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When Laws Don't Apply

Our Readers Who Comment are up in arms today about John C. Yoo's 2003 legal memo that said military interrogators could ignore laws against tactics often regarded as torture when questioning al-Queda captives because the president's authority as commander in chief overrode such statutes.

The 81-page memo, Dan Eggen reports, "provided the legal foundation for the Defense Department's use of aggressive interrogation practices at a crucial time, as captives poured into military jails from Afghanistan and U.S. forces prepared to invade Iraq." The memo was subsequently withdrawn, but is regarded as providing the legal underpinnings for abuses that occurred at Abu Graib.

Support for the memo is hard to find in the more than 250 comments our readers have filed. Almost all of them express some level of outrage. There are calls for impeachment of President Bush; some wonder where Congress has been; others question what a university such as UC-Berkeley is doing with Yoo on its faculty; and some suggest that Yoo should be prosecuted, presumably for having opinions others dislike. This is not a happy crowd.

We'll start with fishingriver, who said that "By the time America finds itself undecided as to whether or not torture is ok, we are already knee deep in depravity... five years after this memo, the media still refuses to call waterboarding torture and the Republicans have made committing torture an accepted element of their party's position on national security."

athome wrote, "This material is legitinate grist for a congressional investigation. If the President signed-off on this illegal practice, he should be subject to legal action -- while in office or after."

barbnc said, "Well so much for a nation of laws. I didn't realize that we had a dictator not a president. When is the congress going to impeach Bush?"

One of the few supportive comments comes from mikelliott, who said, "Without such a memo in effect authorities would have gotten nowhere in their interrogation of that despicably-evil creep, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the master-mind of the 911 attacks."

mgibbosh wrote, "...From the looks of it we could kill during interrogation procedures and the president could sign off on it as being in the national interest whether or not the individual proved to be a terrorist or a civilian captured by mistake..."

RichardCheeseman suggested, "Give Mr Yoo a fair trial, then send him to jail."

stacydclove said, "I see a lot of comments against Bush, and rightly so. But where is everyone's anger towards our own Congress, the members of which are allowing this disgarceful and illegal activity??... When are Americans going to take a stand and stop allowing their government to bring this shame upon them?"

e9999999 wrote that "if the president exceeds his authority, he should be impeached. and if the torturers follow his orders, they should be tried and convicted."

RhumbLine said, "...This bigger issue however is the public allowing this behavior and not demanding accountability from their government, military, or military industrial complex."

greg_cunneen wrote, "Yoo's argument... could just as easily have been used against any enemy or by any enemy in any conflict in the past. It was a war crime then, and still is now, no ifs or buts. Disgraceful."

rc53 said, "...This administration has traded our honor for some false sense of security. The rest of the world now sees the USA as a nation of torturers. We have become our enemy."

pggift said, "I think UC Berkeley needs to really rethink if they want this Yoo fellow teaching there. One would think that the UC Berkeley Law School would want someone who had a basic rudimentary grasp of the rule of law and a base working knowledge of the Constitution of the United States of America. Mr. Yoo has neither."

xira wrote that "The paper basically says, the new rule is... there are no rules when it comes to al-Qaeda, and we have ways of finding out if you are or not."

JohnBull1 said, "Yoo is a war criminal and must be prosecuted along with others who authorised or advocated the use of torture in breach of the UN Conventions Against Torture. Now - who has the courage to do it?"

swatkins1 suggested that "...Mr. Yoo would look great in an olive green outfit, huge oversized epaulets, one of those enormously big military hats with lots and lots of spaghetti on it, and his chest adorned with tons of fake medals... America's chief of national police under the Bush administration."

roysecondchance, looking to the future, wrote, "George Bush's America and the abandonment of our human rights good name-all in the cause of protecting the state. Very Pinochetesque and then some. McCain, Clinton,Obama you have a lot to undo."

We'lll close with a couple of the more creative suggestions.
First, from tristesse27 who said, "Mr Yoo and his cronies will get what's coming to them someday. Unfortunately, for the immediate future, he'll probably make millions of dollars going on Larry King and being a "consultant" on Fox News."

And SmithPM wrote, "This is nothing new: previously it known as the "Devine Right of Kings." Presumably George discussed it during one of his heart to heart talks with his other father..."

All comments on the Yoo memo article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  April 2, 2008; 9:05 AM ET
Categories:  Intelligence  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Obama-McCain Letter Exchange
Next: Who Is Being Harrassed?

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As is true throughout human history, there are both composers and decomposers. Most often it is rather simple to determine who is who.

Kurt Turrell
Great Ideas Blog

Posted by: kurttime | April 21, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse

"We encourage users to analyze, comment on and EVEN CHALLENGE washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features."

oooh! daring!

Posted by: KentL1 | April 6, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

The great experiment is over. Welcome to fascism, America.

