Thursday, April 3, 2008

Will John Yoo be prosecuted as a torture lawyer?

And does America care?

It's become very clear in the past few days, with the release of a now notorious memo authored by John Yoo, that he rendered legal opinions which placed insurgents, and their interrogators outside of the rule of law. His memo essentially broadened the power of the president to ignore laws forbidding torture. And of course, the president and his men ignored with impunity.

That flaunting of legal ignorance resulted in torture at abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

Interestingly, the memo simultaneously set-up an argument against prosecution of justice department lawyers and interrogators as war criminals.

Scott Horton of Harper's thinks that Yoo and his companions may not be able to escape their eventual prosecution:

They also missed the established precedent I have cited repeatedly here, namely United States v. Altstoetter, under the rule of which the conduct of the torture lawyers is a criminal act not shielded by any notions of government immunity. Sands discusses the history of that case which is, lamentably, known by so few American lawyers. And then he turns to the prosecution of Generalissimo Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean strong man whose life ended in a swarm of indictments and criminal proceedings. Americans seem also to forget exactly what the crime was that plagued Pinochet to his deathbed. The answer is fairly simple: he was accused on the basis of convincing evidence of having authorized a regime of torture in connection with the interrogation of insurgents, who were removed from the rule of law. The precise techniques used included a number of those subsequently authorized by President Bush’s torture team and incorporated into his “Program.” Sands recounts a prophetic moment in the course of the proceedings surrounding Pinochet’s case in London.

“It’s a matter of time,” the judge observed. “These things take time.” As I gathered my papers, he looked up and said, “And then something unexpected happens, when one of these lawyers travels to the wrong place.”

Those are words for members of the torture team to contemplate. In the meantime, they should think twice before traveling abroad. Around the world, and increasingly within the United States itself they are regarded as criminals whose day of reckoning is drawing closer on the horizon.

In the meantime it seems reasonable to ask the regents of the University of California to demand Yoo's resignation from his job as law professor at UC Berkeley.

And the question remains, after the initial reporting on this memo, on this very serious issue, will the press, the American people and the candidates for president conveniently ignore this issue because it's distasteful, complex and a horrible black eye for the country

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