SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal judge has ruled that a convicted terrorist can sue a former Bush administration lawyer for drafting the legal theories that led to his alleged torture. The judge has said he was trying to balance a clash between war and the defense of personal freedoms.
The order by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco is the first time a government lawyer has been held potentially liable for abuse of detainees.
White refused to dismiss Jose Padilla's lawsuit against former senior Justice Department official John Yoo on Friday. Yoo wrote memos on interrogation, detention and presidential powers for the department's Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003.
Padilla, 38, is serving a 17-year sentence on terror charges. He claims he was tortured while being held nearly four years as a suspected terrorist.
White ruled Padilla may be able to prove that Yoo's memos "set in motion a series of events that resulted in the deprivation of Padilla's constitutional rights."
White ruled that Yoo, now a University of California at Berkeley law professor, went beyond the normal role of a lawyer when he helped write the Bush administration's detention and torture policies, then drafted legal opinions to justify those policies.
"The issues raised by this case embody that ... tension -- between the requirements of war and the defense of the very freedoms that war seeks to protect," White wrote in his 42-page decision. "This lawsuit poses the question ... about how to strike the proper balance of fighting a war against terror, at home and abroad, and fighting a war using tactics of terror."
The ruling rejected the government's arguments that the courts are barred from examining top-level administration decisions in wartime, or that airing "allegations of unconstitutional treatment of an American citizen on American soil" would harm national security or foreign relations.