Yoo draws heated opposition to debate on presidential war powers

Nikki Wee

An overwhelming interest caused a controversial debate to be moved to a larger room Wednesday as angry students and local residents protested with picket signs and police watched over the event.

John Yoo, former deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, debated against John Radsan, president of the Iranian-American Bar Association and associate professor of law at William Mitchell College of Law, over presidential war powers.

A 2002 law memo Yoo wrote generated much of the interest in the debate. In that memo, Yoo wrote that terrorism suspects are not covered by the Geneva Conventions, a series of international agreements that call for the humane treatment of the wounded, prisoners of war and civilians in time of war.

Some people think that because of this, Yoo was calling for the legalization of the torture of war prisoners.

“Yoo has helped to commit a lot of atrocities. I want to make sure that he knows he’s not welcome at my university,” said first-year student and protester Amelia Smith. “In my eyes, he’s pretty much a criminal.”

Smith, who was an organizer and speaker at last week’s anti-war walkout, said there were more police at the debate than at the walkout, which had more than 2,000 participants.

“We wanted to disrupt this event,” Smith said. “As students paying for tuition, we want him to know that he isn’t welcome here.”

Law student James Magnuson said he came to the debate because he believes people’s thoughts on Yoo are wrong.

“I think Yoo was given a bad break,” Magnuson said. “He’s not condoning torture. He was saying that these particular Al-Qaida members aren’t covered by the Geneva Conventions.”

Magnuson said he wouldn’t have minded if protesters were to wait to speak until the question session of the debate.

“Everyone deserves to have a voice,” he said. “But the behavior of these people is ridiculous.”

But Smith said she believed the protesters achieved their goal.

“We successfully disrupted the whole event,” Smith said. “That was our goal.”

While Law School student Sebastian Ellefson said he does not agree with Yoo’s memo, he came to the event to learn about and hear the other side.

Ellefson said the protesters were disruptive, causing Radsan to use his rebuttal time to explain his common ground with Yoo.

“It seems an odd thing to express your free speech at the expense of others,” Ellefson said. “A bunch of us just came to learn.”

Jason Adkins, law student and president of the Federalist Society student group, said the protesters were a disruption and an “embarrassment to the school.”

“We provided a forum for civil debate,” Adkins said. He said protesters were allowed to ask questions and provide literature, but they ignored warnings.

“We wanted to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas that are pressing legal questions having to do with the war on terror,” he said.