The client needed a legal question answered.

And so we reach the crux of the problem. Yoo saw his role as a merchant providing a product for his “client” instead of the actual purpose of a lawyer, an individual fluent in the language of law who offers legal advice. His job was not to creatively interpret the law, changing and bending the rules, to fit whatever batshit crazy plan Dick Cheney breathlessly asked for during late night “wish list” sessions. Breaking the rules in that way is called breaking the law.

Yoo’s job was to tell Bush and Company when they were breaking the law. By failing to do so, and then actively trying to cover-up Bush era crimes with seriously shady reasoning, Yoo became an accomplice to these crimes.

Q: But isn’t a lawyer in the Department of Justice there to serve the people of this country?
A: Yes, I think you are quite right, when the government is executing the laws, but if there’s a conflict between the president and the Congress, then you have to pick one or the other.

What a great message to teach aspiring government lawyers! If it ever comes down to serving the people, or the wishes of one insane authoritarian leader, put your money on the person with the most nukes.

Did I mention this asshole still teaches law at Berkley? I hope every student steals this brilliant idea from the guerrilla comedy Chaser team. Hound this criminal until he leaves your campus, kids:

Just in case any Berkley student reads this and feels hesitation at the idea of disrespecting a professor, here’s what Yoo thinks of you:

Q: I see various groups are protesting a decision by a California government lawyer to teach a course with you that starts on Jan. 12, claiming he is legitimizing your unethical behavior.
A: At Berkeley, protesting is an everyday activity. I am used to it. I remind myself of West Berlin — West Berlin surrounded by East Germany during the Cold War.

Q: Are you saying the citizens of Berkeley are Communists, reminiscent of those on the dark side of the Iron Curtain?

A: There are probably more Communists in Berkeley than any other town in America, but I think of them more as lovers of Birkenstocks than Marx.

Keep harassing Yoo. Do it for mother Russia! The Constitution!


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    The man actually might be right about Lincoln. However we feel about the Civil War as opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lincoln fucking trampled civil liberties while he was at it. I think he was the first president who decided the president had the power to suspend habeas corpus (despite the Constitution specifying otherwise), and he was not exactly all about free speech during wartime; I don’t know much about his disrespect for Congress specifically, but in terms of the Supreme Court and the Constitution, he was terrible. Maybe not worse than Bush, but it’s not as ridiculous as you make it sound. (That said, the lesson here is not that presidents get to do whatever the fuck they want in wartime, but that altogether too often presidents — even the ones we mythologize — do whatever the fuck they want in wartime.

    None of this is should be taken as arguing that John Yoo is anything but a complete scumbag. That argument about how his job could be compared to a lawyer working for the president is total nonsense — that’s why we separate the AG’s office from the White House Counsel’s office — one of those offices represents the president, the other office represents the people (although, of course, John Yoo isn’t the first person to blur the line between “the people” and partisan interests).

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