Believe it or not, there's actually a significant contribution that we here in Pennsylvania can make towards wiping some of the stain of torture off of our tarnished national soul. In addition to all the other various crooks and liars in the Pa. political pantheon, now it turns out that a bona fide war criminal still has a license to practice law in the Keystone State.
His name is John Yoo, not so proud alum of Episcopal Academy here, and when he's not spouting off on his seriously warped, dictatorial views of presidential power in supposedly respectable venues like the National Constitution Center, Berkeley Law School and op-ed pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer, he was inside the Bush White House devising the bogus legal justification for the disgraces that were perpretated in our names from Gitmo to Abu Ghraib.
Now, a Justice Department report has suggested the bare minimum -- and I mean minimum -- for Yoo and his legal co-conspirator Jay Bybee -- promoted to federal appeals court judge. That would be disbarment hearings against two men. And it turns out that Yoo is a member of the bar here in Pennsylvania, the state where he grew up:
Neither Yoo nor Bybee is likely to face criminal prosecution, a step that is nearly unprecedented for lawyers providing advice to clients. But they are expected to face inquiries from state legal authorities after the Justice Department report is made public. State bars have the power to disbar lawyers and suspend their licenses, among other steps.
Yoo is a member of the Pennsylvania bar, and Bybee is a "judicial member" of the Nevada and D.C. bars, according to spokeswomen and public records on the bar Web sites. Their attorneys declined to comment yesterday, citing a confidentiality agreement they were required to sign with the Justice Department.
Pennsylvania needs to move on disbarment hearings against Yoo as soon as the Justice Department report is made public. As this article in the Washington Post notes, state bar panels are notoriously slow and sometimes inept, and dealing with the complexities of the war crimes alleged here is a big leap from the type of cases -- lawyers absconding with clients' cash, for example -- that they normally deal with.
But this would be a great time for Pennsylvania to rise to the occasion for a change. That will depend to some degree on us -- regular citizens who care about the torture issue ought to apply pressure on the Bar Association and political leaders where they can, for example. Newspaper editorial-page editors should be pushing aggressively for Yoo's disbarment rather -- than printing his noxious op-eds.
And while it's unlikely. it would be great to see the state's top lawyer -- that would be our governor, Ed Rendell -- take a stand for once on something a little more consequential than whether the Eagles should draft an all-purpose back or a tight end. Rendell was frustratingly laid back about the abuses of the Bush-Cheney years, even after burying a number of his National Guard troops in their politically fraudulent war, but the fate of John Yoo is a rare chance for this state to actually do something good in the global arena. We should jump on it.