Historians Against the War

Virtual Movement Archive

Sign the Petition

HAW Conference

Speakers Bureau

Press Releases and Statements

Virtual Movement Archive


Teaching Resources

GI Resistance

Civil Liberties and Academic Freedom


Join our Listserv

Download HAW images


About us / Contact us

For Immediate Release

Press Release
Historians Against the War Ask Congress to Investigate John Yoo

Historians Against the War
Jennifer Van Bergen
(352) 692-4419

We, members of the Steering Committee of Historians Against the War, express our support and endorsement of the statements by Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights, as stated in recent New York Times letters to the editor,* with regards to the recently declassified memo by John Yoo, as follows:

We agree with Amnesty International that there is compelling evidence of high level authorizations to sanction torture and other war crimes and we call upon Congress to investigate. We agree with Physicians for Human Rights that these “interrogation techniques have eroded our international standing and compromised the rule of law.”

We note that the HAW 2006 resolution, approved by the American Historical Association, on Practices Inimical to the Historical Profession in 2007,** is the cornerstone of our decision to speak out at this time.

We condemn any United States policy that permits torture or abuse -- including inhuman, cruel, humiliating, or degrading treatment, violence, threats of violence, intimidation, or physical or moral coercion to obtain information -- or denial of due process rights of terrorist suspects. We condemn the work of those who enabled the President and Secretary of Defense to create legal end-runs around long-standing domestic and international laws and treaties and to subvert the hard lessons of World War II with respect to human rights and the treatment of detainees.

This March was the 75th anniversary of the "Enabling Law" ("Ermaechtigungsgesetz") in Nazi Germany, the law which turned all real power over to the Nazi leadership. The law got its name from the fact that it gave legal cover to and hence enabled the abuses of power which followed and led, ultimately, to the Holocaust and the genocide of millions of Jews.

In April, the German parliament formally marked that anniversary with a solemn ceremony. That date can serve as a vivid reminder to us that our democracy is also fragile. It reminds us of how people in legal positions of power within a constitutional democracy can abuse their power and expertise to consciously subvert democracy and human rights. The documentary evidence suggests that John Yoo is among those who have enabled the undermining of core American values by giving legal cover to torture and other abhorrent practices in violation of international laws.

John Yoo's participation in advising the Executive how to violate laws with impunity is equivalent to the participation of legal officials during WWII in promoting the application of German laws repugnant to and in violation of international law.

The improper use of legal advice to deny rights and protections of detainees during wartime was at issue in the famous post-World War II “Justice Case” (U.S. v. Altstoetter). In that case, legal officials who supported gross violations of human rights were prosecuted and convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity, not because they perpetrated those crimes but because they facilitated their perpetration by promoting laws in violation of customary international laws.

John Yoo's “Torture Memos” are equivalent to and meet the legal standards set in The Justice Case. Yoo's participation in advocating violations of domestic and international laws must be investigated by Congress.