Reporting from Berkeley - In his slate-blue suit and Republican-red tie, John Yoo stands out as discordantly formal among the denim- and turtleneck-clad faculty at Boalt Hall School of Law. Never mind how his politics play in what he derides as "the People's Republic of Berkeley."It can be dangerous to be caught up in an ideological echo chamber. None of us grows as human beings if our only encounters are with people who agree with us in every respect. In suggesting what's wrong with Berkeley, Yoo has a point.
The former Bush administration lawyer who drafted what his critics call the "torture memos" is reviled by many in this liberal East Bay academic enclave, a feeling that is mutual though not, Yoo insists, wholly unpleasant.
"I think of myself as being West Berlin during the Cold War, a shining beacon of capitalism and democracy surrounded by a sea of Marxism," Yoo observes, sipping iced tea in the faculty club lounge, a wan smile registering the discomfort of colleagues walking by en route to the bar.
He sees his neighbors as the human figures of "a natural history museum of the 1960s," the Telegraph Avenue tableau of a graying, long-haired, pot-smoking counterculture stuck in the ideology's half-century-old heyday.
"It's like looking at the panoramic displays of troglodytes sitting around the campfire with their clubs. Here, it's tie-dye and marijuana. It's just like the 1960s, with the Vietnam War still to protest."
Yoo, 42, is unrepentant about his role in providing the CIA and other agencies with legal cover to conduct harsh interrogation of terror suspects with techniques such as water-boarding, which simulates drowning. In legal guidance he provided to the past administration, Yoo redefined torture as pain resulting in organ failure or death.
Unfortunately, the flip side of this is also true--it may be easier for someone like Yoo to dismiss torture critics as being essentially of the same mindset as the "troglodytes" of liberalism he sees every day. We've seen that before here, on this blog, when commenters have assumed that anyone who opposes torture must not only be politically liberal, but accept a liberal agenda on moral issues like abortion, gay marriage, etc. as part of the "package deal" one buys if one is a torture opponent.
Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. It is possible to oppose torture simply on the grounds that it is morally evil, and to oppose abortion and gay marriage as well on the same grounds.
When we paint our political opponents with such a broad brush, we may miss the fact that even among our allies criticisms of our ideas may flourish, and that these criticisms can't be dismissed as "Marxism," with an urbane smile and a sip of civilized tea.
And should someone who is often on our side, politically, point out that Yoo's definition of torture is what the law tends to define as either "attempted murder" or "murder," and is far too narrow to encompass things that really do rise to the level of torture (do you notice, for instance, that Yoo's definition would permit broken bones, fingernails being pulled out, being burned with hot irons, being scourged with a cat o' nine tails, and similar horrors?), does it really help if one is predisposed to see all such criticism as "liberal" and thus fundamentally unsound?