Sunday, April 27, 2008

Justice Department Lawyers: Our Interpretation of the Geneva Conventions Allows for Torture

According to the New York Times
, "While the Geneva Conventions prohibit 'outrages upon personal dignity,' a letter sent by the Justice Department to Congress on March 5 makes clear that the administration has not drawn a precise line in deciding which interrogation methods would violate that standard, and is reserving the right to make case-by-case judgments."

The idea, according to these infamous attorneys, is that conduct that is "outrageous" should be interpreted in light of the threat. If an interrogator is trying to thwart a terrorist attack it should be judged accordingly.

In the letter, deputy assistant attorney general Brian A. Benczkowski writes, "The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act."

This logic is absurd. These illegal acts, particularly as part of interrogation, are always used to try and find out some information that may thwart some sort of attack or at least help the interrogator's side win, not simply to humiliate or abuse (although that may be a big side benefit for the sickos at the CIA). Didn't Japanese prisoners in the 1940's potentially have information about future attacks? It wouldn't have been outrageous, then, to electrocute their genitals to help protect the Homeland would it?

The liberal media, NYTimes, goes on to state, "Determining the legal boundaries for interrogating terrorism suspects has been a struggle for the Bush administration." They have indeed struggled, not unlike the struggles that foreign suspects, often completely innocent, have gone through when they are suffocated, stripped naked, and kicked on a concrete floor. I can see those Justice Department lawyers sitting in their suits and ties struggling to work all this out with the Bush Administration. Poor guys.

It is no surprise that this logic is seeping into the loosening bounds on law enforcement in this country. Why should police be forced to "knock and announce" if they are really trying to protect the community from some imminent threat?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

War Crimes Start at the Top
Professor John Yoo Should be Dismissed From Boalt Law School-And Prosecuted
at Counterpunch and Dissident Voice


War crimes start at the top. The torture and deaths at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo; the humiliation of Iraqi and Afghani detainees in the field; extraordinary rendition; the indiscriminate killing by rifles and cluster bombs; these are becoming the new norms of war for which the leaders in the United States are responsible. And as with the war crimes of the past, the spilling of blood began with the spilling of ink. The most culpable are not the young foot soldiers in fatigues holding a naked prisoner with a dog leash; they are the men and women in suits who craft the policies.

John Yoo is one of those men in suits, and it is disgraceful that he is paid by the people of California to shape the law and young minds at one of our most distinguished law schools. As an organization, the National Lawyers Guild released a press release in April stating that Yoo ought to be tried as a war criminal and dismissed by the University of California Berkeley - Boalt Hall, where he is currently a law professor.

Academic freedom is a serious issue and must be addressed in this debate. We've all seen how universities have used tenure and other means to fire and at least attempt to silence leftist academics. But just because University officials have a bad track record when it comes to hiring, firing and promoting professors, doesn't mean we shouldn't push them to do the right thing when the circumstances call for it. In this case, we should acknowledge that the University ought to provide due process, despite the fact that victims of Yoo's legal framework lacked such protection. However, we should urge University officials to move forward with the normal proceedings for dismissing a professor, taking into consideration the seriousness of the harm caused and the power Yoo had in crafting his memoranda.

According to Dean Christopher Edley, neither the harm caused nor the power and responsibility a professor wields constitute the test for taking action against Yoo. As Edley wrote on the Boalt website: "As a legal matter, the test here is the relevant excerpt from the 'General University Policy Regarding Academic Appointees', adopted for the 10-campus University of California by both the system-wide Academic Senate and the Board of Regents: Types of unacceptable conduct: … Commission of a criminal act which has led to conviction in a court of law and which clearly demonstrates unfitness to continue as a member of the faculty."

In this case Yoo clearly violated the second part of the standard put forth by Edley, but he has yet to be convicted of a crime by any court of law. It shouldn't matter. The same Personnel Manual Edley sites states that "Other types of serious misconduct, not specifically enumerated herein, may nonetheless be the basis for disciplinary action ..." It also specifically states as a reason for discipline: "Serious violation of University policies governing the professional conduct of faculty, including but not limited to policies applying to research, outside professional activities, conflicts of commitment, clinical practices, violence in the workplace, and whistleblower protections."

