In this June 26, 2008 file photo John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Susan Walsh, File/AP Photo

Even John Yoo has his limits

John Yoo’s reputation is well deserved. The conservative law professor at UC Berkeley is perhaps best known as the principal author of the Bush/Cheney “torture memos” – defending the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” – during Yoo’s tenure at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
And when it came to torture and national security, the conservative lawyer was largely in the “anything goes” category. But apparently, even Yoo has his limits.
As former Vice President Dick Cheney argued on Sunday that the CIA’s aggressive interrogation of terrorism suspects did not amount to torture, the man who provided the legal rationale for the program said that in some cases it had perhaps gone too far.
Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo said the sleep deprivation, rectal feeding and other harsh treatment outlined in a U.S. Senate report last week could violate anti-torture laws.
“If these things happened as they’re described in the report … they were not supposed to be done. And the people who did those are at risk legally because they were acting outside their orders,” Yoo said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”
In an interview on C-SPAN, Yoo added, “Looking at it now, I think of course you can do these things cumulatively or too much that it would cross the line of the anti-torture statute.”
Just to be clear, this is not to suggest Yoo endorses or agrees with the torture report released last week by the Senate Intelligence Committee. On the contrary, it’s quite clear that he does not.
But as a political matter, his willingness to draw legal lines now, in light of the new revelations, creates an interesting dynamic.
We know, for example, that according to the CIA’s records, rectal feeding and hydration were forced on detainees without medical need.
According to former CIA director Michael Hayden, that wasn’t illegal and it wasn’t torture.
According to former Vice President Dick Cheney, that wasn’t illegal and it wasn’t torture.
According to Karl Rove, that wasn’t illegal and it wasn’t torture.
But according to John Yoo, this crossed the line. In other words, a variety of leading Republican voices haven’t just embraced torture as a legitimate tool, they’ve positioned themselves to the right of the torture-memo author who helped give the Bush/Cheney White House the green light in the first place.