Former Bush administration Office of Legal counsel lawyer John Yoo yesterday told a packed auditorium at the campus of Chapman University School of Law in Orange County, Calif. — where he is a visiting professor (Yoo is on leave from what he called “The People’s Republic of Berkeley”) — that he and his colleagues did just the right thing when they authorized waterboarding (near-drowning) and other forms of coercive interrogation tactics on suspected al-Qaeda operatives.
“Three thousand of our fellow citizens had been killed in a deliberate attack by a foreign enemy,” said Yoo, according to The Los Angeles Times, unperturbed by shouts from the audience that he is a war criminal and should be in jail. “That forced us in the government to have to consider measures to gain information using presidential constitutional provisions to protect the country from further attack.”
“Was it worth it?” he asked. “We haven’t had an attack in more than seven years.”
Yoo’s confident defense of his controversial legal positions comes as the threat of prosecution for Yoo and his OLC colleagues intensifies. Yesterday, President Obama said that he would not interfere with an attempt to prosecute the lawyers who authorized interrogators’ abusive conduct, and he would be open to a full congressional investigation as well.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich), who since proposing legislation in January has been calling for a broad-ranging investigation of Bush policies that would not rule out subsequent prosecutions — unlike Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) proposed “Commission of Inquiry” — reiterated his call for a thorough investigation. Conyers added that the House Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, would hold hearings of its own on the potentially illegal conduct of the Justice Department officials, such as Yoo.
A report on the investigation of the lawyers’ conduct from the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is expected to be released soon, though the Justice Department is still reviewing it. The OPR evaluation is reportedly very critical of the lawyers’ legal reasoning, and tracks the lawyers’ communications with the White House to determine what influenced their conclusions.
Conyers said yesterday that if the OPR report is delayed any further, “we will have hearings in the near term in any event. Critical questions remain concerning how these memos came into existence and were approved, which our committee is uniquely situated to consider.”
As I’ve noted before, the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Leahy, is also well-suited to conduct such an inquiry into the Justice Department’s role in approving torture and other abuses derived from torture techniques used by North Korea, China and other foreign governments on captured soldiers, as detailed by the Senate Armed Services Committee report released Tuesday. So far, however, it has declined to do so.
No matter who investigates, John Yoo is unlikely to change his mind about the legality of using torture to extract information from terror suspects, as his confident demeanor at yesterday’s forum demonstrated. The fact that the tactics used on suspected terrorists were known to have produced false confessions in the past rather than truthful information, however, undermines the strength of the legal argument supporting them.
Yoo’s former OLC colleague, Jay Bybee, however, now a life-tenured judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the target of a campaign for impeachment, has so far remained silent about the matter.
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