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May 15, 2009
4:40 PM

CONTACT: Media Matters for America

Brandon Hersh (202) 471-3205

Erikka Knuti (202) 756-4135

Yoo Brings History of Inconsistency and Hypocrisy to 'Inquirer'

WASHINGTON - May 15 - Today, Media Matters for America responded to Philadelphia Inquirer editorial page editor Harold Jackson's reported justification for hiring University of California-Berkeley law professor and former-Bush Justice Department lawyer John Yoo as a regular columnist. Jackson defended the decision, saying, among other things that "[o]ur readers have been able to get directly from Mr. Yoo his thoughts on a number of subjects concerning law and the courts." But, as Media Matters has documented, in previous work for the Inquirer and other publications, readers have not received clear and consistent explications of Yoo's "thoughts" on key legal and judicial issues. Among other things, Yoo has misrepresented the Bush administration's position on the constitutional limits of its authority regarding detainee treatment and interrogation and hypocritically criticized President Obama for endorsing qualities in judicial nominees that Yoo himself praised in Justice Clarence Thomas.

Media Matters President Eric Burns said of Yoo's hiring: "Mr. Yoo engaged in morally and possibly legally reprehensible behavior during the Bush administration but his behavior as a columnist has not been much better. Yoo has repeatedly and unapologetically provided his readers with inconsistent, unreliable information."

Burns added: "In a time when newspaper space is a precious commodity, it is troubling that Mr. Jackson gave that space to a columnist with a history of misinforming the public."


As Media Matters documented, Yoo has a history -- in his writing for the Inquirer and elsewhere -- of inconsistency and hypocrisy:

Inconsistency on whether torture is prohibited by federal law

In his May 29, 2004, Wall Street Journal op-ed, Yoo wrote that "interrogations of detainees captured in the war on terrorism are not regulated under Geneva. This is not to condone torture, which," he then asserted, "is still prohibited by the Torture Convention and federal criminal law."

However, in a March 14, 2003, memo to William Haynes, Yoo wrote that "[i]n our view, Congress may no more regulate the President's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield." He thus concluded, "[W]e will construe potentially applicable criminal laws ... not to apply to the President's detention and interrogation of enemy combatants pursuant to his Commander-in-Chief authority."

Similarly, an August 1, 2002, memo -- reportedly written "primarily" by Yoo -- on "Standards of Conduct for Interrogation" under the federal torture statute stated that the prohibitions of federal law did not apply to interrogations authorized by the president as part of the war against Al Qaeda because "Congress may no more regulate the President's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield."

Inconsistency on the legal status of Afghanistan

In the Journal op-ed, Yoo made statements about the legal status of Afghanistan that contradicted what he wrote in a Justice Department memo about why Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions. In the op-ed, Yoo wrote: "While Taliban fighters had an initial claim to protection under the [Geneva] Conventions (since Afghanistan signed the treaties), they lost POW status by failing to obey the standards of conduct for legal combatants: wearing uniforms, a responsible command structure, and obeying the laws of war."

But in a January 9, 2002, draft memo to Haynes about the "Application of Treaties and Laws to al Qaeda and Taliban detainees," Yoo had a different view of Afghanistan's status as a party to the Geneva Conventions. He wrote: "Afghanistan was without the attributes of statehood necessary to continue as a party to the Geneva Conventions, and the Taliban militia, like al Qaeda, is therefore not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions." Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel from late 2003 to 2004, wrote in his book, The Terror Presidency, that there was a "very sharp internal dispute over the reasons for" concluding that the Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees were presumptively not POWs under the Geneva Conventions. In that dispute, Goldsmith wrote, "Yoo floated the idea that the Taliban did not receive POW protections because Afghanistan was a failed state and thus did not deserve the protections of the Geneva Conventions at all."

Hypocrisy on judges showing empathy

Yoo has also made inconsistent, hypocritical statements on the issue of judges showing empathy. In his May 10 Inquirer column, Yoo denounced Obama's stated intention to nominate a Supreme Court justice who demonstrates the quality of empathy. But in a review of Thomas' 2007 memoir, My Grandfather's Son -- in which Yoo praised Thomas' "unique, powerful intellect" and commitment to "the principle that the Constitution today means what the Framers thought it meant" -- Yoo touted the unique perspective that he said Thomas brings to the bench. Yoo wrote that Thomas "is a black man with a much greater range of personal experience than most of the upper-class liberals who take potshots at him" and argued that Thomas' work on the court has been influenced by his understanding of the less fortunate acquired through personal experience.

For more information on Yoo, please see:

In 2004 WSJ op-ed, Yoo made claims at odds with his Justice Department memos

Is Philly Inquirer also OK with Yoo's hypocrisy?

John Yoo is a lousy columnist, too.

Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.


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