Confronting a Torture Judge
Editor’s Note: As the Obama administration looks the other way on the use of torture by George W. Bush and his underlings, citizen activists have taken up the cause of confronting the legal architects of brutal practices such as the near-drowning of waterboarding.
In this guest essay, Cynthia Papermaster and Susan Harman of ImpeachBybee.org describe their personal effort to confront U.S. Appeals Court Judge Jay Bybee, who signed key torture memos when he led Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department:
It's a problem that Jay Bybee is a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. How can he serve as a judge when he seriously violated the laws against inhumane treatment of detainees and gave legal approval to interrogation techniques that amount to torture.
We agree with Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that if Bybee's a decent human being, he'll resign. We agree with MoveOn and People for the American Way, who've submitted 140,000 petition signatures to John Conyers, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, asking him to impeach Bybee. And we agree with the New York Times, which called for his impeachment twice in April.
As part of the June 25 national Torture Accountability Day, Cynthia wrote and filed a formal judicial misconduct complaint against him. The Court Executive let her know that Bybee has a copy of her complaint.
Last Wednesday, July 1, Cynthia discovered that Bybee would be hearing a case in Pasadena on Monday, July 6. We quickly organized Code Pink, Progressive Democrats of America, and World Can't Wait to do an inside-outside action: protesters outside the court starting at 8:30 to greet him on his arrival, and incognito protesters inside the hearing room at 11:00 to stand up and speak out at the right moment.
Caught up in the moment, we both decided we had to be there. We flew to Los Angeles from San Francisco at 7:00 a.m. (ugh!), were picked up at Union Station in LA by Tobi Dragert, and arrived at the Ninth Circuit Courthouse in Pasadena at 10:00.
Dianne Wright and others were picketing in front of the courthouse, some in orange jumpsuits and hoods. Although there's a fair amount of car traffic there in suburban Pasadena, there are no pedestrians. Several cars stopped to talk with us.
Dianne decided to come inside with us. We had no problem getting inside, except for Cynthia having to surrender her camera. Had they looked at the photos on the camera they would have seen Sunday’s SHAME ON YOO protest at John Yoo’s house in Berkeley and Saturday’s CODEPINK float at the Alameda 4th of July Parade, but they just put the camera in a drawer for her to pick up on our way out.
It was a very small courtroom, holding only about 25 spectators. A reporter and photographer from the Pasadena Star-News were already there. One of the 3-judge panel was teleconferencing from somewhere else, so there was one young, blond woman, and Bybee.
We had decided not to interrupt the oral arguments in the case, which went on for over an hour. Bybee was surprisingly aggressive in his questioning of the two lawyers; we thought he would be meeker.
The lawyers finished their presentations, and the woman judge suddenly said court was adjourned, banged the gavel, and she and Bybee started out the door to their chambers. Oh no —- would we be able to speak to Bybee?
Susan seized her chance and said, "Mr. Bybee, we are wondering when you will resign." Bybee turned when he heard his name. "Every Senator I've talk with said he wouldn't have confirmed you if he'd known about the torture memos," she continued.
Then Cynthia said, "Judge Bybee, you are responsible for authorizing the torture of human beings. You call yourself a good Mormon, but you are unfit to be a judge on the Ninth Circuit." Finally Dianne said something linking Bybee to torture.
The security people and marshals, who'd been sitting in the back row (we were never incognito), were next to each of us in a flash, telling us to leave immediately. They walked right on our heels all the way to the front door and down the long walkway to the sidewalk.
It was all over in less than a minute, but Bybee heard us. He looked right at us and heard every word. Today we reached him.
We joined the outside protest, and waited outside for quite a while to catch Bybee again as he left. At one point a big black SUV with blacked-out windows drove by, and we assumed he was in it and left soon after. Cynthia wondered aloud what he said when he stepped out of the room with the other judge, and if he'll tell his wife about what happened in court today.
We'd like to see Bybee met with citizen protest wherever he goes to hear cases. If you live in a city where there's a Ninth Circuit Court, check the calendar on Thursday to see the next week's schedule:
If you're nimble you can catch Bybee and have your own showdown with him. It felt really good to tell him to resign. Let's keep up the pressure — it has to be getting to him. Contact us if you want information and suggestions. http://impeachbybee.org
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