Obama just admitted that the United States tortured people. Apparently, he’s softening up the public for the imminent release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the CIA. The Committee’s report “will reveal new and shocking details about the CIA’s detention, rendition and interrogation program in the years following the 9/11 attacks,” according to people who have seen or been briefed on the report.
The media, in classic form, is distracting the public from the actual issue of torture by focusing on the issue of CIA spying on the Senate. However, internal disputes between the Senate and the executive branch are irrelevant, because both are complicit in torture. For example, immediately after 9/11, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was fully briefed on the use of so-called “harsh interrogation techniques” – what Obama now identifies as “torture.”
Predictably, John Yoo, a lawyer and adviser of President George W. Bush, is already part of this debate, stating that his “general sympathies” are with the CIA. That is not surprising since John Yoo’s fingerprints are all over the legal memoranda allegedly justifying techniques Obama now identifies as torture.
Yoo was the principal author on the memoranda that allegedly provided the legal basis for the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation/torture immediately after 9/11. This is the time frame during which, Obama says, torture occurred.
Yoo’s legal memos also influenced interrogation techniques used by the military. In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of the Department of Defense established a Working Group to investigate the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. The Working Group was ordered to “consider a legal memo dated March 14, 2003, from John Yoo of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) as authoritative.”  Not surprisingly, the Working Group approved several enhanced interrogation techniques. These techniques have been linked to abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. 
Obama’s admission that the United States engaged in torture is an “admission” and would be admissible as credible evidence in a court of law. Obama is the head of the executive branch, and the OLC, where John Yoo worked, is also part of the executive branch. Thus, Obama’s admission reflects back to the Office of Legal Counsel and directly to John Yoo, as the principal author of the Torture Memos.
Yet, Yoo continues to teach law at UC Berkeley School of Law. Christopher Edley, while dean of Berkeley Law School, stated that investigation of Yoo would be appropriate if there was “clear professional misconduct.” Meaning, was there “some breach of the professional ethics applicable to a government attorney – material to Professor Yoo’s academic position? Did the writing of the memoranda and his related conduct violate a criminal or comparable statute?”
Based on Obama’s admission that the United States engaged in torture, there is credible evidence that Yoo’s memoranda, in addition to being just plain bad, and legally inadequate, violated the law.
Sujit Choudry, the new dean of Berkeley Law, understands that torture is morally, ethically and legally wrong. While working for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Choudry represented a Guantanamo detainee against the Canadian government, in a case based on human rights abuses that occurred at Guantanamo. Obama’s admission is yet one more reason Berkeley Law should open an investigation into John Yoo.
On the outside of UC Berkeley Law School there is a quote from Justice Cardozo, stating students “will study the wisdom of the past [and] the precepts of justice.” It’s time for UC Berkeley Law to either investigate John Yoo, or remove Cardozo’s words, and replace them with “Silence is Complicity.”
1. “U.S. Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody,” (Nov. 20 2008) pg. xxvii, Conclusion 14.
2. Id., pg. xxvii-xxix, Conclusion 15.
Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.
Truthout is widely read among people with lower incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.
We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so — especially now, because we have just 8 days left to raise $45,000 in critical funds.
We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?