The torture memos and the lawyers that wrote them

Dean and Professor of Law, Timothy Fisher, gives lecture on torture ethics in the Student Union Ballroom. He explains the history and legal issues behind torture memos. (Roselyn Terrazos-Moreno/The Daily Campus)

Dean and Professor of Law, Timothy Fisher, gives lecture on torture ethics in the Student Union Ballroom. He explains the history and legal issues behind torture memos. (Roselyn Terrazos-Moreno/The Daily Campus)

The world changed after 9/11. There were changes in government in a plethora of areas, many of them having to do with cracking down on potential threats and the means of taking care of them. For former deputy assistant U.S. attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel John Yoo, this meant crafting torture appropriate for the new era.

UConn Law Society hosted a lecture where Dean Fisher of the UConn School of Law spoke on the torture memos, drafted by Yoo and signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, in the era of the War on Terror. Essentially, the memos outline interrogation techniques that range from mental and physical torture, such as waterboarding and inducing stress positions. Yoo’s work focused more on the assertions from the Geneva Conventions and their inapplicability to Afghani detainees. Bybee’s work focused more on using torture to gather information from Queda operatives. Generally, the two lawyers worked through loopholes of the intensity of the War on Terror to make torture “acceptable,” constructing ways to keep investigators from being charged with the offense of terror.

In times of distress and despair, taking drastic measures seem natural. What happens behind closed doors in government is never truly known, so when it comes to fully comprehending the effects of orders in times of need, many fine lines are blurred.

“They defended it in a way that completely twisted it and turned it backwards,” said Fisher when asked about the statures of the memos and their interpretations of previous interrogation laws. The torture memos can be seen as an act of haste; a mistake made by America that may have had good intentions for security, but turned into an act of detachment from humanity. It questions the validity of “the ends justify the means” in terms of government, which has gray areas in the War on Terror. These gray areas of legislation can sway how lawmakers make decisions in crucial circumstances.

“It is interesting how when the lawmaker was faced with a dilemma over denying the request of a higher authority figure, such as the president, and ethics, he chose to go against logic and ethical reasoning in order to fulfill the request of the president,” concluded freshman Kyle Collins. Considering this trend puts the government’s decisions into perspective, which is what makes the issue of the torture memos so relevant.

“You can’t help but wonder about your nation’s past...what we should have done and how we can be better, how we can be progressive,” said Joy Sgobbo, president of the UConn Law Society. Her biggest takeaway of the lecture is understanding how the government’s past affects the future. It is events in history like the torture memos that remind people of their awareness of the government and the way the government must grow and redeem itself.

The UConn Law Society brings students together to learn more about law and government, which is one of the best ways to reflect on political history. Being educated and surrounded by others who have a drive to be educated is a step towards redeeming the government. The Law Society helps build prospective lawyers that will, in the near future, restore the negative stigma around the government and, in turn, restore the way the world views American government.


Armana Islam is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at armana.islam@uconn.edu.