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John Yoo, the infamous Bush-era Department of Justice lawyer whose work paved the way for waterboarding and other controversial policies, has been trying to rehabilitate his image. He wrote a book, Crisis and Command, arguing that George W. Bush was one of many U.S. presidents throughout history to have rightly expanded executive authority in times of national crisis. He has even taken to the road for an extensive media tour, including a triumphant sparring match with the Daily Show's Jon Stewart.

Can John Yoo, whose popularity seems about on par with that of Dick Cheney, manage to improve his image and build a positive legacy? Nearly everyone outside of National Review remains deeply skeptical of Yoo. But as commentators scrutinize Yoo's role in Bush-era torture, he is emerging with a surprisingly nuanced, and in some ways even softened, post-Bush image.

  • U.S. History (Wrongly) Vindicates Yoo  Walter Isaacson writes in the New York Times Book Review that, although he thinks Yoo's writings are flatly unconstitutional, "the course of American history has followed Yoo’s interpretation." Isaacson laments that even if Yoo is on the wrong side of Constitutional law, he is just another step in a long march toward the gross expansion of Presidential power. "Congress has pretty much acquiesced in the trend. For better or worse, it seems to believe that the complex national security issues of our day require less fettered executive power." Isaacson approving quotes another author calling part of Yoo's arguments "a flimsy philological fantasy."
  • Yoo Villainous, but Not The Villain  The San Francisco Chronicle, no friend of Yoo, warns that we should focus instead on the officials who implemented Yoo's advice. "In finding a path forward for our nation, we need to distinguish between advice and actions - and hold accountable those who act, not those who advise." They note that the U.S. Court of Appeals "is denying Yoo's claim to immunity as a presidential adviser." Instead, they say Yoo should be investigated over ethical violations by the State Bar, "a place that can examine the proper and ethical role of legal advisers to presidents."
  • Don't Pin Bush-Cheney on Yoo  Foreign Policy's Kyle Flynn says Yoo is not responsible for his bosses. "Love him or hate him, the tenured Berkeley professor has become the poster boy for the Bush Administration's legal pursuit of the Global War on Terrorism," he writes, saying we should be careful to separate Yoo from "Bush's decision to institutionalize what some view as torture as a policy."
  • How Yoo Softens His Image  Slate's Chris Beam explains. "Yoo has slipped the grasp of many critics through the years. Part of the reason is his demeanor: calm, good-humored, endlessly patient. It throws people, especially those expecting a younger, Korean Dick Cheney." Beam writes that Yoo ably marginalizes his role in torture and pushes the blame up the chain of command. "Yoo wasn't advocating these techniques, he can say. He was simply answering the question of whether the Constitution allows the president to make these decisions in a time of war."
  • Are You People Nuts?  The liberal blogosphere is having none of Yoo's image reform. The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan notes that recent revelations of what appear to be covered-up murders at Guantanamo seriously undermine Yoo's "premise that what was authorized was not torture, and that Gitmo is the best of the best facilities for the worst of the worst prisoners." Foreign Policy's Annie Lowrey balks at Yoo's recent argument that he's merely a victim of partisan animus. Tristero compares Yoo to Theodore Kaczynski, saying both share an "overwhelming compulsion to harm other human beings."
  • Conservative Case For Yoo  GOP strategist David Frum summarizes the standard conservative defense: he's a humble public servant. "The question he had been asked by the security arm of government was not, 'How can we torture?' but 'What can we do that isn’t torture?' Yoo is a lawyer, not an expert in interrogation. He did not recommend techniques. He tried to do something that the U.S. government had not done before: define the legal limit of the permissible."

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