Revolution#131, June 1, 2008

Protest at UC Berkeley Law School Graduation Demands Firing of Torture Professor

BERKELEY, May 17—As parents, graduates, faculty and administration filed into the graduation ceremony at the Greek Theater for UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall Law School, they encountered a demonstration of over 200 people, including dozens in orange jumpsuits and black hoods. The demonstration—sponsored by Act Against Torture, the National Lawyers Guild, and World Can’t Wait—demanded that John Yoo be fired from his position at Boalt teaching constitutional law. The National Lawyers Guild, along with a growing number of other groups and individuals, has called on Boalt to fire John Yoo, and for high-ranking Bush officials and lawyers to be investigated and prosecuted for their role in the torture of prisoners.

The protest challenged people to confront the reality of torture being carried out by the U.S. There was a cage with two orange jump-suited “Guantánamo prisoners” and enlarged photos of Iraqi prisoners being tortured at Abu Ghraib. Protesters held up copies of the current issue of the East Bay Express, a weekly newspaper widely distributed in the Bay Area, that featured a front page article on Yoo titled “The Torture Professor.” A man, his head covered by a hood, stood on a box with his arms spread—a pose that has come to symbolize U.S.-backed torture. Members of the Bay Area Revolution Club held a banner reading “U.S. Imperialism Needs War and Torture. Humanity Needs Revolution and Communism.”

Carlos Mauricio, a survivor tortured at the hands of U.S.-backed death squads in El Salvador in the 1980s, spoke of how the United States trains military forces around the world to carry out torture in order to terrorize the people.

Graduates, their families, and law school faculty were challenged to wear orange ribbons and to take a stand against torture. Organizers estimate that about 5% of the graduates and 10% of family members wore the ribbons. “We called on the students to use this opportunity to go out into the world and right a terrible wrong, to take their degree and use it to prosecute John Yoo for war crimes,” said an organizer with World Can’t Wait. One of the most dramatic displays of opposition to John Yoo was a plane that flew over the graduation for about 15 minutes towing a banner that said “Shame on Yoo & UC—End Torture.”

Inside the graduation, two UC Berkeley students held a banner demanding that Yoo be fired. “I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time, to hold that sign up and know that there was a lot of people standing behind me and that this is the right thing to do,” one of the students holding the banner told Revolution. “When it comes down to it, you’ve got to put your foot down and stand there and be strong.”

Some law students expressed concern that the demand to fire Yoo was a threat to academic freedom and tenure. But as Reggie Dylan wrote in Revolution, “the demand to fire John Yoo is not based on his scholarship. John Yoo is a war criminal. He is a chief architect of the U.S. policy of open, legal torture… According to Human Rights Watch, more than a hundred people have died in U.S. detention in the so-called war on terror. The group has found 11 cases where the deaths resulted from torture, and others where torture was connected… John Yoo played an active, deliberate, and leading role in making all of this possible.” (See “Controversy Over Berkeley Law School’s Refusal to Fire Bush’s ‘Enabler’: Professor John Yoo Has Blood on His Hands!” online at

The fact that someone like John Yoo is teaching constitutional law at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, one with a history of progressive and radical politics, is an outrage and a challenge. Think of what it means to the families and relatives of those who have died at the hands of U.S. torturers—and to the people of the world—that Yoo is teaching at UC Berkeley or that other war criminals of the Bush regime like Donald Rumsfeld (who has been appointed a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University) are taking their places in the academic elite of society. That there isn’t a society-wide uproar about the moves by this government to make torture open and legal shows how far the U.S. has gone down the road where all of this is accommodated to and accepted as a “fact of life.” The current climate, where people are learning to live with torture, imperialist war, denial of basic rights, and more, must be urgently transformed—and, as part of this, the efforts of those who are demanding that Yoo be fired—and that he and others of the Bush regime be held accountable for war crimes—must be supported and joined.

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