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Boalt Vigil Decries Yoo’s Defense of Torture

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday October 27, 2006

Scenes from the Abu Ghraib prison torture came to life in front of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall Law School on Tuesday, as students and professors turned up to mark “Bush Crimes Day” and protest against Boalt professor John Yoo’s Oct. 19 attack on the independent judiciary in the Wall Street Journal. 

Dressed in black hoods and orange prison garb, student activists from The World Can't Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime! enacted the infamous photo of hooded Iraqi prisoners being electrocuted at Abu Ghraib. 

World Can’t Wait! along with Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton of the Berkeley Graduate Theological Union, has been holding weekly “Teach-Ins and Vigils Against American Torture and the Dictatorial Presidency” in front of the Boalt Hall Law School since February.  

Tuesday’s participants included Boalt Hall Law Professor Emeritus Robert Cole, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and Ann Wright, former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Mongolia, who resigned in protest of the Iraq War. 

“We meet at Boalt Hall Law School today because its Professor John Yoo is a primary legal architect, through the infamous ‘torture memo’ he wrote, of the Bush Torture program,” said Leighton. 

“It is only because of the highly controversial opinions of John Yoo, who defines ‘torture’ as limited to death or destruction of major organs, that President Bush can now claim that we do not torture,” Leighton said. “Professor Yoo teaches at UC Berkeley without the university disassociating itself from his views, which include condoning the torture of children. We do not seek to limit John Yoo’s academic freedom but to express our strong objection to the torture and unlimited presidential powers he advocates.” 

Participants rallied against Yoo’s celebratory letter to the Wall Street Journal editorial page which supported the Military Commissions Act that was signed by President Bush last week. The act’s relationship to larger issues of the administration’s policies and politics were also discussed. 

Leighton read excerpts from Yoo’s letter in the newspaper, which stated: 

“During the bitter controversy over the military commission bill, which President Bush signed into law on Tuesday, most of the press and the professional punditry missed the big story. In the struggle for power between the three branches of government, it is not the presidency that ‘won.’ Instead, it is the judiciary that lost. The new law is, above all, a stinging rebuke to the Supreme Court. It strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear any habeas corpus claim filed by any alien enemy combatant anywhere in the world.” 

Yoo’s letter also said that the U.S. Supreme Court had “gotten away with many broad assertions of judicial authority before,” which drew protests from several attendees. 

Professor Cole, who teaches Constitutional Law at Boalt Hall, said that the Military Commissions Act would place the Bush administration beyond checks and balances and would de-facto abolish the writ of habeas corpus, the basis for law and order in the Western world since the Magna Carta in 1215. 

According to Cole, the act, which did not have any standards about where the prisoners would be held or how long they would be held, was creating a system of “incognito detention.” 

“The act defines ‘torture’ as severe infliction of pain,” he said. “However it says that disputed degrees of torture can be done for information. What could mean torture to someone, might not be torture to the U.S. government. Therein lies the heart of the evil.” 

Cole drew praise from several attendees, including Ellsberg, for being the first professor to step out of Boalt Hall to protest against Yoo. 

“Why aren’t there more students and professors from the Law School protesting out here today?” asked Ellsberg. “These are the very people who are supposed to be saving us.” 

Ann Wright called the Military Commissions Act a “travesty of the legal system of the United States.”