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News :: Human Rights : International
Torture Memo Judge Greeted by Protests at Harvard
10 Mar 2006
Cambridge, MA (9 March 2006) — Federal appellate judge Jay Bybee, who signed the infamous 2002 “torture memo,” was confronted by protesters at Harvard Law School today after speaking at a closed event.

In August 2002, Bybee, then a high-ranking Justice Department official, signed the now-infamous “torture memo” establishing a legal framework for interrogation policies in the “Global War on Terror.” The Bybee memo distorted international and U.S. law to give a green light for the kinds of torture and mistreatment documented in Abu Ghrayb, Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
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Bybee left his speech to find a line of protesters chanting “Shame!” and wearing black hoods – a reference to the infamous images of the hooded prisoners abused by U.S. servicemen at Abu Ghrayb prison in Iraq. The protest was organized by Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights and the Alliance for Justice in the Middle East at Harvard.

“The Bybee torture memo paved the way for the systematic abuse of prisoners in
US military detention,” said Darryl Li, a member of the Alliance for Justice in the Middle East. “Bybee should be under investigation for his crimes rather than lecturing at Harvard Law School.”

President Bush rewarded Bybee with a lifetime appointment to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003. The Bybee torture memo – which sanctions detainee abuse as long as it does not cause “serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death” – aroused such public outrage that the Bush administration was later forced to repudiate it.

Yale Law School dean Harold Koh described the Bybee torture memo as “the most clearly erroneous legal opinion I have ever read” and “a stain upon our law and our national reputation.”

Legal experts have identified five major flaws in the Bybee torture memo: it defines torture so narrowly as to be meaningless; it allows cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, which international law also prohibits; it allows a torturer to evade criminal responsibility by invoking the “just following orders” defense, reversing decades of judicial precedent; it explores means of getting around torture laws rather than enforcing them; and it misreads the Constitution to authorize the president to violate the law in the name of his “Commander-in-Chief” powers.

Bybee spoke at a closed, unannounced event. The Harvard Federalist Society, a conservative law students’ organization that sponsored the event, originally advertised the talk to the Harvard community last week. On Wednesday, the organization issued a public cancellation, citing a “scheduling conflict.” The event, in fact, had been moved to an undisclosed location known only to select Federalist Society members.

A broad coalition of students and faculty at the Harvard Law School calls for Bybee’s impeachment. “It is a dark day indeed for our justice system when those who unapologetically advocate for torture and other deviations from our national values are allowed to determine the boundaries of our legal system,” said Yukyan Lam, a board member of Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights.
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