I Deny That I Am In Denial
December 29, 2009 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Questions for John Yoo. 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. NY Times, via Andrew Sullivan

Also:
Q. Were you close to George Bush?
A. No, I’ve never met him. I don’t know Cheney either. I have not gone hunting with him, which is probably a good thing for me.


and

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.
posted by fourcheesemac (47 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Q. What led you to take a job as a professor of constitutional law at Berkeley, of all places, where you’ve taught since 1993?
A. It was the best school that I was able to get a job at. It’s not easy for a conservative to get a job in the academy in any field.


Oh, I'm sure Regent or Liberty would have taken him. If he was white.
posted by contessa at 5:13 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:17 PM on December 29, 2009 [12 favorites]


Comes so close to answering the question about the torture memos, but doesn't quite. He says he had to because he was doing it for his client, but then allows that he kind of had the choice of whether that client was Bush or the American people (or Congress, he acknowledges that his essential duty is to the people, but then says "Congress").
posted by breath at 5:20 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really cry for John Yoo, it must really suck to work at the #6 law school in the country. I'm sure all the other professors are despondent every day they're forced to work there, hoping silently for cold winters of New Haven.
posted by Rubbstone at 5:28 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do you regret writing the memos is the wrong question to ask. Of course he doesn't regret writing the memos. That was his job and it gives him an easy out when the question is framed that way.

The pertinent question is do you regret the legal position you took in the memos. Make him justify his legal argument rather than just acknowledge that he wrote some arguments in the course of his job.

On the slight upside, he almost said I was just following orders.
posted by Babblesort at 5:28 PM on December 29, 2009 [17 favorites]


...if there’s a conflict between the president and the Congress, then you have to pick one or the other.

And here I thought law was all about primary documents and precedent and stuff like that. If siding with one side or the other is all it takes I've got a brilliant legal career ahead of me.

If by brilliant legal career you mean being put into a headlock by the bailiff and escorted out of the courtroom.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:30 PM on December 29, 2009


Amazing. Absolutely no trace of anything that even resembles a conscience. The harder he tries to be funny, the more I want to see if those torture memos could in any way be used on him.
posted by Bageena at 5:36 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


John Yoo, thank you for being on HARDtalk!
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:36 PM on December 29, 2009


Please, no more single-link Atlantic posts.
posted by Rat Spatula at 5:38 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Unbelievable, I actually missed the Sullivan attribution...
posted by Rat Spatula at 5:39 PM on December 29, 2009


Don't click on the Iranian protesters being run over by cop cars video. Oh, those poor people.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:43 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Must be nice to be pitched softballs by someone faking journalism.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:46 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


The pertinent question is do you regret the legal position you took in the memos. Make him justify his legal argument rather than just acknowledge that he wrote some arguments in the course of his job.

But to take it even further, the fact that he's conservative only helped him get the job in the Bush cabinet. Any attorney worth their salt can argue either side of a case convincingly. In other words, he *was just following orders. Frankly, I can't see why anyone who hates Bush would like to try to dilute that hatred by setting up John Yoo as a scapegoat for the administration's policies.
posted by njbradburn at 5:47 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


The harder he tries to be funny...

While I don't want to be known for defending Yoo in any respect, those awful attempts at humor may not be his own. Deborah Solomon has a history of radically editing/"condensing"/rearranging interview questions and answers in whatever way she sees fit. Sure, the interviews now come with a disclaimer at the bottom "INTERVIEW HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED" (as in the Yoo interview), but that could really mean anything. I wouldn't trust much of anything said in her interviews, especially this one considering the two participants.
posted by msbrauer at 5:49 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I can't see why anyone who hates Bush would like to try to dilute that hatred by setting up John Yoo as a scapegoat for the administration's policies.

Our understanding of Hitler's evil is not diluted by having the Nuremberg Trials.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:51 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


longdaysjourney: "Don't click on the Iranian protesters being run over by cop cars video. Oh, those poor people."

What could we accomplish if we had the courage of such people?
posted by Joe Beese at 5:52 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Okay, fine, we'll do this:

contessa: Oh, I'm sure Regent or Liberty would have taken him. If he was white.
I'm just as sure they view every Michelle Malkin and Michael Steele that floats through the transom as an arrow in their quiver.

breath: he acknowledges that his essential duty is to the people
No he didn't, he said his essential duty was to "the government" and when branches of government disagree then it's a toss up and one mustgets to pick one or the other.

