torture and spying: the legacy of 9/11

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How Far Have We Come Since September 11th?

Most Americans are looking back at the handling of the 'war on terror' with new eyes.

By Pacific Citizen Staff and Associated Press 
Published September 4, 2009

Almost eight years after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, the man credited with crafting legal theories for waterboarding, maintains his position on harsh interrogation techniques and warrantless wiretapping.

"To limit the president's constitutional power to protect the nation from foreign threats is simply foolhardy," wrote John Yoo in a July 16 Wall Street Journal opinion piece, a rare and selective breach of his routine of silence. He did not, however, respond to the Pacific Citizen's requests for comment.

Yoo, 42, says the controversial interrogation techniques were needed to protect the country from terrorist attacks like the ones on Sept. 11, 2001 -- the second date in U.S. history that lives in infamy. Eight years after two hijacked airplanes flew into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center, the sights and sounds of the attacks are still ingrained, but the way Americans are thinking about them is evolving. 

"The public has moved on from the initial concern of another terrorist attack," said Larry Oda, JACL national president. The focus now seems to be how "the government has eroded our civil liberties to 'protect us.'"

Yoo, on the other hand, has remained steadfast. 

"The power to protect the nation," wrote Yoo in the same Wall Street Journal piece citing a quote from Alexander Hamilton, "ought to exist without limitation."

Critics have organized demonstrations at the University of California, Berkeley calling for the former Bush administration attorney to be dismissed, disbarred and prosecuted for war crimes. 

Shouting "war criminal," the protesters confronted Yoo as he entered a lecture hall on the first day of class at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, where the tenured professor is teaching a civil law course.

Yoo mostly ignored the demonstrators and waited for police to remove them from the classroom before he began teaching. Several officers then stood outside the lecture hall to prevent protesters and journalists from entering.

On Aug. 27, demonstrators from groups like World Can't Wait dressed in orange prisoner suits similar to ones seen in infamous photos of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, which was closed in 2006 following reports of detainee abuse. They carried signs that read, "Shame on Yoo" and "Say No To Torture."

Yoo has come under criticism since the interrogation memos became public in 2004. The Berkeley City Council has passed a measure calling for the federal government to prosecute him for war crimes, and convicted terrorist Jose Padilla has filed a lawsuit alleging that Yoo's legal opinions led to his alleged torture.

"I think Yoo should be among those tried in a court of law for the role they played in creating a policy that allowed for torture as a 'legal' method of interrogation," said John Tateishi, immediate past JACL national director and UC Berkeley alumnus.

After Pearl Harbor, the Sept. 11th terrorist attack was only the second time Americans were attacked on home soil. Both dates, separated by 60 years, have forged an indelible relationship between two communities -- Japanese Americans and Arab and Muslim Americans -- united by experiences of racial discrimination.

During World War II, over 100,000 JAs were forcibly incarcerated in internment camps. Their crime was their Japanese ancestry. The parallels between the plight of WWII JAs and Muslim and Arab Americans today run almost infinitely -- including FBI sweeps, habeas corpus challenges and civil liberties violations.

In the immediate wake of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, JACL urged the government not to react like it did during WWII, said Tateishi, who was national director at the time.

"In the days and months following 9/11, I felt it was extremely important that the JACL be a voice for the Japanese American community because we had what I viewed as the most credible and significant perspective on both the political and public reactions taking place after 9/11," he said.
The JA community knows the impact of allowing an "anything goes" philosophy during times of war, said current JACL National Director Floyd Mori.

"The mistake of the government at that time [during WWII] has been well heralded as one of the biggest mistakes our government has made regarding civil liberties and that lesson of history is well suited for today," Mori said.

A newly declassified version of a CIA report, revealed Aug. 24, that CIA interrogators threatened to kill a Sept. 11 suspect's children and suggested another would be forced to watch his mother sexually assaulted.

Eight years after the terrorist attacks, the Obama administration is setting strict new standards for treatment of terror suspects, as the U.S. Justice Department launches a criminal probe of past interrogation tactics during President George W. Bush's efforts to combat terrorism.

And Yoo will continue to teach law at UC Berkeley despite protests and demonstrations.

Christopher Edley Jr., UC Berkeley's law school dean, has rejected calls to dismiss Yoo, saying the university doesn't have the resources to investigate his Justice Department work, which involved classified intelligence.

Today Asian Pacific American leaders say it's important to focus on protecting and restoring civil liberties.

"We need to remember that our liberty is fragile," said Oda. "We need to be vigilant and ready to defend our rights from those who wish to control them." 

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This page contains a single entry published on September 5, 2009 1:03 PM.

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