The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (Anglais) Broché – 5 mai 2009
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America should go “not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. . . . She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.” –John Quincy Adams, An Address . . . Celebrating the Anniversary of Independence, at the City of Washington on the Fourth of July 1821
If anyone in America should have been prepared to respond to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it ought to have been Vice President Dick Cheney. For decades before the planes hit the Pentagon and World Trade Center, Cheney had been secretly practicing for doomsday.
During the 1980s, while serving as a Republican congressman from Wyoming and a rising power in the conservative leadership in Congress, Cheney secretly participated in one of the most highly classiﬁed, top-secret programs of the Reagan Administration, a simulation of survival scenarios designed to ensure the smooth continuity of the U.S. government in the event of all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Every year, usually during congressional recesses, Cheney would disappear in the dead of the night. He left without explanation to his wife, Lynne Vincent Cheney, who was given merely a phone number where he could be reached in the event of emergency. Along with some four or ﬁve dozen federal ofﬁcials, Cheney would pretend for several weeks to be chief of staff to a designated substitute “president,” bivouacked in some remote location in the United States.
As James Mann reveals in The Vulcans, his rich intellectual history of the neoconservative brain trust that has guided Bush foreign policy, the exercise tried to re-create some of the anticipated hardships of surviving a nuclear holocaust. Accommodations were Spartan and cuisine was barely adequate. Civilian communications systems were presumed destroyed. The challenge was to ensure civil order and control over the military in the event that the elected president and vice president, and much of the executive branch, were decimated. The Constitution, of course, spells out the line of succession. If the president and vice president are indisposed, then power passes ﬁrst to the Speaker of the House, and next to the president pro tempore of the Senate. But in a secret executive order, President Reagan, who was deeply concerned about the Soviet threat, amended the process for speed and clarity. The secret order established a means of re-creating the executive branch without informing Congress that it had been sidestepped, or asking for legislation that would have made the new “continuity-of-government” plan legally legitimate. Cheney, a proponent of expansive presidential powers, was evidently unperturbed by this oversight.
Mann and others have suggested that these doomsday drills were a dress rehearsal for Cheney’s calm, commanding performance on 9/11. It was not the ﬁrst time he had stared into the abyss. One eyewitness, who kept a diary, said that inside the Presidential Emergency Operations Command, or PEOC, a hardened command center several hundred feet under the by-then-evacuated White House, Cheney never broke a sweat as he juggled orders to shoot down any additional incoming hijacked planes, coordinated efforts with other cabinet members, most particularly the Directors of the FBI and CIA, and resolved issues such as how to avoid charges of taking hostage two visiting foreign heads of state, from Australia and Lithuania, after all air trafﬁc had been shut down.
Six weeks after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush Administration had successfully restored calm, reassured the ﬁnancial markets, and rallied the sympathies and support of much of the world. But once again the White House was plunged into a state of controlled panic.
On October 17, 2001, a white powder that had been sent through the U.S. mail to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s ofﬁce in the Capitol was positively identiﬁed. Scientiﬁc analysis showed it to be an unusually difﬁcult to obtain and lethally potent form of the deadly bacterial poison anthrax. This news followed less than ten days after the death in Florida of a victim in another mysterious anthrax attack. The anthrax spores in the letter to Daschle were so professionally reﬁned, the Central Intelligence Agency believed the powder must have been sent by an experienced terrorist organization, most probably Al Qaeda, as a sequel to the group’s September 11 attacks. During a meeting of the White House’s National Security Council that day, Cheney, who was sitting in for the President because Bush was traveling abroad, urged everyone to keep this inﬂammatory speculation secret.
At the time, no one, not even America’s best-informed national security leaders, really knew anything for sure about what sorts of threats loomed, or from where. The only certainty shared by virtually the entire American intelligence community in the fall of 2001 was that a second wave of even more devastating terrorist attacks on America was imminent. In preparation, the CIA had compiled a list of likely targets ranging from movie studios–whose heads were warned by the Bush Administration to take precautions–to sports arenas and corporate headquarters. Topping the list was the White House.
