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Berkeley Law Students Launch Torture Accountability Initiative

Publication Date: 
October 15, 2009
The Berkeley Daily Planet
Riya Bhattacharjee

Allen Weiner, co-director of the Stanford Program in International Law, took part in a panel discussion at UC Berkeley School of Law titled "Tortured Justice: Why the Torture Memos Were Illegal":

A group of UC Berkeley law students launched a torture accountability initiative Tuesday, Oct. 13, dedicated to holding the authors of the infamous Bush torture memos accountable, reinstating respect for the prohibition against torture and ending executive abuse of power and impunity.

Called the Boalt Alliance to Abolish Torture (B.A.A.T.), the group, at their kickoff Tuesday, hosted a panel of lawyers to discuss the memos crafted by the Bush administration’s legal counsels at the Department of Justice, including Berkeley Law Professor John Yoo, which attempted to legally justify the torture of military detainees in violation of both domestic and international law.


Stanford Law School senior lecturer Allen Weiner, visiting Berkeley law school associate professor Gowri Ramachandran, Berkeley law school lecturer John Steele and McGeorge School of Law professor John Sims, discussed topics ranging from international, constitutional and national security law to professional ethics at a panel titled “Tortured Justice: Why the Torture Memos Were Illegal,” to a packed audience inside the law school’s Booth Auditorium.


Weiner said that it would be difficult to bring a criminal case against Yoo.

“There could be a criminal case, but it would be a tough case,” said Weiner, who practiced international law in the U.S. Department of State for more than a decade before joining Stanford. “A lawyer is not held criminally responsible for giving legal advice merely because that advice later is determined to be wrong. Perhaps more important than the issue of criminal liability is for the Obama administration to make clear what role it believes government lawyers should play. Their job should not be simply to find a legal theory that allows policymakers to do whatever they want. The administration should make clear that government lawyers must identify the legal and policy risks raised by what clients want to do. That's how lawyers can best help form U.S. foreign policy.”