Architects of Bush terror policy on the defensive

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When John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer, was selected by President George W. Bush in May 2004 to join a government board charged with releasing historical Nazi and Japanese war crimes records, trouble quickly followed.

The Abu Ghraib torture scandal was exploding, and fellow panelists learned that Yoo had written secret legal opinions saying presidents have sweeping wartime power to circumvent the Geneva Conventions. They protested that it was absurd to name Yoo, who they believed might be complicit in war crimes, to a war crimes commission.

White House officials canceled the appointment, though it had already been announced in a news release, and kept the episode quiet.

"We saved them from incredible embarrassment," said Thomas Baer, one of the dissenting panelists.

For Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, the swift exit from the war crimes board was only the beginning of his troubles. For more than four years, the Justice Department ethics office has been investigating his work and that of a few of his colleagues. A convicted terrorist has filed a lawsuit blaming Yoo for his alleged torture. Law students have led protests, and the Berkeley City Council even passed a resolution in December calling for Yoo's prosecution for war crimes.

The Obama administration last week began releasing more secret memorandums written by Yoo and others that made such wide-ranging claims about presidential power that Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, called them "shocking."

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