One of the most shocking revelations in the DOJ’s recently-released report on its lawyers who supported Bush-era torture policy is John Yoo’s admission that he believes the President of the United States could unilaterally order “a village…to be massacred.”
Today, Yoo doubled-down on this statement in an interview with San Francisco radio station KQED. After the host asked him if he stands by his prior support of Presidential massacres, Yoo raised the stakes to endorse the President’s unilateral authority to use nuclear weapons:
Look at the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. … Could Congress tell President Truman that he couldn’t use a nuclear bomb in Japan, even though Truman thought in good faith he was saving millions of Americans and Japanese lives? … My only point is that the government places those decisions in the President, and if the Congress doesn’t like it they can cut off funds for it or they can impeach him.
First of all, Yoo’s claim that Congress could cut off funds for a nuclear attack or impeach the President after he makes the decision to launch nuclear weapons does little to prevent a nuclear attack. Even assuming that a supermajority of senators supported taking swift action against a rogue President, the fact that Congress subsequently cut of funding for nuclear launches or removed the President from office would be little comfort to the tens of thousands of people already killed in the attack. Yoo’s solution amounts to shutting the barn door long after the horse has fled.
More importantly, Yoo misrepresents the law. As far back as 1804, a unanimous Supreme Court held in Little v. Barreme that Congress has sweeping authority to limit the President’s actions in wartime. That case involved an Act of Congress authorizing vessels to seize cargo ships bound for French ports. After the President also authorized vessels to seize ships headed away from French ports, the Supreme Court held this authorization unconstitutional on the grounds that Congress’ decision to allow one kind of seizure implicitly forbade other kinds of seizure. More recently, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Court held that the President does not have the power to unilaterally set military policy (in those cases with respect to detention); he must comply with statutory limits on his power. Taken together, these and other cases unquestionably establish that Congress has the power to tell the President “no,” and the President must listen.
John Yoo is a moral vacuum, but he is also a constitutional law professor at one of the nation’s top law schools and a former Supreme Court clerk. It is simply impossible that Yoo is not aware of Little, Hamdi and Hamdan, or that he does not understand what they say. So when John Yoo claims that the President is not bound by Congressional limits, he is not simply ignorant or misunderstanding the law. He is lying.