Bloggers bite into two profiles of legal thinker John C. Yoo, who helped forge the legal framework for the war on terror. They also discuss a gas attack in Russia and the revelation that a Department of Homeland Security horror story was, in fact, a hoax.
Yoo who?: Two major profiles of legal thinker John C. Yoo published this week portray the former deputy assistant attorney general as a major intellectual figure in the war on terror. Within weeks of Sept. 11, Yoo had become "a critical player in the Bush administration's legal response to the terrorist threat, and an influential advocate for the expansive claims of presidential authority that have been a hallmark of that response," the New York Times reported Friday. The Washington Post is more openly critical of Yoo. "Widely considered the intellectual architect of the most dramatic assertion of White House power since the Nixon era, he has seen constitutional scholars skewer his reasoning and students call for his ouster from the University of California at Berkeley," the paper reports.
Conservatives take issue with the very premise of the stories. "I reject completely the claim that the Bush administration has pursued 'the most dramatic assertion of White House power since the Nixon era,' " writes Mark Levin at National Review's clubhouse The Corner. The Clinton administration, he says, regularly utilized domestic surveillance programs and was far more aggressive in barricading the White House against inquiry and investigation than the Bush administration has been.
Colleague Cliff May agrees, pointing to testimony from a Clinton-era associate attorney general that the approach to warrantless searches by that administration matches exactly the much-decried policy of the Bush team. At rightist syndicate Power Line, Paul Hinderaker calls the Post story a "hit piece."
Those on the left are more receptive to the critical coverage. "Provocative as Yoo's ideas may be, they are deeply authoritarian," assures leading liberal Joshua Micah Marshall at Talking Points Memo. "And his claim that there is any historical basis for such absolute presidential authority is laughable. ... Democracy can be lost in a lot of ways. This is one of them. These theories of executive power deserve a thorough airing and discussion quite apart from the particular abuses they may have been used to justify."
Others agree the executive precedent is troubling. "Yoo's argument is one of expediency," writes liberal contributor RMJ at Adventus. "We need to return the conversation to one that is morally based." Many other Bush critics marvel at the disproportionate influence of the junior aide. "In other words, it all boils down once again to the famed Bush Triad: cronyism, a shortage of real expertise, and an intellectually corrupt policy-making process," Jack O'Toole snips. Liberal journalist Laura Rozen is even more aggressive in targeting Yoo. "Since his name and fingerprints are on some of the most objectionable memos, I don't see why those who have been wrongly tortured under the guidelines Yoo set out don't sue him personally in US courts?" she asks at War and Piece.
Read more about John Yoo.
Consumer terrorism?: A gas attack in a Russian chain store Monday hospitalized 66 people and affected at least a dozen others, the Associated Press reports. Russian officials refused to describe the incident as a terrorist attack, instead suggesting the gas bombs were an ugly outgrowth of business competition during the busy holiday season.
"This explanation reflects a ludicrous level of denial," contends conservative Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters. (At The Bos'Un Locker, contributor Rosemary, a reporter in California, suggests a similar state of denial swept across England in July and France in October and November.) "Of course," writes Morrissey, "these attacks constitute terrorism; they're designed to inflict fear on civilians for a specific effect, even if the Russians have correctly identified the perpetrators and their motivations. ... This operation looks pretty darned expensive in materials, time, and expertise"
Others believe Morrissey may be overextending in his definition. "I'm not willing to go that far—crime and terroism have extremely important legal meanings and it is important that such acts be properly designated—it's the possibility of cross-pollenation that scares the pants off of me," writes divinity student-cum-chemist John Schroeder at Blogotional. At the Strata-Sphere, AJ Strata also worries that political terrorists might be behind the relatively innocuous attacks. "These could be demonstrations to the government of the terrorist abilities, with demands being passed along on how to avoid future real attacks," he writes. Active Republican Andy Aplikowski of Residual Forces believes the attacks might hold a lesson for squeamish American citizens. "Do you still think we can just forget about domestic surveillance?" he asks.
David Wallace-Wells is a writer living in New York.