The Berkeley City Council waded back into national affairs Monday night.
But unlike last time, when the board called the U.S. Marines “uninvited and unwelcome intruders” angering the right, the left, the middle and even radicals nationwide, the council handled a resolution about former President Bush advisor and torture memos author John Yoo without a knee-jerk reaction.
Yoo is the former Justice Department attorney who wrote memos advocating the possible legality of torture of terrorist suspects and denying enemy combatants protection under the Geneva Conventions when he worked for the White House from 2001 to 2003.
He is also a tenured professor at the University of California, Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law, teaching constitutional and international law, though he is currently on a year-long visiting professorship at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, Calif.
The council (which now includes new member Jesse Arreguin, a progressive, and new member Susan Wengraf, a moderate) was considering five measures against Yoo sent over from the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, the same group that last January asked for the ouster of Berkeley’s U.S. Marine recruiting center, creating a national uprising against Berkeley and its’ city leaders.
But this time around, just hours before the meeting, Mayor Tom Bates, and council members Linda Maio and Laurie Capitelli submitted a substitute motion that was seemed more sensible and reasonable. Council resolutions are purely symbolic, though the council routinely spends doznes of hours each year considering items that have nothing to do with Berkeley.
This time around, the Peace & Justice Commission was demanding the council’s support for Yoo being charged with war crimes. It also wanted the council to order UC Berkeley to offer alternatives to the courses Yoo has taught for 15 years.
The council decided, after emotional speeches by more than two dozen people, including some wearing black hoods and dressed in orange jumpsuits reminiscent of the Iraqi prison issued garb, to accept three of the four substitute motions.
The council voted to send a letter reaffirming the March resolution supporting prosecution of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other government officials, including but not limited to Yoo, and former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee. The letter would go to the new incoming attorney general and the U.S. Attorney for Northern California.
The council also urged UC Berkeley to terminate his tenure in the event that he is prosecuted and convicted of human rights violations for drafting memos authorizing the use of torture on behalf of the U.S.government. The council also voted to call on the U.S. Congress for the removal of Bybee, Yoo’s boss and a current U.S federal judge on the 9thCircuit Court of Appeals if Bybee is convicted of human rights violations for his participating in drafting the torture memos.
Here is what the Peace & Justice Commission was originally asking the council to do:
The commission was calling on the city to sign a letter to UC Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau from the San Francisco Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild calling for an investigation of Yoo.
The commission also asked the city to make a statement that no UC Berkeley student should be required to choose between taking a course with Yoo or waiting another semester to take and complete a required course. As council members pointed out, other qualified professors teach the same courses as Yoo so students would never be “forced” to take a course by Yoo.
To be clear, any move by the council will not have any bearing on UC Berkeley’s policy with regards to Yoo. But of course, that never stopped the council before. Maybe they have learned a lesson in keeping up town-gown relations a little more solid.
The commission also wanted the council to ask the U.S. Attorney for Northern California to bring charges of war crimes against Yoo and send another letter in February, 2009 to the then-Attorney General of the United States asking him/her to bring charges of war crimes against Yoo, if such charges have not yet been brought. That letter would have also gone to Birgeneau and the dean of the law school. The council scratched that motion completely because they felt it was redundant.