Yoo Defends His Beliefs on Torture (Bay Area News Group 22/7/10)
John Yoo, the UC Berkeley law school professor who gave legal sanction to the Bush administration’s views on torture, has been on a national image-rehabilitation tour, presenting a softer, more human side than is generally accepted by his critics.
For instance, before a relatively small gathering Tuesday at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon, he joked about the lively dinner table discussions he has with his father-in-law, the former CNN wartime correspondent Peter Arnett. And he boasted that he’d bested Jon Stewart in an appearance he made on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” earlier this year.
But his core message served to undergird his role in one of the most scrutinized wartime epochs in U.S. history — President Bush’s prosecution of the war on terror. At all turns, Yoo insisted that American presidents have always had the ability to expand their powers during times of war.
And he continued to maintain that the administration did not authorize torture and that he did not consider waterboarding torture. Waterboarding had been designated a war crime as late as 1983.
As deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel after 9/11, his memos gave what his critics call legal cover to torture suspected terrorists.
“No torture was authorized,” he said after his presentation.
In his memos, he wrote that only treatment that inflicts suffering equivalent to organ failure “or even death”
constitutes torture. He has also suggested that nothing — no law or treaty — could stop the president from ordering torture if the circumstances required it.
Yoo has also claimed that his memos allowed interrogators to go up to the line of torture without crossing it. And he has defended Bush’s unilateral approach to the war on terror.
“Presidential power is really designed to expand during periods of crisis brought on by foreign threats and national security concerns,” Yoo said.
Yoo recounted how after he helped draft the Iraq war authorization, he heard complaints from U.S. senators who did not want to have to vote on whether the country should go to war.
Yoo took a shot at President Barack Obama, saying he had flipped on its head the founding fathers’ vision of the presidency.
“The framers didn’t really think the presidency would play a big role in domestic policy,” he said. “What you’ve seen in a year and a half is Obama is extremely hyperactive in domestic affairs and he has put in an amazing effort at restructuring the economy and health care. He’s taking the lead in pushing Congress, rather than restraining Congress.”
On the other hand, in foreign affairs, the first thing Obama did, Yoo said, was to try to take the issues of terrorism and war “off his plate and defer those issues to other branches.”
He did credit Obama, however, for backing down on his pledge to quickly close Guantánamo Bay detention camp for suspected terrorists and to stick essentially to the Bush administration’s timeline in departing from Iraq.
Contact Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101.