Bageena: Amazing. Absolutely no trace of anything that even resembles a conscience.
Oh, pish posh. If he expressed regret we'd all be standing around whining "Where was his precious moral compass WHEN HE WAS PUTTING THE BABIES IN THE GRINDER???" You'll turn red, blue and white in that order waiting for his apology. That or this "interview" is just the start of the campaign for the tell-all coming out next week.

goodnewsfortheinsane and Blazecock Pileon have it. I don't know from Deborah Solomon but given this exposure I'm ready to accept msbrauer's analysis. Maybe the NYT can get Dave Barry on board and try this again.
posted by Rat Spatula at 5:56 PM on December 29, 2009


msbrauer: "Sure, the interviews now come with a disclaimer at the bottom "INTERVIEW HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED" (as in the Yoo interview), but that could really mean anything."

"Sweet can..." (CAUTION: godawful YTL)
posted by Joe Beese at 5:58 PM on December 29, 2009


It was my job. As a lawyer, I had a client. The client needed a legal question answered.

Methinks Mr. Yoo doesn't quite understand the difference between being counsel and being consiglieri.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:10 PM on December 29, 2009 [15 favorites]


Well, at least we got through 15 comments before a Bush-Hitler analogy. New record for Me-Fi?
posted by TDavis at 6:13 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


"No, I had to write them. It was my job. As a lawyer, I had a client. The client needed a legal question answered"?!?

Then your duty as a lawyer was to give the best legal advice you could, Mr. Yoo, not justify whatever your client happened to want to do.
posted by inara at 6:13 PM on December 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


Frankly, I can't see why anyone who hates Bush would like to try to dilute that hatred by setting up John Yoo as a scapegoat for the administration's policies.

Because it's not about hating Bush. That's not the goal.

The goal is to protect our liberties, uphold due process, defend the separation of powers that prevents "unitary executives" and tyranny.

Bush actually made it kind of easy, by his and his Administration's overreaching, incompetence, and because in retrospect most of the threats he used to justify his power-grabs thurned out to have been over-blown.

Had the Democratic Party had balls at all, we'd not have tumbled as far down the rabbit hole as we did.

Far harder would have been dealing with the same threats to liberty form a competent, well-meaning president not on a personal crusade to avenge and/or one-up his Daddy.

Such as Lincoln, or FDR, both of whom did impinge upon and threaten our liberties, did abrogate due process, did seize arguably unconstitutional powers, but for what many of us would acknowledge were much better reasons, in pursuit of worthier goals, than Bush did.

More important to protecting our liberties from tyranny than merely "hating on" tyrants and would-be tyrants, is identifying the institutional processes that allow liberties to be encroached, and holding responsible the often faceless, sometimes nameless little Eichmanns who live in the shadows and follow orders and "answer client's questions" and so turn the cogs and grease the tracks that allow the transport trains to do their mundanely evil jobs. People like John Yoo.
posted by orthogonality at 6:29 PM on December 29, 2009 [34 favorites]


Hope y'all saw this Yoo prank.
posted by Kirklander at 7:03 PM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


I misread this post as "Questions for John Woo" and was very disappointed.
posted by brundlefly at 7:13 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


Well said, orthoqonality. Throw "defense of liberty" at me and I turn to complete mush. My point was that this post seemed to start as a pretty thin (because truncated) "look at what a conservative prick he is" rant. I think your reply is thoughtful. Totally misguided, of course ;) , but eloquant. Seriously though, I cannot help but be further enraged about recent security events. Where the liberty and safety of Americans have been under direct threat due to administrative policies on such matters. System = Fail
posted by njbradburn at 7:24 PM on December 29, 2009


This post is undoubtedly a fairly thin "Look at what an evil prick he is" rant.

That said, I want to see the interview where John Yoo doesn't come off as a toady and a water-carrier. If he had either the courage of his convictions or heartfelt second thoughts about the work he did, he'd only have to say so; there are still plenty of dead-enders and ship-abandoners that would have him, either way.
posted by Rat Spatula at 7:25 PM on December 29, 2009


INTERVIEW HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED.

LOL MSM ON THE WEB
posted by mediareport at 8:02 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know, right? We have this THING that can store INFINITE AMOUNTS OF ANY KIND OF DATA and it's actually dumber than "From My Front Porch" by Bessie Folkwisdolm in the Possumtown Observer.

