Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Who speaks for the rule of law?



                                              “…fat as snakes

  the duke’s vassals glide out to consume

  what they get from the duke” -

                                         Ezra Pound, translation of an ancient Chinese poem


         The Boalt Hall School of Law administration has not disclosed the location of Professor John Yoo’s spring semester California Constitution class.  For that administration, sadly and ambiguously, torture is suddenly a form of “protected speech.” Would the prisoners who suffered agony or died on Mr. Yoo’s instructions feel that it was merely a matter of “advocacy” of torture? It is interesting how far the University is willing to go to protect Yoo from protest.  Perhaps it should be renamed the School of Pretence at Law.

            Yoo was scheduled to begin his first class of the semester Tuesday night of this week and is the only professor in the law school whose class location is not listed on its class schedule. Anti-war and anti-torture groups World Can’t Wait and Fire John Yoo! opposed Yoo last summer and again since he returned from sabbatical last fall at Chapman College in Orange County.  He went there because he feared even the occasional glances of people of Berkeley, those who see him for the torturer and sycophant  he is.  Like my student Condi at Stanford (see here and here), Yoo must do his best to hide from ordinary people, to avoid their eyes. He has to assume a position of authority, brooking no questions.   He teaches “the California Constitution” because every one knows that is not the issue.     

        About 25 people, some clad in orange jumpsuits, gathered Tuesday outside Boalt Hall Dean Christopher Edley’s office, demanding that the location of Yoo’s class be made public. In response to a query regarding his class being held at an “undisclosed location,” Yoo wrote a note to the reactionary blog Above the Law:

        “The location of the class, of course, is available to the students who want to take it. If the protesters want to go, they could always apply for admission as 1Ls and pay the full tuition like everyone else. They will find that it is harder to compete for admission with our smart and accomplished students than it is to make a ruckus.” 

           Mr. Yoo is, perhaps, a smart and dignified teacher.  But he might pray that no legal proceeding ever gives him a “grade” for his illegal and immoral truckling to Mr. Cheney.  Law students have a conscience and awareness and  perhaps even the expedient of keeping the class location secret – along with threats of punishment for “disruption” (heaven forbid that Berkeley law students should be concerned about the US government’s policy of torture; they are only studying…law) will not protect Yoo from protest.

          With a certain boldness of denial, Yoo did appear recently on Jon Stewart to hawk his book. Stewart could not quite figure out how to get a hold – beyond indicating his horror at the matter – on Yoo.  He just might have asked him straight up about waterboarding and the other methods of torture, one by one, not letting go, and then the alleged Presidential power – interesting that Bush fancied this advice and did not fire the man who suggested it  – to crush a testicle of a “terrorist’s child.” 

        As yesterday’s Daily Californian reports, "”You could say today was the debut of a new university policy of secrecy,’ said World Can't Wait organizer Stephanie Tang. 'The university will deal with issues by hiding.’" Tang was arrested at a demonstration in Yoo’s first class at Berkeley last August 17.

        Sadly, the corruption of American English extends even to the campus press.  The article refers to “alleged torture practices.”  There is no doubt among international lawyers that torture is the correct word.  In America, corruption seeps down from the New York Times to even campus papers, in which, if the elite says so, the moon is made of green cheese  (the alleged “rocky nature” of the moon, a reporter, properly breathed on, might say).  See Tortured reportings here. 

       Mr. Yoo knows the populations he deals with.  Waterboarding and other torture techniques are only for Arabs and Muslims, particularly innocent ones (Obama plans to release everyone at Guantanamo except 50 or so; that will leave 600 plainly innocent victims of a torture perfumed by the bad legal memos of John Yoo.  Even of those 50, many cannot be tried in courts because of torture (hardly a sign of their guilt). There are perhaps forms of  conduct by a professor at the University of California so outrageous that they are grounds for firing, but apparently pseudo-legal perfuming of torture and murder of  individuals - war crimes - for the U.S. government are not among them.  

