Mukasey Defends Yoo at BC Law Commencement


Mukasey's defense of John Yoo in his commencement address at Boston College Law School has drawn a lot of attention.

Today, many of the senior government lawyers who provided legal advice supporting the nation’s most important counterterrorism policies have been subjected to relentless public criticism. In some corners, one even hears suggestions—suggestions that are made in a manner that is almost breathtakingly casual—that some of these lawyers should be subject to civil or criminal liability for the advice they gave. The rhetoric of these discussions is hostile and unforgiving.

But few people have examined Mukasey's rationale for defending Yoo.


Essentially, Mukasey is making an argument that everyone concluded after 9/11 that timid lawyering had contributed to 9/11, and so if we criticize Yoo (and Addington and Gonzales and--I would argue, John Rizzo, Acting Counsel for CIA when the torture tapes were destroyed) for their decisions made under pressure to make lawyering less timid, our nation will be less secure as a result.


To make this argument, Mukasey relies on Jack Goldsmith's discussion of risk aversion in his book Terror Presidency. But Mukasey grossly misrepresents what Goldsmith describes as the primary root of risk aversion. Repeatedly, Goldsmith compares the difference between the legal means Roosevelt used in World War II with those the Bush Administration uses, and goes on to suggest that the rise of human rights in the intervening years had constrained presidential action. Goldsmith mentions, among other things, prohibitions on torture (most of them international) and assassination. Significantly, of the many legal developments he cites specifically as creating new limits on presidential action, only one--FISA--was a law passed in the US in response to intelligence operations gone legally awry (Goldsmith also mentions EO 12333, which is an order signed by Saint Ronnie, not a law passed by Congress or an international body, and he mentions "an aggressive post-Watergate Congress ... crafting many of the laws that so infuriatingly tied the President's hands in the post-9/11 world").


That's important because, rather than attributing this legal timidity to Goldsmith's more general trend of human rights over the last 60 years, Mukasey picks a few historical events as the source of risk aversion.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.