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Why Are Justice Department Lawyers Defending John Yoo?

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The Bush Justice Department rushed to defend John Yoo when he got hit with civil lawsuits brought by victims of the torture policies that he helped to author. Now the Obama Administration, which is legally obligated to conduct a criminal investigation of Yoo, seems poised to fall into a trap. The assumption is that Yoo is being sued for things he did as a Justice Department employee, so his defense is to be furnished at taxpayer’s expense. But this assumption is wrong, because the misconduct by Yoo that has provoked the lawsuits isn’t run-of-the-mill incompetence. As Professor Jordan Paust explains, Congress passed a resolution in 1781 providing that government servants who cause injuries under the laws of nations must bear those liabilities themselves, and twelve years later a justice of the Supreme Court affirmed the principle. War criminals have no right to call on the Justice Department to defend them. They have every reason to expect to be prosecuted.

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