A crowd gathered Thursday on Bancroft Way outside UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law to denounce the United States’ role in torture, the centralization of federal power in the executive branch and Boalt Hall Professor John Yoo, the man protesters condemn as the author of these policies.
“Some of you know that John Yoo, who is on the faculty here at Boalt Law School, is the primary legal architect of the torture policy and of the policy that the president is above the law,” said Graduate Theological Union instructor Taigen Leighton, speaking at the vigil and teach-in that drew more than 30 people.
Although Yoo is away on sabbatical for the spring semester, protesters have held vigils weekly since early February to remind the campus community that the former Bush advisor works among them, organizers said, underscoring that they seek to challenge Yoo’s ideas, not to limit his academic freedom.
The Daily Planet was unsuccessful in attempts to reach Yoo by e-mail for comment. Calls to the dean of the law school and the law school public information office were not answered before deadline.
Yoo, who joined the law school faculty in 1993, is known for the “torture memo” he wrote when working at the Department of Justice in 2002, arguing that fighters captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan are not covered by the Geneva Conventions, which make mistreatment of prisoners of war illegal.
George W. Bush has also relied on Yoo’s legal advice to argue that wiretap laws do not apply to the president.
Speaking at the vigil, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Davis Riemer said that Bush’s move to consolidate power in the executive, “if left unchallenged, will leave a legacy that will fundamentally alter the balance of power in our constitutional democracy.”
A strong judiciary is required in questions of surveillance, he said.
Warrantless wiretaps “sound like the George against whom we fought the Revolutionary War, not like the George we would elect in a democratic process,” he said.
Most of the protesters Thursday were affiliated with one of the organizing groups—American Friends Service Committee, The World Can’t Wait, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Code Pink, St. Joseph the Worker Social Justice Committee and others.
Few students stopped to listen to the speakers or view the images of torture victims. Ima Davis, with The World Can’t Wait organization, said she was demoralized “passing out flyers and people just passing by. I’ve been noticing that these people, who are my peers—because they’re just about my age—are not taking flyers and just walking by, or even acknowledging that torturing is going on or stopping to find out what is happening right now.
“It will keep on happening if people don’t come out and speak out against it. That’s what I’m trying to do,” Davis said.
The Thursday protests continue through May. On April 14 Andres Contera, on the staff of the radio news magazine “Democracy Now!,” and whose family was tortured in Uruguay, will speak at 4:30 p.m. about United States’ torture in Latin American and the relevance to Bush’s torture policy today. Information can be found on the Buddhist Peace Fellowship web site.
Photograph by Judith Scherr
Craig McClaeb is among protesters Thursday at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall condemning Professor John Yoo, whose legal advice to the president has permitted torture of prisoners.