Berkeley City Council Supports Prosecution of Law Professor

 By Amy Brooks

 
(This article is reprinted from the Daily Cal)
 
At the end of its raucous meeting last night, the Berkeley City Council voted to support the prosecution of UC Berkeley professor John Yoo, but rejected a stronger recommendation on the same subject from the Peace and Justice Commission.
 
In the presence of several orange-suited protesters wearing black bags over their heads and a packed crowd wearing orange ribbons in support of the commission item, the council voted to reissue an earlier resolution supporting the prosecution of Yoo, a professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law, to attorney generals of the U.S. and Northern California.
 
If Yoo is found guilty of human rights violations, the second part of the item urges UC Berkeley to fire him.
 
These recommendations were passed instead of an original Peace and Justice Commission proposal that would have added the city's name to a letter to UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau calling for an investigation of Yoo, among other actions.
 
As an employee of the Department of Justice from 2001-03, Yoo authored memos for the Bush administration that some say condone torture.
 
Debate on the item stretched until 11:30 p.m., as many anti-Yoo protesters spoke while others held up signs proclaiming "Yoo can run, but he can not hide" and "war criminals belong in prison, not on the faculty at UCB."
 
Many protesters took issue with the fact that Yoo is allowed to remain as a professor at Boalt Hall despite his past.
 
"I wonder why it is that we are teaching students that it's okay to torture innocent people in the name of so-called national security," said Sharon Adams, a Berkeley resident and lawyer.
 
After public comment, the council worked quickly to patch together an agreement between the original commission recommendation and a substitute motion, or an alternative item, put forth by Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Linda Maio.
 
However, many attendees criticized the substitute motion as too weak, partially because it lacked a recommendation for Boalt Hall to offer all non-elective courses taught by Yoo to be simultaneously taught by another professor.
 
"The substitute resolution pretty clearly carves UC Berkeley out of the chain of responsibility," said Stephanie Tang, a protester with World Can't Wait, a group that is displeased with the Bush administration. "The only way people who committed these crimes will be brought to justice is if it is demanded from below."
 
As the council debated, a familiar divide developed between members who believe the council should voice its opinions on national issues and those who believe such actions are inappropriate.
 
Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said the council should make a strong statement on Yoo because it is an important issue to many Berkeley residents.
 
"It's pretty clear to me that he has done some pretty deplorable things," he said. "We need to be sending as strong a statement as possible."
 
Councilmember Max Anderson teared up as he recalled torture he had witnessed as a soldier in the Vietnam War and said the substitute motion was not sufficient.
 
"To water this down and try to protect some notion of ourselves as a deliberative body that never takes things on is an abdication of our responsibilities," he said.    
 
After Anderson's speech, the crowd gave him a standing ovation and applauded through Bates's repeated calls for order.
 
But attendees were not equally hospitable to several other council members who voiced opposition to the item.
 
As Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak and Susan Wengraf argued that the item created a "slippery slope" for future persecution of people based on their ideas, audience members frequently yelled out in opposition, prompting Bates to threaten "one more outburst and we'll forget the whole thing and adjourn."
 
 Wozniak reiterated the argument that a diversity of opinions can be valuable, especially in a college setting.
 
"We should try to ensure that the university can have vigorous debates on all subjects and not push one point of view," he said. "The strength of our system is that everyone deserves rights, I don't think somebody should be prosecuted and is guilty because he has certain viewpoints."
 
In response to verbal attacks from the attendees, Wengraf said caution was needed on the issue to avoid creating dangerous precedents.
 

"We have to be cautious about how to proceed," she said. "We need to remember that the sword of intolerance can swing both ways."