            But perhaps Yoo won’t have to babble on about how torture isn’t torture in a course on the California Constitution. “That is not relevant to this class,” he might say; “you are wasting my students’ time.”   Then he can simply walk out on protestors as he has done before.  Condi, as we have seen at Stanford, shakes her finger at undergraduates who confront her about torture and lies: “you haven’t got the facts.”  Yes, we all might wish that the US government had not engaged in a system of torture, creating international torture prisons and making extraordinary renditions.  For Berkeley students, Mr. Yoo will probably remember to give them tests.

         The law school is in an odd position.  Obama has not appointed an independent prosecutor nor allowed Congressional hearings to proceed.  So the dean can pass the buck.  If Obama won’t do it, he might say, Mr. Yoo has tenure.  Yoo may have committed notorious and odious crimes – one imagines that even Law School administrators have seen pictures of Abu Ghraib, have heard rumors of Mr. Yoo’s memos -  but no legal authority in the United States has yet launched proceedings against him.  So he can teach what he is employed to at Berkeley.  Surely the buck doesn’t stop with me, Dean Edley might say.  What does a “law” school have to do with the law?  Even with habeas corpus and the right – internationally authorized by Treaty (the “quaint” Geneva Conventions, the Convention against Torture) as well as American law – of each person not to be tortured. See here. Mr. Edley will put a good face on it.  The law school administration suddenly proclaims its desire to protect freedom of thought, no matter how unpopular.  The zeal to protect Torquemada, Vyshinksy or Saddam Hussain just seizes a dean out of the blue. Should not Berkeley students hear from professorial authorities, employed by the University of California, about the recreational wonders of the death camps? 

      Unfortunately, Edley has already seen to it, in addition to secrecy, that nothing controversial will come out of Yoo’s mouth: the class is on the California Constitution.  What words is he "protecting"? But some sarcastic student might wonder if this famous law school, run by smooth accomplices, is offering but the pretence of legal education.

        Further, as a public service, the Boalt administration spreads its gospel of respect for the law (surely, lawyers will not do anything for money and power…).  Yesterday, the Daily Californian editorialized about the important right of students to listen without interruption to John Yoo on the subject of California law.  Torture?  Murder?  Habeas corpus?  The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution (article 6, section 2)?  Better that these editors blow the same smoke as the Dean of Boalt.  Just pass the buck on to the hypocritical politicians who eyes raised, “look to the future.”

       Obama has a version of the same problem.  Allow independent investigation and prosecutions and perhaps the Republicans will impeach a subsequent Democratic President for philandering in the oval office a la Clinton.  It will be an “unending vendatta.”  How are we going to make war on half the world, shooting our drones here and there, if we have such internecine war over the rule of law in the elite (best to abandon the law)?  Obama shields the lawless Bush administration from the crimes of Gonzalez's "Justice” Department – the prosecutions of Democrats for electoral gain – to torture.

     But don’t major crimes, for instance phony legal advice for torture in a situation where many thousands have been tortured, and at least one hundred prisoners, including three new ones at Guantanamo revealed by Scott Horton last week – see here – have been murdered override in terms of their significance Yoo’s otherwise normal right to teach, each student’s right to learn? The three new corpses had been taken to the secret site Camp No (“No it doesn’t exist”), and murdered by rags being stuffed down their throat.

        Doesn’t murder in American custody override the ordinarily intelligent goal of trying to create some comity between the two major parties? 

        Wasn’t torture according to Yoo the extreme infliction of physical pain? Close to death? Wonder if murder counts as a crime for Yoo.  Perhaps he can find some circumlocution and the chorus of the commercial press and Mr. Edley, as if on cue, will sing “alleged…alleged murder.” Good to know Berkeley law students, reporters, and educators are learning the bipartisan law of “1984.” Obama casts his eyes on the future. Senator Brown of Massachusetts proclaims more and bigger Guantanamos and is grasped – as the future – of the co-authoritarian party.

       If citizens demand that Yoo be held to account, are they – or are his protectors, even in high places – the problematic ones?  Is it the students in California law or the dead, with their throats ripped out by the Camp Commandant in 2006 and labeled to this day “suicides,” whose cry for justice sounds out here? Someone does care about law.   Every one of those demonstrators who supposedly does not meet high “Berkeley standards” has American and international law right about the criminality of John Yoo.  

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