Back in 2002, John Yoo was serving as a Justice Department attorney when he wrote some memoranda on torture. In one such document, he stated that physical abuse of captives was only tantamount to torture if it caused physical pain that equated to “organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Merriam Webster has a different definition. For the last 7 years, this has been an incredibly controversial memo. Now Yoo, also a professor of law at UC Berkley, is most notable for writing it.
That same year, Jose Padilla was arrested and detained in Chicago under allegations of conspiring with al Qaeda to detonate a bomb. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison and was held by the Navy for three years and two months. In that time, he was allegedly kept in darkness or blinding light for extended periods, subjected to extreme temperatures, kept in painful confinements and was threatened with death. However, none of this qualified as torture according to Yoo’s memorandum.
On June 12 of this year, a US District Judge in San Francisco ruled that government lawyers and officials are “responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their actions,” allowing Padilla to file a suit against Yoo. Fast forward to present day, and that suit is taking place. An appeals court will hear the case, but a date is not yet set.
And so, the question is set. Can a lawyer be held accountable for the actions of his or her clients? Whether you believe that Yoo should be punished or not, you may need to take a few minutes to think about this. If he should suffer consequences, should they be carried out in a civil court like this? Obviously a person or many people were wronged, but should the case not be settled on a higher level? A criminal trial may be more fitting in a case like this.
This is obviously a very touchy subject as it has lasted for 7 years. If you’d like to get the rest of the story, check out the San Francisco Chronicle.