Historians sponsor petition to protest John Yoo's legal opinions on torture

Historians in the News

A number of members of SHAFR (Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations) are circulating the following petition expressing opposition to John Yoo's legal opinions on torture and executive power. The petition is prompted by SHAFR's invitation to John Yoo to serve as a plenary speaker at the upcoming SHAFR conference in Columbus, Ohio.

To: U.S. Congress, the Bush Administration, John Yoo & concerned citizens

We, the undersigned, members of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) and/or participants at the 2008 annual meeting of SHAFR, believe that the legal opinions of John Yoo on the legality of torture are morally abhorrent and constitute the untenable advocacy of war crimes by or on behalf of the United States. The opinions are in contravention of both the criminal laws and the treaty obligations of the United States. We believe that Yoo's legal opinions on the unfettered exercise of executive power are legally unsound and pose a grave threat to the separation-of-powers feature of the Constitution.

In an August 2002 memorandum that he co-authored and in a recently released March 2003 memorandum that he authored, Yoo stated that federal statutes against torture, assault, maiming, and interstate stalking cannot restrict the President in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief. He licensed the use of atrocious and clearly illegal practices such as "waterboarding" by narrowing the legal standards for "torture," defining it as a practice requiring the victim to experience intense pain or suffering equivalent to pain associated with death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in loss of significant bodily functions. Yoo's arguments have provided the legal foundation and justification for the commission of war crimes, including torture and cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners, as one component of a constitutionally indefensible expansion of executive power. Yoo's arguments contravene the letter and spirit of the U. N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, both of which were ratified by the U.S. Senate, and are the "law of the land" under Article VI of the Constitution. Yoo furthermore stated in his memoranda that arguments for self-defense or necessity could be used in defense of torture, despite the Convention's unequivocal statement that "[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war" may be invoked as a justification of torture."

We, the undersigned, strongly affirm the need for U.S. policy to respect human rights both internationally and within the United States. We call upon the executive and legislative branches to forbid torture and cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees under all circumstances, wherever they are held and whatever their nationality.

If you are a member of SHAFR and/or participating at the 2008 annual meeting of SHAFR, you can sign this petition at:


If you have any questions about the petition, please contact:

Paul Kramer [paul.kramer49@gmail.com]

Barbara Keys [barkeys@gmail.com]

Christopher Endy [cendy@exchange.calstatela.edu]

Naoko Shibusawa [shibu2008@mac.com]

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    More Comments:

    Andrew D. Todd - 7/13/2010

    Jeremy Duda - Provo (UT) DAILY HERALD, "Judge dismisses waterboarding lawsuit," Tuesday, August 5, 2008


    Case dismissed by the trial court on the grounds that anything short of malicious intent to cause injury does not exempt the case from state Workman's Compensation law. Workman's Compensation law is notoriously unjust in terms of loss of income in cases where someone has lost an arm or a leg. That was a trade-off for at least getting medical bills covered. Needless to say, in a case involving essentially psychic injuries, say in a case amounting to gang-rape, compensation would be negligible. The judge at least alluded to the manager's use of poor judgment.

    Sara Israelsen-Hartley, "Waterboarding lawsuit dismissed," Deseret News, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008



    Aaron Falk, "High court to decide if Provo waterboarding case goes to trial," Deseret News, Tuesday, June 1, 2010


    The case has finally made its way to the Utah Supreme Court
    It would appear that Prosper Learning is still in business, scamming people to go into debt for ten or twenty thousand dollars.


    Andrew D. Todd - 5/16/2008

    There is a curious case which has been going the rounds. At one of these skanky little telephone sales companies, a place called Prosper, Inc. (AKA "Prosper Learning") in Provo, Utah, on May 29, 2007, a manager, one Joshua Christopherson, organized the "waterboarding" of one of the employees, one Chad Hudgens. The undisputed facts seem to be that Hudgens gave some kind of uninformed verbal consent, but was thereafter forcibly restrained by his co-workers, while being half-drowned. Needless to say, there have been any number of rapists sent to prison on similar sets of facts. When the company was apprised of the case, it did not call the police, but "investigated the matter internally," before, by its lights, exonerating the manager. As a matter of law, that would make the company, and its top management, accessories after the fact. Well, I suppose, Utah is Utah, and all.