There are a lot of facts for Boalt Hall to consider in the course of a fair hearing. His memoranda and other evidence have been presented in the public domain, and Yoo has not distanced himself from any of it. Hopefully a court of law will eventually come to the conclusion that he (and Rumsfeld, Gonzalez, Bush, Cheney, is guilty of a crime, but it isn't clear that the right-leaning justice system in this country will take action without a great deal of pressure, if at all. Regardless, the law is pretty clear about how such prisoners should be treated. More importantly, the fact that Yoo ignored important and universal moral principles in the substance of his memoranda, and the very decision to submit his memoranda knowing what the consequences would be, is shocking. If the University of California discovered that a UCSF medical professor had knowingly contributed to illegal research that harmed human subjects, would they allow her to continue teaching? I sincerely hope not, and depending on the facts, I would urge them to take some sort of action, even if this hypothetical professor had yet to be prosecuted or convicted of any crime.

Boalt ought to also consider the power and responsibility Yoo had when he wrote his memoranda. He wasn't writing an opinion for a small business or county government. He was writing for the most powerful military and most powerful regime on the planet as they engaged in a global war; and he was writing about prisoners who were already captured and fully secured.

The other very live question that lawyers and legal scholars are asking is whether attorneys should face criminal consequences for their purely professional conduct. But this presumes that the issue is merely one of bad or faulty legal advice or that the act is one that falls fully within Yoo's professional conduct. In this case the analogy is more like a lawyer advising his client that committing assault is perfectly legal, where assaulting someone is both illegal and immoral, and the attorney is really just trying to push the limits of the law to provide cover for his client's beating up someone.

There is precedent for criminal liability against attorneys in circumstances not unlike the Yoo case. Philippe Sands, among others, has recently revisited the Nuremberg case of United States v. Altstoetter in a scathing two-part story in Vanity Fair called "The Green Light." Sands writes that the case "had been prosecuted by the Allies to establish the principle that lawyers and judges in the Nazi regime bore a particular responsibility for the regime's crimes." The principal defendant in that case was imprisoned for five years, primarily for performing as an attorney - giving legal advice (or more accurately legal cover) for the "disappearing" of political opponents of the Nazi regime.

John Yoo created a legal framework that would allow torture; and just like the lawyerly work that led to convictions in Altstoetter, it wasn't done as a purely academic or philosophical exercise. He created this framework to enable torturers; to give cover and help set in motion policies that would directly lead to the pain, suffering and death of prisoners held by the United States against accepted international law. This is why Yoo ought to be dismissed by Boalt, disbarred, and prosecuted for war crimes.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I Ride My New Bike 5.6 Miles to Work

P4070042Not every day, but at least a couple of times a week. Coming back has more uphill parts, so its harder. But I travel over 11 miles a day by bike when I bike to work. I figured it out using this website.

Remarkably, and surprisingly to me, when I go running to and through Golden Gate Park and back, I run over 5.8 miles. That's still not even 1/5 of a marathon though.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Absolut Ad Stirs Controversy With People Who Prefer Moonshine

Read more from the LA Times.

Here's one comment that appears reasonable: "An ad that redraws borders based on some nationalistic fantasy is inappropriate. And no, it doesn't matter that the ad only ran in Mexico. What if Absolut ran an ad in the Deep South showing 'an Absolut World' with the Confederate States of America? Some Southerners still fantasize about that, but it wouldn't make the ad acceptable. Or how about running an ad in Miami showing Cuba as the 51st state? People in Havana would have every right to be offended. I object when our government doesn't respect national sovereignty, and I expect people in other nations to do likewise."

OK but the Confederacy existed to protect slavery - so of course celebrating that is offensive; and Cuba as the 51st state would be glorifying imperialism - regardless of what you think about the Cuban revolution, what would give the U.S. the right to conquer Cuba and make it our 51st state? This ad is not offensive because it is simply playing to a feeling among Mexicans that this land was unfairly taken from them by force, which it absolutely was during the Mexican-American War (talk about disrespect for national sovereignty).

This ad is pretty harmless and the more dangerous "nationalistic" attitude is coming from the Americans who are offended by a vodka advertisement that disrespects the old idea of manifest destiny and our brutal conquering of the American Southwest. How dare they!