Letters for June 18 

Readers sound off on the Alameda Theater, Mario Juarez, John Yoo, global hunger, Oakland police, Pete Stark, and the mass dissemination of dumbness.

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Instead of debating whether John Yoo violated standards of legal ethics and hence should be fired, a simpler rule applies here. All UC employees have to sign a pledge to support and uphold the Constitution — this was supposedly implemented to target communists in the past, and was the focus of much debate by the faculty in the '50s and '60s. But Yoo, who has argued that the Fourth Amendment somehow doesn't apply to the President in times of crisis or war, has done more to undermine the Constitution than perhaps any UC employee in memory. THAT alone should be cause for his dismissal — perhaps after a trial by his (faculty) peers.

Robert Schechtman, Berkeley

Render Him to the World Court

Since John Yoo was working for the Justice Department at the time he wrote the torture memos, and could not have been paid at the same time by the University of California, which is against its employment regulations, then it seems the issue of academic freedom does not apply to him. Therefore, he cannot hide behind this issue now, nor can the University of California, Berkeley. (See University of California Policy and Procedures Manual to verify, please.) These are open documents regarding hiring and retention policies.

Could he not also be prosecuted for failing to uphold the US Constitution at the Justice Department, especially Amendment VIII to the Bill of Rights which unequivocally prohibits "cruel and unusual punishment"? By what stretch of anyone's imagination could the torture Yoo espoused be considered "usual"? Yoo eschewed only "organ failure," presumably not ripping nails off hands, for example. This inhumanity seems prosecutable. Render him to the World Court if necessary.

Philomena Burkhardt, Richmond

If Deadly Force Is Okay, Why Is Nondeadly Force Wrong?

If Robert Gammon wants to see Professor John Woo fired from UC and tried for "war crimes" just for rendering a legal opinion, he needs to muster an argument better than that found in the emotional swill posing as an argument. I haven't followed this crisis du jour too closely, but it was clear that advancing an agenda was more important to Mr. Gammon than sifting the truth of the matter, as evidenced by his terming the Federalist Society "ultra-right-wing," which if true, makes the founding fathers similarly right-wing.

First, to allege that a legal brief was the proximate cause of whatever excesses occurred at Abu Ghraib is a ridiculous assertion that would never hold up in court. This is akin to stating that the government's decision to support the South Vietnam government with troops was responsible for the My Lai massacre or that advocating gun ownership by law-abiding citizens is responsible for the Columbine massacre. Why not just blame God for all the sin in the world because, after all, man is his creation. It should be obvious that the missing link in these examples is the will of the acting agent. I sincerely doubt any of the low-level soldiers at A.G. ever even heard of John Woo, much less read his brief.

Second, considering how most people accept the government's authority to use deadly force in appropriate circumstances (e.g., a war or municipal police powers), why is it so offensive to use less than deadly force for an identical purpose, that being the security of a nation and her citizens? Since Mr. Gammon made no argument for disarmament and pacifism, I can only assume he has no problem with killing a human being but only in hurting him. If it is acceptable to kill in self-defense, why is it not acceptable to physically extract information from a prisoner to prevent, say, the detonation of a hidden nuclear device?

Third, how are we defining torture? Mr. Gammon asserts that waterboarding "has long since been considered torture." If that's the case, then the US has been torturing its own troops. Those training for special forces operations are subjected to treatment that they could face if captured, including waterboarding. Where is Mr. Gammon's outrage at the application of this technique to his fellow citizens? Or does he believe that they're not being tortured because they assent to the training, making his definition subjective and thus useless?

Fourth, the author mentions international law, specifically the Geneva Convention. He failed to mention that that law applies only to its signatories, which are nations that field conventionally uniformed forces. Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are not in this category but are instead simply lawless combatants similar to pirates of yesteryear. As such, they enjoy few rights and privileges.

Time and space prevent a more thorough critique of Mr. Gammon's reasoning. These are just some points he needs to rethink before churning out more chum for yet another East Bay, leftist feeding frenzy. I'm not saying Professor Woo is necessarily correct in all his legal conclusions, but Mr. Gammon appears to be wrong in his.

James A. Smith, Esq., Walnut Creek

Expose Him as a Charlatan

Robert Gammon makes an interesting but inconclusive case that John Yoo should be prosecuted for war crimes. He is correct that Yoo's defenders cannot have it both ways. If Yoo is not culpable for acts of torture because he only acted in an advisory capacity, then it cannot also be true that his advice immunizes the officials who ordered those acts. Attorney General Mukasey has the case exactly backwards when he said recently that Yoo should not be prosecuted because he was doing his part to protect the country when his official responsibility was to render sound legal advice and not to make policy.

Gammon also makes a strong case that Yoo violated legal ethics. As a member of the California State Bar, I might agree that Yoo should be suspended or disbarred assuming that he was a member of the bar. One possible ground would be his apparent violation of Rule 3–210 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, which states that a member shall not advise the violation of any law unless the member believes in good faith that the law is invalid. The American Bar Association is a voluntary organization, but the Model Rules of Professional Conduct cited by Gammon also can be used in state bar disciplinary proceedings.

As a Boalt Hall graduate, however, I am less persuaded that Yoo should be removed from the faculty. Professors are not ordinarily removed for inaccuracy and lack of appropriate restraint or respect for the opinions of others. The larger problem is that Yoo was not engaged in research when he committed the supposed violations of intellectual honesty and research misconduct. Here Gammon cannot have it both ways. He suggests that Yoo is not protected by academic freedom because his nonacademic writings produced illegal actions, but he also suggests that Yoo can be removed from the faculty because those writings violated academic standards.

I would agree that the torture memo and other documents crafted by Yoo in the Office of Legal Counsel represent an insidious form of intellectual corruption. As a government lawyer, Yoo promoted and arguably participated in war crimes. As a scholar, his views have contaminated the law (and the science of moral philosophy) with false doctrines. His strange notion that public officials have a moral obligation to commit torture to avoid remote or hypothetical risks of attack is incoherent. But the remedy for those intellectual abuses may be to expose him as a charlatan within the academic community and not to expel him from the community.

Robert Denham, Berkeley

Stop Giving to UC Berkeley

Your May article of opposition to the retention of Professor John Yoo by UC Berkeley focused on the possibilities of legal action against him at some future time under various university rules and human rights laws.

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