A guest post from Jonathan Hafetz

Slate's blog on legal issues.
April 7 2008 9:31 AM

A guest post from Jonathan Hafetz

Jonathan Hafetz directs litigation for the Liberty and National Security Project of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School. His thoughts on the torture memo and Guantanamo, below:

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate. Follow her on Twitter.

John Yoo’s recently released March 14, 2003, OLC memo is a tour de force of legal analysis gone bad. The memo has been rightly vilified here and elsewhere for making the president a king and for contributing to a torture culture in America. But even though Yoo’s memo has been repudiated, its discredited ideas live on in the detention system he helped create. Worse, Congress has now codified many of Yoo’s ideas through the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Advertisement

The prisoners condemned to legal limbo as "enemy combatants" are the first casualties of Yoo’s War on Law. Hundreds of men (many completely innocent) have spent years imprisoned at Guantanamo without habeas corpus or due process because Yoo and others sought to create a prison beyond the law. Guantanamo, in turn, has given rise to a combined system of indefinite detention (through Combatant Status Review Tribunals) and trials by military commissions that depend upon evidence gained through the very coercive interrogation tactics that Yoo sought to legitimize. Indeed, Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartman, the commissions’ legal adviser, maintains that military judges can even rely on evidence gained by water-boarding, a torture technique sanctioned by Yoo’s earlier (and now repudiated) Aug. 1, 2002, legal opinion. In other words, no evidence is too tainted for the Guantanamo commissions to consider.

Meanwhile, my client Ali Saleh Kahlah Almarri, a legal resident alien, is approaching his fifth year in virtual isolation at a Navy brig near Charleston, S.C., based upon Yoo’s discredited assertion that the Bill of Rights does not apply to the president’s conduct of the "war on terror" inside the United States. Remarkably, the administration continues to defend the proposition that the president can seize terrorist suspects in the country and detain them indefinitely as "enemy combatants" even though its deliberate mooting of the Jose Padilla case in the Supreme Court shows it recognizes that proposition is legally bankrupt.

Criticisms of Yoo often overlook his unthinking conflation of terrorism with war. Yoo is right that a state of war gives the president broad powers, even if he is wrong that those powers are unlimited and beyond regulation by Congress. But Yoo never critically examines the legal consequences of extending his too-robust vision of the executive’s war powers to terrorism. It is this leap that makes many of Yoo’s bolder assertions so terrifying. For example, Yoo’s assertion that the Fourth Amendment has "no application to domestic military operations" uses the rhetorical trope of the "war on terror" to mask the creation of a police state that can seize, interrogate, and indefinitely detain individuals on mere suspicion. It effectively sanctions a permanent state of emergency in which executive say-so swallows the traditional protections of criminal law upon which the Constitution’s guarantees of individual liberty were founded.

Restoring justice in America requires more than exposing and repudiating John Yoo’s legal thinking. It requires restoring the system that Yoo’s discredited ideas have helped to undermine and destroy.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 24 2014 7:00 AM Gallery: The Partial Solar Eclipse of October 2014
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.