John Yoo is currently a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley. From 2001 to 2003 he was a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Council at the U.S. Department of Justice. It was during this time that he co-authored the Bybee memo defining torture and American Habeas Corpus which was the legal basis for the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques. He is the author of The Powers of War and Peace: Foreign Affairs and the Constitution after 9/11, War By Other Means: An Insider’s Account of the War on Terror and Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush. NewsReal Blog had the pleasure of interviewing him on a wide range of issues.
NewsReal Blog: Congressman McDermott (D-WA) recently tried to sneak in a provision in the intelligence appropriations bill. The provision would allow for criminal prosecution of CIA officers if they committed acts of “cruel, inhuman, or degrading behavior.” What is your opinion of this provision?
John Yoo: It is unwise for Congress to use criminal laws to restrict the President’s wartime policies. The President needs to defend the powers of the office to protect this country. This provision is way too ambiguous. What it does is try to expand criminal law beyond what is torture. It would have subjected our intelligence agents to criminal sanctions that are vague and undefined.
NRB: Do you still think the enhanced techniques were beneficial in gaining actionable intelligence?
Yoo: Our intelligence service was doing what they thought was right at that time. Intelligence professionals know what they are doing. Despite what this administration is saying and doing the intelligence professionals have been very successful at preventing future attacks.
NRB: Do you think Attorney General Holder should be reopening the investigation of CIA officers?
Yoo: It’s a witch hunt. The Department of Justice (DOJ) will cause irreparable harm to the intelligence agency. People will become risk averse because they won’t want to be the subject of an investigation, even if at the end they are cleared. Remember the DOJ reopened cases that were closed by CAREER federal prosecutors who chose not to prosecute the CIA. This is politics, not a judgment of law.
NRB: What would you like to say about the Department of Justice’s investigation, accusing you of violating professional ethics?
Yoo: I am upset that the Attorney General allowed this outrageous case to go forward. The President could have stopped all these ridiculous investigations (his and the CIA officers). David Margolis, the senior DOJ attorney wrote a 69 page memo that rejected the ethics office’s recommendations. His memo was a serious indictment of the people that worked at the DOJ. We did nothing unethical. It was a difference in judgment. I found out that Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL-the lead Republican on the Judiciary Committee) called for an ethics investigation of the DOJ. The DOJ should live by the same rules and the same scrutiny they are trying to subject others to.
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Part 2 of this interview.