The next day, the worst of these fears seemed realized. On October 18, 2001, an alarm in the White House went off. Chillingly, the warning signal wasn’t a simple ﬁre alarm triggered by the detection of smoke. It was a sensitive, specialized sensor, designed to alert anyone in the vicinity that the air they were breathing had been contaminated by potentially lethal radioactive, chemical, or biological agents. Everyone who had entered the Situation Room that day was believed to have been exposed, and that included Cheney. “They thought there had been a nerve attack,” a former administration ofﬁcial, who was sworn to secrecy about it, later conﬁded. “It was really, really scary. They thought that Cheney was already lethally infected.” Facing the possibility of his own death, the Vice President nonetheless calmly reported the emergency to the rest of the National Security Council.
Members of the National Security Council were all too well aware of the seriousness of the peril they were facing. At Cheney’s urging, they had received a harrowing brieﬁng just a few weeks earlier about the possibility of biological attack. His attention had been drawn to the subject by a war game called Dark Winter conducted in the summer before that simulated the effects of an outbreak of smallpox in America. After the September 11 attacks, Cheney’s chief of staff,
I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, screened a video of the Dark Winter exercise for Cheney, showing that the United States was virtually defenseless against smallpox or any other biological attack. Cheney in particular was so stricken by the potential for attack that he insisted that the rest of the National Security Council undergo a gruesome brieﬁng on it on September 20, 2001. When the White House sensor registered the presence of such poisons less than a month later, many, including Cheney, believed a nightmare was unfolding. “It was a really nerve-jangling time,” the former ofﬁcial said.
In time, the Situation Room alarm turned out to be false. But on October 22, the Secret Service reported that it had found what it believed to be additional anthrax traces on an automated letter-opening device used on White House mail. By then, Cheney had convinced the President to support a $1.6 billion bioterrorism-preparedness program. Cheney argued that every citizen in the country should be vaccinated against smallpox.
During the ten days after the Vice President’s scare, threats of mortal attack were nonetheless so frequent, and so terrifying, that on October 29 Cheney quietly insisted upon absenting himself from the White House to what was described as “a secure, undisclosed location”–one of several Cold War—era nuclear-hardened subterranean bunkers built during the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations, the nearest of which were located hundreds of feet below bedrock in places such as Mount Weather, in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and along the Maryland-Pennsylvania border not far from Camp David.
In a subterranean bunker crammed with communications equipment and government-issue metal desks, Cheney and other rotating cabinet members took turns occupying what was archly referred to as “The Commander in Chief’s Suite.”
Ofﬁcials who worked in the White House and other sensitive posts with access to raw intelligence ﬁles during the fall of 2001 say it is nearly impossible to exaggerate the sense of mortal and existential danger that dominated the thinking of the upper rungs of the Bush Administration during those months.
“They thought they were going to get hit again. They convinced themselves that they were facing a ticking time bomb,” recalled Roger Cressey, who then headed what was known as the Terrorist Threats Sub-Group of the National Security Council.
Counterterrorism experts knew that Al Qaeda’s members had in the recent past made efforts to obtain nuclear and other horriﬁc weapons of mass destruction in order to commit murder on an even greater scale. Unlike earlier enemies of America, they targeted innocent civilians and fought clandestinely with inhuman disregard for life. Other foes had been better organized and more powerful, but none had struck as great a blow behind the lines in America, nor spread a greater sense of vulnerability in the population. Under the circumstances, Cressey admitted, “I ﬁrmly expected to get hit again too. It seemed highly probable.”
The sense of fear within the White House was understandable, but it was intensiﬁed by what was supposed to be a valuable new intelligence tool introduced after September 11, what came to be known as the “Top Secret Codeword/Threat Matrix.” Having underestimated Al Qaeda before the attacks, Bush and Cheney took aggressive steps to ensure that they would never get similarly blindsided again. In the days immediately after the attacks, he and Cheney demanded to see all available raw intelligence reports concerning additional possible threats to America on a daily basis. Cheney had long been a skeptic about the CIA’s skills, and was particularly insistent on reviewing the data himself. “The mistake,” Cressey concluded later, “was not to have proper analysis of the intelligence before giving it to the President. There was no ﬁlter. Most of it was garbage. None of it had been corroborated or screened.
But it went directly to the President and his advisers, who are not intelligence experts. That’s when mistakes got made.” Others who saw the same intelligence reports found the experience mind-altering. It was “like being stuck in a room listening to Led Zeppelin music,” said Jim Baker, former head of the Counsel in the Department of Justice’s Ofﬁce of Intelligence Policy and Review. Readers suffered “sensory overload” and became “paranoid.” Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey believed that the cumulative effect turned national security concerns into “an obsession.”