Posted by: Bob | April 3, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse

"Claiming opinions over-rule the law"...this needs to be sent to every cable news pundit. All we have are opinions on everything from signing statements to torture to war etc. Someone with a knowledge of law really needs to explain opionions vs. the law.
I have opinions about a lot of laws but I do not break the law. The same should hold true for those in an elected office.

Posted by: Mary Hough | April 3, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

The things I do and say are due to the fact that if I was treated like I should be I wouldn't have to say terrible things, but It is so morbid now I'm used to it. I am losing my faith in our country not by choice. I will continue to struggle but am taking note on what happens from here on out. So whatever is said about my family is wrong and I will not think help is on the way until I have my commission and earnest deposit given to me. otherwise I am to busy to help a lost cause .

Posted by: Scott Allen West | April 3, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

The biggest shame is that we have elements at the top of our government who believe there is nothing wrong with breaking the laws of the USA or international laws and that the end always justifies the means and that our society has not been able to keep men like that from getting elected to office and eliminating them from public life.

Posted by: Jim | April 2, 2008 7:10 PM | Report abuse

What happens when Bush wants to stay in the White House? What are you going to do then? One should always look to where the little step are taking us to, or was it all done just to steal as much of our money as he could? We all have less money, less power over our lives and our good name is badly tarred. America how did we let this happen to you, to us.

Posted by: John Q | April 2, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

This country is governed by politics and politics is governed by the wealthy, NOT by the people. The wealthy will have their gold, no matter what the cost to those they own. Are the people of this country being treated any different than the slaves were in 1808? We're fed, we're housed, and we're owned. The wealthy make they're own laws. Democracy? I don't think so.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2008 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Talk about 'strange fruit'...

if we don't put these self-anointed and self-justifying perverts (and not just Yoo, but to include the entire klaven of White House officials and their counsels and those at Pentagon and elsewhere who are complicit in this criminal disgrace) on trial, then we as a generation can take the walk of historical shame we will then deserve along with our ancestors who were willing (or silent) participants in Salem, Wounded Knee, sending our fellow citizens of Japanese ancestry to the concentration camps of Arizona and Idaho, and pretending not to notice as white-sheeted murderers hung black kids on trees.

for starters, how is it possible our legal profession hasn't begun disbarment against all of those directly involved in a clear outrage against the law and all notions of decency?

how can students of conscience allow John Yoo to walk about freely teaching law in Berkeley without some 24-hour procession following behind him hissing and holding up large signs reading "Shame!"?

When it comes to civic responsibility, the youth of today are apparently not worth a rat's bottom - nor are their fearful and miserable and morally corrupt parents who seem content to allow a shameful national disgrace to remain unpunished.

Good Lord; has come to the point where we Americans need to wear paper hats of shame over our faces whenever we go outside our national border? What a pack of jackals our noble founders have spawned.

[watch as this administration's apologist maggots feeding on our body politic try to explain how all of this is just 'partisan politics' -- yeah, 'partisan' alright, a case of human beings of principle against flagwaving criminal maggots]

Posted by: ithejury | April 2, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

"some suggest that Yoo should be prosecuted, presumably for having opinions others dislike."

What an utterly insulting comment... methinks you don't grasp the magnitude of the situation. I won't waste my time trying to lay it out... others have already done a much better job than I could do. But, I want to add my voice to the chorus of patriotic Americans who say that any defense of torture, even a subtly veiled defense such as yours, is unacceptable.

Posted by: dave | April 2, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Don't be glib, this is not about Yoo having opinions we don't like. Such a casual dismissal of the seriousness of this matter is insulting to your readers. It gives the impression that you are corrupted by the criminal amorality into which our political and media elites in Washington have sunk so deep that they can't see how far gone their souls are.

The Nazis were the first to develop the euphemism of 'enhanced interrogation' for torture of people considered to be either domestic or foreign threats, with detailed procedures, regulations and legal framework. 'Enhanced interrogation' included most of the techniques the US is using now -- however, water-boarding was initially considered out of bounds even for the Nazis (although they did start using it as the war went on and, of course, for Jews, Gipsies, and other 'sub-humans' the rules were altogether different).

We sentenced and executed the people who set up the Nazi regulatory framework for 'enhanced interrogation'. If we are to keep with our own historical standards set a Nuremberg, why shouldn't Yoo and several other people in this Administration be candidates for death row? (I'd rather see the death penalty abolished, but this is a case where, for once, the deterrence argument might actually make sense.)

Posted by: mz | April 2, 2008 2:00 PM | Report abuse

So, people are just NOW waking up to the fact that we now live under dictatorship??? Wow, we really ARE a stupid country!

Posted by: Thomas Mc | April 2, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I really don't know of a better argument against abrogating the Laws against torture than that which is presented in the film, "A Man for All Seasons." Below is the conversation between
Sir Thomas More and William Roper:

"Margaret More: Father, that man's bad.
Sir Thomas More: There's no law against that.
William Roper: There is: God's law.
Sir Thomas More: Then God can arrest him.

