The Skeleton in John Yoo’s Closet


If former White House lawyer and deputy assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush, John Yoo, were ever to decide to join the ranks of newfangled conservatives running for office he would be hard-pressed to hide the skeleton in his closet. Mr. Yoo, who now teaches international law at U.C. Berkeley, is married to the daughter of former wartime correspondent, Peter Arnett.

For those who remember Mr. Arnett from his days reporting on both Gulf Wars on CNN, and MSNBC, we can only sit back and savor the irony. The man whose name has come to be synonymous with the "torture memo" of August, 2002 which authorized so-called enhanced alternative interrogation methods, a man who said that the U.S. doesn’t have to abide by the Geneva Conventions if our enemies don’t, and one who, according to the Contra Costa Times, recently told a Sacramento crowd that he doesn’t "consider" waterboarding torture gets to sit down to turkey dinner every year with a father in law who was fired from NBC News for saying on Iraqi TV what every American now knows, that the Iraq War was a failure.

Yes, that’s right, the White House lawyer who opined that one has to effectively kill somebody before it’s considered torture is now next of kin to the reporter who broke the story, in 1998, on network news that U.S. forces killed their defectors by using Sarin gas on a Laotian village in 1970.

Arnett, a war correspondent with 40 years of experience, won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Vietnam as a reporter for the Associated Press. Yet, he quickly became George H.W. Bush’s biggest nightmare when he covered the allied bombing of a civilian baby milk factory. The Guardian U.K. reported that the senior Bush was so upset with Arnett, he called him a propagandist.

It quickly became clear that Peter Arnett was a whistleblower for U.S. military transgressions. But, it was his appearance on state-run Iraqi television back in March, 2003 that got him fired from his positions at MSNBC, NBC, and National Geographic. And, despite his official apology, he was forced off the air.

Peter Arnett now teaches journalism in China.

The discussions around the Yoo table must be fun to watch when Arnett comes to town now that the theatre of battle has moved to Afghanistan. In March, 1997, the seasoned journalist sat down to interview Osama bin Laden and, as he was later to tell CNN, as far back as 1997, U.S. intelligence "had figured out that bin Laden was a major potential threat."

Arnett said that he gleaned from interviewing bin Laden, four years before the bombing of the World Trade Center, that it was bin Laden’s intention to convert Afghanistan into an Islamic state. He told CNN, only three months after 9/11, that it was clear four years earlier that Laden had "an apocalyptic vision about violent change, not only in the Arab world, but the whole Islamic world, including Indonesia and the Philippines."

He could tell all this from one conversation with Osama bin Laden back in 1997, and still the CIA, those distinguished masters of political assassination, couldn’t figure out a way to target them.

In April, Arnett told a gathering of Vietnam era journalist colleagues that Vietnam was "the first foreign war the U.S. ever fought where the press challenged government thinking, challenged the decisions of generals, challenged the political decisions the war was based on."

Maybe, during one of their meals together, Arnett can ask Yoo whether Yoo might expand his restrictive definition of torture, which requires organ failure, to include the more than 4500 American troops not to mention Iraqis who have died in that country alone, as well as those now being killed daily in Afghanistan.

Without a doubt, Peter Arnett’s career would be in as much jeopardy today as it was under both presidents Bush were he to report on Afghanistan with anything less than a positive slant.

Moreover, that Ward Churchill should have been forced out of the University of Colorado for writing a controversial essay about 9/11 while John Yoo continues to teach international law, of all things, at U.C. Berkeley is one irony that doesn’t fit in anybody’s closet.

JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.





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