John Yoo — a scholar and a war criminal

Boohoo, boohoo, boohoo, boohoo
I shed a tear for poor John Yoo.
A little torture he thought was fine,
So now he may have to do hard time.

He stretched the law that much we know,
Gave the rule of law an awful blow.
He had to know that his words were wrong,
So will he soon sing a jailhouse song?

No, John Yoo probably won’t end up in jail – although as Glenn Greenwald, Scott Horton and others have noted, he should.

I rarely hear Yoo’s name — scholar, professor, torture enabler — without thinking of the movie Judgment at Nuremberg. The famous film featured Spencer Tracy, of course, playing Dan Haywood, an aging judge who was sitting in judgment of Ernst Janning, a patriarch of the German legal system. Janning, a great legal scholar and fundamentally decent man, had tragically sold his soul to the Nazis after they came to power.

At the climax of the movie, the two men exchanged these words:

Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it. You must believe it!

Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

Obviously, as bad as the Bush Administration’s crimes were, they came nowhere close to equaling those of Nazi Germany: nothing here is intended to suggest they were. But, even with that given, the similarities between Yoo’s story and that of the movie’s Ernst Janning are striking. Both feature successful legal scholars who sold their talents (and souls) to the guys in charge, while in the process violating the most basic precepts of their profession, not to mention of human decency.

Yoo’s crime was in writing legal memorandums that provided cover for torture later carried out by the Bush Administration in the name of the United States. Like Ernst Janning’s wrongful court judgments at issue in the movie, Yoo’s torture memos, on their face, probably had the appearance of proper legal process. But they were a fraud. That waterboarding is torture has been settled for decades. The United States has punished people from other countries severely for using it against our people. Anyone with legal training, especially someone who claims to have taken the time to research the point, who would say otherwise, is a liar — and worse still an enabler of evil. 

The fictional Ernst Janning showed signs of deep remorse and shame during the movie. The very real John Yoo, on the other hand — not so much so. His recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, in which he criticized Barack Obama for prohibiting torture, is a veritable testament to his continued defiance of well settled norms of human decency.

Perhaps being put on trial would give Yoo the opportunity for introspection, but, again, most likely that will never happen. And viewed from the standpoint of political logic, forgoing torture prosecutions may make sense. But I’m reminded of something else the Judge Haywood character said near the end of Judgment at Nuremberg. It was immediately after Ernst Janning’s lawyer predicted that all of the defendants Haywood (and the other judges) had sentenced to life imprisonment would be free men in five years that he responded:

“Herr Rolfe, I have admired your work in the court for many months. You are particularly brilliant in your use of logic so, what you suggest may very well happen. It is logical, in view of the times in which we live. But to be logical is not to be right, and nothing on God’s earth could ever make it right!”

4 Responses to “John Yoo — a scholar and a war criminal”

  1. Larkrise Says:

    My car hasnt been repaired properly by Butler Body Shop. Firestone wanted to charge $1800 to do the work caused by a fender-bender. State Farm wants Butler to say the damage is due to wear and tear and not the accident. All of them are out to get a buck, pass the buck and fail to tell the truth. I had to pitch a major fit to get Roto-Rooter to finally fix my sewer line to the street, after paying them $2000 to put in an access pipe and clean the line. The drains still backed up. I had 3 floods and carpet damage. Not until I wrote BBB and threatened to also notify the Indiana State Atty General’s Office, did they come back, clean the line properly and offer to clean my capeting. Our Family Practice Doctor refused to discuss a medication interaction with the Neurologist, who treats my husband, and would not counsel my husband on not increasing his dose of Ativan, which is addictive. I tell you these tales of woe, not to whine and pule, but to illustrate how corrupt and incompetent too many elements of society have become. Eight years of corruption from the top on down have set a horrible example and an extremely negative tone. It will take many years to undo the moral harm that George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Karl Rove, John Yoo et. al. have perpetrated on the United States of America. The Presidency is a powerful symbol. Look at the massive grief and national emotional depression that followed the assassination of John Kennedy. It was as though we had all lost a beloved relative. The man at the top sets the standard. People allowed themselves to be conned into a disastrous war, costing lives and our economy, by the President. Congress on both sides of the aisle went right along with it. This morass of lies, no-bid contracts, incompetence, cronyism, “get while the getting’s good” standard lasted for eight years. In its wake are businesses and indiviuals who care only about grabbing a buck, pushing you out the door, and quality be damned. We have Wall Street Crooks lavishing upon themselves billions of public dollars, with nary a bit of remorse expressed. We have spineless wonders and fanatic ideologues in Congress who claim nothing can be done. This is where we need to stop, plant our feet firmly on the ground, take a stand and say “No! As God is my witness, YOU WILL be held accountable!” Whether it is George W. Bush, John Yoo, or Wall Street Scumbags, they must answer for their actions. If President Obama does not understand this, if he does not act on it, he will find that no matter how decent and good a man he is personally, he will be perceived as weak and enabling in the long run. If the high and mighty can be allowed to sweep their crimes under the rug, so will every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to cut corners, cheat here and there, and sell snake oil. This is a MAJOR mistake on President Obama’s part. It is one of those times in my life where I wish I had some major influence. I dont and never will, but I firmly believe I am on the side of the angels on this issue. We cannot go forward, unless we address and punish the great wrongs that have harmed us. It is the same as repressing trauma. It comes back in all kinds of dysfunctional behaviors, unless you deal with it.

  2. Buckywunder Says:

    I think there is a chance that Yoo will go down, especially if David Addington does. Recently, there came to light a relatively obscure exchange with a journalist or someone in which Yoo said that torturing children was also allowed under the Bush policy that derived from his memo. This is another guy who shouldn’t plan on traveling abroad any time soon.

  3. Dallas112263 Says:

    It is in the corruption of the institutions of the Law, in this case the Justice Dept., that we find the basis for this criminal behavior. If all that is required to commit a heinous crime under the color of authority and not be prosecuted is the written opinion of a lawyer appointed by the President or the AG, we cannot be called a Republic or a nation ruled by Law. While I can see Mr. Holder’s point about the problems associated with prosecuting the CIA agents and vendors who broke the Law under the instruction of higher ranking officials who wrongly used Yoo Opinions as a legal fig leaf, it is essential that those officials, including Mr. Yoo, be held accountable or we will have fundamentally changed how the Law is made and how it can be enforced. No employee of the Justice Dept. is empowered to define the Law, opinions are just that, that’s hwy they are called “opinions”, not rulings…

    As problematic as it is and as chummy as all lawyers are, if we are to retain our existing form of government in reality as well as form, we must purge our system in the only way in which it can be renewed, through the Law and its equal enforcement, organically. It must be written or it will be repeated, there must be prosecutions or we risk establishing a precedence that will continue a spiral into lawlessness that can only end in the destruction of the Constitution and the hollowing out of our Republic.

    We heard of the need for hard choices from our President on a cold and crisp January morning not a fortnight past, this is one we pass by at our peril.

    RG Johnson

  4. Larkrise Says:

    Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for your intelligent and obviously well-informed comment. I hope you can also express your opinion to those who have access to President Obama. I strongly believe in what you have stated. I think that there are large numbers of American citizens who feel the same way, and want President Obama to know it.

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