The Prison Scandal’s Cal Roots

That Bush administration memo about ignoring the Geneva Convention came from a UC Berkeley law professor. Ladies and gentlemen, meet John Yoo.

In the last few weeks, the national press has reported that John Yoo, a UC Berkeley professor of international law, helped the Bush administration get around the Geneva Convention while serving as an attorney in John Ashcroft’s Justice Department. In January 2002, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Yoo drafted a memo arguing that because al-Qaeda and the Taliban were essentially stateless entities, they could not be signatories to conventions of international law, and thus the United States had no obligation to afford them protections codified in the Geneva Convention. In a particularly clever twist, Yoo argued that while the federal government is not bound by international law, the Bush administration could put members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda on trial for violating international law. Now that’s some fancy lawyering.

Yoo’s modest proposal established the legal framework for interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation, environmental manipulation, and forced stress positions. Some people even claim the new interrogation policy led directly to human-rights abuses — and the occasional murder — at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

Now, some liberal activists at Cal have circulated a petition among Boalt law students, faculty, and alumni, demanding that Yoo repudiate his memo or resign. But his critics may not realize what sort of a man they’re dealing with. He has served as general counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee and clerked under Clarence Thomas, everyone’s favorite Supreme Court Justice. Under the Bush administration, Yoo helped write the PATRIOT Act, which has since gone down in history as the most civilized piece of legislation since the Nuremberg Laws.

Now comes to light the latest piece of evidence in the strange case of John Yoo. Ever since Boalt’s former Dean John Dwyer resigned amid charges he felt up a drunken law student, the institution has struggled to revise its faculty code of conduct. Mindful of Yoo’s insight and talent, interim Dean Robert Berring Jr. asked him to write a memo detailing his vision of what Boalt’s profs should and should not do to their students. As always, Yoo applied the sensitivity to individual dignity for which he has become so famous, and his memo bears every virtue we have come to expect from him. This paper recently acquired Yoo’s landmark document and is proud to present it to you, dear readers — unadulterated, absolutely 100 percent for real, and pure Yoo.

“To: Robert Berring

“From: John Yoo

“Re: Faculty conduct

“Recent so-called scandals involving Dean John Dwyer exercising his prerogative to extract a small measure of recompense from a student to whom he had given so much have, unfortunately, necessitated a reexamination of how the law school’s faculty treats its students. Before I list my recommendations, let me say a word about the character of the contemporary Boalt student. It is a sad reflection of our times that this venerable institution has been handed over to these future legal fedayeen, who sit at our feet, play the sycophant for three years, and move on to hound our giants of industry with class-action suits or frivolous civil-rights motions that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will surely treat with fatuous reverence. For too long, we have indulged their demands for faculty diversity, or workshops on Miranda case law, while they sharpen their stilettos at Cafe Strada and dream of flooding the courts with obsolete writs of habeas corpus. The wolf is at our door, and he comes bearing a subpoena.

“We live in perilous times, Mr. Berring. The world changed after September 11; we now face a war without end, against enemies without borders, who hate our love of freedom and democracy. They seek to destroy everything we hold dear in the service of their nihilist Islamo-fascism. And for every one of these evildoers we capture and interrogate, there will be a lawyer, probably a Boalt alumnus, who will seek to undermine our great crusade with disingenuous talk of human decency and the rights of the accused. Call them the evildoer-enablers.

“As you know, it is my considered opinion that members of al-Qaeda are stateless people, and as such have no recourse to the protections of international law. But the months I have spent back in Berkeley have led me to expand this notion. If the terrorists are stateless combatants, then their lawyers are, in a sense, stateless lawyers. And if these are stateless lawyers, then cannot the future lawyers of Boalt be considered stateless law students?

“I think you see where I’m going here. Clearly, the constitution did not intend to extend the rights of citizenship to people who may someday take up the legal cause of terrorism. In the name of national security, Boalt faculty must implement a regimen of tough love that will strip the squishy human-rights sentiments from our students, and forge in the fires of our discipline a new breed of lawyer. And fortunately, my analysis gives us all the extralegal tools we need to do just that.

“First, we need to impress upon the Boalt community that a new day is dawning. Unfortunately, sleep deprivation will have diminished returns on our students, since they already are inured to the procedure from one too many cram sessions. If we are to undo years of liberal indoctrination at Cal, we must employ some of the tactics we refined in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since their hormones are raging anyway, I suggest a rigorous application of the more erotic punishments that have worked so well for us overseas. We could even tailor the humiliation to the curriculum; anyone who fails to recall the substance of Antonin Scalia’s dissent in the recent sodomy ruling, for example, won’t make the same mistake again after we school them in the art of anal violation.

“Of course, we’ll need to stock up on leashes, hoods, and attack dogs, so the procurement division will have to be involved in the earliest stages. And we’ll need a kennel to house our canine counterparts, and space on campus is at a premium. Converting the law school’s death penalty clinic into a new home for our rottweilers and German shepherds sounds like a perfect plan to me; after all, Boalt students won’t be defending any capital cases once we’re through with them.

“Some of our faculty will inevitably object to these new guidelines, but I think we can contain the fallout. In any event, we don’t need their permission — we have the constitution and the body of international law on our side. My analysis of the Geneva Convention’s bailiwick is sound, and our cause is just. Together, we will use any means necessary to end the scourge of civil rights lawyers cluttering the courts with their specious references to the Fourth Amendment. As for any Boalt faculty members who may object, I have one thing to say to them: You’re either with us, or with the terrorists.”

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