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Faculty members at Boalt Hall School of Law are clearing out of their offices for the summer, following the close of the school year. But a controversy stemming from one professor’s legal opinion concerning the war on terror has led to calls that he pack his bags for good. More than 240 Boalt students and alumni have signed an online petition calling for professor John Yoo to resign or to recant his opinion that the Geneva Conventions don’t necessarily apply to enemy combatants swept up in the international fight against terrorism. Yoo authored a recently released memo to that effect while working for the U.S. Department of Justice in 2002. The controversy escalated Saturday during the Boalt graduation ceremony, with scores of graduating students — and a few faculty members — sporting red armbands to protest Yoo’s actions. “We believe that the actions taken by Prof. Yoo contributed directly to the reprehensible violations of human rights recently witnessed in Iraq and elsewhere,” reads the petition calling for Yoo to step down. “By seeking to exploit and magnify any technical ambiguities in the Geneva Conventions and the laws of war, Prof. Yoo and the Bush administration have created a climate of disdain and hostility towards international law, effectively opening the door to the acts of outright torture, rape and murder.” Yoo, a tenured professor, said he has no problem with students expressing their First Amendment rights, but that there was zero chance of him stepping down, regardless of how many people sign the petition. “How many people happen to sign a petition is irrelevant to what I think,” said Yoo. “It’s fine if people want to express their views; there’s nothing wrong with that. Calling on someone to resign because of their views is a problem for academic freedom,” he added. The petition and the protest follow an incident earlier last week in which pictures of Yoo’s face — transplanted onto the torsos of American servicemen in the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs — were posted on buildings throughout the Berkeley campus. It’s unclear who was responsible for the postings. Yoo joined Boalt in 1993. A former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Yoo has published numerous articles on international and constitutional law and won a legal scholarship award from the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy. He served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel between 2001 and 2003. The memo, which was obtained and published by Newsweek last week, lays out a legal argument for why terrorist suspects captured in Afghanistan are not governed by the Geneva Conventions. Al-Qaida “is merely a violent political movement or organization and not a nation-state. As a result, it is ineligible to be a signatory to any treaty,” the document reads. Yoo has since stated that the position applies only to al-Qaida and Taliban fighters captured in Afghanistan, not to detainees in Iraq. Robert Berring Jr., the interim dean at Boalt, said the school has not taken any position on the controversy over Yoo and was unlikely to. “The dean of a school like the law school is really just someone who follows the direction of the faculty,” said Berring. “I just can’t imagine, given the importance of academic freedom and the First Amendment, that the faculty would ever do something in a situation like this,” he said. While many of Yoo’s fellow professors said they weren’t ready to condemn him, some said they were surprised by the news of Yoo’s involvement. “I think most faculty were not aware of the situation that was reported,” said one professor who wished to remain anonymous. “So I think most faculty members are simply digesting and trying to understand the situation.” The students calling for Yoo’s ouster stressed that their beef was with Yoo’s actual legal work for the government rather than for the ideas he has advanced in his capacity as a law school professor. “We emphasize that this petition does not constitute an attack on academic freedom,” the petition reads. But some people said the distinction between “real world” and academic opinions was false. “It’s academic freedom if he’s in a university and people are trying to prosecute him for something he said,” said Mary Burgan, the general secretary of the American Association of University Professors. “If he’s a lawyer and that’s his reading, no matter who agrees or disagrees, his academic freedom should be protected,” said Burgan.

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