The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Conservatives Attack Koh

It should come as no surprise that President Obama’s nomination of the widely respected human rights expert and dean of the Yale Law School, Harold Hongju Koh,

Elisa Mueller
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Apr 01, 2009

It should come as no surprise that President Obama’s nomination of the widely respected human rights expert and dean of the Yale Law School, Harold Hongju Koh, to be the State Department’s legal adviser has gotten conservatives to call out their attack dogs, as FOX News reports.

Koh, as Spencer has written, is a former Clinton administration State Department official who actually cares about human rights: at Alberto Gonzales’ confirmation hearing to become attorney general in 2005, he testified that the infamous August 2002 Office of Legal Counsel memo authorizing torture was “perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion that I have ever read” and a “stain on our national reputation.” Of course, Jack Goldsmith, the former Bush administration OLC official, has also attacked those opinions as “deeply flawed” and “sloppily reasoned,” so Koh is hardly alone.

But Koh — who is the author or co-author of eight books and more than 150 articles on international human rights, business, national security and international law, among other things — has on occasion also boldly expressed his strong respect for international human rights law, which doesn’t go over very well with many conservatives.

In an article published in the Berkeley Journal of International Law in 2004, for example, which FOX News cites, Koh asked: “What role can transnational legal process play in affecting the behavior of several nations whose disobedience with international law has attracted global attention after September 11th — most prominently, North Korea, Iraq and our own country, the United States of America? For shorthand purposes, I will call these countries ‘the axis of disobedience.’”

Putting the United States in the same axis as North Korea and Iraq has, not surprisingly, outraged critics who, like the Bush administration, don’t believe the U.S. ought to be reined in by international legal standards.

Steven Gross, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told FOX News that he worries that Koh “cares as much about — if not more about — international law and integrating that into the American judicial system than he does about protecting American prerogatives and American sovereignty.”

And John Fonte, senior fellow and director of the Center for American Common Culture at the Hudson Institute, said Koh’s views amount to “international imperialism. Under Koh’s plan, the Constitution would become secondary and international law would take precedence regardless of what Americans said about the matter.”

The White House vehemently defended Koh’s nomination on Tuesday, telling FOX News that he is “one of the most respected members of the legal community.”

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Elisa Mueller | Elisa Mueller was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to a mother who taught reading and a father who taught film. As a result, she spent an excessive amount of her childhood reading books and watching movies. She went to the University of Kansas for college, where she earned bachelor's degrees in English and journalism. She moved to New York City and worked for Entertainment Weekly magazine for ten years, visiting film sets all over the world.


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