John Yoo, the controversial former Justice Department official whose legal opinions authorized the use of aggressive interrogation tactics such as water boarding, has withdrawn from a scheduled appearance at the annual Federalist Society convention in Washington this week.
Yoo, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and a one-time official in Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, had been listed as part of a panel slated to discuss the role of government lawyers in the war on terror. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Miguel Estrada, who is defending Yoo in a lawsuit brought by convicted terrorist Jose Padilla, is still set to appear on the panel. A liberal activist group, Alliance for Justice, is planning demonstrations that day of the conference to urge Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to release an Office of Professional Responsibility report on the so-called "torture memos."
"There was a scheduling conflict," said Federalist Society President Eugene Meyer of Yoo's withdrawal. "He is going to be talking to the Federalist Society later towards the end of January."
Yoo has long been a high-profile target for critics of the Bush administration’s policies on the treatment of terrorism suspects. The Alliance for Justice blasted a press release today declaring that Yoo’s decision not to attend the conference “shows that pressure is building to hold accountable those who provided legal cover for torture.”
It also noted that another ex-official, former Office of Legal Counsel chief Daniel Levin, said last week that he would be comfortable with an investigation into his and his colleagues’ conduct surrounding the memos.
In an interview, Alliance for Justice spokeswoman Gaye Williams said the group didn’t know whether its planned protests influenced Yoo’s decision to attend. “I just think it’s interesting that he was going to speak and now he’s not," Williams said.
Yoo declined to comment. But Estrada said that the protests had nothing to do with his client’s decision not to speak. “John is never someone to withdraw because of protests,” Estrada said.