On Friday a significant decision was handed down regarding the personal accountability of a member of the Bush administration for torture. A U.S. District Court judge ruled that John Yoo could be held accountable in a civil law suit for his role in drafting the Bush era policy on torture.
According to a story by staff writer Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor, a decision was rendered by U. S. District Court judge Jeffery White that allows former Assistant Deputy Attorney General John Yoo to be held personally responsible in a civil lawsuit for the memos he produced that were part of authorizing the harsh interrogation techniques that many consider to be torture that was used on alleged enemy combatant Jose Padilla. Judge White, who I understand to have been a Bush appointee, issued a 42 page decision in which he is quoted “Like any other government official, government lawyers are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their conduct.”
The full decision can be read or downloaded at the Constitutional Law Prof Blog along with a further comment on the ruling, to which I will defer as I am not a lawyer, much less a professor of Constitutional Law. In the comment on that blog, it is noted that Judge White finds the legal cover of the memos was an unconstitutional exercise of power, and also denies Yoo’s claim of qualified immunity.
This is a significant ruling in view of the recent Supreme Court decision that threw out a similar case against former AG Ashcroft, and FBI director Mueller who continues to head the FBI under the Obama administration. These cases have been defended on behalf of Yoo, Ashcroft and Mueller, by the Department of Justice. It has been the position of President Obama that individuals who were operating in good faith on behalf of the government should not be held acountable, investigated or prosecuted for their actions or their legal opinions.
Given the decision in this suit, and the new interest expressed by Attorney General Holder in addressing the issues involving possible illegal actions, including torture and other illegalities, we can only hope that in future the Department of Justice will find itself on the prosecuting rather than the defending side of these individuals.
As I have slogged through the 38 page document that is the part of the report by the five Inspector Generals that is not classified, allow me to share for those who don’t have the time or inclination that it was significant who refused to be interviewed by the Inspector Generals who were performing the investigation at the direction of Congress: Yoo, former A.G. Ashcroft, former head of the CIA Tenet, and aide to former Vice President Cheney, Addision.
In view of the extremely poor quality of the legal work provided by Yoo, including the criticism for which Yoo was singled out by the five Inspectors General relating to the PSP, the President’s Surveillance Program, among other criticism, I can only say I am surprised that Yoo continues to hold a position as a law professor at Berkely. Being a bad government lawyer, even if you are a high profile bad lawyer, would not seem to be a very adequate recommendation for teaching.
Former A.G. Gonzales, after a period of time apparently having difficulty finding work, also turned up as a professor at Texas Tech for the fall schedule, but in political science, not law. I would have thought, given how things worked out, that he wouldn’t be considered very good at either.