October 20, 2009 PBS News Hour
The tenure of Berkeley law professor John Yoo has come under fire amid a backlash over the role he played in the Bush administration, advising on the legalities of now-controversial interrogation tactics used on terror suspects. Spencer Michels reports.
SPENCER MICHELS: Since the beginning of the school year, protesters dressed as prisoners or detainees have dogged law professor John Yoo at the University of California at Berkeley. They want the university to fire him for advising the Bush administration, as an attorney in the Justice Department, that it could legally torture suspected terrorists to get information.
PROTESTER: This is a not just a question of academic opinions. This is a question of war crimes. People like John Yoo, these people should be fired.
SPENCER MICHELS: Forty-two-year-old John Yoo has taught here since 1993, except for 2001 to 2003, when he worked for the Justice Department in the Office of Legal Counsel.
During those years, after 9/11, the U.S. was interrogating prisoners, suspected terrorists, at places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Yoo wrote several memos on how far the interrogators could go in pressuring prisoners to reveal information. Those memos argued that techniques such as water- boarding, sleep deprivation, and exploiting a detainee's fear of insects were, in fact, legal.
Yoo's actions have reverberated throughout Boalt Hall, the Berkeley law school where Yoo teaches. Students and faculty are debating the bounds of academic freedom, and whether a professor should be held responsible for controversial work done outside the university.
DAVID ARABELLA, law student: I believe that he does have a right to teach here, because people can have controversial views. But, personally, I'm not going to enroll in his class.
SPENCER MICHELS: The law school dean, Christopher Edley, who has served in several Democratic administrations, has been besieged by messages, the majority against Professor Yoo.