Like TV... can show you PICTURES and SOUNDS of ANYTHING but it's always just some douchemaster in a suit TALKING... feh...
posted by Rat Spatula at 8:12 PM on December 29, 2009


Who?
posted by Eideteker at 8:20 PM on December 29, 2009


No, Yoo.
posted by Rat Spatula at 8:23 PM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Knock Knock.
Who's There?
Yoo.
Yoo Who?
You don't need to knock.
posted by benzenedream at 9:18 PM on December 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


What an utterly repellent human being. Oh my god.

And what's with all the self-congratulatory, alliterative book titles beginning with C written by former disgraced members of the Bush admin? John Yoo writes his 'Crisis and Command'; Rove writes 'Courage and Conviction.' Wonder what title Gonzales is chewing on?
posted by ms.codex at 11:58 PM on December 29, 2009


Gonzales is obviously working on "Christian Conservatism and Cock-sucking -recipes for a succesful career in a Republican administration".
posted by vivelame at 12:08 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I knew it.
posted by ms.codex at 12:20 AM on December 30, 2009


The guy has never, in his whole life, bothered to figure out what his parents actually do? And his decision to be a conservative came at age nine because he thought Jimmy Carter was saying mayonnaise? I hope this was a very badly edited piece, because those responses make him seem like a buffoon. He can't be that huge of an idiot or Berkeley wouldn't have hired him, but there's nothing in this piece that demonstrates that he isn't an idiot.

I am surprised that he never met Bush, though, if that information is true--which is probably isn't, which doesn't surprise me.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:19 AM on December 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


I really cry for John Yoo, it must really suck to work at the #6 law school in the country. I'm sure all the other professors are despondent every day they're forced to work there, hoping silently for cold winters of New Haven.

Please. U.S. News is hardly authoritative, although I'm sure Boalterkeley would like to think of itself as meriting that rank.
posted by jock@law at 7:30 AM on December 30, 2009


The idea is that the president’s power grows and changes based on circumstances, and that’s what the framers of the Constitution wanted.

Who wrote the constitution and why? What other notable documents preceded the US Constitution and what purposes did the documents serve? Specifically, what were the framers of the constitution trying to achieve?

Please, only use primary source documents in your research of these questions. Be thorough, it shouldn't be very hard to find a great deal of written material by the framers themselves about their concerns. HEY ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?

I guess not, I guess you're too busy stuffing money into your pants to give one half of one goddamn about your actions and what you say.

Anyway, anyone who just follows orders is a rube.
posted by fuq at 8:50 AM on December 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Strict-constructionism for judges, living-textualism for Justice Department underlings!

Give us hell, Quimby!
posted by Rat Spatula at 9:24 AM on December 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Who wrote the constitution and why? What other notable documents preceded the US Constitution and what purposes did the documents serve? Specifically, what were the framers of the constitution trying to achieve?

Um. They were trying to form a much stronger centralized government, with a militarily powerful executive branch... The consolidation of power in the Presidency after the inefficacy of the Articles to deal with, e.g., angry farmer uprisings, was the main point of the Constitution.

So um. What was your point again?
posted by jock@law at 12:32 PM on December 30, 2009


They were trying to form a much stronger centralized government, with a militarily powerful executive branch...

And yet, they didn't want the executive branch to be all-powerful, they simply wanted it more powerful than it was under the Articles of Confederation (to be able to protect private property rights in the case of Shays' Rebellion, since you brought that up). No one reading the Federalist Papers, for example, would think that the Framers wanted a monarchy in all but name.
posted by me & my monkey at 1:19 PM on December 30, 2009


No one reading the Federalist Papers, for example, would think that the Framers wanted a monarchy in all but name.

There is no inherent tie between monarchy and what the Yoo memos ostensibly gave cover for, so your argument seems less than cogent. And no one reading the Federalist Papers is getting a fair or accurate account of what the Framers wanted at all.

The idea that extreme interrogation (I'll leave aside loaded words because honestly, I think it's a silly argument - the question isn't whether waterboarding is 'torture' but whether it's wrong and whether it's unconstitutional)... the idea that extreme interrogation techniques are justifiable in some circumstances does exist on the left. The proposition that the executive shouldn't have too much power isn't logically inconsistent with the proposition that it should have a particular power, nor does it necessitate a conclusion that it should not have any particular power. This whole line of logic - that the memo is incorrect because power is limited - is faulty without a showing that the techniques defended were themselves an exercise of executive power beyond those constitutional limits. To adopt that premise as given, of course, would be to assume your conclusion, a circular fallacy if ever there was one.

