TWO WRONGS DON'T make a right. Yet, UC Berkeley leaders are considering violating the doctrine of academic freedom in their quest to punish law school professor John Yoo for the despicable legal opinions he wrote for the Bush administration justifying the suspension of basic civil rights in the fight against terrorism.
As justifiably angry as Berkeley leaders — and for that matter, the nation — might be with Yoo, unless he is found to have committed a crime, his job as a tenured member of the faculty should be protected. Talk of disciplining him borders on McCarthyism, demonizing him for his unpopular opinions.
Yoo was serving as deputy assistant attorney general when he penned his controversial opinions soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on this nation. As we've recently learned after the Obama administration released previously secret documents, one Yoo opinion authorized the use of the military within our country to combat terrorist suspects and to conduct raids without search warrants. It argued that free speech and press rights could be curtailed if needed to wage the war on terror. Another opinion justified eavesdropping without warrants. And another was authorization for aggressive interrogation tactics, including waterboarding, on detainees — what critics have characterized as justification for torture.
Yoo's opinions were clearly out of the legal mainstream. They are disturbing to anyone who values our nation's civil liberties. Ironically, the very free speech rights that Yoo sought to curtail are what should protect him in the university environment. The mark of a strong society is one that guards the freedoms not only of those in the mainstream but also of those on the fringe.
Of all the universities in the nation, Berkeley, the home of the Free Speech Movement, should be especially sensitive to that notion. For years, the principle has been used to protect voices from the left. That protection should be just as strong for someone on the political right — however wrong he may be.