When Amanda Bass heard in February that Harold Koh would be teaching human rights law at New York University Law School, she said: “That’s messed up.”

Bass is a third year law student at NYU Law.  Koh was from 2009 to 2013 the State Department’s Legal Advisor and a chief justifier of drone killing.

Bass immediately alerted her fellow students to Koh’s hiring and began to organize objection. 


NYU law student Amanda Bass  Photo: MichiganAutoLaw.co

The rallying point for the students is a petition entitled “Statement of No Confidence in Harold H. Koh”, which appears on the students’ blog Reclaiming Human Rights: https://rethinkkoh.wordpress.com/  Bass reported that, as of April 19, “we have more than 340 signatures from faculty, students, activists, lawyers and concerned community members around the country.”

The student campaign has not only drawn attention to drone war and the twisted legal justifications offered by the U.S. government.  It has also revealed some frightened, vengeful NYU administrators and faculty members who apparently see their positions and power very much dependent on their relationships with powerful people in government.

For details on the intimidation launched against the students see the “NEWS” section on the students’ blog. https://rethinkkoh.wordpress.com/news/ 

Another petition is now being circulated within the law school, Bass said, “that comes across as having been organized by students but, in fact, appears to have been initiated by faculty--and friends of Koh--Michael Posner and Sarah Cleveland: https://sites.google.com/site/haroldkohletter/

“President John Sexton (one of the individuals to whom our petition is addressed) is a signatory of this Letter of Support for Harold Koh.” 

Bass said she has sent a letter to Sexton and NYU Provost David McLaughlin asking for a meeting to discuss “the intimidation that we have been facing from NYU faculty and administrators”, but neither has responded.

She says the students’ initiative is making waves because it is a critique of NYU Law’s hiring process, that involves no student input, and because it is an examination of “people like Koh who have shielded government (and) how they pass comfortably back into the academy” after their time in government is over.  Students and faculty, she said, are supposed to accept their presence in silence.

Bass’ opposition to drone attacks began several years ago in the context of her determination to work against capital punishment in the U.S.  She said she was “horrified by the drone program which is infinitely worse” than how the death penalty is imposed in the U.S.

She said “the drone program has upset me time and time again” because of the way in which courts fail to stop it, and “Congress has abdicated its responsibility.”

On April 20, the students have organized a drone war forum entitled “Beyond Empire: Drones, Targeted Killing, and the Future of Human Rights”, to be held at NYU Law.  See the EVENTS section in the student’s blog linked above.

What Bass and her fellow organizers are doing takes courage.  Indeed, about 45 students who have signed the petition against Koh’s hiring have done so anonymously. 

Bass said she and her colleagues had no idea that they would generate such a sharp reaction from law school officials and that she and other students are realizing “we will be seen, there will be consequences.”  But, she said, “it doesn’t change my feelings.”

Please sign the students’ petition here:  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/14tNTa9_-WqCgJv3DFu_XVK2zQsfHKwIne5PEu9Ld-2M/viewform 

Please call NYU Law’s Dean Trevor Morrison in support of Bass and her colleagues: (212) 998-6000.