Protesters Disrupt Yoo Lecture

Photo: John Yoo (right) joined a panel discussion on privacy rights with David Cole. Protesters from World Can't Wait shouted 'torture' at Yoo.
Laura Arnold/Staff
John Yoo (right) joined a panel discussion on privacy rights with David Cole. Protesters from World Can't Wait shouted 'torture' at Yoo.

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Correction Appended

Boalt Hall School of Law professor John Yoo, who authored memos for the Bush administration that many have said condone torture, spoke yesterday near campus as protesters wearing orange jumpsuits and bags over their heads shouted "torture" at him.

As Yoo spoke yesterday at the Bancroft Hotel, members of World Can't Wait, a group that aims to "drive out the Bush regime," disrupted the lecture by yelling inside and outside the building. Yoo did not speak on matters directly related to the memos.

"We are demonstrating and giving a voice to the torture victims of the Bush administration," said Stephanie Tang, a spokesperson for the organization. "Yoo wrote the memos that allowed (the administration) to shred to pieces the Geneva Convention."

UC Berkeley has come under criticism for not dismissing Yoo, who is

considered a "war criminal" by some legal experts for the arguments on torture he wrote while working at the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice from 2001-03. Yoo has been teaching at Boalt since 1993 and received his tenure in 1999.

"In his professional capacity as a lawyer, he violated the American Bar Association's code of ethics," said Thomas Reifer, a University of San Diego sociology professor who is writing a book on the question of torture in constitutional and international law.

Boalt dean Christopher Edley released a statement last week defending Yoo's appointment at the law school while disagreeing with Yoo's analysis in the torture memoranda.

"Assuming one believes as I do that Professor Yoo offered bad ideas and even worse advice during his government service, that judgment alone would not warrant dismissal or even a potentially chilling inquiry," he wrote.

Two memoranda written by Yoo seek to provide the legal basis for interrogation and detention techniques such as torture. The second memo, which contains 81 pages of detailed legal argument, was only disclosed two weeks ago.

Yoo's memos aim to redefine the meaning of torture to include only actions that lead to bodily organ failure or death, Reifer said.

According to Reifer, the memos also said the techniques can only be defined as torture if the intention of the interrogator is physical harm. Therefore, if used only to obtain information, interrogation techniques cannot be considered torture.

"(Yoo) figured out a crafty way to sidestep the law," he said.

Yoo could not be reached for comment.

Though Edley disagreed with Yoo's legal analysis, he wrote that Yoo is not the one who bears the brunt of the responsibility for any torture conducted under the administration.

"Yes, it does matter that Yoo was an adviser, but President Bush and his national security appointees were the deciders," Edley wrote.

Professor emeritus of law Robert H. Cole, who has been a vocal opponent of the torture policy and was the only Boalt faculty member to protest against Yoo when the first memo became public two years ago, said the law school has not done enough to address the issue in previous years.

"The law school has swept the entire thing under the rug for years. This has given people the impression the law school is indifferent to torture," Cole said. "(Edley) has brought the matter out into the open ... and this is a very good development."

Edley's statement comes after the National Lawyers Guild, a progressive law association with a chapter at Boalt, called for Yoo's dismissal last week.

"Our tax money is going to pay the salary of a war criminal," said Marjorie Cohn, the guild's president.

Despite his vocal opposition to Yoo, Cole said he understands Edley's position in the statement.

"I agree with the dean that the standard for dismissing someone is very high and the dean's response is realistic and reasoned," he said.

He added that he is less concerned with Yoo's fate and more so with a decline in the value placed on human rights.

"There is something inviolable about every person's humanity," he said."


Correction: Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Yesterday's article "Protesters Disrupt Yoo Lecture" incorrectly identified Boalt Hall School of Law Dean Christopher Edley, Jr. The Daily Californian regrets the error.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Contact Asaf Shalev at [email protected]

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