Berkeley Prof Denounced for POW Memo
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Some graduating University of California law students used their commencement Saturday to denounce a professor who helped the Bush administration develop a legal framework that critics say led to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
About one-quarter of the 270 graduates of Berkeley's Boalt School of Law donned red armbands over their black robes in a silent protest of a legal memo law professor John Yoo co-wrote when he served in the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
Outside the ceremony, they also passed out fliers denouncing Yoo for "aiding and abetting war crimes." Yoo said beforehand he didn't plan to attend the graduation.
"I respect freedom of thought, but I think he should abide by some basic moral standard," said Andrea Ruiz, 35, one of the armband-wearing students. "Respect for human persons is at the core of what the law is about."
The Jan. 9, 2002, memo, first reported by Newsweek magazine Monday, laid out the legal reasons why the United States didn't have to comply with international treaties governing prisoner rights. It argued that the normal laws of armed conflict didn't apply to al-Qaida and Taliban militia prisoners because they didn't belong to a state.
Yoo, who worked for the Justice Department between 2001 and 2003, wouldn't comment on the memo or his government work, but said the students have a right to express their opinions.
"I'm happy to listen to their viewpoints. Beyond that I'm not going to change what I think," Yoo, 36, said during a telephone interview Friday.
A petition signed by nearly 200 law students and alumni since Thursday alleges that Yoo's memo "contributed directly to the reprehensible violation of human rights in Iraq and elsewhere."
"We're embarrassed that he's at our institution," said law student Abby Reyes, who launched the petition. "We came to law school in order to uphold the rule of law, not to learn ways to wiggle our way out of compliance with it."
The student petition urges Yoo to repudiate the memo, declare his opposition to torture and encourage the Bush administration to comply with the Geneva Conventions that protect the rights of prisoners of war. Otherwise, he should resign, the petition says.
Yoo said he had no plans to resign.
"To the extent that the petition goes beyond expressing views, I worry that it's an unfortunate effort to interfere with academic freedom," he said.
Interim Dean Robert C. Berring Jr. said the law school had no plans to discipline Yoo.
"The image of Berkeley is the very progressive image," Berring said, "but I think you'd find at Berkeley a pretty wide range of opinions. Professor Yoo is certainly not the only conservative on campus or at the law school."
During a May 13 appearance on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," Yoo said he thought the pictures of prisoners being abused at the Baghdad prison showed clear violations of the Geneva Conventions.
"So the question is not whether the Geneva Conventions apply or really whether they're violated or not but how we're going to remedy the situation, and the military is undertaking that," he said, adding that violators should be punished and tried