10/04/2010 11:36 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Presidential Powers: Prudence or Perversion? Playing Jeopardy

If we're playing Jeopardy, and we are, this would be the answer:


It's the real no-brainer answer to the legal and ethical questions posed by the University of St. Thomas Law School in allowing "torture memo" authors John Yoo and Robert Delahunty to speak this Thursday, October 7th. Let's hope the law students and faculty in attendance will arrive at the correct answer without too much help. But if they don't get it, we should all be quite prepared to give them the answer.

Perverter of Presidential Power Comes to Town

By Tom Dickinson, writing for Tackling Torture at the Top, a Committee of Women Against Military Madness, first posted at "Free Speech Zone", TC Daily Planet

Isn't it just amazing that the University of St. Thomas Law School would invite to a public function a man who, in another era, would have been a likely defendant in a war crimes trial like the Nuremburg Trials after World War II? But, on October 7 from 10am to 5pm, UST's law school will host a symposium on "Presidential Powers: Prudence or Perversion?", in which they have invited John Yoo to participate. Yoo is formerly of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to George W. Bush where he co-authored numerous legal memos laying the framework that allowed the Bush Administration to torture. John Yoo's counsel to Bush has been widely discredited by legal scholars, and in the academic world--he is now a professor as UC Berkeley--he is almost universally shunned...though not by UST it seems.

This man should not be given a forum anywhere, least of all at a law school whose mission states it is "...a Catholic law school...dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice (my italics). It is one thing to have opinions that run counter to the many treaties and laws that prohibit torture. But Mr. Yoo went beyond opinion to advise the U.S. President that the clearly delineated separation of powers requiring the Executive branch to follow the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, ratified treaties as the "supreme law of the land" and to implement the laws of Congress is just a starting point, especially during wartime.

When in your recent memory have we not been at war, and how long do you expect us to be at war? About our invasion of Afghanistan, General Petraeus has said "This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives," and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, "We're not leaving Afghanistan prematurely, in fact, we're not ever leaving at all." So according to Mr. Yoo, it appears that the Constitutional limitation on Presidential power is effectively moot, because we are likely to be at war for many generations.

Additionally the prohibition against torture is a matter of jus cogens, which is a Latin term for one of those few higher "compelling laws" that are so firmly established and engrained that they have no exceptions or rationalizations, no matter what legal sophistry is attempted, even the type that John Yoo is fond of, based on Presidential Power overriding other laws during war time. On December 1, 2005, Yoo appeared in a debate in Chicago with University of Notre Dame law professor Doug Cassel. During the debate Cassel asked Yoo, "If the President deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?", to which Yoo replied "No treaty." Cassel followed up with "Also no law by Congress -- that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo...", to which Yoo replied "I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that."

John Yoo and his fellow "Presidential Powers" supporters, one of whom (UST Law Professor Robert Delahunty) co-authored the OLC memo that wrongly advised George Bush that the Geneva Conventions no longer applied to enemy combatants, will probably give nice speeches and contrived, hard to follow legalistic arguments. They will probably say they support the freedoms and rights of citizens afforded us by the Constitution and they may even say they don't like torture, but their past actions show us otherwise. It is therefore important that their wrongful, illegal actions not be given a forum for legitimacy by one of the Twin Cities' law schools.

Our "Tackling Torture at the Top" group and others will be protesting John Yoo's and Robert Delahunty's appearance at the symposium during the lunch hour break and again when the symposium is expected to end. Join us! Bring your signs, voices and indignation, Thursday, October 7th at 11:30-12:30 and again at 4-5 pm. (Or just bring yourselves as we have many signs available.) We'll be on the sidewalk outside the UST law school, 1000 LaSalle Ave, in downtown Minneapolis.