A group of students at the University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law circulated a petition last week calling on law professor John Yoo to "repudiate" a 2002 memo he wrote when he worked for the Bush Justice Department or "resign" his academic post. The memo advised that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Oddly, the petition writers claimed that their attempt to drive Yoo from academia did not "constitute an attack on academic freedom."
"The choice is up to (Yoo). He is free to do what he wants," explained petition circulator Michael Anderson, age 35. Besides, he said, the petition concerned what Yoo did as a government official, not what he said in class.
Bunk: The only reason the petition is not an attack on academic freedom is because it didn't work -- a testament to Boalt Hall's commitment to the free exchange of ideas, I might add. There are no faculty committees considering pressuring Yoo to resign, noted acting dean Robert Berring Jr. Yoo himself has no such plans.
If the students had gotten what they wanted, however, the petition most certainly would send a chill through the halls of academia.
As one professor told me, the students really were looking for "a platform to vent their outrage" against abuses of Iraqi prisoners. That's academ-ese for witch hunt. The students couldn't castigate a U.S. soldier, so they targeted the closest body they could inflict their angry views on.
Citing a story in Newsweek, the petition charged that Yoo effectively opened "the door to acts of outright torture, rape and murder" of Iraqi prisoners. Someone even posted flyers of prisoners being mistreated at Abu Ghraib prison -- with Yoo's head superimposed on a U.S. soldier's head.
The law students who signed the petition apparently can't fathom that the Justice Department memo made some reasonable legal arguments. To wit: Al Qaeda operatives don't qualify for Geneva Conventions prisoner-of-war status because they don't fight for a nation, there's no clear chain of command in their organization, they don't wear uniforms, and they do not obey the laws of war toward civilians. As one Boalt Hall alumnus with expertise in this area said of the Yoo memo, "I think it's a legitimate legal argument. I don't agree with his conclusion."
The same person also strongly disagreed with Yoo's argument that the Taliban don't fall under the Geneva Conventions. He believed the memo failed to explore the repercussions of determining that the international law is not binding. Too bad such meaty criticism was not found in the petition.