Years after his controversial defense of waterboarding, John Yoo stood by his decision recently, claiming the Constitution was still on his side — and spying on Americans is OK too.
Yoo, a Philadelphia native and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, spoke at Drexel University last weekend to discuss his hand in what has become known as the “torture memos” — the legal documentation used to defend former president George W. Bush’s use of waterboarding and other controversial enhanced interrogation techniques, which have since been criticized as forms of torture.
Yoo said he was still firmly in support of the precedents that the justice department he was apart of set — and said he would do it again.
Critics, myself included, believe Yoo’s actions were little more than a rubber stamp for an out-of-control president who was riding high on the "War on Terror" hysteria. Yoo, and others, would like Americans to believe that waterboarding and other presidential actions he defends are constitutional, but really all he is doing is defending unlimited power. It doesn’t take a Yale law degree to understand the basics of the Constitution — despite what some in the Washington D.C. echelons would lead you to believe. In fact, the Constitution was written to speak to and be understood by the common countryman.
If you forget the kind of torture that was in full swing during this time, go look for yourself at the pictures of naked detainees stacked in piles at Abu Ghraib prison and ask yourself if that is the liberty and freedom described so carefully in the Bill of Rights.
Bush’s actions (and yes President Obama, too) have set a dangerous precedent that still affects American politics today. The executive branch’s overreach has been the number one controversy of the past two administrations, from the use of drones that have killed American citizens aboard by our current president, to the spying on American citizens phone/email records by the National Security Agency and the alleged spying on Congressional staffers by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Yoo showed his true colors at the Drexel conference when he also defended NSA spying, saying third-party phone records have no Constitutional protection.
The War on Terror hyperbole and terror level threats may have dwindled down since Bush left office, but Yoo has reminded us that the powers that were gained have not been relinquished by our current president.
When Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act in 2012, he did not firmly stand against the out-of-control power to imprison an American without trial, although he did speak up against it.
“The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it,” Obama wrote in a press release. “In particular, I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.”
In other words, the president is really saying: "I probably shouldn’t have these powers but due to political expediency I am signing the bill."
In my view, these powers mark the most dangerous decision of our era and the future of our country. The balance between security and liberty has been tipped for far too long in the wrong direction.
Some of our leaders appear to be recognizing this, and the recent CIA scandal served as yet another wake up call. But the problem crosses party lines and has more to do with seniority than a liberal versus conservative divide.
What we need now more than ever is an Edward R. Murrow moment — a brave journalist who spoke out against McCarthyism in 1954, which was crippling free speech.
“We must remember that conviction depends on evidence and due process of law,” Murrow said on March 9. “And remember we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write and speak, and defend the causes that were in the moment unpopular.”