Thursday, October 20, 2011

Statement against the war criminal John Yoo at the American Political Science Convention

John Yoo is an internationally notorious war criminal (as are most senior officials in the Bush administration, with the possible exception of Colin Powell). For fear of arrest, they cannot - except possibly to Canada and in the face of demonstrations - travel abroad.

Like Cheney, Bush and Gonzalez – see here and here for the recent protest at the University of Colorado at Denver - Yoo is invited to speak at various professional events or campuses or given soft-ball book tours. Yet the anger of ordinary people sparks at the annexing of professional activities like the American Political Science Association and the principled toleration it ordinarily accords, to perfume criminality.

What was done to the thousands of prisoners in American custody by the Bush administration, including murdering over 100 on the Pentagon’s own account, is not a matter of speech. Such practices are barred by American law (those which make the Geneva Conventions and the Convention against Torture the highest law of the land – see Article 6 section 2 of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause – and domestic statutes. See here and here. These are morally odious as well as legally abhorrent practices.

The Obama administration has also tortured. Yesterday, Juan Mendes, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, issued a report on solitary confinement as a form of torture. He refers especially to the case of Bradley Manning, tortured for 7 months and still yet to be charged for claimed involvement in Wikileaks. See below. The contrast between the Obama administration’s zeal to punish and torture heroic "leakers" – those who reveal and try to stop the crimes by or within the US government – and its protection of Bush and the leaders of Goldman Sachs and other banks is truly remarkable.

Perhaps the Occupy movements will force some hearings about and eventually charges for some of those who created collateral debt obligations and the like (this morning, the Times's lead story on the front page reported that Citigroup paid a $235 million fine for its corrupt practice with mortgages, but still no individual has been prosecuted). See here.

Only protests by those who care about restoring the rule of law in different settings, however, will help build sentiment for ending rather than renewing American crimes (consider closely the Republican field – notably Romney who wanted to double the size of Guantanamo in 2008. Only Ron Paul wants to abate militarism – mentioned Iran-Contra Monday night – and might move against torture).

Obama issued an order against waterboarding his second day in office. Nonetheless, the basis for restoring torture already exists in Obama’s practices toward Bradley Manning and sustained executive illegalities (last Friday, he had Awlaki’s teenage son executed - 17 years old - another American citizen eliminated by Presidential order….The Denver Post ran a cheerleading AP story on this last Saturday).

Jamie Mayerfeld at the University of Washington, who helped circulate the statement below, is working on an important book on human rights and torture. The others who signed the statement below (as I did) are acting to bar the honoring of crime in the American Political Science Association. Political scientists need to differentiate themselves sharply from stitching the Emperor's New Clothes for war crimes.

We have already seen the corruption of the American Psychological Association (members of whose executive council directly participated in torture and whose executive council defended it; it took a rank and file campaign and referendum to reverse this) and, in response to protest from below, the American Anthropological Association’s opposition to the Pentagon's use of anthropologists in the “human terrain project.” See here.

Consider the tape below of a woman courageously protesting against Yoo and read the statement of Douglas Overton-Bey about the group of (self-selectedly) reactionary political scientists present – it is a political Straussian crowd organized by the Clarement Institute for "Statesmanship" which invited Yoo – who sadly (as human beings) but smugly sat there.

The panel was on the subject of Lincoln's crimes during the Civil War -his abridgment of habeas corpus for Southern sympathizers. Defense of this as a precedent along with FDR's jailing of innocent Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during World War II - was a mantra of neocon talking heads during and after Abu Ghraib.

Unlike Bush and Cheney (and thanks particularly to the pseudo-legal patter of Mr. Yoo), Lincoln, however was attentive to Congressional support and the Constitution. So this panel was designed to give Yoo and others a chance to phony up an apology for torture given a slightly deeper understanding of what Lincoln did and offer a false suggestion that Yoo or Bush then made even the slightest effort in that direction. Had Bush succeeded in such a hypothetical effort and gained Congressional approval (the opposite of Yoo's "opinions" on Presidential or executive power), it would not have "legalized" torture or murder under international law and US treaty obligations. One cannot perfume a rogue state in this way.

It dignifies the crowd, which made no effort to answer the protestor's arguments but simply harassed her until she could be removed - she determinedly stuck it out for several minutes - to speak of the panel or its audience as engaged in other than neo-con ideology abetting criminality.

I urge others to sign this statement and to write independently to the American Political Science Association and the American Bar Association concerning John Yoo.

Subject: Statement Regarding John Yoo Appearance at APSA
From Jamie Mayerfeld at the University of Washington:

Dear members of the APSA Human Rights Section,

As some of you may know, John Yoo spoke at the recent APSA conference in Seattle. A group of APSA members put together a statement protesting his inclusion on the APSA program. Our statement, which appears below, is not a reaction to Yoo’s opinions, but to the fact that he was a leading architect of a policy of torture.

