John Yoo’s Attempt to Discredit a Critic

Last week’s House Judiciary subcommittee hearing, which featured special guests John Yoo and David Addington, drew a lot of attention for its rhetorical bombshells (Chairman Conyers: Could the president order a suspect buried alive?) and the tense back and forth between the witnesses and Democrats on the bench. But Addington and Yoo are both long-time lawyers–lawyers for politicians, no less–and as such their testimony revealed much, much less about the Bush administration’s torture regime than many hoped it would.

However, there was this peculiar exchange between Yoo and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), on the subject of author Philippe Sands’ new book, Torture Team which contains a number of startling revelations about the administration’s abandonment of the eighth amendment.

Yoo: Sir, I haven’t read the book. I did read Mr. Sands’ testimony before this committee, and I noticed in the testimony he said that he had interviewed me for the book. And I can say that he did not interview me for the book. He asked me for an interview and I declined. So I didn’t quite understand why he would tell the committee that he had actually interviewed me.

King: And with that answer, Professor Yoo then, I’m going to interpret that to mean that at least with regard to that statement that he had interviewed you, you find that to be a false statement, and that would perhaps reflect on the veracity of the balance of the book.

Yoo: I can’t tell what else is in the book, but I don’t understand why he would say that he interviewed me for the book. I can tell the committee that he contacted me once. He wanted to interview me for the book and I said I don’t want to talk to you. I wrote my own book, you can look at my own book. Everything I have to say is in my book. And then he told the committee that he’d interviewed me.

The idea, of course, is that someone who hates America so much that he’s willing to fabricate all sorts of untrue allegations about Yoo (and, perhaps, other administration veterans) is not to be believed. When I heard this interchange, though, I emailed Sands and asked him to clear the air. He was fairly unambiguous: “I never claimed to have interviewed him! As set out in my book: we debated. ” So who’s telling the truth?

Well, Yoo’s right about approximately one thing: Sands did testify before the very same House panel, on May 6 of this year. But that’s about the extent of it. In his prepared remarks, Sands submits that, “[o]ver hundreds of hours I conversed or debated with many of those most deeply involved. They included… the Deputy Assistant Attorney General at DoJ (Mr Yoo).” [Emphasis mine.]

You can read, as Yoo did, for yourself. Or you watch, starting about 2 min 45 sec in to the video below:

And, indeed, Yoo and Sands did debate each other in October 2005. You can listen to that debate in full if you follow this link.

One hesitates to throw the word perjury around (maybe Yoo… misread… Sands’ testimony). But it is safe to say that the goal here was to discredit a critic who’s brought to light a great deal of damning information about the Bush administration and its allies.

Brian Beutler is the Washington correspondent for the Media Consortium, a network of progressive media organizations, including Mother Jones.


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