Conclusion of my Teach-in to End Torture and Human Rights Abuses Report

I’m late in providing this because professor Cassel was talking fast and my notes were insufficient to provide an accurate reporting of all the legal details on why America can still legally abuse detainees due to: limitations in international treaties/laws; congressional bills like the Patriot and Military Commissions Acts; classified documents and directives; DoJ and OLC legal collusion/decisions; and presidential signing statements. So here is the rest of my report with that proviso.

The final speaker was Prof. Douglass Cassel of the University of Notre Dame Law School and an international expert on human rights abuses. On behalf of retired United States diplomats, and leading experts on international law, he has filed several amicus curiae briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court, involving the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo, and accountability for human rights violations under the Alien Tort Claims Act. Professor Cassel is also an award-winning commentator. His regular commentaries on human rights are broadcast on Chicago Public Radio and published in numerous professional journals. He earned a J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School.

After visiting at Notre Dame in 2002, Professor Cassel joined the faculty in 2005. He previously directed human rights centers at DePaul College of Law and Northwestern University School of Law. The Oscar-award winning documentary, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” features a debate between Cassel and University of California, Berkeley Law Professor John Yoo, who was an attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel for the United States. Asked by Cassel whether the President could lawfully authorize torturing the child of a terror suspect, Yoo answered, “It depends on the purpose.”

The below excerpt is from a debate between Prof. John Yoo and Prof. Doug Cassel on December 1, 2005 in Chicago:

Prof. Doug Cassel: If the President deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?
Prof. John Yoo:
No treaty.
Prof. Cassel:
And also no law by Congress. That’s what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.
Prof. Yoo:
I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

That same link contained this which is part of what professor Cassel told the Teach-in audience:

Since Public Law 107-56 (October 26, 2001), i.e., the “USA Patriot Act” (H.R. 3162), was passed without the Congress or Senate even being allowed to read it before voting on it, the police can now secretly search your house and take whatever they want from it without having to tell you about it until they issue you a warrant up to six months later (see Sec. 213). Also, the legal definition of “domestic terrorism” was changed to include any “acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State” (see Sec. 802)–which could quite literally be jaywalking.

Indeed, smoking a joint could quite literally be domestic terrorism as defined under this law, since the U.S. government considers such drug use to be dangerous to human life, and since it is illegal after all. But such an act is supposed to only qualify if it “appear[s ] to be intended to influence the policy of a Government by intimidation or coercion.” So smoking a joint would only be an act of “domestic terrorism” if the U.S. Government thinks a person is doing it as a protest against their drug laws–the clause for “intimidation” already applies, otherwise the U.S. government would have no law against it.

And since Public Law 107-40 (September 18, 2001) was enacted and Bush, Jr. signed the November 13, 2001 Presidential Military Order, *habeas corpus* has been done away with as U.S. citizens can now be held indefinitely and in secret on the mere suspicion that they are in some way involved in “terrorism” (which can now be virtually anything: see the above redefined definition of “domestic terrorism”) without even being charged; they can be tried by a secret military tribunal where they will not have the right to cross-examine their accusers; and they can be executed in secret. Of which color-of-law precedents that totally eviscerate the legal rights of U.S. citizens have now been further strengthened by Public Law No. 109-366, 120 Stat. 2600 (October 17, 2006), i.e., the “Military Commissions Act of 2006″ (H.R. 6054); this law also retroactively attempts to get the U.S. government out from under the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, U.S. citizens have already been held for years without any charges even having been filed against them (such as José Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi), and the U.S. government says that it can keep U.S. citizens that way indefinitely.

So it’s not surprising to find that the U.S. government has been torturing innocent people, including U.S. citizens. This includes U.S. soldiers torturing people in U.S. custody to death.

I tried to find a video lecture by Cassel and could only find a presentation that he gave on March 1, 2004 at the College of DuPage (my county) on Guantanamo: Prison Without Law? To view it on Windows Media Player click the IDSN choice of connection speed at the very bottom of the link.

I found an article he wrote in 1999, The International Criminal Court: Giving Justice a Chance?, that spelled out the reasons why the The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in 2003 as a permanent tribunal to prosecute and try individuals for the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, as defined by several international agreements.

Here are some other useful links I found googling professor Cassel:


Index of Bush-Era OLC Memoranda Relating to Interrogation, Detention, Rendition and/or Surveillance1

Journalist’s Guide to the International Criminal Court

Wikipedia: Church Committee

The Secret Government


  1. Karen M says:

    Thanks for the rest of this, Paul. Even in a virtual world, we can’t always be where we’d like to be.

  2. heru-ur says:

    Good job; nicely done. Thanks

  3. cocktailhag says:

    I like this Cassel guy; it must have been an honor to hear him in person. A great panel overall. People need to continue speaking out against not just these practices, but the mentality behind them.

    • rmp says:

      I first met him when we were trying to get the Chicago City Council to pass a “don’t attack Iran” resolution and he was one of the speakers at the Council Committee meeting. Politics intervened and the resolution never came up for a vote. Scott Ritter and John Mearsheimer also spoke.

      City Council Hearing on Iran Resolution

      • cocktailhag says:

        Ah, the pleasures of not living in a one-horse town like Portland… Although I have met Greg Palast, Joe Conason, John Dean, and many others, we don’t seem to attract teach-ins so much.

  4. rmp says:

    A 26-year-old Dem activist I work with in county politics just sent me this which is a good reminder that we still have U.S. senators who believe in the rule of law and civil rights, just not near enough.


  5. sysprog says:

    Hello RPM and keep on revvin’.

    I was working on a project in Illinois a few years ago and I visited Oak Park’s Unity Temple on a Sunday morning and sat through a church service. It’s a cool building, but I was surprised at how warm and lively it felt inside – - especially the warm and lively acoustics for the church music.

    Nice to hear that good things are happening there. Thanks for your reporting.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Nice backdoor way to remind RMP to take pictures next time, but more subtly than I’d have put it.
      Pictures or no, great posts (s), RMP. I wrote a silly little something, having free time on a Friday evening.

      • rmp says:

        Even though I did bring my camera and no one was taking any pictures even with cell phones, my real problem was dead batteries and even though I had set aside some new ones to bring, my aging brain forgot to bring them. The building was in pretty good shape, but as I sat in the pews and looked up, there was a five-foot opening where the wall meets the ceiling and I could see quite a bit of damage and deterioration. Not sure of the purpose of that open space.

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