It is, of course, true that the President has been given enormously strong powers in war time. I believe the only time a suspect executive order has survived strict scrutiny review was because exactly because it was a war-time national security action. Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944). The federal government also has greater power to impinge upon other liberties in war time. The country being in a state of war was an explicit consideration in Schenck, which gave us the "clear and present danger" test which is (probably) still the law today. Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919) (upholding speech restrictions during World War I). See also Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494 (1951) (upholding speech restrictions in the immediate aftermath of World War II). Compare with Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298 (1957) (narrowing speech restrictions with chronological distance from World War II) and Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969) (broadly striking down restrictions on speech during détente).

Whether war-time executive power encompasses the ability to waterboard people is a separate question that I have no strong opinion on. Whether exercising such a power is unwise and/or immoral is yet another separate question that I think most of us on Metafilter strongly agree on.
posted by jock@law at 1:59 PM on December 30, 2009


Also worth noting that the speech in Brandenburg had nothing to do with Communism and so was unrelated to any Cold War-related war powers that might have otherwise been held to exist.
posted by jock@law at 2:04 PM on December 30, 2009


What an utterly repellent human being excellent lawyer!
posted by CynicalKnight at 3:57 PM on December 30, 2009


There is no inherent tie between monarchy and what the Yoo memos ostensibly gave cover for, so your argument seems less than cogent.

It wouldn't be the first time my argument has been less than cogent, but didn't Mr. Yoo argue that the President wasn't bound by the War Crimes Act of 1996? If the executive can simply ignore the law of the land, it seems like checks and balances aren't working very well. And invoking "clear and present danger" to describe the unending "War on Terror" is a bit different from a conventional war.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:23 PM on December 30, 2009


While I am not exactly inclined to throw my weight behind the Gonzalez-Yoo interpretation of the War Crimes Act, it is an interpretation and not a decision to ignore it. There are honest, non-trivial reasons to question the applicability of various parts of the Geneva Conventions to non-state-sponsored guerrilla warfare. They are predicated on a paradigm of warfare which is, quite simply, not implicated in our current military engagement.

I think an honest, productive conversation could and should be had about how to adopt standards of humane conduct in an evolving international landscape. I would love to see, in the remainder of Obama's time in office, a new treaty for minimum standards of treatment. The standards should, in my opinion, be significantly more protective than the Bush standards, and significantly less protective than the Geneva Conventions.

Yes, less protective than the Geneva Conventions. Why? Because the Geneva Conventions, in addition to protecting what many people think of as fundamental human rights, offer lots of things which are just plain amenities. The Third Geneva Convention, for example, requires that prisoners of war be allowed to purchase such fundamentally necessary products as tobacco, and that profits from those sales have to benefit the prisoners. They also get an allowance. I mean, c'mon. These were provisions contracted to by countries wanting their civilians treated comfortably by other contracting parties in the event of another European war. Only recently have they been thought of as codifications of fundamental human rights, and anyone who reads their text is immediately made aware that they are not such codifications. I strongly disagree with the Bush Administration about what is acceptable with regard to detainees, but I do agree that provisions of the Geneva Conventions are, in fact, quaint. I would very much favor a treaty that does, however, codify those standards of treatment.
posted by jock@law at 5:18 PM on December 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think what irks so many people, especially lawyers, about Yoo is that he was tasked with writing a legal opinion that while supporting a particular position was ostensibly somewhat neutral and based on law and facts. Instead he essentially wrote an appeal brief, and even by appeal brief standards that opinion is beyond the pale, in support of torture. That strikes many people as dishonest. I am one of those people. He has forever ruined his reputation and in no way could render a so called opinion that would be given any weight by a real court of law.
posted by caddis at 5:43 PM on December 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


caddis, that is a lot of what bothers me, to be sure. The rest of the problem is that, time was, torture was treated by international law in the same way that piracy was (and is), and that Bush and Yoo took the Geneva Conventions as something not just codifying treatment of prisoners, but as codifying the very concept of torture being against international law, and determined that the conventions only applied in certain circumstances, which did not apply in a never-ending "war on terror."

Whether or not prisoners are given an allowance, allowed tobacco, where those funds come from and where they go, etc, is worthy of revision and questioning. It is also not really about torture. The Geneva Conventions, while arguably quaint, were built upon the bedrock principle that torture is illegal, and built up from that. Yoo looked for possible loopholes in order to undermine the bedrock principle, which is what pisses me off even more than his professional tone in writing a memo vs a brief.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:48 PM on December 30, 2009


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