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War by Other Means: An Insider's Account of the War on Terror Hardcover – September 8, 2006

3.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As a former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, Yoo was in the center of the debate over where President Bush's administration draws the line on the torture of detained terrorism suspects. He revisits that and other controversies in the war on terror, from NSA wiretapping to the legal status of "enemy combatants." His response to most criticisms is that al-Qaeda is a new kind of enemy, and the old ways of thinking (e.g., the Geneva Conventions) prevent us from stopping another terrorist strike. The cornerstone of Yoo's argument is his belief that as commander-in-chief, the president has broad powers "to act forcefully and independently to repel serious threats to the nation." Even the formal declaration of war by Congress has become archaic; Yoo argues that America is at war whenever the president decides the military can "do what must be done." Thus, the Supreme Court's June decision rendering the prosecution of Guantánamo detainees by military commissions unconstitutional is, in Yoo's eyes, "a dangerous judicial intention to intervene in wartime policy" that forces the president and Congress to waste time crafting legislation when we could be out fighting terrorists. Unambiguous and combative, Yoo's philosophy is sure to spark further debate. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The Washington Post

You should read this book, though not for the reasons the author intends. John Yoo is a law professor who served in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice from 2001 to 2003. In that capacity, he participated -- often quite centrally -- in the key post-9/11 legal decisions that framed the Bush administration's war on terror, including the Patriot Act, the National Security Agency surveillance program and administration positions on torture, military tribunals and the treatment of alleged terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

In War by Other Means, Yoo delivers on his subtitle. This is indeed "an insider's account of the war on terror." He sets an ambitious goal for himself: "to explain the choices that the Bush administration made after 9/11," choices made "under one of the most dire challenges our nation has ever faced." Yoo is mild-mannered, but he is angry, and his anger pervades this work. He attacks the media, human rights advocates, legal academics, civil libertarians, former attorney general John Ashcroft, the Supreme Court, conservative pundit George F. Will, librarians and even the Bush administration (among others) for cowardice, self-aggrandizement, overreaching, ignorance, dishonesty and cupidity.

At its core, War by Other Means offers spirited, detailed and often enlightening accounts of the decision-making process behind the key 2001-03 legal decisions. Yoo feels compelled to justify them because the Bush administration itself has "often failed to explain clearly to the public the difficult decisions al Qaeda has forced upon us." In some instances, Yoo mounts a persuasive defense of the administration's policies. His account of the Patriot Act, for example, convincingly demonstrates that it was not nearly as draconian as its critics charged and that perhaps "the worst thing about it is its Orwellian name."

Most illuminating about War by Other Means, however, are the arguments that unnerve rather than persuade. Yoo's defense of the administration's decisions about torture, surveillance, detention and due process will send a chill down the spine of anyone committed to the preservation of civil liberties and the separation of powers. Yoo asserts that Bush administration officials acted in good faith, but his reasoning reveals that they frequently acted with bad judgment.

Did you know, for example, that Congress cannot constitutionally restrict the president's authority as commander-in-chief to spy on the American people -- but that it can constitutionally eliminate such surveillance "by cutting off all funds for it"? Or that the commander-in-chief has the unqualified authority to decide "who to detain and how to detain them"? Or that the federal law prohibiting torture forbids the infliction of pain only if it is "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying . . . death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions"? Or that the Justice Department's withdrawal of that definition after the revelation of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib changed nothing? Or that the president in any event has the unqualified authority to use torture? Talk about Orwellian.

Yoo's characterization of many policies is little short of bizarre. He maintains, for example, that Abu Ghraib, the Aug. 2002 "torture memo" (which gave CIA interrogators sweeping legal blessings) and the NSA surveillance program are not really objectionable because the people can always vote the president out of office if they disapprove of his decisions -- without noting that the president attempted to keep these matters secret from the American people. He characterizes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which expressly prohibits the president from engaging in foreign intelligence surveillance without a warrant, as offering "the executive branch a deal": If the president obtains a warrant, the surveillance will be deemed reasonable; if he orders surveillance without a warrant, "he takes his chances." I don't think so. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act flatly declared it unlawful for the president to engage in electronic surveillance without satisfying the act's requirements. It no more offered the president a "deal" than our drug laws offer pushers a deal: Don't sell drugs, and you won't go to jail; sell drugs, and you "take your chances."

The fundamental precept that drives Yoo's conclusions is his unyielding belief that in wartime, the president -- as commander-in-chief -- is exclusively in charge. Detention, surveillance and torture must all be within the president's unilateral control. Congress and the Supreme Court must defer to the president's judgment.

