The main editorial of both the Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times today defends the notorious UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo, and it's stunning for its ignorance. The papers claim that the university should leave Yoo alone because to punish him would violate academic freedom. But whoever wrote the editorial clearly has not done their homework. When Yoo penned the infamous torture memos for the Bush Administration, he was doing far more than just expressing his opinion. In his official position with the Bush Justice Department, Yoo's work effectively authorized the torture of prisoners, and he clearly knew it. Some of the prisoners were then tortured to death. On what planet does that constitute academic freedom? It's absurd on its face.
The editorial also makes the unsubstantiated claim that disciplining Yoo "borders on McCarthyism." That's a ridiculous canard. It's also another example of the editorial writer's startling ignorance. No one is suggesting that Yoo's should be punished for holding an opinion. In fact, if Yoo had written his legal opinions for a scholarly journal, presented them at a symposium, or even taught them to his Berkeley students, then, yes, he should be protected from punishment. That's what academic freedom is supposed to do - protect the right of professors to hold unpopular points of view, no matter how ridiculous they might be. But in Yoo's case, he wasn't merely expressing an opinion - he was telling the Bush Administration to go ahead and torture people, and then provided he provided them with legal cover so that they wouldn't be prosecuted. It's a well established tradition that the Justice Department won't prosecute someone for following one of their legal opinions. In short, Yoo told Bush and company: "Go ahead and torture and I'll make sure you'll never be brought to justice in the United States." Yoo clearly went beyond expressing an opinion - he enabled war crimes. If that's academic freedom, then we have one seriously screwed up educational system.
Finally, the paper claims that Yoo should be left alone unless he's convicted of a crime. Where does it say that in the university code of professional conduct? The truth is the university has fired professors before who weren't convicted of a crime. In one case, the university fired a professor for sexually harassing students. So, Trib and CC Times, are you saying that it's okay for a professor (while on leave from the university) to authorize torture that leads to people's deaths, plus provide legal protection for the torturers and their superiors, but if you mess with a co-ed, you're gone? Ridiculous.