In an interview featured in the upcoming edition of The New York Times Magazine, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo says that he never met former President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney and that he does not regret writing legal memos that said the administration was free to ignore laws prohibiting torture.
An excerpt from the interview is reprinted below; read the whole thing at the New York Times.
Your new book, “Crisis and Command,” is an eloquent, fact-laden history of audacious power grabs by American presidents going back to George Washington. Which president would you say most violated laws enacted by Congress?
I would say Lincoln. He sent the Army into offensive operations to try to stop the South from seceding. He didn’t call Congress into special session until July 4, 1861, well after this had all happened. He basically acted on his own for three months.
Are you implicitly comparing the Civil War with the war in Iraq, in order to justify President Bush’s expansion of executive power?
The idea is that the president’s power grows and changes based on circumstances, and that’s what the framers of the Constitution wanted. They wanted it to exist so the president could react to crises immediately.
Do you regret writing the so-called torture memos, which claimed that President Bush was legally entitled to ignore laws prohibiting torture?
No, I had to write them. It was my job. As a lawyer, I had a client. The client needed a legal question answered.
When you say you had “a client,” do you mean President Bush?
Yes, I mean the president, but also the U.S. government as a whole.
But isn’t a lawyer in the Department of Justice there to serve the people of this country?
Yes, I think you are quite right, when the government is executing the laws, but if there’s a conflict between the president and the Congress, then you have to pick one or the other.