Executive Power

John Yoo, Author of the Bush Torture Memos, Criticizes Rand Paul For Taking an Extreme Position on Drones


Photo credit: self / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

As a senator, Obama stated that he rejected the Bush Justice Department's view that the president "may do whatever he deems necessary to protect national security." But the connecting thread in virtually all of the Obama administration's explanations of its drone policy is a refusal to set any limits on its own national security powers.

As Jacob Sullum pointed out last month, the leaked Department of Justice white paper explaining the White House's legal rationale for drone killings lays out conditions that would be sufficient to kill someone with a drone. But it doesn't say what conditions would be necessary. The paper argues that the president has the authority to order the death of anyone who presents an "imminent" threat to the United States, which is not much of a standard given that paper also argues for expanding the definition of imminence to the point where it has no longer has any useful meaning. The only thing that matters in determining whether someone is an imminent threat is that the administration has deemed the person to be an imminent threat. It is essentially a justification for using drones to kill anyone the administration deems worthy of killing.

The Obama administration is hardly the first administration to resist putting limits on its own power. The Bush administration was similarly disinclined to spell out the extent of its own power, much less clearly define its endpoint. Its efforts to assert unbounded executive authority were blessed by John Yoo, at the time an attorney in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. 

So it's hardly surprising to see Yoo, who is now a University of California at Berkeley law professor, join the chorus of hawkish Rand Paul critics who have dismissed the Kentucky senator's lengthy, drone-focused filibuster yesterday. "I admire libertarians," Yoo said earlier today, according to Mother Jones reporter Adam Serwer, "but I think Rand Paul's filibuster in many ways is very much what libertarians do, they make these very symbolic gestures, standing for some extreme position."

Extreme is in the eye of the beholder. As Serwer notes, Yoo once suggested during a defense of the Bush administration's torture program that it might be legally permissible for the president to order that an interrogator crush the testicles of a subject's child. It would depend, Yoo said, "on why the president thinks he needs to do that." I'm sure that President Obama is delighted to have Yoo's moral and legal authority on his side.

Granted, Yoo is not totally on board with the Obama administration's drone policy: His primary complaint is that the Obama administration thinks drone killings should be governed by due process (never mind that the White House apparently believes that secretly designating someone to be an imminent threat may be all the process that a target is due). But the differences are less important that where the two administrations converge: The Obama administration's drone policy and Yoo's defenses of Bush's torture regime stem from a shared reluctance to acknowledge any limits, real or hypothetical, on executive authority in the area of national security.

NEXT: Dems Struggle to Explain Absence from Filibuster

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  1. Kill all the lawyers, starting with John Yoo.

    1. I was going to suggest ProL first, but Yoo is fine too.

      1. Hopefully by two chrome-plated handguns with white doves flying in slow motion, like he did in so many of his awful movies.

    2. Actually that sounds like an Obama move…

      I thank you, good people?there shall be no money; all shall eat
      and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery,
      that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

      The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

      Nay, that I mean to do.
      Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2

      1. Cade:
        Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows
        reformation. There shall be in England seven
        halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped
        pot; shall have ten hoops and I will make it felony
        to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in
        common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to
        grass: and when I am king, as king I will be,–

        Yep, sounds like Obama all right.

  2. Since Yoo’s family has no history in America, the freedoms we have are not very important to him.

    1. That’s obviously the explanation. I mean just compare Yoo to his boss, a champion of freedom if there ever was one

    2. Chris Mallory: ‘When progressives who are minorities aren’t in favor of liberty, it’s because they’re dirty foreigners who should go back to their country. When conservatives who are minorities aren’t in favor of liberty, it’s because they’re dirty foreigners who should go back to their country.’

      You’re the worst racist troll ever, Mallory.

      1. Eh, I think he’s better than American. At least he’s more upfront and honest about it

  3. the White House’s legal rationale for drone killings lays out conditions that would be necessary to kill someone with a drone. But it doesn’t say what conditions would be sufficient.

