Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist, and dozens of protestors from Code Pink, The World Can’t Wait, the Boalt Alliance to Abolish Torture and other groups marched through Berkeley Law School today to protest John Yoo’s position as a member of the faculty.

After holding a brief press conference outside the law school, the group marched through the halls and into an outdoor plaza where many students had gathered to have lunch. The protestors were wearing latex gloves dipped in red paint and they yelled “Torture is a war crime,” and “What do we want for John Yoo? Arrest! Indictment! Imprisonment!”

Monday was the first day of classes at Berkeley Law and most students seemed more interested in reuniting with friends and eating than hearing what the protestors had to say, although most politely took bright pink flyers when offered them.

“I didn’t expect to see this,” said Daniel Gillaspia, a first year student from Houston. He had just come out of his first class – on torts – when a woman who had dipped her hand in red paint confronted him. “It’s cool and stuff but your first day of classes you don’t expect to run into that.”

Gillaspia, who was aware of Berkeley’s reputation as a place with numerous protests, said he didn’t yet have an opinion about whether Yoo should be teaching at the school.

Yoo was a member of President’ Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003. During his tenure, he authored memos providing legal justification for waterboarding and other forms of torture.

The Obama administration ordered the Justice Department to investigate Yoo’s work. It determined that Yoo and his former colleagues showed “poor judgment” but did not commit professional misconduct.

Yoo, who started teaching at Berkeley Law School in 1993 and who received tenure in 1999, returned to Berkeley in August 2004. He has compared his residency in Berkeley as akin to “being in West Berlin during the Cold War, a shining beacon of capitalism and democracy surrounded by a sea of Marxism.”

Members of Code Pink and other organizations think that Yoo’s authorship of memos justifying torture should disqualify him from teaching constitutional law. They have called for him to be fired and were handing out “pink slips” to him on Monday.

“Even though the Bush administration is no longer in power, many of the policies continue,” Sheehan told the crowd during the rally outside the law school. “Their responsibilities didn’t end on Jan. 20, 2009. John Yoo should be sitting in prison, not teaching courses here at Berkeley.”

Christopher Edley, the dean of the law school, has defended Yoo’s position. “Because this is a public university, he enjoys not only security of employment and academic freedom, but also First Amendment and Due Process rights,” Edley wrote in a memo in August 2009.

Michael Couzens, an Oakland attorney who graduated from Boalt Hall (the former name of Berkeley Law School) in 1975, thinks Yoo’s positions make him unfit to talk about civil liberties.

“I don’t think John Yoo should be teaching constitutional law,” said Couzens. “He’s unfit to do that. He believes in dictatorship, not the constitution.”

The protestors are hoping that the Berkeley City Council declares October 10 to 16 “No to Torture Week.” The city’s Peace and  Justice Commission approved a resolution for the week and the City Council is scheduled to consider the proposal on September 21.

Related Berkeleyside posts:

What torture advocate John Yoo really thinks of Berkeley [03.29.10]
John Yoo in the clear [02.01.10]
John Yoo isn’t too concerned with Berkeley’s radicals [12,2909]

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...