A sense of constant danger followed Cheney everywhere. When he commuted to his White House ofﬁce from the vice presidential residence, he was chauffeured in an armored motorcade that varied its route to foil possible attackers. On the backseat behind Cheney rested a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical surival suit. Rarely did he travel without a medical doctor in tow.
Cheney managed to make light of these macabre arrangements, joking about evading “The Jackal” by varying his routines, and teasing an old friend that, alas, he had too little survival equipment to be able to share his. Some of those around Cheney wondered if the attacks, perhaps in combination with his medical problems, had exacerbated his natural pessimism. An old family friend found him changed after September 11, “more steely, as if he was preoccupied by terrible things he couldn’t talk about.” Brent Scowcroft, a lifelong acquaintance, told The New Yorker, “I don’t know him anymore.” In the view of some detractors, such as Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, “Cheney was traumatized by 9/11. The poor guy became paranoid.”
From the start of the administration, Cheney had conﬁdently assumed the national security portfolio for a president with virtually no experience in the area. But Al Qaeda’s attacks exposed a gaping shortcoming in the Vice President’s thinking. The Soviet Union, whose threat had preoccupied Cheney and other doomsday planners in the 1980s, was gone. In its place another, more intangible danger had arisen. No one in the Bush Administration, including Cheney, had had the foresight or imagination to see Bin Laden’s plot unfolding.
With the notable exception of Richard Clarke, the long-serving head of counterterrorism at the National Security Council, and a few counterterrorism experts at the CIA and FBI, terrorism hadn’t ranked anywhere near the top of the new administration’s national security concerns. Later, a number of top ofﬁcials, including CIA Director George Tenet, would offer evidence that they had been keenly focused on the threat from Bin Laden before the attacks. If so, none succeeded in getting the President and Vice President’s attention.
When Al Qaeda struck, Cheney and the other hardliners who had spent decades militating for a more martial and aggressive foreign policy were caught off guard. Frozen in a Cold War—era mind-set, they overlooked threats posed not by great armed nation-states, but by small, lithe rogue groups waging “asymmetric” warfare.
The Bush White House could have demanded an instant review of how they had been so badly surprised, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the results would not have been ﬂattering. But instead of trying to learn from what had essentially been a colossal bureaucratic failure, combined with inattention and a lack of political will at the top, the Bush White House deferred the focus elsewhere.
The lesson for Bush and Cheney was that terrorists had struck at the United States because they saw the country as soft. Bush worried that the nation was too “materialistic, hedonistic,” and that Bin Laden “didn’t feel threatened” by it. Confronted with a new enemy and their own intelligence failure, he and Cheney turned to some familiar conservative nostrums that had preoccupied the far right wing of the Republican Party since the Watergate era. There was too much international law, too many civil liberties, too many constraints on the President’s war powers, too many rights for defendants, and too many rules against lethal covert actions. There was also too much openness and too much meddling by Congress and the press.
Cheney in particular had been chaﬁng against the post-Watergate curbs that had been imposed on the president’s powers since the mid1970s, when he had served as Gerald Ford’s chief of staff. As Vice President, Cheney had already begun to strengthen the power of the presidency by aggressively asserting executive privilege, most notably on his secrecy-enshrouded energy task force. He’d told Bush, who later repeated the line, that if nothing else they must leave the ofﬁce stronger than they found it. Now Cheney saw the terrorist threat in such catastrophic terms that his end, saving America from possible extinction, justiﬁed virtually any means. As Wilkerson, Powell’s former Chief of Staff who went on to teach National Security Affairs at George Washington University, put it, “He had a single-minded objective in black and white, that American security was paramount to everything else. He thought that perfect security was achievable. I can’t fault the man for wanting to keep America safe. But he was willing to corrupt the whole country to save it.”
Whether the White House fears were rational will long be debated. But it was in this feverish atmosphere that a new system of law was devised to vanquish what Bush described as a new kind of enemy in “a war unlike any other.”
Beginning almost immediately after September 11, 2001, Cheney saw to it that some of the sharpest and best-trained lawyers in the country, working in secret in the White House and the United States
Department of Justice, came up with legal justiﬁcations for a vast expansion of the government’s power in waging war on terror.
