Part of the Bay Area News Group

Fourth Amendment pliable for Yoo… and you too

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008 at 3:44 pm in Berkeley, Civil liberties, General, War on Terror.

yoo.jpgApparently a Berkeley law professor has a pretty radical interpretation of our constitutional right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure: It doesn’t apply to domestic military operations.

From today’s Washington Post:

The Justice Department sent a legal memorandum to the Pentagon in 2003 asserting that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president’s ultimate authority as commander in chief overrode such statutes.

The 81-page memo, which was declassified and released publicly yesterday, argues that poking, slapping or shoving detainees would not give rise to criminal liability. The document also appears to defend the use of mind-altering drugs that do not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.”

Although the existence of the memo has long been known, its contents had not been previously disclosed.

Nine months after it was issued, Justice Department officials told the Defense Department to stop relying on it. But its reasoning provided the legal foundation for the Defense Department’s use of aggressive interrogation practices at a crucial time, as captives poured into military jails from Afghanistan and U.S. forces prepared to invade Iraq.

Sent to the Pentagon’s general counsel on March 14, 2003, by John C. Yoo, then a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the memo provides an expansive argument for nearly unfettered presidential power in a time of war. It contends that numerous laws and treaties forbidding torture or cruel treatment should not apply to U.S. interrogations in foreign lands because of the president’s inherent wartime powers.

“If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network,” Yoo wrote. “In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.”

John Yoo, of course, is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. He already has taken a lot of heat for previously released memos in which he advocated the possible legality of torture, and for denying enemy combatants protection under the Geneva Conventions.

Read the newly released memo here, and please take a look at footnote 10 on page 8:

Indeed, drawing in part on the reasoning of Verdugo-Urquidez, as well as the Supreme Court’s treatment of the destruction of property for the purposes of military necessity, our Office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations. See Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and William J. Haynes II, General Counsel, Department of Defense, from John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Robert J. Delahunty, Special Counsel, Re: Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States at 25 (Oct. 23, 2001).

Read that sentence I emphasized once more: “(T)he Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.”

Here’s the Fourth Amendment, lest we forget: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, support by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

But according to this footnote, Yoo — a little more than one month after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — issued a memo finding that doesn’t apply to everyone within our borders, a sentiment never made public until now.

The American Civil Liberties Union today issued a news release saying this still-secret 2001 Yoo memo “was almost certainly meant to provide a legal basis for the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, which President Bush launched the same month the memo was issued. As a component of the Department of Defense, the NSA is a military agency.”

The ACLU has challenged the withholding of the October 2001 memo and the issue is pending before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]