Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Impeach Bybee (and why you hear more about Yoo)

Berkeley lawprof John Yoo has earned a lot of notoriety for his role in the memos authorizing torture of detainees, but only recently has his superior, Jay Bybee, emerged from "forgotten man" status and become the target of potential (very unlikely) impeachment.

There are some obvious reasons for attending to Yoo, particularly his prominent public position that contrasts to Bybee's keeping his head low. Here's another reason though - the people leading the charge against this misuse of the law are themselves lawyers, and it's not an easy thing for a lawyer to publicly say a powerful appellate court judge could be a war criminal. There's both the chance that you'll someday be in front of that judge, and that other judges do not want to hear that kind of language coming from officers of the court.

Bybee should be impeached because he is incompetent and/or disloyal to the public and to the bar, and quite possibly a war criminal that should be jailed.

I write this as a lawyer who hasn't litigated in nearly six years and has no current plans to return to trials, but even so it feels like a scary thing to say, however true and necessary. The lawyers who are fighting torture are much closer to judges than I am. Impeachment is a tough thing; I'm glad people are finally bringing it up and I respect the people leading the charge. Just the stigma applies some tiny level of accountability.

UPDATE: Here's an online petition to the California Democratic Party calling for impeaching Bybee, and another to the House Judiciary Committee. Also edited the above for clarity.

UPDATE 2: An interesting article in the Washington Post suggests Bybee "regrets" the memos. If he wants to accept some responsibility then he should resign the judicial post, allowing him to publicly renounce the memos, explain his actions and apologize for his level of responsibility, all of which could help somewhat to fix a problem that he created. Accepting responsibility without consequences doesn't help that much.

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