John Yoo grew up in the Philadelphia area and presumably got a great education at the Episcopal Academy before he headed off to the Ivy League and finally the Justice Department, where he became the nation's leading advocate...for war crimes. It is Yoo who adopted the warped and unsupported view that one terrorist attack gives the U.S. president the uncontested powers of an emperor, and that the president can use those powers to command torture, unlawful rendition or torture, and generally destroy the reputation of a country founded not really that long ago as a beacon for liberty and civil rights.
I -- and many others -- believe that Yoo's actions in the White House should be investigated by Congress and the Justice Department. That may happen, but for now he is still taken seriously as a constitutional expert and give all kinds of platforms to defend his views, that there was some kind of justification for the ideas that led to gross violations of law that took place at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. The latest example: An op-ed by Yoo in this Sunday's Inquirer.
In the bad timing department, Yoo's op-ed was published on the same day that the New York Times published an op-ed chronicling some of the unlawful activity that was unleashed under the signature of John Yoo. You can read the graphic depiction of some of the torture techniques -- and before you say anything, I think the initial victims here are murdering thungs who deserve to burn in hell for all eternity for their own illegal acts plotted and carried out on 9/11.
But the whole point of fighting terrorism is maintaining a civil society, a society that's so much better than that. There's no evidence that torture produced any actionable intelligence that could not have been gained through legal means -- but it did recuit new terrorists to their cause in Iraq and elsewhere and sullied America's image among those who once admired us. For who? For what?
As the author of the New York Times article, Mark Danner, wrote:
What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.
John Yoo has a right to free speech in this country. What that means is that he's allowed to walk down this street or stand up on a soapbox in Fairmount Park and spout his repulsive viewpoints -- and not get arrested. It doesn't mean that Yoo is entitled to powerful megaphones for those views, like the op-ed page of an American newspaper -- not if we're really serious about treating torture with the gravity it deserves. Yoo's megaphone should have been unplugged a long time.