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"


America is a Nation of Laws. If the Law of Mankind make it more difficult to get information from an enemy, and it doesn't really do that, then so be it. I therefore cannot agree with those in this comment line who would do anything to get information.

Mr. Yoo doesn't understand what it means to be an American and to follow American Law and international law. If this memo was sent to one of the many dictators our country supports and was leaked to the press, our President would be the first to criticize it as advocating barbaric behavior in violation of American and international law.

Posted by: Joel Friedlander | April 2, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Btw, there are US soldiers who went to jail for doing what Mr. Bush and Mr. Yoo authorized(Pvt. Lyndie England, etc.). Why shouldn't Bush and Yoo be jailed also?

Posted by: john | April 2, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

George Orwell must be smiling from wherever he is. He understood this issue so well. Someone in the Inner Party writes the rules and the Outer Party carries them out via the Thought Police. Room 101 exists and what's in it is clear. "You know what's in Room 101, Winston. Everyone does." Room 101 is "the worst thing in the world."

Well this country has been sent to Room 101 to face the worst thing in the world -- the destruction of the Constitution that shapes our country and the values that have informed what we do since 1789.

Posted by: Karen, New York | April 2, 2008 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Memo To Leonard Downie, Jr.:
The word is TORTURE.
NOT "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques".
TORTURE.
If you are unable to understand the difference, then you need to find a new job...but then again, perhaps you already are working for Bush.

Posted by: Pol Pot | April 2, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

What the memo shows is that this Administration is comprised of individuals who have not gotten over Watergate.

During the Nixon/Ford Administrations, these individuals saw both the expansion and contraction of the concept of the "Imperial Presidency".

I find it gruesomely fascinating that these guys were ready to pounce with full force of their imagined powers when the 9/11 opportunity opened the way for them to exercise their wildest dreams. That of, unchecked power of the President.

The most ironic portion of this display is the methodology the Republicans chose.

As history notes, the Republicans sought to,and throttled the prior President via Impeachment using the very notion that "No one is above the law, not even the President".

It is obvious, that, that prosecution, was the shot over the bow, in their fight to recreate the Imperial Presidency, they were willing to illustrate the weakness of the office without such Imperial assumptions.

Which leads us to this next election, now that the Republicans have given this Imperial President powers that as yet have not been fully tested or their validity ascertained by our Legal system one wonders, how transparent their effort to diminish the power held by that office will be, should they lose it in the next election.

The ultimate irony would be for the next President to declare the former President an "enemy combatant".

I think I can read those powers into Mr Yoo's memo. How about you?

Posted by: wmc418 | April 2, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I wonder who wrote the memo authorising the firing of U.S. attorneys for political reasons? And who wrote the memo authorizing the use of wiretaps without getting warrants? The Bush administration violates the law and then finds some morally bankrupt lawyer to write a "legal opinion" that is in reality, little more than a flimsy cover story designed to give their lawbreaking the appearance of legality. I want to see prosecutions for anyone who violated the law under this administration, up to and including the President.

Posted by: view from the couch | April 2, 2008 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bush have provided a legal justification for dictators to torture their citizens. How can Bush or any US President credibly condemn such behavior without having this memo thrown in their faces?

Posted by: dale | April 2, 2008 10:59 AM | Report abuse

What really, can we the public do about this? Sure we can exercise our priviledge of voting them out, but it doesn't really cover the damage already done.

The only thing I can compare this to is Germany, late 30's to mid 40's.

Is anyone else entertaining the idea that we may never, as a nation, recover from this travesty?

Posted by: Kevin | April 2, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

"Some suggest that Yoo should be prosecuted, presumably for having opinions others dislike".

This is an utterly tendentious misrepresentation. Yoo certainly should be prosecuted - not for "having opinions that others dislike", but for BREAKING THE LAW. It is ILLEGAL for a lawyer to provide fake legal reasoning to a client to give that client cover for manifest lawbreaking, and lawyers have been prosecuted for it in the past. (See http://balkin.blogspot.com/2008/01/much-ado-about-padilla-v-yoo.html ). In Yoo's case the reasoning in his opinion is so bad, and so obviously designed to get around the clearly established law, that he could not have been offering it in good faith.

The alternative, of course, is that he was offering it in good faith, which might (conceivably) get him off the hook in a prosecution, but means that he certainly is not a good enough lawyer to be employed by Berkeley ...

Posted by: David | April 2, 2008 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Please. No one wants Yoo prosecuted for his opinions, they want him prosecuted for claiming his opinions over-ruled the law. He authorized torture for the love of Pete, is that so hard to condemn?

Posted by: Bullsmith | April 2, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

the good news:
The Memo was rescinded shortly after it was publushed.
The bad news:
It was republished in the form of the Abu Ghraib photos......

Posted by: Paul Dirks | April 2, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Washington Post writes with finger on hood of abandoned car:"Wash me"

Posted by: Kentl1 | April 2, 2008 9:51 AM | Report abuse

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