This is an extreme, reckless and dangerous view. That it has shaped the policies of our government is nothing short of irresponsible. Even U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Richard A. Posner, no slouch when it comes to advocating the aggressive use of government power to combat terrorism, has charged that Yoo's "extravagant interpretation of presidential authority . . . confuses commanding the armed forces with exercising dictatorial control" of the sort exercised by "a Hitler or a Stalin."

In his own way, Yoo has done Americans a great service. Not only has he offered useful insights into the reasoning of the Bush administration, but he has exposed that reasoning to the harsh light of day. His conception of our Constitution -- and that of the Bush administration -- must be resoundingly repudiated by Congress, the courts and the American people.

Reviewed by Geoffrey R. Stone
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1st edition (September 8, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871139456
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871139450
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,265,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Anyone who wants to know the truth behind how the Bush Administration responded in the wake of 9/11 to the challenges of fighting, capturing, detaining and interrogating members of Al Qaeda, a stateless enemy, must read this book. After the barrage of misinformation unleashed by the MSM and the recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report this book by Professor Yoo is a breath of fresh air that puts the lie to most of the irresponsible reporting regarding how the policies concerning coercive interrogation methods were developed, applied and legally justified. He should know. He was there.
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Format: Hardcover
John Yoo has become the boogeyman for liberal angst over President Bush's policies in the War on Terror. Gitmo, electronic eavesdropping, torture/interrogations and habeas corpus issues have all sat at the top of the list of grievances by anti-war types without any real discussion over what their alternatives would be. Yoo presents a cogent, balanced argument for why these policies were put into place using strict legal reasoning. He defines torture within the context of the war on terror based upon our country's longstanding case law (Eisentrager, for example) rather than some emotive, normative argument as his detractors have resorted to. Like it or not, the Bush Admin's legal rationale for pursuing these policies is sound, as evinced by the Obama/Holder continuance therein. A recommended read for all interested in an insider account of Justice's OLC and the Bush Admin's war against terrorism.
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Whether or not you agreed with the Bush administration's policies on the war on terrorism, Yoo gives an inside account of the thought process the Administration went through. Once again, one might have disagreements, but none can argue Yoo doesn't back up what he believes.
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In "Not a Suicide Pact," Judge Richard Posner offers an argument for sweeping executive power in the "war on terror" both better reasoned and more thoughtful than John Yoo does here. Still, as one of the architects of the Bush policy, Yoo's work offers a fascinating, and at times chilling, insight into the thinking within the White House. For the most part, Yoo's arguments remain on at best fragile legal footing, often cherry picking evidence and benefiting greatly from the fact that this book, like all books, is a monologue rather than a discussion. Despite that, one might at least hope that, as a lawyer, Yoo would at least create defenses that pass the smell test.

Examples abound of thin arguments in support of administration policies. One must, however, give Yoo credit for taking positions few would want to make, such as arguing for the constitutionality of the since repudiated internment of Japanese in WWII as an example of the legitimate use of executive war powers. Of course that the Senate had, in '42, actually declared war, is a detail given scant attention. Nor does the author ever give much consideration to the rather ambiguous notion of "a war on terror" never choosing to wonder as to how one determines the end date to such a struggle. Likewise does this self proclaimed conservative claim that the post 9/11 Congressional resolution for war in Afghanistan gave the president cart blanch to violate civil liberties, this despite the fact that the majority of legislators state that this was far from their intent. So much for conservative notions of legislative intent.

Nor does Yoo seem bothered by contradictions in his own argument. Thus, he claims that citizens need not worry about executive excess, since these will be reined in by the judiciary.
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"War by Other Means" is a must-read for anyone who wants to be a well-informed critic, supporter, or observer of the Bush Administration's response to 9/11. And it's all the more compelling because it's written by John Yoo, the man who authored much of the legal analysis behind the Administration's war on terror, while serving as deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003.

"War by Other Means" examines all aspects of the war on terror, including the NSA wiretapping controversy, the Patriot Act, the legal status of enemy combatants, coercive interrogation of detainees, key Supreme Court decisions, the applicability of the Geneva Conventions, military commissions, and the cases of specific terrorist suspects, such as Jose Padilla.

Throughout the book, Yoo's central theses are that 1) during wartime, the boundaries of the separation of powers shift, giving the President, as commander-in-chief, broader authority; and 2) in Yoo's words, "it would be a mistake to believe that the Constitution's framework for criminal justice should apply to war." Yoo explains that "[Criminal justice] involves the fundamental relationship between the people and its government, and so ought to be regulated by clear, strict rules defining the power given by the principal to its agent. [War], however, involves a foreign enemy who is not part of the American political community, and so should not benefit from the regular peacetime rules that define it."

I highly recommend "War by Other Means." You may not agree with Yoo's theses, but his arguments are sure to be thought-provoking, and you'll come away with an in-depth understanding of the legal case for expanded presidential power in wartime.
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