(03-06) 18:08 PST SAN FRANCISCO -- President Obama's Justice Department defended former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo in a San Francisco federal court Friday, arguing that a prisoner formerly held as an enemy combatant had no right to sue Yoo for writing legal memos that allegedly led to his detention and torture.
"We're not saying we condone torture," department attorney Mary Mason said at a hearing on the government's request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Jose Padilla. But any recourse against a government lawyer "is for the executive to decide, in the first instance, and for Congress to decide," not the courts, she said.
"You're not saying that if high public officials commit clearly illegal acts, a citizen subject to those acts has no remedy in this court?" asked U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White.
Not unless Congress has expressly authorized a lawsuit, Mason replied. She cited the argument the Justice Department made in Yoo's case last year, with President George W. Bush still in office, that courts should not interfere in executive decision-making, especially in wartime.
At issues, Yoo's various memos on torture:
The best-known memo, written to then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales in 2002, said rough treatment of captives amounted to torture only if it caused the same level of pain as "organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death." It also said the president may have the power to authorize torture of enemy combatants.
Yoo also advised the Bush administration that the Geneva Conventions on humane treatment of captives did not apply to terrorist suspects classified as enemy combatants.
A 2001 Yoo memo, made public recently by the Obama administration, said U.S. military forces could use "any means necessary" to seize and hold terror suspects in the United States, without constitutional restrictions.
Stem-cell research, medical marijuana, human rights for LBGT--all of these are good things the Obama administration is doing.
Yet the simple ugly fact of the matter is that President Barack Obama has demonstrated with great consistency through his first six weeks in office that he plans to keep all the State powers he inherited from the Bush administration.
That, regardless of whether or not the economy recovers, whether or not my liberal/progressive friends get universal health care, or whether or not Michelle gives something better than a toy helicopter as White House gifts, represents a major betrayal of campaign promises, the US Constitution, and the American people.
And, yes, it really is that simple.