Would you like to see the next generation of American jurists learn their trade at the feet of a war criminal? Most citizens of the modern world outside Zimbabwe -- and parts of New Jersey, strangely enough -- would likely answer that question with a resounding "no." But in the world of legal academia, nothing is simple -- especially when it's open to question whether the alleged war criminal is just your garden-variety conservative with a penchant for provocative opinions.
UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law has been convulsed in recent months with debate over whether there's room in the academic community for John Yoo, the professor and former Bush Administration Justice Department official who authored an infamous memo justifying the torture of American-held detainees. We reported
recently that Boalt administrators were adjusting this year's class schedule following complaints from students who didn't want to enroll in Yoo's class. On Aug. 17, a big protest took place outside Yoo's classroom, which culminated with the arrests of four demonstrators.
Another demonstration took place this afternoon -- and was a much more low-key affair, according to Stephanie Tang, an organizer with World Can't Wait
, the group that put on the protest. (Tang was among those arrested on charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace at the August rally.) Nobody was thrown in the police wagon today. Instead, Tang said, a group of demonstrators provocatively dressed in orange jumpsuits and hoods resembling those of suspected terrorist prisoners hung out on Berkeley's Sproul Plaza, talking to passing students about their opinion that Yoo should be fired, disbarred, and prosecuted.
"We're going to try to keep the protests frequent," Tang said. "Sometimes they'll be bigger and more dramatic, and sometimes they'll be basic and trying to communicate with students." She added, "A lot of the people on the campus don't even know who John Yoo is."
The question of Yoo's culpability in the Bush Administration's torture practices is certainly an interesting one. As a senior lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel, he wrote a highly controversial opinion -- called a "golden shield" by administration officials -- authorizing wide latitude for interrogators. Some argue that his opinion was responsible for subsequent abuses of detainees at overseas prisons, while others say he shouldn't face criminal penalties for offering professional legal advice.
Some light may be shed on this question as the Obama Administration's Justice Department commences its recently announced investigation into detainee interrogation practices. In the meantime, expect more protests.
Photo | Jim Linwood