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John Yoo provided the legal cover for the Bush/Cheney crime syndicate to “take the gloves off,” and operate on “the dark side,” as Cheney put it. He is therefore implicated in the torture of thousands and subsequent death of over one-hundred detainees, and possibly more. Yet the Department of Justice Office of Professional Review found Yoo (along with Jay Baybee) guilty of “poor judgment,” not professional misconduct, making it unlikely that he will face disbarment or any other sanctions.
During the inquiry, Yoo, main author of the now-famous Bush administration torture memo, told Department of Justice investigators that the President had the constitutional right to order the massacre of entire villages.
Michael Isikoff reports in Newsweek.com, relates the following exchange:
“Pressed on his views in an interview with OPR investigators, Yoo was asked:
“What about ordering a village of resistants to be massacred? … Is that a power that the president could legally—’
“‘Yeah,’ Yoo replied, according to a partial transcript included in the report. ‘Although, let me say this: So, certainly, that would fall within the commander-in-chief’s power over tactical decisions.’
“‘To order a village of civilians to be [exterminated]?’ the OPR investigator asked again.
“‘Sure,’ said Yoo.”
Yoo is now enjoying life as a well-known attorney and law professor at a leading university, and his views are respectfully sought after by mainstream media outlets like NPR. His new book “Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power” is “getting good reviews from historians” according to an article in the current issue of US News and World Report.
Yoo believes the President can order whole communities annihilated, begging the question, is there anything that the President is forbidden to do in war time, according to Yoo? David Cole wrote about Yoo’s theories in the New York Review of Books, November 17, 2005: “the president would be entitled by the Constitution to resort to genocide if he wished.”
During World War II, cities and the civilians living in them became targets, the bombing of German cities and the firebombing of cities in Japan caused the death of hundreds of thousands. President Truman, as commander in chief, order that the atom bomb be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing over 200,000 civilians, in order to send a message to Soviet Russia, not in order to end the war, according to James Carroll in his classic book, “House of War.” Historians such as Ronald Schaffer in “Wings of Judgment: American Bombing in World War II” came to the conclusion that these bombings did not further the allies’ military goals and essentially accomplished nothing, other than to lay the foundation for further conflicts.
The country was shaken to its roots when Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. The few survivors in the village put the death toll at 587 men, women and children. Hersh reported an interview with the lawyer for Lieutenant Calley, charged with spearheading the massacre: “There are always some civilian casualties in a combat operation. He isn’t guilty of murder.”
There are those like Yoo, who believe that “war is hell” that it must be waged relentlessly and without mercy, that civilians are legitimate targets. They believe that Geneva conventions are “quaint,” and people who support treaties to outlaw nuclear weapons, cluster bombs and landmines are naive. These are the people that believe the brutish nature of state-sanctioned killing that we call war can never be bound by any rules of conduct.
Our country has developed a different tradition, though. Washington ordered his soldiers not to mistreat captured British soldiers. Abraham Lincoln came to realize that there were “a few things regarded as barbarous or cruel” that the US army would never engage in. He developed a code for union soldiers:
“The code reduced the international laws of war into a simple pamphlet for wide distribution to the amateur soldiers of the Union army. It prohibited torture, poisons, wanton destruction, and cruelty. It protected prisoners and forbade assassinations. It announced a sharp distinction between soldiers and noncombatants.” (John Fabian Witt, “Lincoln’s Laws of War”, Slate Magazine)
People like John Yoo cannot fathom this tradition, this attempt to draw the line, repudiating brutality even when it is expedient. The ends always justify the means; war demands we be cold and merciless. This is the Cheney view, and the view of those at the CPAC convention who booed Bob Barr, when he told the crowd, “Oh we’re going to have them go to the military let them torture them for a while, it’s not enhanced interrogation technique. Waterboarding is torture! How would you like to be waterboarded? Try that!” The crowd was incensed — imagine opposing torture!
Because of the actions of men like John Yoo, our country’s moral standing in the world has been eroded. The country of Washington, Lincoln has become a country where legal justifications of torture are now viewed as a matter of “poor judgment,” as the OPR report concluded in its findings.
According to Jane Mayer, the International Committee of the Red Cross, (ICRC) concluded in it’s report on Guantanamo, “the abuse (at torture prisons) constituted war crimes, placing the highest officials in the US government in jeopardy of being prosecuted.” But far from being condemned and disgraced, our domestic war criminals live in comfort and ease, their opinions are eagerly sought by our slavish media, and they are treated with the utmost respect in the corridors of power.
Dick Cheney is so confident that he is in no danger of being held accountable that he triumphantly broadcast his guilt on national television; he admitted last Sunday that he personally ordered the CIA to waterboard detainees. No matter. He will still be treated with deference as an elder statesmen by the Beltway Elite. And John Yoo will continue to practice law, teach, give interviews and write books on the virtues of unlimited executive power, and the books will be greeted with glowing reviews.
So we Americans go on with our daily lives, getting up, going to work, coming home, visiting with friends, as though nothing has changed in our world. But actually a great deal has changed. We now know our our leaders possess unlimited power during war time, because John Yoo says so, and since there is no end to our wars in this century, there will be no limits to executive power, by definition. As David Cole said, thanks to John Yoo, the President can now commit everything up to and including genocide. Nothing seems to have changed, but everything has changed. Most of us were brought up to consider ourselves citizens of a democratic country; now we are dangerously close to being mere subjects of a monarchical leader, whose powers know no bounds.