Former Justice Department lawyer and “torture memo” author John Yoo used a speeding metaphor to explain that just because he gave George W. Bush the legal justification for the “unpopular” decision to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Muhammed didn’t mean Bush had to go through with it.
“Just because a law says you can drive 65 miles per hour doesn’t mean you have to drive 65 miles per hour,” Yoo said. “There’s still a lot of discretion and choice that the leaders of our government had to make.”
“I know part of the job from being the lawyer is defending sometimes unpopular decisions that your clients make. I’m willing to do that part of the job. But I also think that there’s no escaping responsibility if people who make the policy decision,” Yoo said in an interview on CNN on Friday.“And I’m prepared and confident in saying that I think my legal judgment then was right under the circumstances. But that doesn’t mean that you had to — that President Bush had to choose the policy that they did either,” Yoo said.
Bush said in a recent interview promoting his book that he personally gave the CIA the go ahead to use harsh interrogation techniques against KSM. Alberto Gonzales told TPM last week that he was “aware” of the government’s policy towards so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, but wouldn’t say whether he heard President Bush’s statement that he told the CIA “damn right” when asked whether to waterboard the man behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International have called on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Bush for the decision, as has Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
Yoo, whose belief in executive power goes so far that he thinks the president could have ordered a village of people slaughtered, stood by his legal ruling in the CNN interview.
“Well, I think that torture as used by Congress and the criminal law was undefined. It’s never been used in any court decision,” Yoo said. “Never been in use by the Justice Department until that time. And so we have this hard job of trying to figure out, do the impressive interrogation methods that the CIA wanted to use at that time, right, a few months after 9/11 violate the criminal statute against torture. I didn’t think then or now that the CIA’s methods do.”
Watch the video below: