Monday, September 18, 2006

John Yoo is a dangerous idiot

I wrote about Yoo's un-American constitutionalism -- his championing of the executive branch over the legislative and judicial ones -- last week (see here). My main point was this: "If there is only war, there is only wartime constitutionalism. Legislators may still enact laws (presumably) and judges may still interpret them (presumably), but the shift of gravity to the executive branch, to the Oval Office, is total. The presidency rises above Congress and the courts, American constitutionalism is un-Americanized, and such quaint notions as the separation of powers and checks and balances go the way of the Geneva Conventions -- they get in the way, and must therefore be abandoned."

Well, Yoo himself appeared in the op-ed pages of The New York Times yesterday to make his case. In the course of his piece, he defends the decision to go to war, in Iraq presumably, "to war to pre-empt foreign threats," the NSA's illegal eavesdropping program ("to root out terrorism" at home), the detention of terrorists "without formal charges," torture (euphemistically referring to it as "interrogating some harshly"), and "military tribunals modeled on those of past wars".

All of which is put in context: "But the president has broader goals than even fighting terrorism -- he has long intended to make reinvigorating the presidency a priority." For examples of a reinvigorated presidency, Yoo praises Bush's "decisions to terminate the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty and to withdraw from the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto accords on global warming". These "[rest] on constitutional precedents going all the way back to Abraham Lincoln".

And there's more: "The administration has also been energetic on the domestic front. It has re-classified national security information made public in earlier administrations and declined, citing executive privilege, to disclose information to Congress or the courts about its energy policy task force. The White House has declared that the Constitution allows the president to sidestep laws that invade his executive authority. That is why Mr. Bush has issued hundreds of signing statements -- more than any previous president -- reserving his right not to enforce unconstitutional laws."


It's hard to know where to begin to find fault with Yoo's piece. There's so much wrong with it that it seems pointless to pay it much serious attention. What Yoo has provided is essentially a laundry list of Bush's abuses of power while in the Oval Office. That that I thank him. I'm not sure anyone else has done it so succinctly, or at least so succinctly without even a trace of irony. All this is good, according to Yoo: Spying on Americans without warrants, torturing detainees, turning American justice on its head by suspending defendants' basic rights, sending America's brave men and women in uniform over to fight a disastrously unplanned war in the Middle East, pulling out of agreements that promote disarmament, international law, and global warming, and circumventing Congress on its way to establishing its absolute authority at home -- this, according to Yoo, is the legacy of the Bush presidency. And he makes his case in all seriousness.

Andrew Sullivan reminds us of this: "Remember also that Yoo is the man who believes that the president has absolute constitutional authority to torture the children of captured terrorists, if the president deems it necessary."

At TalkLeft, Big Tent Democrat writes that Yoo has been "utterly discredited" and that his op-ed piece is "audaciously mendacious". And I certainly agree with BTD on this: "The man is not only an extremist, he is a charlatan. That he remains on the public stage is an indictment on our society."

At Firedoglake, Christy Harden Smith puts it this way: "You need look no further for an example of that idiocy than John Yoo's flatulent, self-serving attempt at reputation enhancement op-ed in today's New York Times for a hollow attempt at after-the-fact justification of poorly reasoned propping up of legalistic maneuvers without foundation. Pathetic. And supremely transparent. How a professor of Constitutional law can put forth arguments based on such flawed and nonexistent precedents is beyond me -- the intellectual maneuvers required to be this dishonest with oneself... well, let's just say that Cirque du Soleil might want to add a new act."

The Heretik weighs, too.

And then I fall back on Glenn Greenwald, who makes a compelling case for ignoring Yoo entirely: "[A]nyone who fails (or refuses) to recognize that the President does not have the power in our system of government to violate laws by invoking national security concerns is never going to recognize that. Yoo's Op-Ed is so flagrantly frivolous that it ought not be taken seriously."

You know, he's right. Why take Yoo seriously? Why even bother to respond to his ridiculous op-ed piece? (Even The Volokh Conspiracy's Orin Kerr finds Yoo's statements here to be "diametrically opposed" to statements he made about Clinton in 2000 -- like a lot of unitary executive types, Yoo only seems to favour unitary executives who are Republican.) Why not just thank him for providing us all with an un-ironic list of Bush's abuses of power, a handy cheat sheet for whenever we need to remind ourselves of the myriad times Bush has shat all over America (and the rest of the world, allies and all) during his two terms in the White House (and there's still so much time for more!)?

Yes, Yoo has sullied this blog more than enough...

But you know the problem? Whatever the merits of his case, Yoo is still taken seriously, still gets to have his case published in the Times, and still has influence on those in power who are working to implement his un-American constitutionalism. As I put it in my previous post on Yoo: "Don't think this isn't possible. It's happening right now."

John Yoo and everything he stands for are extremely dangerous. He and everything he stands for must be stopped. But the force of persuasion won't be enough. Those who support him and everything he stands for won't be swayed by reason or by recourse to justice or history. No, the only way to stop him and everything he stands for is to kick these fuckers out of office -- yes, by removing from power those who fuck with the Constitution and the philosophy of American self-government. Some are in the White House, some are in Congress -- all need to go.

You want perhaps the most important reason to support the Democrats this year and in '08? This is it.

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