In an interview yesterday with the Orange County Register, picked up by Jason Leopold at The Public Record,John Yoo says he doesn’t regret the substance of any of his memos written at the Office of Legal Counsel – you know, the ones that allowed the administration to conclude that waterboarding wasn’t torture, that the Bill of Rights did not apply to military actions inside the United States, and that it’s okay to suspend free speech in wartime.
No, he just regrets that he wasn’t a little more “polished”.
“These memos I wrote were not for public consumption,” said Yoo, who’s now a visiting professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange County — I guess things got a little hot at Berkeley, where students are calling for his dismissal and prosecution. “They lack a certain polish, I think – would have been better to explain government policy rather than try to give unvarnished, straight-talk legal advice. I certainly would have done that differently.”
It’s heartening to hear that even government officials learn from their mistakes. Sort of.
“I think the job of a lawyer is to give a straight answer to a client,” Yoo went on to say. “One thing I sometimes worry about is that lawyers in the future in the government are going to start worrying about, ‘What are people going to think of me?’ Your client the president, or your client the justice on the Supreme Court, or your client this senator, needs to know what’s legal and not legal. And sometimes, what’s legal and not legal is not the same thing as what you can do or what you should do.”
Oddly, Yoo’s idea of a “straight answer” was a legal argument that reached back centuries to justify conduct that no reputable legal scholar, including Republicans who ended up in the Bush administration, would consider legal today. Even Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) just slammed Yoo’s opinions, without mentioning his name, at this morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Maybe it’s not such a bad thing for a lawyer to worry about what people in the future will think of him.