Yoo’s Presence and the Faculty’s Silence

April 19th, 2008 - by admin

Gray Brechin / Berkeley Daily Planet – 2008-04-19 01:19:54


BERKELEY, CA (April 15, 2008) — The recent disclosure of a memo by Boalt Law School faculty member John Yoo has given that school and the University of California itself a long overdue public relations nightmare. “Overdue” because quite enough was known about Yoo’s role in justifying the Bush regime’s claims to the dictatorial powers it has taken that a small group of concerned citizens held a weekly vigil outside his class several years ago.

That vigil was almost entirely ignored by faculty and students too hurried or plugged in to their iPods to pause or take a leaflet let alone join. When Fernando Botero’s horrific paintings of torture came to Doe Library, few faculty members on panels organized to discuss them mentioned that the man largely responsible for the atrocities Botero depicted is a campus colleague.

But when the New York Times published an editorial (reprinted in the International Herald Tribune on April 5) with the clause “Yoo, who inexplicably teaches law at the University of California,” mud finally stuck to Alma Mater’s teflon robes, and the administration had to act.

Boalt Dean Christopher Edley, Jr. wrote a position paper posted prominently on the University’s home page that I consider a masterpiece of judicious temporizing, concluding that “Absent [commission of a criminal act which has led to conviction in a court of law and which clearly demonstrates unfitness to continue as a member of the faculty] no university worthy of distinction should even contemplate dismissing a faculty member. That standard has not been met.”

I am no expert on the Nuremberg Tribunals and the international criminal laws formulated to ensure that atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and Japanese would never happen again, but surely there must be someone on the besmirched Boalt Hall faculty or one of its sister institutions who could pass such judgment.

That Professor Yoo has not yet been convicted of criminal acts is no reason to remain silent on the possibility of his having done so. Academic freedom cuts both ways: faculty bloggers may debate among themselves what should be done about their infamous colleague, but they have been impressively discrete about publicly criticizing him until the latest memo and a clause in the New York Times forced the point.

That succinct clause bears more consideration than Dean Edley’s voluminous rationale for letting sleeping dogs lie: why is a person whose legal opinions have subverted the U.S. Constitution teaching constitutional law at the University of California? Do his colleagues share culpability?

In her April 11 editorial, [Berkeley Daily Planet Editor] Becky O’Malley asks the kind of question that Edley and other faculty need to answer: “who saddled their institution with this infamous character in the first place?” Furthermore, how did he get tenure? Is a university with such a professor “worthy of distinction?” {See O’Malley’s editorial below.]

I understand the reluctance of faculty to wake the mastiff of the California Loyalty Oath once used by reactionaries to maul liberals, but John Yoo presumably signed it to obtain his job. The signers of that oath vow to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Such enemies include those in the executive branch, including themselves. To recommend or teach the Constitution’s subversion in the name of a “unitary executive” violates that oath.

Gray Brechin received his bachelor’s, master’s degree and Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and is a visiting scholar in the Geography Department.

Editorial: Time for the Law School to Clean House
Becky O’Malley / Berkeley Daily Planet

BERKELEY (April 11, 2008) — [Radio broadcaster] Larry Bensky was kind enough to forward to us an article by Dan Eggen, from Sunday’s Washington Post. The headline is “Permissible Assaults Cited in Graphic Detail.”

He suggested that we should reprint the whole piece, which we’re not legally entitled to do. But we can direct your attention to the story on the paper’s web site. It’s an excellent parsing of a truly appalling document, a memo on the legal boundaries governing interrogation by members of the U.S. military forces which was written by John C. Yoo, then a U.S. Justice Department lawyer, and now a faculty member at the local law school formerly known as Boalt Hall, which is part of the University of California.

His memo functions as a justification for a variety of forms of physical torture. The article reports that the memo claims that “federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes by military interrogators are trumped by the president’s ultimate authority as commander in chief.”

It was taken as the law of the land for eight months, until it was overruled by Jack Goldsmith, Yoo’s boss at the Office of Legal Counsel, who was later quoted as calling some of his memos “deeply flawed: sloppily reasoned, overbroad, and incautious in asserting extraordinary constitutional authorities on behalf of the President.” Well, yes, that’s obvious, even to non-lawyers.

We asked Larry, KPFA’s longtime national repor-ter, to write a commentary for the Planet on the topic. “What is there to say? It speaks for itself, alas,” he replied.

That’s true, as far as it goes, and everyone should certainly read the Post piece or even, if you have the stomach for it, the whole memo.

Brad DeLong, ace blogger and Econ Prof, is one of the few UC faculty members whose moral compass seems to be relatively intact. He’s been hosting online discussions of how Yoo might be sent packing.

His own first take on the topic: “I should write to Professor William Drummond, Chair of the Berkeley Division of the University of California Senate, stating that in my opinion it is time for him to convene a committee to examine whether John Yoo’s appointment to the University of California faculty should be revoked for moral turpitude.” But that’s followed by a lengthy exchange about the propriety of such an action.

Yes, yes, we know the whole academic freedom routine. We’re reluctant to suggest that Yoo be fired just because some would describe his work product as sadomasochistic with fascist tendencies.

But here’s another question: Who hired this jerk to work at the Law School? It’s the “sloppily reasoned” part that should have kept him from getting the job in the first place. Yoo’s “faculty profile” says he’s been at U.C. since 1993. Why?

If the Planet had a huge investigative staff, that might make an interesting inquiry. But we have our hands full reporting on U.C.’s sweetheart deals with major petroleum companies, and the hiring halls of academia are traditionally shrouded in mystery and cloaked in enigma.

This is a job for an insider. We know that a number of past and current law school faculty members read the Planet, because they’ve told us that they do, and we know that they’re just as disgusted as we are by Yoo’s presence among them.

We’re also aware that a few doughty souls at UCB have staged demonstrations and teach-ins against Yoo for years. We’ve encountered several law students who seem to have ethics and energy.

Forget about moral turpitude. Some of these people should inquire delicately but forcefully why their school has a faculty member whose work is notoriously shoddy.

Of course, Yoo’s not the only UC faculty member who does some mediocre work from time to time. This could be a slippery slope—it might make some of his colleagues very nervous.

Even though the subject matter is deadly serious, some observers have half-jokingly suggested taking direct action to shame Yoo. Two respectable Berkeley matrons were overheard fantasizing about donning burqas and smacking him with pies in front of his classes.

On Brad DeLong’s blog, one Kate G. says that it’s not a question of academic freedom exactly, and proposes a more Draconian alternative: “Yoo’s briefs on torture, especially the infamous observation that the president could, if he choose, legally ‘crush the testicles’ of an innocent child if he thought that would advance an American agenda, is more like a form of reckless endangerment of the country and of its citizens and their morality.

“But I’d settle for a controlling legal and political authority crushing Mr. Yoo’s testicles and then asking to have their case heard by a higher court. I don’t think he has to be fired from Berkeley to make the point.”

Bloggers are chewing over these alternatives as we speak, and perhaps someone over at the law school might actually do something. The latest dialogue on the topic as of this writing, from posters to Brad DeLong’s site:

“I think a complaint should be filed but it’s largely symbolic. I do not believe that the University should be pressured into firing Yoo, though I am personally appalled by his directives to the government. Tenure protects academics’ rights to hold and voice unpopular opinions. I am not interested in silencing those I disagree with, but rather in engaging in public debate with them. Anything else smacks of liberal facism.”

And the response to this post, from someone signing on as A. Citizen:

“‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’—Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I am no liberal, sir, and it is an attitude such as you voice here which has brought our nation to the precipice. Let me be clear. Your failure to speak out, to take action, against Yoo and his vile ilk makes you no better than they.”

History, if not God, will judge who’s right. Meanwhile, it’s up to the faculty and students of the law school of the University of California at Berkeley to figure out, at least, who saddled their institution with this infamous character in the first place.

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