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Torture Lawyer Gets His Say at UVA

By David Swanson
March 18, 2010

Editor’s Note: Mainstream journalism groups, foundations and universities love to pour money into non-controversial causes like “open government,” but often duck and hide when powerful people in Washington decide that certain matters must be kept secret.

There was no better example than when George W. Bush’s administration promulgated secret “war on terror” policies regarding torture and the all-powerful “unitary executive,” and many of the same “sunshine” advocates were happy to stay seated in the dark.

Now, in the name of open debate, there’s an eagerness to make sure that the promoters of these secret policies get plenty of chances to make their case, even as critics must make their arguments mostly from the street or on small-budget Internet sites, a point that David Swanson observes regarding former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo's appearance at the University of Virginia:

Sunshine Week, according to its Web site, is "a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information."

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville is doing its part by hosting book tour stops for the chief author of the worst secret laws ever established. John Yoo will be speaking at the Miller Center and at an event hosted by the Federalist Society on Friday.

Yoo will be speaking in support of unlimited presidential power, including the power to create secret laws.

When we think of government openness, we usually think in terms of allowing the public to verify that the government is properly executing the laws. There are no provisions for allowing the public to request access to know what the laws are, because laws are by definition public.

Unless, that is, the laws are memos written by people like John Yoo at the request of a president.

Why would such memos be kept secret? Because sometimes the purpose of the memos is to legalize blatant crimes, to overturn actual laws with secret laws -- something a U.S. president does not have a constitutional right to do, no matter whether it's "wartime" or not.

News of presidential "laws" legalizing obvious crimes could stir up concerns. Better to keep them in reserve as a legal defense if needed. In fact, Yoo wrote memos to legalize some crimes that had already occurred. But who was going to know which came first, the crime or the "law", as long as it all stayed secret?

Yoo legalized aggressive war at the whim of any president, brushing aside the U.S. Constitution, the War Powers Act, and the U.N. Charter, creating a new (secret) law in their place.

Yoo legalized imprisoning people without any due process, tossing out habeas corpus and half the Bill of Rights. He legalized warrantless spying and torture, in blatant violation of real laws, public laws, laws passed by the legislative branch of the government and placed in the U.S. Code of Law. 

Yoo used shoddy scholarship, amateurish lawyering, and absurd reasoning to "legalize" just about whatever the president wanted legalized.  Yoo explains now that he was hurried and pressured. Yet he does not retract any of his claims of presidential power. 

In fact, Yoo has made clear that he wants no limits whatsoever on presidential power. A president, in Yoo's view, can nuke a city if he is so inclined, and another and another until the world is gone. That's his right. 

So, of course, he can spy without warrants, torture, and anything else he likes, regardless of how many precedents the memos overlook or misconstrue.

Bush might not have attacked Iraq without Yoo's work to secretly "legalize" that invasion. A million Iraqis could still be alive if not for what Yoo and his colleagues did. And had the public been permitted to see what they were doing, we would not have allowed it. 

Friday will be Yoo's second appearance at the Miller Center, which claims they invite him to balance out those who speak against him. Yet the Miller Center has never, to my knowledge, invited a member of the ANTI-war movement to speak.

On Friday Cindy Sheehan (Peace of the Action), Susan Harman (National Accountability Network), Ray McGovern (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity), Charlotte Dennett (Robert Jackson Steering Committee), Mike Ferner and Ann Wright (Veterans for Peace), Debra Sweet (World Can't Wait), Shahid Buttar (Bill of Rights Defense Committee), Nancy Mancias (CODE PINK: Women for Peace), Dahr Jamail (journalist), and Mark Lane (attorney), will be leading an anti-war march and a rally to protest John Yoo's defiance of the rule of public law. 

We think we'll be adding more to Sunshine Week than Yoo will. [For more details, go to:]

David Swanson is the author of the new book Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union by Seven Stories Press.  You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: [This article previously appeared at]    

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