Friday, February 5, 2010
Best Presidents Took Broad View of Powers, Yoo Tells Lawyers
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The best American presidents were willing to take measures that many of their contemporaries thought unconstitutional, former Assistant Attorney General John Yoo told members of two conservative legal groups yesterday.
At a lunchtime event in downtown Los Angeles, co-sponsored by the local chapter of the Federalist Society and the Libertarian Law Council, Yoo—who now teaches at UC Berkeley School of Law—plugged his recent book “Crisis and Command: A History of Executive Power from George Washington to George W. Bush.”
Yoo became a lightning rod for critics of the Bush administration because of his work as head of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, including his authorship of memos supporting “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which some describe as torture, in order to obtain information from terrorism suspects.
The “hero” of his book, Yoo explained yesterday, is Abraham Lincoln, whom he contrasted with his predecessor, James Buchanan. He concurred with historians, who in polls consistently rate Lincoln as among the very best presidents and Buchanan among the very worst.
Yoo noted that Lincoln was willing to suspend habeas corpus in order to win the Civil War, and took the monumental step of issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, asserting that as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he could end slavery in areas in rebellion against the United States, notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision upholding slavery and asserting that slaves were property and had no legal rights.
Buchanan, Yoo noted, felt that secession was unconstitutional but believed that as president he was powerless to stop it.
In a question-and-answer session following his talk, Yoo had a civil, but somewhat pointed exchange, with Stephen Rohde, a Century City attorney and civil liberties advocate. Rohde questioned Yoo about a 2005 debate in which Yoo declined to state that “crushing the testicles of the detainee’s child” would necessarily violate the Constitution or an act of Congress.
Yoo said the comment was taken out of context. He explained that he had gone on to state in that debate that the issue was “completely hypothetical” and that he also said he could not foresee circumstances in which it would be “necessary or appropriate” to take such action.
He added that Congress would always have the power to check the use of such techniques, or of any presidential action it sees as an overreaching exercise of power, since Congress controls the federal purse strings, in addition to having the powers both of legislation and impeachment.
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