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Did Harvard Hire (Another) War Criminal?


A Harvard University Law School alumni and professor of international law and human rights has started a campaign to boycott the prestigious university he once attended as a result of Harvard’s hiring of Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith to join its law school faculty.

Goldsmith was identified earlier this year as one of several legal experts who drafted memos for the White House and the Justice Department saying the military could skirt the rules of the Geneva Convention when interrogating Iraqi prisoners. Legal experts have said that word about bypassing the Geneva Convention trickled down the military chain of command and lead to widespread abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Francis Boyle, who teaches at the University Of Illinois College Of Law and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1971, said he was informed by colleagues last spring that Harvard was considering hiring Goldsmith and that he immediately voiced his concerns to Harvard officials.

“These (Harvard) professors think they are above the law,” Boyle, a frequent contributor to CounterPunch, said in an interview. “They refused to tell me why they were hiring Goldsmith, who, many of us in the legal profession believe is a war criminal.”

Neither Goldsmith nor Harvard law school officials would return numerous calls for comment.

Boyle, according to his bio, has written extensively on international law and politics. He has published eight books. His book, Defending Civil Resistance Under International Law, has been used successfully in numerous foreign policy protest trials.

Boyle is also the lead counsel for Bosnia and Herzegovina in Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) currently pending before the International Court of Justice

Goldsmith’s March 19, 2004 memo, written for then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, who was tapped a couple of weeks ago to replace John Ashcroft as Attorney General, caused a furor in legal circles because it authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to transfer detainees out of Iraq for interrogation – a practice that international legal specialists say contravenes the Geneva Conventions, according to an Oct. 24 report in the Washington Post.

“One intelligence official familiar with the operation said the CIA has used the March draft memo as legal support for secretly transporting as many as a dozen detainees out of Iraq in the last six months. The agency has concealed the detainees from the International Red Cross and other authorities, the official said,” the Post reported.

Moreover, Goldsmith personally presented Gonzales, the White House counsel, with a “series of arguments that they claimed could be marshaled as defenses against U.S. torture statutes and the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT), which has been ratified by the United States,” reported Inter Press Service last month.

The full extent to which Goldsmith advised the White House to ignore the Geneva Convention may be revealed during Gonzales’s Senate confirmation hearing in January.

Boyle, a former teaching fellow at Harvard and a former associate at its Center for International Affairs, became so incensed with his alma mater’s hiring of Goldsmith in June that he immediately launched an email campaign to boycott Harvard and said he plans to ask other alumni to withhold funds from the University, which is in the midst of a $400 million fundraising campaign.

“The Harvard Law School Faculty knew full well the nefarious activities that Goldsmith had performed at the Department of Justice and the Pentagon before they voted to hire him. Obviously, the Harvard Law School Faculty wanted a war criminal to join their ranks. For this reason, the Harvard Law School Faculty is not fit to educate students. I would strongly recommend that you discourage students from attending the Harvard Law School for any reason,” states one of a dozen or so emails Boyle has distributed to colleagues, students and Harvard faculty.

Boyle said he is asking colleagues and other alumni to “ding” Harvard law school in the national rankings and “drive their rankings down overall and by each specialty.”

“We need to drive home to the Harvard Law School Faculty that this behavior is completely unacceptable to their colleagues in the legal teaching profession,” Boyle said. “The Harvard Law School Faculty is not above the Law. Therefore, I recommend that we respond to each and every peer survey we get and rank the Harvard Law School last.”

It’s unknown whether Boyle’s actions have had a material impact on Harvard.


JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at:

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