No Comment — August 17, 2009, 10:34 am

Yoo Returns to Berkeley

Today, John Yoo returns to teach at Boalt Hall, the prestigious law school of the University of California at Berkeley. Alumni and students are marking the occasion with a protest. Their circular states:

As a direct result of Yoo’s legal memos thousands have been subjected to torture, tens of thousands incarcerated, tens of millions spied upon, and a million plus have died in U.S. imperialist wars. Without the provision of “legal cover,” many of these crimes would not have been possible.

But Boalt Hall Dean Chris Edley has risen once again to Yoo’s defense. In an email message to faculty sent on Saturday morning, Edley states that he intends to address the protesters and explain why he opposes any sort of action against Yoo:

I believe the University should not take any steps along the lines demanded by the protesters, because no law enforcement or even bar proceedings have been initiated, much less completed. Furthermore, UC faculty and administrators are not competent to act on their own to discover the facts at issue or make informed, formal judgments about the ultimate policy and legal claims.

In the overall order of things, it’s good that the dean of a professional school stands up for a faculty member under broad public attack for unpopular views. It’s right to insist on proper process and to oppose a rush to judgment, even though it’s ironic in this case, since Yoo’s offenses include some measure of just that. Academic freedom is important, particularly for a university, and a faculty member should not be expelled simply because of public agitation.

But Dean Edley’s remarks—brief as they are—reflect a refusal to grapple with some serious issues. Edley states that “no law enforcement or even bar proceedings have been initiated,” which is flatly false. In fact, Yoo is the subject of a pending criminal investigation in Spain’s Audiencia Nacional, where investigators are probing his role in a process that led to the torture of five Spanish subjects. In a preliminary ruling, the court found that culpability for these crimes lies principally with the “intellectual authors” of the torture program, and particularly the lawyers who gave permission for it. Does Dean Edley think the university should be oblivious to foreign legal proceedings or to crimes committed against foreigners? That’s what his formulation suggests. Moreover, Attorney General Eric Holder is now widely expected to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture. There is a reasonable prospect that the special prosecutor will look into Yoo’s dealings. The Pennsylvania Bar has received complaints about Yoo, but bar disciplinary measures involving Justice Department employees start in the Justice Department: in this case, with a report of the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which has been five years in the making. That report has been finished since last October and has been held up largely by Yoo’s maneuvers, but it will in any event be issued shortly. Reports suggest that it excoriates Yoo, attacking his professional judgment and the competence of his legal work—and that it recommends that the matter be referred to bar associations for appropriate disciplinary action.

It is reasonable for the University of California to await the conclusion of these criminal investigations and professional reviews before reaching a decision on dismissal or other disciplinary measures. But is it appropriate for the University to abstain from judgment entirely, as Edley suggests? That would be an abdication of responsibility to the entire university community.

The question that the University faces is not just whether to dismiss John Yoo. Assume, as I do, that there is a process to run which will likely stretch over several years. The university has to address what to do with John Yoo in the interim. One question is whether it is appropriate for Yoo to be teaching international law, international humanitarian law, and constitutional law. Even John Yoo’s colleagues in the Bush Administration considered his scholarship to be unacceptable; his torture memoranda were repudiated by Jack Goldsmith and Stephen G. Bradbury, before the Obama Administration came to office. If the Justice Department formed the conclusion that Yoo’s work on constitutional and international law issues was shockingly substandard—indeed incompetent—why should he be teaching those exact subjects at Boalt Hall? Does Dean Edley also take the position that he and his colleagues on the faculty are not permitted even to exercise quality control? Protecting the integrity of the academy requires the recognition of more interests than John Yoo’s. The rights of students and the reputation of the university should count for something, too.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2015

The Neoliberal Arts

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Gangs of Karachi

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Weed Whackers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tremendous Machine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Romancing Kano·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

Article
The Prisoner of Sex·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
Gangs of Karachi·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
Article
Weed Whackers·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
Article
The Neoliberal Arts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

65

An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.

A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today