Sunday, March 18, 2007


Over the past year NPR has had numerous stories involving John Yoo, the former deputy assistant attorney general and now law professor at the University of California, Berkley. Here is Yoo on NPR on October 4, 2006, justifying the lack of rights of detainees at Guantanamo to receive a fair trial, be represented by lawyers or petition federal courts for review.

""Well, it's not a criminal trial," says Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who served as a deputy assistant attorney general from 2001 to 2003. This is part of the way the rules of war have worked for a long time," he says. "The military proceedings to determine if you're an enemy combatant usually don't require as much proof. You know, the point of the war is not to collect evidence and solve crimes. It's to fight and defeat the enemy. So I think this sort of flexible process reflects the demands and the nature of warfare."

Now in a post from Prof. Marty Lederman on the excellent legal blog Balkinization, citing an interview Yoo gave to Alasdair Palmer of The Spectator, a London weekly, as quoted in the Montreal Gazette, we learn that Yoo feels water-boarding is permissible, because while it may be torture, it is far better than being put to death, an action Yoo feels is justified by the laws of war.

"Does water-boarding (inducing the perception of drowning in someone to make him talk) inflict serious pain?" Yoo asks. "I doubt that the CIA thinks that it does ... or that it is going to stop using the technique, if the stakes are high enough." So despite the new law, the old tactics will be available? "I think so. And more important, so do they ..."

Again as cited by Lederman, John Yoo also confesses that he just doesn't understand why torture is prohibited: After all,

"[D]eath is worse than torture, but everyone except pacifists thinks there are circumstances in which war is justified. War means killing people. If we are entitled to kill people, we must be entitled to injure them. I don't see how it can be reasonable to have an absolute prohibition on torture when you don't have an absolute prohibition on killing. Reasonable people will disagree about when torture is justified. But that, in some circumstances, it is justified seems to me to be just moral common sense. How could it be better that 10,000 or 50,000 or a million people die than that one person be injured?"

So now we have John Yoo coming out and admitting he believes that there is no absolute prohibition on torture. For Yoo, torture is at times legally and morally justified, on the principle that if a fortiori war is allowed, then torture cannot be so bad.

Is this how Bush and Cheney think.? Will they justify any means however loathsome and cruel to obtain their ends? What makes Bush & Co. any different from religious fanatics and church authorities in the Inquisition, believing themselves to be doing God's work, condemned people to be burned at the stake or turned them over to the civilian authorities for other equally cruel and degrading methods of torture. In answer to the question of whether you conversed with the devil, who of us would not answer in the affirmative after so many turns on the rack?

1 comment:

  1. Roberto:

    I have long held the position that the institutionalization of torture has the undesirable effect of trivializing America's long-standing commitment to the promotion of human welfare and dignity.

    It betrays the hypocrisy of an administration that purports to stand for international justice while itself flouting basic human rights laws.

    Here's a contextual analysis of a related issue that might be of some interest to your readers.