Now that the execrable John Yoo‘s infamous torture memo is in the limelight again, here’s something I’ve wanted to say about it for a long time.
Our intelligence community puts together the carefully crafted consensus opinions called National Intelligence Estimates, and no one in government seems to have any problem dismissing them and saying “I don’t believe what the NIE says, I’m just going to ignore it.” It doesn’t matter that this is the consensus opinion of the professionals to whom we pay billions of dollars precisely to conduct intelligence operations and make such judgments. People from George Bush to John McCain have publicly declared that they don’t believe the opinions expressed in an NIE, and they don’t propose to act on those opinions.
And then you have what can only be described as one rogue opinion issued by a junior official in the Office of Legal Counsel (John Yoo was “merely a Deputy AAG” at the time). An opinion that is a total outlier relative to prevailing practice and previous legal opinions on the subject. It’s not the consensus opinion of any halfway-respected group of professional lawyers or legal scholars. Just a junior bureaucrat writing “here’s what I think”, and signing his name to it.
So why did everyone in the Pentagon hierarchy, for example, embrace this opinion, and proceed to maim and torture prisoners and detainees on its basis? Why did no one say: “Who the hell is John Yoo, and why does his opinion carry any weight?” Why did no one say: “Damned if I will commit war crimes and unconscionable acts just because John Yoo says I can do so, and his memo may allow me to get away with it!”? Why did no one say: “Damned if I will order my men to commit war crimes and unconscionable acts just because John Yoo says I can do so, and his memo may allow me and them to get away with it”? Why did no one say: “I don’t believe the opinions expressed in this memo. I don’t believe it can be right for anyone to say this. It would be stupid and unforgivable for me to act on it.”?