Silence Plus Torture Equals Complicity, Billboard Says

By Judith Scherr
Friday August 01, 2008 - 04:43:00 PM

Peace activists have taken a page from the book of Budweiser and—in addition to using the web and other modern means—are spreading their message by old fashioned billboard advertising.  

“Silence + torture = complicity,” says the billboard above Round Table Pizza on University Avenue near Milvia Street, its orange background evocative of the Abu Graib prisoner jumpsuits. 

That billboard is not exactly what activists had envisioned. They wanted an image of a torture victim and the words: “Fire John Yoo,” with a link to firejohnyoo.org, said Giovanni Jackson, of the Fire John Yoo Coalition. 

The coalition is made up of the World Can’t Wait, the Coalition for an Ethical American Psychological Association, Act Against Torture, the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute and individuals such as Elliot Cohen from the Peace and Justice Commission and Gray Brechin, noted author and UC Berkeley geography professor 

They thought that at the $500 per month billboard rent, they could craft the message as they saw fit. 

However, billboard companies, it appears, get to control the message. CBS Outdoor, who owns the billboard, turned down the originally proposed “Fire John Yoo” billboard, but accepted the other, Jackson said. 

CBS Outdoor did not return Planet calls or e-mails for an explanation. 

John Yoo is the UC Berkeley law professor who, when working for the Bush administration, wrote documents that many people—the National Lawyers Guild among them—say lay the foundation for rationalization of torture of prisoners that has taken place in Iraq. 

On Thursday evening, a group of young people stood on the University Avenue median displaying a large “fire John Yoo” banner. They got positive “honks” from cars going by, though it’s not clear if the drivers linked the banner to the billboard above. 

Elliot Cohen of the Peace and Justice Commission came out to support those holding the banner. He told the Planet that his commission had passed a resolution on July 7 calling on the university to investigate Yoo and to demand that classes required for graduation taught by Yoo would also be taught by another professor, so that students would not be forced to study with Yoo.. 

The resolution will go to the City Council in September. 

In a phone interview Friday, Brechin told the Planet he has worked to fire John Yoo for several years, demonstrating outside Yoo’s classroom and at Sproul Plaza. He said he was disappointed that the university faculty and students don’t seem bothered by Yoo’s presence on campus. 

The university’s silence on the question of Yoo makes it complicit with torture, Brechin said. 

The dean of Boalt Hall has refused to take up the issue of firing Yoo. “He said his hands are tied,” Brechin said. [See Dean Christopher Edley, Jr.’s letter at http://www.law.berkeley.edu/news/2008/edley041008.html in which he points to academic freedom among the reasons for not firing Yoo.] 

Brechin said Edley argued that Yoo would have to be convicted of a criminal act to be fired, but, said Brechin: “The federal courts are so corrupted, so politicized, that won’t happen.” 

For more information see firejohnyoo.org.