Let's Talk about the Boteros: Law, Memory, and the Torture Memos at Berkeley Law

66 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2020 Last revised: 29 Dec 2020

See all articles by Laurel E. Fletcher

Laurel E. Fletcher

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: December 4, 2020


What parts of their uncomfortable associations should universities remember, and how? Berkeley Law is revisiting an ongoing question about its link to the War on Terror: how should the school should address its relationship to the Torture Memos of the Bush Administration in light of its employment of one of the Memos’ principal authors, Professor John Yoo? The dean of Berkeley Law is considering whether to remove paintings by the world-famous artist Fernando Botero. The paintings, currently on prominent display inside Berkeley Law, depict US soldiers torturing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. These artworks rebuke the US government and its decision to rewrite the foundational norms of the rule of law in the pursuit of national security after 9/11. The potential removal of these paintings raises questions of memory heuristics: why are the paintings there at all, what do they communicate about the past, and is this past worthy of commemoration? This Article examines the paintings as works of public memory and uses this lens to explore what the Boteros have come to mean to the Berkeley Law community. Understanding the Boteros as memory works enables us to see their representational economy in greater complexity and invests the deliberation about their future as a site for shaping institutional identity and values. By grounding discussion of how the law school should reconcile with this divisive past in memory theory, this Article provides insights into broader debates about how universities should reckon with their unsettling histories.

Keywords: Torture, War on Terror, Memory, Human Rights

Suggested Citation

Fletcher, Laurel E., Let's Talk about the Boteros: Law, Memory, and the Torture Memos at Berkeley Law (December 4, 2020). Berkeley Journal of International Law (BJIL), Vol. 38, No. 1, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3742464

Laurel E. Fletcher (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Law Building
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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