Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Oh Berkeley, where art thou?

It's absolutely astounding to me how John C. Yoo still has a legal career, let alone a professorship at Boalt Hall -- the law school at U.C. Berkeley.

The Times has an article about nine newly-disclosed memos drafted by the Justice Department under Bush's reign that demonstrate further the depths of the war on civil liberties waged by the cronies in the previous administration.

According to the Times:
The secret legal opinions issued by Bush administration lawyers after the Sept. 11 attacks included assertions that the president could use the nation’s military within the United States to combat terrorism suspects and to conduct raids without obtaining search warrants.

...

The opinions reflected a broad interpretation of presidential authority, asserting as well that the president could unilaterally abrogate foreign treaties, ignore any guidance from Congress in dealing with detainees suspected of terrorism, and conduct a program of domestic eavesdropping without warrants.

...

The opinion authorizing the military to operate domestically was dated Oct. 23, 2001, and written by John C. Yoo, at the time a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, and Robert J. Delahunty, a special counsel in the office.

...

“The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” Mr. Yoo and Mr. Delahunty wrote to Mr. Gonzales. Therefore any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches are swept away, they said, since any possible privacy offense resulting from such a search is a lesser matter than any injury from deadly force.

The Oct. 23 memorandum also said that “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It added that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.”

Bear in mind that this is the same person who authored the memo asserting that interrogation techniques need to produce an effect equivalent to something on the level of organ failure to constitute torture. (I think that, as a test of intellectual honesty, those who draft such memos should have to endure waterboarding before signing them.)

Berkeley administrators ought to be ashamed for inviting him into their midst. If I were a Berkeley faculty member, student or alum, I'd certainly be ashamed of this blight on my campus -- the same campus that was once the epicenter for protests against the Vietnam War.

Update: It appears I should cut Berkeley some slack, now that I've read an open letter from the law school's dean about the matter. Yoo received tenure in 1999. He worked in the Justice Department while on leave from the law school. I had suspected that I was missing some critical piece of information, as it seemed unfathomable that Berkeley would hire Yoo after he served in the Bush administration.

I can sympathize with Berkeley's predicament. Perhaps a tweaking of the rules regarding leaves of absence to work for the government are in order. I agree with the dean that an allegiance to academic freedom must entail the freedom of professors to sound off even the most absurd of ideas. But what Yoo wrote wasn't some loony law review article about the expanse of executive power. What he wrote was a document that established official executive department policy. Interrogators don't look to the theorteical musings of a law professor for boundaries on their interrogation techniques. But they do, presumably, look to memos promulgated by the Justice Department for that purpose.

Tenure shouldn't be jeopardized merely based upon disagreeable theoretical musings. But there ought to be some mechanism for putting tenure at jeopardy when a professor on leave engages in egregious conduct while implementing official government policies.

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