And Why John Yoo “Speaks For Me”

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My old law school, Boalt Hall, is not altogether overrun by leftist ideologues.

Berkeley Professor John Yoo has been the victim of a witch hunt worthy of the late Joseph McCarthy because of legal advice he gave the Bush Administration about the interrogation of terrorists. Professor Yoo has just written a book about presidential authority, “Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush.”

He recently appeared on the comedic Jon Stuart Show (, but Mr. Stuart is not promoting that encounter because Yoo ran over him like a truck, politely to be sure, but lucidly. Perhaps unfairly, Professor Yoo was aided by a rapier wit and – dare we say it? – he also used an arsenal of facts. Don’t you just hate it when somebody does that?

A reasonable case can be made that Mr. Yoo’s legal opinions have saved thousands of American lives and that the ideologues who are still seeking his disbarment and dismissal are…out to lunch.

But that’s just me.

I still vividly remember that day when our plane touched down at SFO after an unexpectedly extended stay in Manhattan that included that searingly transformative experience we all now call nine eleven. Anyone who has followed my writings and reflections post 911 will understand the following.

As I wrote at the time:

“Evil is real. It came to this city, near the Manhattan apartment where we are staying, announcing itself in a succession of grotesquely surreal images of a monumental murder.

“Yet Good is real. The last few days here have recharged my belief in the human capacity for heroism and virtue under duress. It is an honor to be among the New Yorkers. I now understand that evil is like a descending night flare on a battlefield, exposing the configuration of forces below. Its terrible light clarifies the essence of things. In that actinic glare, all our differences melt into insignificance because, after all, they are just different versions of the good.”

Then added a few months later:

“Later, when our plane finally roared down the runway at JFK, the images of the window candles, the taped up photos of missing loved ones on the armory, on doorways, windows and poles, the long paper scroll in Union Square, the Ladder Truck 24 shrine, all played out in my mind. As I looked out the window at the suddenly diminished Manhattan skyline, I realized that – for the moment – we had become a single people, whose disputes and differences were exposed as trivial. Then I imagined concentric circles radiating from ground zero: In the circle close in, people were profoundly changed, then further away people touched, less touched, and finally I imagined (and later met) the detached and disconnected. I entertained the deep hope for a new energy, a drawing in to faith communities sustained by the important truths that bind us.”

Within that immediate circle of human beings in the day and the days immediately following, there was a profound, gut wrenching insight that, for the morally receptive minds among us, was permanently transformative. But as we left that circle, traversing new concentric boundaries of understanding, the nine eleven epiphany became increasingly attenuated, even distorted.

After getting off the place in San Francisco, I was, for a time, profoundly reluctant even to enter Berkeley. Recall, if you can, that the Berkeley City Council banned the display of the American Flag on fire trucks and that the congresswoman from Berkeley, at the time my congressperson, was Barbara Lee.

Ms. Lee immediately distinguished herself by being the sole member out of 535 elected to House of Representatives who voted on September 14, 2001, OPPOSING the authorization the use of US forces against those responsible for the September 11 attacks, granting the president authority to use all “”necessary and appropriate force” against those terrorists and who harbored or aided them.

Bumper stickers then began appearing in the East Bay, like chocken pox pustules, reading “BARBARA LEE SPEAKS FOR ME.”

Now contrast Berkeley law professor, John Yoo, whose historically informed review of presidential executive power in a time of crisis, and whose hard nosed, “Jack Baueresque” take on the real world exigencies of terrorist “interviews”, bought him a host of troubles from the reflexively timorous left.

Sadly I’m too old to have taken Professor Yoo’s courses at Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley’s Law School), but not too old to have graduated from the same institution around the time that Ted Olson (the conservative lawyer who has taken the “gay” side in the California proposition eight litigation).

Here’s the irony of the moment:

The so-called partisan right is as benignly tolerant of Mr. Olson’s legal position and the partisan left is rabidly intolerant of Professor Yoo’s post-911 legal memos to the Bush Administration.

All this is preamble to today’s article in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Interrogation memo author views executive power”

Here is my favorite pull quote:

“Yoo said he was equally unperturbed by the uproar that followed his return to Berkeley, including calls for his disbarment.

“’I guess it’s a very, very tiny price for living in a very sunny place with good weather and exquisite food prepared by ex-1960s hippies,’ Yoo said in a brief interview.

“‘I mean, it’s Berkeley after all. There’s a protest every day in Berkeley about something. If it’s not me, it’s about trees. If it’s not about trees, it’s about the Marines recruiting, so it doesn’t really bother me.”’

Jack Bauer returns on Fox’s durable terrorist-fighting series, “24 Hours” this Sunday. This is the popular series that once featured a tough-on-terrorists black president, David Palmer, an image that helped pave the way for Mr. Obama’s subsequent career surge.

So I hope you will fully appreciate where I am coming from when I say, with all legalistic nuance aside, that:



Please reference my earlier articles and pictures on 911 and its implications for all of us:

Mr. Gaskill is a California lawyer who served as the Alameda County Public Defender (serving Oakland and Berkeley among other cities) 1989-1999.

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