Monday, December 29, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New York Times Pro-Israel Bias on Display Again

Israel began a bombing campaign against the people of Gaza, which they will always describe publicly as a campaign against Hamas. Keep in mind that the borders of Gaza, the flow of good in and out, the movement of people in and out, the air space, and the shore, are all completely controlled by Israel. Recognize that Israel enters Gaza at will, sometimes with boots on the ground, often with sophisticated aircraft. Gaza includes many people who were (or whose parents or grandparents were) forced out of their homes during the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel. Israel is the most powerful nation-state with the most powerful military in the region while Gaza is one of the most impoverished (largely because of Israel's actions) regions. Yet here is the photo on the New York Times homepage:

NYThomepage

Over 200 people killed in Gaza but the people in Israel are featured on the Times site. The story goes like this: Hamas wants to destroy Israel and they keep sending bombs into southern Israel terrorizing innocent people. Isreal, the innocent victim, has no choice but to take action. So Americans are shown images like this because we should sympathize with the Israelis not the Palestinians. It is emphasized in the subheadline that the attack is a response to the rocket attacks from Gaza - it is a fact that is worthy of headline status - not even up for debate. When the rocket attacks are reported, they are never described as a response to anything - not a response to missile strikes or to a blockade that is starving innocent children, just crazy, anti-Semitic terrorists who want to destroy Israel.

The Times reports: "A military operation had been forecast and demanded by Israeli officials for weeks, ever since a rocky cease-fire between Israel and Hamas fully collapsed a week ago, leading again to rocket attacks in large numbers against Israel and isolated Israeli operations here." But "rocket attacks in large numbers" are fairly meaningless when most if not all fall harmlessly in the desert because of their crude nature; on the other hand, "isolated Israeli operations" are very significant when carried out be a regional superpower with fighter jets, missiles and bombs (often paid for by American tax dollars). But the message Americans are given is of Israeli restraint and hysterical, diabolical actions by Palestinians.

This cannot end well for Gaza, but I'm hopeful Israel will not get everything it wants out of this operation.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Why Won't UC Berkeley Investigate John Yoo?

The National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, the organization I work for, has asked the University of California to "initiate an investigation into whether Professor Yoo’s 'outside professional conduct,' as an attorney of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, violated the Faculty Code of Conduct as set out in the University of California Academic Personnel Manual (Section 015)." The University, through a statement written by Law School Dean Edley, a letter written by Chancellor Birgeneau, and a statement by a University spokesperson, has refused to do so misstating University regulations and the need for a criminal conviction (and possibly even jail time) before they can move forward with any sort of disciplinary action. Such a policy would be illogical; which is probably why it really is not the policy at all.

As our letter to the University points out, the UC Academic Personnel Manual’s Faculty Code of Conduct "specifically identifies outside professional conduct that can lead to formal investigation. While it includes violations of the law resulting in convictions, the list of unacceptable faculty conduct it enumerates is specifically noted as 'not exhaustive.'" So there is no need to wait for a criminal conviction before the University takes action.

It would be bad policy for a University to have to wait for a conviction, particularly when the bad acts are as serious as those committed by Yoo. What if President Bush were to issue a preemptive pardon to Yoo and others for any wrongdoing associated with interrogation policies during his administration? The University ought to be able to investigate wrongdoing even if a conviction is blocked by a President.

Try a simpler example: what if a professor were cleared in a criminal court but found culpable in a civil court and ordered to pay millions to his victims? A University should not have to ignore a civil court ruling simply because the professor was not "convicted of a crime and sent to jail."

On the other hand, if it were true that a conviction and perhaps even jail time were necessary precursors to any sort of academic investigation, then relatively minor acts, such as possession of marijuana, would be sufficient to trigger an investigation as long as there was a conviction, even as war criminals remain safe. Even worse, a professor arrested for nonviolent, civil disobedience, such as blocking the gates at San Quentin to oppose the death penalty, would be fair game for the University administration.

There may be another reason to defer to a court of law, whether civil or criminal, before taking action against a professor. Courts are better suited to gather evidence, present both sides, subpoena witnesses, and utilize other tools that a University does not have. A former professor of mine at the University of Texas School of Law, Brian Leiter, made an argument like this on a radio debate with a colleague of mine, Attorney Sharon Adams. The argument may apply in certain circumstances, such as if a lone accuser were to approach administrators with a claim about a faculty member believed to be the perpetrator in a hit-and-run. Such a charge should probably be tested in a court of law before University officials begin to hire private investigators and collect photos of the crime scene. But in this instance there is a growing body of evidence in the public domain - from the actual memoranda Yoo authored, to his Congressional testimony.

While the investigation and hearing may still not be as thorough as one in a court of law, the potential consequences are far less. Hundreds of thousands of people are in prisons in the United States for actions that did not cause nearly the level of harm that John Yoo and his co-conspirators caused. I have no doubt that many of those in prison are completely innocent. As thorough and fair as our courts ought to be, they remain incredibly flawed and unfair, particularly to poor people and people of color. But in theory, the more serious the consequences, the more safeguards are provided and the more tools are given to courts. Simply disciplining a professor who, as ample evidence demonstrates, provided legal cover for some of the worst crimes of the Bush administration, ought to involve a certain level of due process, but all of the tools of the criminal or even civil courts are not necessary.

There is more of a need for Yoo's employer to take action since it does not appear that any action is going to be taken to hold the architects of torture from the Bush administration accountable at the federal level, at least not without significant pressure from below. While the Obama administration may make some positive changes in policy, there are indications they do not want to use the Justice Department to prosecute. Unfortunately, policy changes can be changed again under future administrations, and unless the individuals who broke the law and committed these bad acts are brought to justice there is little to deter future administrations from re-adopting torture as acceptable practice.

There are other bodies that can take action to begin to build pressure from below and hold people like Yoo accountable. The City of Berkeley will consider on Monday whether it should pass a resolution that, among other things, would officially support our letter to the Chancellor calling for an investigation of Yoo. The University shouldn't require all this pressure; UC officials have a duty to investigate and discipline Professor Yoo and the notion that their hands are tied is at best a misinterpretation of policy and at worst a lie.