Monday, February 26, 2007

John Yoo

I went to a Federalist Society speaking engagement today that featured John Yoo, a law professor at UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall) and former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas. From 2001 to 2003, Professor Yoo served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice.

As you might well be able to guess, the main topic of Professor Yoo's talk was the war on terror, and in particular, the national security policies of the Bush Administration (e.g., NSA wiretapping, coercive interrogation of terrorists, the Patriot Act). For all the handwringing that "civil libertarians" have been engaging in over these policies, Professor Yoo persuasively illustrated that not only does the administration have precedence on its side, none of what is going on now is nearly as "drastic" as what past presidents have done in previous wars. Roosevelt, for example, had ordered the monitoring of all forms of domestic communications a full year and a half before the U.S.'s formal entry into World War II. The Republic not only survived this seemingly imperial act, civil liberties would actually be expanded after the war concluded.

What I really found interesting about Professor Yoo is his willingness to publicly defend the Bush Administration's national security and war policies even when the administration itself does not seem all that interested in doing so. Indeed, this is the one major criticism that Professor Yoo has of the administration (he was especially critical of former Sec. of State Colin Powell and current Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice).

As a side note, I got to speak with Professor Yoo a little bit before he gave his lecture, and he informed that his old boss, Justice Thomas, will be releasing a book of his memoirs sometime this summer. In case you're wondering, the book is expected to address the whole Anita Hill affair.


pete5050 said...

Good stuff Roger. Too bad you couldn't have recorded the talk and posted that for us to listen to. Although I have plenty of concerns about government intrusion into our privacy, the professor is correct in saying that there are plenty of precidents, and it is good that you mentioned Roosevelt who took many more drastic and intrusive actions concerning individual privacy than probably any other president in the country's history. People forget that the closest this country ever came to a monarch was under FDR. Some of FDR's executive orders still remain in effect or have been added on to, which demonstrates that political hegemony is definitely bi-partisan.

Pauli said...

Re: privacy vs. security: I remember my dad was really concerned when that program of gov't eavesdropping on foreign calls was exposed by the press. I said "who cares if they have to ostensibly can the formal program; they can start a new clandestine version of the program run by an agency that doesn't even exist." This probably shows what a horrible, horrible, freedom-hating person I am, but if I worried that Big Brother was recording a call from my wife about what size milk to pick up at the store it would be correct to wonder about an ego size-perception issue.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend that is Egyptian, was an Egyptian intelligence officer, and also served on Sadat's peace commission to Israel. He has been a US citizen for 25+ years and has many amusing stories of dealing with the FBI and anyone else that has been listening to his phone calls to Egypt to talk to his family and his calls here in the US. Luckily, these agency types have a thick skin and are pretty jaded, as some of the things my friend does to let them know that he knows they are listening are very funny to say the least.
We started losing privacy under FDR when he got Congress to provide him with the War Powers Act, which basically made him and all presidents from that point on absolute monarchs, being able to legislate via executive order which Klinton took advantage of more than all presidents combined before him did. Interesting how they can just issue an executive order to put something into law, even when the Congress and Supreme Court are opposed to it. Ahhh, to have the powers of an absolute monarch. ;-)

Pauli said...

Anon, you spelled "Clinton" incorrectly. At least he was an impeachable monarch. Interesting concept.