Protesters at St. Thomas law school rally against panel participants

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Protesters gathered on sidewalks in front of the St. Thomas School of Law Thursday afternoon to voice their disapproval of panel discussion participants who they say condone torture.

The two discussion participants, St. Thomas law professor Robert Delahunty and co-author John Yoo, wrote memos to the U.S. Department of Defense during the Bush administration about the limits of presidential powers and the Geneva Convention. The protesters say these memos paved the way for the torture of foreign prisoners in U.S. prisons.

Coleen Rowley, a former FBI agent and onetime Minnesota congressional candidate, was participating in the protest. She said there is no legal basis for torture and it should never be used under any circumstance.

“These professors here made all kinds of legal loopholes to allow torture,” Rowley said. “But torture is the worst method to use unless you want somebody to clam up and not tell the truth.”

She said she doesn’t necessarily want Delahunty to be fired, but she thinks the matter needs to be brought more into the open.

“I would love an investigation into what he did,” she said. “There needs to be a real debate.”

The protesters claim the memos Delahunty and Yoo wrote to the Department of Defense rationalized torture by saying the U.S. didn’t need to follow certain articles in the Geneva Convention, and by giving the president the power to override parts of the convention.

“I’m here today for the First Amendment,” protester Susan Jeffrey said. “Torture doesn’t just stop at a foreign border. It’s part of the American prison system and it doesn’t work.”

She said most of the law students walking by didn’t stop, but they seemed to be “ashamed of what their country is doing.”

“They walk by with shoulders hunched, heads down and they scurry away,” she said. “That’s good because people should be ashamed of promoting torture in America. It astonishes me that St. Thomas is teaching children that torture is OK.”

St. Thomas’ position

University spokesperson Chato Hazelbaker, graduate marketing director, said the debate isn’t about Delahunty as a professor or about torture.

“What we have is a robust debate about presidential powers,” Hazelbaker said. “Professor Yoo is the primary target. He was invited here by a student group. It’s a legal disagreement, actually.”

He said the protesters claim Delahunty did something illegal, but Hazelbaker said Delahunty was doing his job as a lawyer.

“He provided advice to a client, and it’s essentially still advice the Obama administration uses, so we disagree [with the protesters] over what he did,” Hazelbaker said.

He said the protesters show up about every six weeks, but the group was larger Thursday because Yoo had been invited to St. Thomas as well. Hazelbaker said he hasn’t heard reactions from law students regarding the protests.

“We really don’t hear much from students about this,” he said. “They started to look at more substantive issues and this dropped off their radar.”

Reactions to protest

Most law students walked past the protesters without stopping to look at the signs or take the material the protesters were handing out. When asked, students said they either didn’t know about the issue or didn’t have an opinion. One student, Robin Prochazka, said she didn’t really know about the issue, but wanted to look into it after seeing the protesters.

“I’m kind of happy there’s activism on campus,” Prochazka said. “I don’t see it as a threatening thing. Of course, I don’t believe in torture or war crimes. This will be an opportunity to find out more.”

Some passerby honked car horns at the protesters and some shouted out their agreement with the signs. Some people in other cars voiced their disagreement with the protesters. A few students driving by yelled, “Delahunty is my professor,” and “Delahunty!” in what appeared to be support for the professor.

Katie Broadwell can be reached at

5 Replies to “Protesters at St. Thomas law school rally against panel participants”

  1. Calling the manipulation of the Geneva Conventions to support the torture of human beings a “legal disagreement” is as intellectually responsible as calling Dr. Josef Mengele’s experimentation part of a greater “medical disagreement”. It’s disgusting, degrading, and as a St. Thomas student, I’d like to thank each and every protestor for standing up to this garbage.

  2. “‘We really don’t hear much from students about this,’ he said. ‘They started to look at more substantive issues and this dropped off their radar.’”

    What is more substantive that torture, and our moral, political, and legal obligations to fellow human beings?

  3. “He provided advice to a client, and it’s essentially still advice the Obama administration uses, so we disagree [with the protesters] over what he did,” Hazelbaker said.

    UST thinks what John Yoo did was fine? This is a despicable position, especially for a Catholic institution. It is also factually untrue. The DOJ’s OPR said Yoo “committed intentional professional misconduct when he violated his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective, and candid legal advice.” But he and Bybee got off with a slap on the wrist because the finding was overruled by a hack in the Department. And both “torture memos” were withdrawn during Bush’s term by his own chief of OLC, Jack Goldsmith. What Yoo did has been completely repudiated by all but political hacks. Is that where UST wants to associate itself with?

  4. Just to be clear on what UST is implicitly endorsing (source):

    The most grisly public assertion of this purported dictatorial power came in December 2005, in a debate in Chicago between Notre Dame law professor Doug Cassel, and John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who had written two memoranda in August 2002 purporting to redefine torture so that it could be used by US personnel. This was the exchange:
    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?
    John Yoo: No treaty.
    Doug Cassel: Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.
    John Yoo: I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that.

    As recently as February this year, Yoo continued to defend the President’s absolute right to do what he considered “necessary” in wartime without opposition.

  5. Thank you to Tommie Media for coming over to the School of Law. It’s a good story about the protestors. The event inside the law school October 7 was a student sponsored symposium on presidential powers. There was debate around that topic from a range of viewpoints. Many that protested during the lunch period came to the symposium and found points of view they agreed with. True to the nature of the institution; I think both sides learned something. My comments about the disagreement with the protestors referred specifically to Professor Delahunty’s work.
    I also wanted to make sure that I did not mischaracterize University of St. Thomas Law Students. Our students, faculty, and staff are far from apathetic. The Interprofessional Center is doing very important work with immigration, the Community Justice Project is doing amazing work in St. Paul with the NAACP that is nationally recognized, and on a day to day basis student groups from Amnesty International to the Women Law Student Association are out in the community doing good work.
    I owe the law students an apology if I characterized them as anything but tireless advocates for social justice.

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