THE BLOG
03/21/2009 07:54 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dershowitz needs a refresher course on what McCarthyism was...

Apparently acclaimed attorney Alan Dershowitz does not correctly recall what McCarthyism was.

The esteemed trial lawyer and Harvard professor says the following in defense of John Yoo, of all people:

UC Berkeley leaders are wrestling with that decision as a federal investigation into John Yoo's legal advice to the Bush Administration apparently winds down.

The dilemma is rare. At risk are the tenets of academic freedom that have long allowed college faculty members to speak their minds in the name of scholarship. Yoo's case revolves around his advice on dealing with accused terrorists,including a notorious memo that provides legal justification for torture. Yoo, who is temporarily teaching at Orange County's Chapman
University, has long attracted protests on his home campus, but some surprising allies have come to his defense.

"I think this is simply a left-wing version of McCarthyism," said Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor who disagrees strongly with Yoo's views on torture. "He should be judged solely on the merits of his academics."

But Berkeley administrators and faculty leaders said they would be concerned about Yoo teaching law students if he were found to have violated ethical or legal standards. Critics have called Yoo a yes-man for President George W. Bush, essentially telling him what he wanted to
hear.

Dershowitz does not disagree strongly with Yoo on torture as some of you will recall. But that is beside the point. Yoo was hired to teach law. If he has broken the law or broken with ethical standards, then how does that qualify him to teach the topic to law students? But I do remember this argument well, as it has been used before and for the same reasons.

During the Nuremberg trials, lawyers were held accountable for providing legal cover for the illegal and immoral. Mr. Dershowitz might want to visit the Harvard Nuremberg collection in his free time.

Breaking the law or knowingly misrepresenting the law so that your boss can engage in criminal activity does not compare in the slightest to the activities of Sen. Joe McCarthy's political targets. The late Senator hunted people who broke no law and engaged in no illegal conduct. He hunted them for their political views as the sole criteria and destroyed many lives in the process.

Now anyone who reads me knows that I am a fierce anti-Communist. But as fiercely as I am against the old Soviet system, I am that much passionately for the Bill of Rights. McCarthy was not hunting Soviet moles. He was hunting liberals and intellectuals, making him a more appropriate politician for Il Duce's version of a republic rather than our own.

What Yoo happens to have in common with the victims of McCarthy is that he happens to be considered an intellectual, but that is where the comparison ends. Unlike McCarthy's victims, Yoo did not simply lecture on a topic unpopular with a certain political point of view. He did not only assign homework to his students that was somehow seen as un-American. He did not have a few meetings with people of like mind who were seen as undesirables by certain politicians.

Had Yoo conducted simply those activities and even if he did so while practicing Satanism and being an open racist, he would still be fully within his rights as an American citizen no matter how much I disagreed with him. Freedom of speech is most important when it protects those with whom you disagree, because that ensures that your to express your point of view will also be protected. Yoo could have even slaughtered chickens in class as part of his lecture and still made a reasonable argument that he was well within his rights academically.

What Yoo is accused of doing, however, is actually acting to assist others in law-breaking by perverting and twisting the law for his own ambitions. Yoo gave Bush officials a green light legally - knowing this was illegal of course - to break the law on something as basic as human rights, on the right of an accused to a fair trial, on the rights of all not to be refused legal assistance at the whim of a single man drunk on power and acting as the sole ruler of a republic.

He denied the basic legal protections to many and determined that he was able to rule that a single man - the President - has all the authority of a dictator, regardless of the law, regardless of the international treatise to which we are signatories, regardless of all ethical and moral questions. He ruled something illegal to be legal not because he did not know the difference, as is clearly visible from his various public claims in defense of his opinions. No, he made his determinations for political reasons and for which now the world views us as a nation of men, not laws.

He acted outside of the classroom to violate the very principles he claims to now teach in the classroom. This is no way puts Yoo in the same category of political victims. It is he, rather, who created the victims for political reasons.

Again, John Yoo is being openly accused of war crimes by human rights lawyers, politicians, NGOs, etc., which is hardly a small accusation and hardly one often made against American attorneys. I will not be surprised if Yoo ends up at the Hague, yet another first for America and American attorneys.

Alan Dershowitz long ago had my respect. Despite the plethora of issues we disagreed on, what we had in common was far more important -our deep devotion to the Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees. But Dershowitz and I no longer have something that basic in common, sadly. For reasons I do not understand, he has abdicated all ethics and integrity in order to defend the indefensible. He argues that all are entitled to a fair trial, including OJ Simpson, but contradicts himself and defends extraordinary rendition and torture as tools of the state acceptable in some situations.

For shame Mr. Dershowitz. I once respected you and now am only ashamed of you not just from the perspective of an American citizen, but also as a former citizen under the Soviet regime.

Where you could have been a shining light sir, you have become part of the dark blotch known as the Bush administration in the annals of American history. One has to wonder what Dershowitz's motive is. He has not cried McCarthyism when the facts of the Siegelman or Minor prosecutions became known. He has not rushed to offer his legal expertise to the victims of Bush's DOJ and the Stasi-like tactics employed by attorneys who violated ethical standards and likely violated the law for political reasons.

He has made no effort in recent years to help those who have been denied the very basic freedoms he claims to care about. Instead, he has spent his recent years defending an administration so un-American that I wager even McCarthy would have been shocked back into sanity had he seen the goings on of the last 8 years.

For shame Mr. Dershowitz.