I am writing to ask if any of you would like to sign the statement. (Apologies to those who have already received this appeal.)

Here are two stories about Yoo's APSA presentation, including a 3-minute video of a protestor who denounced Yoo before being hustled out of the panel. See here and here.

As for the statement, there are thoughtful positions on both sides. Some people have declined to sign it on the grounds that APSA should continue to function as a pluralistic and inclusive forum representing divergent views and life experiences. I agree with that principle, but I think that John Yoo is a special case, and that given his role in authorizing torture, he should not receive the honor, privilege, and assistance of a slot on APSA's program.

If you would like to sign the statement, please send an email message, with your name and affiliation as you would like it to appear, to

And if you are so inclined, please share with friends and colleagues, and encourage them to sign it, too. Our new deadline for receiving signatures is Monday, October 17 [it is probably still possible to sign it; h/t Joel Pruce], after which we will present the statement to the President and Council of the Association. At present, there are just over 50 signatures.

Sincerely, Jamie Mayerfeld

Here is the statement:

We, the undersigned members of the American Political Science Association, were shocked and profoundly dismayed to learn that John Yoo was invited to speak at the 2011 APSA conference in Seattle. Mr. Yoo was a leading architect of the torture policy adopted by the George W. Bush administration. In drafting memos to his superiors that served to authorize acts of torture, Mr. Yoo, according to the Office of Professional Responsibility of the Department of Justice, "knowingly failed to provide a thorough, candid, and objective interpretation of the law." The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded that the Office of Legal Counsel “torture memos” to which Mr. Yoo contributed “distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws” and “rationalized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody.” In 2009, Mr. Yoo was placed under criminal investigation by Spanish authorities for torture and other war crimes.

Academic conferences should encourage healthy debates and a free exchange of ideas, and we do not support measures that constrain or censure scholarly discourse. But there can be no justification for giving a platform to someone who participated in the actual authorization of torture, a shameful and morally unacceptable practice and a crime under both domestic and international law. The record establishes that Mr. Yoo bears major responsibility for implementing a policy of torture, that he did so based on the purposeful manipulation of law, and that he proceeded on this course in violation of international treaties prohibiting torture and other war crimes. As political scientists and as Association members, we declare our support for open and free debate and discussion, we affirm our opposition to torture, and we protest the decision to invite John Yoo to speak at the APSA conference as an affront to the standards of our profession and of humanity.

To sign this statement, please send an email message to

Please state your name and affiliation as you would like it to appear.

From the Yoo Protest Statement Drafting Committee:

Michael J. Bosia

Associate Professor of Political Science
St. Michael’s College

Stephen Eric Bronner
Distinguished Professor of Political Science
Director of Civic Diplomacy and Human Rights
Institute for Global Challenges
Rutgers University

Michael Forman
Associate Professor of Social and Political Theory, Human Rights, and Labor Studies
Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences
University of Washington, Tacoma

Micheline Ishay
Professor of International Studies and Human Rights
Josef Korbel School of International Studies
University of Denver

Jamie Mayerfeld
Professor of Political Science
University of Washington, Seattle

Mahmood Monshipouri,
Associate Professor of International Relations
San Francisco State University

Julie Novkov
Department Chair, Political Science
Professor of Political Science/Women's Studies
University at Albany, SUNY

Yesterday, DemocracyNow had the following news story:

U.N. Torture Chief: Ban Solitary Confinement for Teens, Mentally Disabled

The top United Nations official on torture is calling for an end to almost all forms of solitary confinement. Juan Méndez, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, said solitary confinement should only be allowed in exceptional cases, and emphasized an absolute ban in the case of juveniles and people with mental disabilities.

Juan Méndez: "I am of the view that juveniles, given their physical and mental immaturity, should never be subjected to solitary confinement. Equally, in order not to exacerbate a previously existing mental condition, individuals with mental disabilities should be provided with proper medical or psychiatric care, and under no circumstances should they ever be subjected to solitary confinement. My recommendations are, first, to see if we can have a complete ban on prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement. And I more or less arbitrarily define that as anything beyond 15 days of solitary confinement, meaning someone being confined to a cell for at least 22 hours a day."

In his remarks, Méndez also commented on U.S. soldier and alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning, who’s being held in a Kansas prison following his arrest for allegedly leaking government material to WikiLeaks. Méndez says although Manning is no longer being held in solitary confinement, he is still monitoring the case.

Juan Méndez: "I want to stress that, on the one hand, he is no longer in solitary confinement, although he spent something like eight months in solitary confinement, but when he was moved to Fort Leavenworth, his regime changed, and he’s not in solitary confinement now. I’m not saying anything about whether his present regime violates other possible standards, but at least he’s—on a daily basis, he does communicate and socialize with other inmates in his same category."

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