Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Today, at the right-wing site Ricochet, John Yoo o ffers a defense of the Iraq War. Among Yoo's arguments is this:
In law, we often come upon a situation after an event -- a crime, an accident, etc. -- and we must decide what to do based on the knowledge we have now. Courts award damages based on the harm to the victim and the harm to society. Suppose you thought that the Iraq war was a mistake. If so, isn't the proper remedy to restore Saddam Hussein's family and the Baath Party to power in Iraq? If you are unwilling to consider that remedy, aren't you conceding that on balance, the benefits of the war outweigh the costs?
When I read that, I was reminded of this, which strikes me as a roughly analogous situation:
Gerri Bostic lost all her material possessions [in 1985] when police dropped a bomb on her block, killing five children and six adult members of the militant group MOVE and incinerating 61 row homes....

Her West Philadelphia neighborhood - now nearly vacant and eerily quiet - never recovered from the city's horrific botched attempt to arrest the MOVE members on May 13, 1985....

The revolutionary back-to-nature group came to the city's Cobbs Creek section after a 1978 shootout with police at its previous home. One officer died in the firefight; nine MOVE members went to prison, and others moved to Osage Avenue.

They soon turned their middle-class row house into a fortified compound, with a bunker on the roof and wooden slats over the windows. Reeking garbage attracted vermin, and loudspeakers blared obscene daily rants against authorities for jailing their peers....

Police decided to move on MOVE in mid-May 1985, obtaining arrest and search warrants on the belief the group's house contained illegal weapons and explosives. Authorities evacuated the block on May 12, telling residents there would be a police action the next day.

When they were refused entry to serve the warrants on May 13, police began an hours-long siege using water cannons, tear gas and bullets. A state police helicopter flew overhead carrying Philadelphia officers and a canvas satchel loaded with explosives.

The bomb ignited a gasoline-fueled conflagration that killed the MOVE militants and children and obliterated two blocks of homes. Ramona Africa, then 29, and Birdie Africa, then 13, escaped with major burns.

Residents, who had been told to take just a change of clothes with them, came home to find ruins....

After 14 years of unending repairs, then-Mayor John Street decided in 2000 that the houses were beyond salvage....
If I'm following John Yoo's logic correctly, he'd argue that if you think the bombing of Osage Avenue was a mistake, then you believe it would be acceptable for the MOVE group (or its ideological descendants, since all but one adult MOVE member died in the bombing) to be a 24-hour-a-day nuisance to Osage Avenue or wherever else its residents may have moved. By Yoo's logic, those are your only two choices: either you think the original situation was just swell, or you have to accept the government's remedy no matter how it was carried out.

Forgive me if I don't accept that logic.


aimai said...

I think that's the wrong response to Yoo'd hypothetical which strikes me is aboth immoral and illogical and completely unrelated to any normal notions of the nature and function of justice in a legal system. Just because the victim can't be made whole or returned to a previous state of being (or brought back to life) does not mean that the duty of justice givers to give justice ends.

People are still prosecuted, even for the murders of murderers--in fact people routinely serve time in prison, or more time in prison, when they have killed other killers. If an act is not lawful and committed by a person permitted to commit that act it can and should be punished regardless of its effect on the original situation. In fact it is quite routine in law, especially criminal law, that the victim can't be made whole.

Yoo offers us a horrible bad analogy that offers almost no relationship to law as it currently is practiced (or, dare I say it, has ever been practiced). He's always struck me as a terrible thinker--an almost immorally plastic and facile spinner of words and cheap debate tricks. This quote just confirms it. He cares nothing for morality or for law, for jurisprudence or for human suffering.

"Let Justice Prevail/Though the Heavens Fall."

Steve M. said...

Perhaps the subsequent paragraphs address your point:

Even though the benefits outweighed the costs, that does not mean we simply leave Iraq once we depose the Husseins. The legal system in such situations might still require a benefiting party to compensate a harmed party. In other words, we allow one harm to occur in society because there is a greater good achieved -- but then the legal system can intervene afterward to require sharing of the benefits between the plaintiff and defendant.

And isn't that what we did in Iraq? We spent billions of dollars in Iraq as damages. We did so not because the war was wrong, but because it was right -- and we shared the benefits of the war with the Iraqi people by transferring some of it in the form of reconstruction funds.

"We shared the benefits" -- yeah, he wrote that.

aimai said...

Reparations aren't sharing benefits. Nor are claw back provisions. The man is absolutely immoral in the profoundest sense of the word.

Victor said...

The only thing I want to hear from Yoo, are his concerns about his horrible treatment in prison, where he'll remain the rest of his life.

And then, only so that I can chuckle and smile as I ignore them.

BH said...

It seems to me that Tomas Young's hospice letter provides a more than sufficient response to anything Yoo has said or ever could say.

Victor said...

WAY, WAAAAAAY OT – but, a great article about the treasonous crimes and misdemeanors, beyond impeachable offenses, of Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I:

Which shoulod prove, once and for all, that “It ain’t the damned cover-up, IT’S THE FUCKING CRIME!!!!”

Unknown said...

"Well, Mr. Yoo, I burned down three-quarters of your house. Only half the bedroom and most of the south-facing wall is still standing. What?! You WANTED the cockroaches gone.

Oh by the way, that'll be $1 trillion."

Philo Vaihinger said...

He really said something that stupid in public?

Well, why not.

"Suppose you thought that the Iraq war was a mistake. If so, isn't the proper remedy to restore Saddam Hussein's family and the Baath Party to power in Iraq?"


"If you are unwilling to consider that remedy, aren't you conceding that on balance, the benefits of the war outweigh the costs?"


Boy. That was hard.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Yoo should at least be complete in what the reparations for the invasion would be. Putting Saddam and the Baath back in power, plus restoring lost antiquities, plus a functional electrical and clean water infrastructer, minus 20,000 car bombs, minus reversing years of sectarian and militia violence and warlordism, minus Iraq as client state to Iran, minus Abu Ghraib and the harm to American global relationships, minus 100,000-200,000 excess civilian deaths from violence, illness, and the like.

After all, what did the Romans ever give us?