Public Comment

Neighborhood Alert: Berkeley Home to Possible War Criminal

By Cynthia Papermaster
Thursday May 28, 2009 - 07:12:00 PM

From time to time I receive alerts, usually by email, from the Berkeley Police Department and neighborhood groups, about criminal activity in Berkeley. I like getting this information. It helps me be on the lookout for criminals and is a good reminder to lock my doors and windows. 

Last week the Grizzly Peak neighbors of John Yoo received a “Neighborhood Alert” regarding Professor Yoo, in the form of a flyer letting them know he lives among them and providing information about his crimes, namely providing unethical and shoddy legal advice and cover to Bybee, Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, etc. for illegal interrogation methods and the inhumane, degrading treatment of detainees—“unethical” because Yoo advocates breaking the law and “shoddy” because the memos were so ineptly crafted that they were repudiated and rescinded. 

Unlike a sexual predator or burglar, Mr. Yoo is a criminal whom the police are not likely to point out to Berkeley citizens, though his crimes are horrific. Why am I calling him a criminal when he hasn’t (yet) been prosecuted?  

As the National Lawyers Guild says: “As shown in the Nuremberg trials, powerful leaders can and do engage in illegal acts and inhumane treatment of others. These leaders rely on lawyers and the legal system to give the appearance of legitimacy to an illegal agenda. Sadly, there always seem to be lawyers willing to do the bidding of powerful rulers.”  

Like the lawyers who were found guilty and convicted at Nuremburg, Yoo enabled policies that caused untold agony to hundreds of human beings caught in the net of our “War on Terror.” Because of Yoo’s actions perhaps a hundred or more detainees have been killed, many of them completely innocent of any wrongdoing. We’ve all heard about the “enhanced techniques” which Yoo said are legal—stripping men naked, forcing them to stand for 40 hours chained to the ceiling, sexual degradations, sensory deprivation, “walling” (slamming against a wall), waterboarding.  

Yoo is dead wrong, of course. All of these are completely illegal under United States law, not even the President is exempt if he practices these “techniques” by sanctioning them. 

Contrary to Yoo’s frequent public assertions that he was helping to prevent another attack after 9/11, evidence shows that detainees such as Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi were tortured to get intelligence linking al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein in order to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq. A bipartisan report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that al-Libi “lied [about the Iraq link] to avoid torture.” Thus Yoo directly helped Cheney and Bush make the false claims that lead us into the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, which in turn has lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries, displaced populations, and cost billions of dollars we could have spent instead on health care, environmental protection, education, and infrastructure. 

This is all on John Yoo’s head, a man who smirks about the “People’s Republic of Berkeley,” implying that Berkeley’s values of peace and justice are nutty, is unapologetic about his role in this tragedy, and who has tenure at our public university, where we are paying him more than $200,000 a year to teach our future lawyers, and who lives in our community as if this is perfectly normal and acceptable. 

I question the acceptability of sheltering a war criminal in Berkeley. I don’t feel safe living in the vicinity of someone who believes torture is legal. Furthermore, Yoo has made all of our lives even more unsafe by inflaming hatred worldwide against our country and endangering American lives everywhere. I resent Yoo immensely for making me feel so ashamed of what has been done in my name. He has robbed me of my pride in my country and alma mater. Shame on UC! I won’t give another penny to the university as long as Yoo works there, but I’d write a check immediately to help buy out Yoo’s contract. 

I asked myself what I could do with my shame and anger and I decided that I could assist the huge efforts underway to have him disbarred, fired and prosecuted. 

Both The National Lawyers Guild and Voters for Peace have filed ethics complaints with Pennsylvania State Bar asking them to investigate him. A Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility report recommends that state bar associations conduct a review of his legal work for possible disciplinary action, including disbarment. 

A number of groups, including students, alumni, professors and staff, are working to have him fired from UC. Dean Edley of the law school should ask Yoo to leave now. Yoo doesn’t have to be convicted or disbarred first. Also there’s a national campaign calling for Yoo to be fired by the Philadelphia Inquirer (see 

Members of Congress and the public are asking for a special prosecutor and/or a commission to investigate and bring charges. Berkeley City Council passed a resolution asking the DOJ to prosecute him. Yoo is the defendant in a civil lawsuit in the Northern District of California brought by Jose Padilla, who argues that he was tortured and abused as a result of Yoo’s memoranda. Spanish jurist Baltazar Garzon is pushing for criminal prosecutions of Yoo and other “torture lawyers.” 

Numerous groups are working on accountability for Yoo, among them People for the American Way, ACLU, Act Against Torture, Human Rights First, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, MoveOn,, CREDO, World Can’t Wait, the National Lawyers Guild Committee Against Torture, CODEPINK, Progressive Democrats of America, Voters for Peace, Common Cause, and 

Finally, there is a growing group of Berkeley citizens who are standing in witness in front of Yoo’s house on a weekly basis, starting this Sunday, May 31, at 2 p.m. Join this group on Grizzly Peak for an hour or so. If there’s any justice in this world John Yoo is going to have problems living a normal life now, unless he apologizes to us all. 


Cynthia Papermaster is a Berkeley resident.