Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
Back To School Day at Law School—John Yoo Is A War Criminal!
Revolution received the following correspondence:
Berkeley, CA, Monday, August 17: On a sunny late summer day, a determined group of over 60 people gathered on the steps of University of California Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall). Dressed as detainees, hooded protesters in orange jumpsuits stood sentry around the crowd. A man posed frozen atop a box in the iconic dark hood and drape of an Abu Ghraib torture victim, with the yellow "Cal" logo across his chest. As students arrived, "detainees" silently flanked the doors, alongside teams talking with students and professors, and handing out World Can't Wait's new brochure, "The Truth About Torture: Fire, Disbar and Prosecute John Yoo!"
People were here on the first day of law school classes for a press conference and then a spirited protest to make torture and Boalt's Torture Professor the question before all. Led by World Can't Wait, the National Lawyers Guild, and other organizations, the crowd demanded that former Bush regime lawyer John Yoo be fired, disbarred, and prosecuted for war crimes. By late afternoon, most of the law school was abuzz as students were stirred into debate over the protesters' message, and four protesters including Stephanie Tang, a World Can't Wait leader, were under arrest. The action received much media coverage, including CNN and local TV news. An excellent kick-off for the new school year!
At the press conference, TV cameras and reporters joined the crowd to hear impassioned speakers led by representatives of four generations of UC and Boalt alumni: Sharon Adams, Dan Siegel, Anne Weills, Marc-Tizoc Gonzalez, and Ann Fagan Ginger all exposed and denounced the shameful role of government lawyers whose work was essential in making torture possible—the university and the law school for harboring and legitimizing war criminal John Yoo—and the danger of a future where not enough people have resisted and repudiated torture. A powerful statement was read on behalf of the Coalition for an Ethical American Psychologists Association. Other speakers included World Can't Wait, Progressive Democrats of America, National Accountability Action Network, and Code Pink.
After the press conference, as Yoo's Civil Procedures class was to begin, 40 protesters flowed into a hallway filling with students. Many students checked out World Can't Wait flyers and talked with protesters, and debate was flying: Shouldn't people wait for Obama to fix the problems? Does protest energize or alienate people? Are law students exempt from social responsibility until they graduate? Aren't there ways people can stop war crimes besides marching in the streets?
This hallway debate—raucous, intense, and heartfelt—was punctuated by the arrival of John Yoo. As Yoo approached the classroom he was surrounded and verbally confronted by protesters calling him a war criminal and demanding an end to torture and his prosecution. As UC police began trying to silence the protesters, more such debate continued as protesters met Yoo inside the classroom. Even after most were rousted by the cops, the debate continued in the hallway.
Apparently this sort of conversation about crucial social and moral issues is not tolerated within the approved law school discourse, because campus police arrested four protesters to shut down these conversations.
World Can't Wait organizers say they had not known how many people to expect at this protest, or how those people would be thinking protest actions could affect the situation. But the "back to school day" turnout of protesters was large and broad, and their mood intense and serious. They were not only willing to confront the authorities of the university—they were determined to engage with the students and teachers, people who under this system are day-to-day living with a war criminal harbored in their midst, and they're supposed to think this is OK. The attitude of everyone at the press conference and then the protest was "This is intolerable! Torture is a war crime—torture is immoral. People living in this country have to say NO!" Of this kind of conscience, defiance and resistance, there needs to be much more.
Students and teachers make moral and political choices as well. Will it be a new normalcy of life on campus to allow those who commit war crimes on behalf of the American empire to find safe haven there? Are future lawyers really OK with learning about ethics, morality and justice from someone responsible for the torture and murder at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib? Are professors going to be silent because it's uncomfortable to admit that the guy in the next classroom helped set up excuses and impunity for enormous government crimes?
Stephanie Tang, a World Can't Wait leader and the first protester to be singled out and arrested, said later that day: "Torture sanctioned by your government—torture as a standing weapon in the U.S. arsenal for its so-called 'War on Terror'—this calls into question the very principles by which many people live. Can you, do you want to, are you willing to live under a system that tortures? If you refuse—what will you do to resist it? What can you do to stop it, in a way that's meaningful and powerful? That's what we were doing today, all of us. And if we speak and act for the truth about torture, despite the risks—if our numbers today aren't strong enough, those numbers can grow. American lives are NOT more important than the lives of others around the planet, and there are a lot of people who know this is true, and we have to reach them and we have to call them forward to join us."
The anti-war (and anti-torture) movement is up against big challenges. The Bush regime created programs—with the lawyers like John Yoo playing critical roles—to legitimize the systematic use of torture which was implemented with deadly consequences across the globe. Under Obama these programs continue largely unchanged, yet in the wake of Obama's election a large part of the anti-war movement has collapsed, with many people disoriented and demobilized, acquiescing to the crimes of their own government. It is high time for rebels and resisters who truly want a different world, to see that huge stakes rest on what people do now, and to act. Will people "wait for Obama to do the best he can" or will there be resistance upswelling from below, that can be stepped up and built, as part of people learning and transforming themselves in the course of fighting the power?
The battle over torture is a key part of a broader nationwide struggle to halt the ongoing crimes of the U.S. empire—including its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and threats against Iran. And it was very significant that the anti-Yoo protest received local and nationwide news coverage, including on CNN and in the Washington Post. World Can't Wait has announced big and exciting plans for reviving anti-war and anti-torture protest nationally.
Such broad resistance is urgently needed and is a key ingredient in bringing forward a movement for revolution.
For more information and updates go to worldcantwait.net
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