On April 1, a secret 81-page memo written by former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo in March 2003 was made public. In that memo, Yoo advised the Bush administration that the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel would not enforce
Two days later, the Center for Constitutional Rights released a letter supporting the NLG’s call for Yoo’s dismissal and prosecution. CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren wrote, "The ‘Torture Memo’ was not an abstract, academic foray. Rather, it was crafted to sidestep
The day after the NLG issued its press release, Boalt Hall Dean Christopher Edley, Jr. posted a statement on the Boalt Hall website, responding to "the New York Times (editorial April 4), the National Lawyers’ Guild, and hundreds of individuals from around the world" who had criticized or questioned Yoo’s continuing employment at Boalt Hall.
Dean Edley cited the
Edley felt Yoo’s conduct was not "morally equivalent to that of his nominal clients, Secretary Rumsfeld, et al., or comparable to the conduct of interrogators distant in time, rank, and place." Edley wrote, "Yes, it does matter that Yoo was an adviser, but President Bush and his national security appointees were the deciders."
Indeed, ABC News reported last week that Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft met in the White House and micromanaged the torture of terrorism suspects by approving specific torture techniques such as waterboarding. George W. Bush, the decider-in-chief, admitted, "yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."
But John Yoo and the other Justice Department lawyers, including David Addington, Jay Bybee, William Haynes and Alberto Gonzales, are also liable for the same offenses. They were an integral part of a criminal conspiracy to violate
The cases of Altstoetter and those of the Bush lawyers share common aspects. Both dealt with people detained during wartime who were not POWs; in both, it was reasonably foreseeable that the advice they gave would result in great physical or mental harm or death to many detainees; and in both, the advice was legally erroneous. More than 108 people have died in
Furthermore, the Bush lawyers have engaged in ethical violations which should result in their disbarment. As New York University School of Law Professor Stephen Gillers wrote in The Nation, H. Marshall Jarrett, counsel for the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, who is examining the legal advice these lawyers provided, "should find that this work is not ‘consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.’"
Even Dean Edley appears to recognize that the case of John Yoo is not a simple issue of academic freedom, such as "merely some professor vigorously expounding controversial and even extreme views."
As CCR President Michael Ratner wrote in the forthcoming book, The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld, "Had these various opinions been written as a law school or academic exercise, they could be merely condemned and their authors would fail their class, but they would not be held criminally accountable. But they were not an academic exercise. They were written by high-level attorneys [such as John Yoo] in a context where the opinions represented the governing law and were to be employed by the President in setting detainee policy. This was more than bad lawyering; this was aiding and abetting their clients’ violation of the law by justifying the commission of a crime using false legal rhetoric."
It is inconceivable that Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who has served as a rubber stamp for Bush’s illegal policies, will bring any of these leaders or lawyers to justice. There is a chance that a future attorney general will do so. Barack Obama has pledged to have his Justice Department and Attorney General "immediately review the information that’s already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued . . . if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated . . . Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law." Congress should repeal the provision of the Military Commissions Act that would give these deciders and lawyers immunity from prosecution for torture and other mistreatment committed from September 11, 2001 to December 30, 2005.
In addition to criminal prosecutions, disbarments, and the dismissal of John Yoo from the Boalt Hall faculty, Jay Bybee, who was rewarded for his illegal advice with a federal judgeship, should be removed from the bench by impeachment.
It is time for the impunity enjoyed by the Bush administration to come to an end.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at