"Torture Memo" Bush Lawyer Takes on KQED Listeners

John Yoo demonstrates just how confounding arguing with lawyers can be

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    Say what you will about John Yoo, but he hasn't backed down from facing critics in public. Except on campus, of course.

    Give former Department of Justice Attorney John Yoo some credit -- the author of some of the Bush administrations most infamous "torture memos" hasn't shied away from interviews with critics on his expiatory book tour, with last month's stop on the Daily Show with John Stewart and Monday's chat with Michael Krasny on KQED's Forum.

    Maybe these interrogations at the hands of liberal media bastions could be considered "enhanced charm techniques."

    Yoo was the controversial attorney who helped write the memo classifying prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center as "enemy combatants" with no protection under the Geneva Convention, as well as "enhanced interrogation techniques" like waterboarding that the current administration considers torture.

    Citing the intense pressure in the wake of the September 11 tragedy, he said the DOJ moved quickly and that the decision was "riddled with errors," an opinion shared by many legal critics of the memos.

    Krasny pointed to "a whole ream of emails" from listeners who consider Yoo a "stooge of the Bush administration" who should be tried for war crimes at the International Court at the Hague.

    The DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility recently completed a lengthy, if incomplete, investigation of Yoo's conduct in drafting the memos, and while it found deficiencies, didn't recommend any punitive action be taken.

    Yoo's best argument, and the one that ties in to his book, "Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush," was that, frankly, presidential power has been abused in the past for better or worse, from Lincoln's suspension of Habeus Corpus during the civil war to Truman's decision to drop the bomb, and suggested that the latter -- the power of complete global annihilation -- has distorted presidential power.

    Gamely parrying questions from the Bush-hating heartland of the East Bay, Yoo did his best to frame his legal opinions as, if anything, a model of restraint and moderation.

    "I feel there's strong feelings on both sides," Yoo concluded, reminding folks in Berkeley that plenty of 24-watching Americans would have been more than happy to give Gitmo marines an even freer hand in interrogations.

    Jackson West has to admit, Yoo is a smooth, slippery but still ultimately shady operator.