Chapman-Buddy John Yoo: Sure, the President Can Massacre Civilians

Torture lawyer Yoo makes his case at Chapman, flanked by former law dean turned attorney general candidate John Eastman.
Torture lawyer Yoo makes his case at Chapman, flanked by former law dean turned attorney general candidate John Eastman.
Photo by Christopher Victorio

There's good and bad news for John Yoo, the former Department of Justice lawyer who served as Chapman University's "Fletcher Jones Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law" last year, in the federal government's Office of Professional Responsibility report on Bush Administration detention and interrogation policies

The good news is that while the report says that Yoo and his collegues exercised poor judgment when advising the administration that waterboarding and other forms of torture were legal, that poor judgment doesn't rise to the level of being a crime. Yoo, a tenured professor at U.C. Berkeley, will not face punishment.

The bad news--assuming that Yoo would prefer to not be seen as a sociopath by the public--is that the report contains passages such as this, as summarized by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff:

At the core of the legal arguments were the views of Yoo, strongly backed by David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's legal counsel, that the president's wartime powers were essentially unlimited and included the authority to override laws passed by Congress, such as a statute banning the use of torture. Pressed on his views in an interview with OPR investigators, Yoo was asked:

"What about ordering a village of resistants to be massacred? ... Is that a power that the president could legally--"

"Yeah," Yoo replied, according to a partial transcript included in the report. "Although, let me say this: So, certainly, that would fall within the commander-in-chief's power over tactical decisions."

"To order a village of civilians to be [exterminated]?" the OPR investigator asked again. 

"Sure," said Yoo.


Then there's this footnote, spotted by The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan:

These included Yoo's findings in the memorandum that: 1) the Fourth Amendment would not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent future terrorist attacks; 2) "broad statements" suggesting that First Amendment speech and press rights under the constitution would potentially be subordinated to overriding military necessities; and 3) that domestic deployment of the Armed Forces by the President to prevent and deter terrorism would fundamentally serve a military purpose rather than law enforcement purpose and thus would not violate the Posse Comitatus Act.


Read that again: The military, Yoo argued, can override the First Amendment in a time of war. As Sullivan points out, when in a conflict as unending as the war on terror, it's hard to see this as anything other than an opening for an indefinite reversion to tyranny. At the very least, you've got to wonder if Yoo's pocket-sized U.S. Constitution was missing a page or two.


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