    I think you may have necessary and sufficient switched here… the whitepaper lays out “imminent threat” as a sufficient condition for droning, but does not rule out the existence of other rationales.

    1. Er, yeah. Fixed that.

  4. I admire libertarians

    Sure he does. Sort of like I admire a good lobster.

    1. He admires libertarians except when they’re standing up for people’s freedoms against government power. Other than that, he likes us just fine.

  5. Yoo is a kook. He has no evident moral base and is manifestly incapable of the discrete thinking that analysis of a limited grant of power through a Constitution requires. Instead, his limited intellectual ability defaults to simplicity–namely, that there is no limitation, moral or constitutional, on the President’s power. A perfect fit for the NeoCon Bush administration.

  6. “John Yoo, Author of the Bush Torture Memos, Criticizes Rand Paul For Taking an Extreme Position on Drones”


    An apologist for torture becomes an apologist for authoritarianism, that shouldn’t be surprising.

    Hopefully some of the Republicans who used to defend this morally bankrupt authoritarian aren’t being so consistent. Hopefully they’ll jump on his case now as quickly as they jumped to his defense way back when.

    And the prospect of drone strikes being used against the Randy Weavers and David Koreshes of the world really isn’t so far fetched. Sometimes I think that’s all it takes to turn cultural conservatives around. It was one thing when this stuff was being applied to brown Muslims on the other side of the world–but now they’re pointin’ the cannon at you.

    1. It’s not remotely far fetched to believe that the FBI and co would have used drones on the Weavers and the Koresh folks if they had them at their disposal. In face, I would say it is a certainty. They only used high powered rifles and helicopters because that was the technology that was available to them.

      1. Yeah, drones could really open up the skies quite a bit. Cuts down the cost of covering a lot of ground, too. You can do surveillance/seek and destroy missions on a lot more people.

  7. “but I think Rand Paul’s filibuster in many ways is very much what libertarians do, they make these very symbolic gestures, standing for some extreme position.”

    So standing up against an executive branch that’s appointed itself judge jury and executioner of Americans denying them their constitutionally guaranteed protections is now standing for some extreme position.


  8. …”but I think Rand Paul’s filibuster in many ways is very much what libertarians do, they make these very symbolic gestures, standing for some extreme position.”

    The extreme position that the POTUS should honor the oath he swore to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution?

    Of course, if POTUS actually honored his oath, he would probably be placed on a SPLC “Hate List”.

    1. Of course, if POTUS actually honored his oath and were white, he would probably be placed on a SPLC “Hate List”.


      1. So half of him would be on the hate list if he honored his oath?

        1. The right half, of course.

  9. How many times have members of the commentariat here claimed that our masters are sociopaths? Time to eat our words.

    Loo argued that it was permissible only to crush the testicles of an innocent child and not to kill them. See, compassion.

    We should all apologize.

    1. Yoo, not Loo.

      1. Yoo hoo?

    2. Maybe BO was just trying to crush Awlaki’s kid’s testicles and it got out of hand?

      1. And forgot Awlaki was already dead?

        1. It happens. They all look the same from that height. Their names all sound alike, too.

  10. The guy should have stayed with film making.

  11. Congratulations, Democrats; you are now on the side of John Yoo. Hope you’re proud of yourselves.

    1. It’s Bizarro World.

  12. OK wow, I think I like that a lot man.


  13. I’m going to sleep a lot easier at night knowing I’m on the opposite side of Yoo, McCain, & Graham on any issue, esp when it comes to killing someone without due process.

    1. Unless you’re on the same side as them as far as amnesty for illegals.

      1. What is Yoo’s position on that?

  14. Political minds must not have clearly understood John Yoo’s legal defense of having our USA based Missile equipped flying Drones capable of taking out any of our fellow American declared enemy citizens while they are either being Waterboarded or just anonymously wearing a mask on You Tube protecting rights of little Americans…

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