Jesurgislac’s Journal

January 4, 2010

John Yoo: I am West Berlin!

…Huh. Even Kennedy was only claiming to be a jelly doughnut. (Which, yes, I know, is the Gaffe That Never Was.)

Yoo is the author of the Memo Regarding the Torture and Military Interrogation of Alien Unlawful Combatants Held Outside the United States, in which (responding to “a legal question” from his client, President Bush/ the Bush administration) he gave the false and brutal answer his client wanted: it was legal to torture the prisoners claimed by the US to be “unlawful combatants”, providing certain specific methods of torture were avoided.

Given the date of the memo (March 14, 2003) this is a memo written to justify criminal actions that had already been committed by Yoo’s “client”, and were to continue being committed certainly until February 2009, and which may still be being committed in the US extra-judicial prisons which Obama intends to use to store the prisoners who were being kept illegally in Guantanamo Bay, and, when the Guantanamo prison is closed, are to be kept illegally elsewhere.

All of this is old news. What’s current news and ongoing news is Yoo’s being permitted by the University of California and the Californian Bar to continue to teach law at Berkeley’s School of Law. despite being publicly guilty of having condoned criminal actions on the part of his client, and having given his client legal advice on how to break the law.

Yoo’s reaction to the various public efforts to shame the University of California, and the lawyers who continue to tolerate this shame to their profession in their midst, is to compare himself to West Berlin: “I am used to it. I remind myself of West Berlin — West Berlin surrounded by East Germany during the Cold War.”

How far should a lawyer who advises his client to break the law – who writes a legal opinion that justifies to his client his client’s breaking the law! – be allowed to continue in his profession? John Yoo self-pityingly claims it’s his “conservative” views that denied him a post at more prestigious universities, rather than his ignorance of the law or his complete lack of principles.

(And I know it’s a joke that lawyers don’t have principles, but in fact lawyers tend to have extremely rigid principles in the structure of their profession. Those go with defending your client in court to the utmost of your ability, keeping client secrets confidential, etc. John Yoo makes much of how he was a very junior lawyer in the DoJ: if true, I suspect that means he was also the not the first lawyer asked to write this memo – but the others have upheld the principle of client confidentiality and are never going to admit their client asked them to write a memo advising him that his criminal actions were legal…)

May 22, 2008

Torture doth never prosper

Torture doth never prosper, what’s the reason?
For when it prospers, people call it “harsh interrogation”.

Yeah, it doesn’t rhyme. (I looked up “torture” and found exactly two rhymes for it, neither of them easy to work into a verse: porcher, scorcher.)

This is the reason why I will not join Slacktivist’s campaign Torture is wrong – but when torture advocates can with bland voice say “of course torture is wrong – we only want to hurt our prisoners a little bit, no scars! and deliberately humiliating them to make them confess doesn’t count as torture, you liberal hippy!” what good does it do?

“Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

When you hold someone prisoner, even if they are imprisoned legally and justly (which of course is not true of the extrajudicial prisoners who are being tortured by Americans), it is wrong to inflict on them severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental. Trying to define “severe” is pointless: but given that the Geneva Conventions repeatedly argue that the standard should be to treat soldiers and civilians of enemy nations as well as you treat your own soldiers and civilians, “severe” should be held to the same standard: if you would object to having this pain and suffering inflicted on one of your own*, don’t do it to a prisoner. Because it’s torture. Even if, gestapo-like, you prefer to call it “harsh interrogation”, or demand to know how else “the terrorists” can be fought.

*However you define “one of your own”.

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