SHAFR John Yoo and Torture

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We, the undersigned, members of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) and/or participants at the 2008 annual meeting of SHAFR, believe that the legal opinions of John Yoo on the legality of torture are morally abhorrent and constitute the untenable advocacy of war crimes by or on behalf of the United States. The opinions are in contravention of both the criminal laws and the treaty obligations of the United States. We believe that Yoo's legal opinions on the unfettered exercise of executive power are legally unsound and pose a grave threat to the separation-of-powers feature of the Constitution.



In an August 2002 memorandum that he co-authored and in a recently released March 2003 memorandum that he authored, Yoo stated that federal statutes against torture, assault, maiming, and interstate stalking cannot restrict the President in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief. He licensed the use of atrocious and clearly illegal practices such as "waterboarding" by narrowing the legal standards for "torture," defining it as a practice requiring the victim to experience intense pain or suffering equivalent to pain associated with death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in loss of significant bodily functions. Yoo's arguments have provided the legal foundation and justification for the commission of war crimes, including torture and cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners, as one component of a constitutionally indefensible expansion of executive power. Yoo's arguments contravene the letter and spirit of the U. N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, both of which were ratified by the U.S. Senate, and are the "law of the land" under Article VI of the Constitution. Yoo furthermore stated in his memoranda that arguments for self-defense or necessity could be used in defense of torture, despite the Convention's unequivocal statement that "[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war may be invoked as a justification of torture."



We, the undersigned, strongly affirm the need for U.S. policy to respect human rights both internationally and within the United States. We call upon the executive and legislative branches to forbid torture and cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees under all circumstances, wherever they are held and whatever their nationality.