As part of that process, for the ﬁrst time in its history, the United States sanctioned government ofﬁcials to physically and psychologically torment U.S.-held captives, making torture the ofﬁcial law of the land in all but name.
The lawyers also authorized other previously illegal practices, including the secret capture and indeﬁnite detention of suspects without charges. Simply by designating the suspects “enemy combatants,” the President could suspend the ancient writ of habeas corpus that guarantees a person the right to challenge his imprisonment in front of a fair and independent authority. Once in U.S. custody, the President’s lawyers said, these suspects could be held incommunicado, hidden from their families and international monitors such as the Red Cross, and subjected to unending abuse, so long as it didn’t meet the lawyers’ own deﬁnition of torture. And they could be held for the duration of the war against terrorism, a struggle in which victory had never been clearly deﬁned.
Few would argue against safeguarding the nation. But in the judgment of at least one of the country’s most distinguished presidential scholars, the legal steps taken by the Bush Administration in its war against terrorism were a quantum leap beyond earlier blots on the country’s history and traditions: more signiﬁcant than John Adams’s Alien and Sedition Acts, than Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, than the imprisonment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. Collectively, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. argued, the Bush Administration’s extralegal counterterrorism program presented the most dramatic, sustained, and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.
Over a lunch at a genteel Upper East Side French restaurant in Manhattan in 2006, the year before he died, Schlesinger, a liberal Democrat but also an admirer of muscular foreign policy, chose his words slowly and carefully. When asked what he thought of President Bush’s policy on torture, he peered over his glasses and paused. Schlesinger’s The Imperial Presidency had described Richard Nixon as pushing the outer limits of abuse of presidential power. Later, his book The Cycles of American History had placed these excesses in a continuum of pendulum swings. With his trademark bow tie askew, Schlesinger considered, and ﬁnally said, “No position taken has done more damage to the American reputation in the world–ever.”
While there was nothing new about torture, its authorization by Bush Administration lawyers represented a dramatic break with the past. As early as the Revolutionary War, General George Washington vowed that, unlike the British, who tortured enemy captives, this new country in the New World would distinguish itself by its humanity. In ﬁghting to liberate the world from Communism, Fascism, and Nazism, and working to ameliorate global ignorance and poverty, America had done more than any nation on earth to abolish torture and other violations of human rights.
Yet, almost precisely on the sixtieth anniversary of the famous war crimes tribunal’s judgment in Nuremberg, which established what seemed like an immutable principle, that legalisms and technicalities could not substitute for individual moral choice and conscience, America became the ﬁrst nation ever to authorize violations of the Geneva Conventions. These international treaties, many of which were hammered out by American lawyers in the wake of the harrowing Nazi atrocities of World War II, set an absolute, minimum baseline for the humane treatment of all categories of prisoners taken in almost all manner of international conﬂicts. Rather than lining prisoners up in front of ditches and executing them, or exterminating them in gas chambers, or subjecting them to grueling physical hardships, all enemy prisoners–even spies and saboteurs–were from then on to be accorded some basic value simply because they were human. America had long played a special role as the world’s most ardent champion of these fundamental rights; it was not just a signatory but also the custodian of the Geneva Conventions, the original signed copies of which resided in a vault at the State Department.
Any fair telling of how America came to sacriﬁce so many cherished values in its ﬁght against terrorism has to acknowledge that the enemy that the Bush Administration faced on September 11, and which the country faces still, is both real and terrifying. Often, those in power have felt they simply had no good choices. But this country has in the past faced other mortal enemies, equally if not more threatening, without endangering its moral authority by resorting to state-sanctioned torture. Other democratic nations, meanwhile, have grappled with similar if not greater threats from terrorism without undercutting their values and laws.
But to understand the Bush Administration’s self-destructive response to September 11, one has to look particularly to Cheney, the doomsday expert and unapologetic advocate of expanding presidential power. Appearing on Meet the Press on the ﬁrst Sunday after the attacks, Cheney gave a memorable description of how the administration viewed the continuing threat and how it planned to respond.
“We’ll have to work sort of the dark side, if you will,” Cheney explained in his characteristically quiet and reassuring voice. “We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies–if we are going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in. And, uh, so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal basically, to achieve our objectives.”
Soon afterward, Cheney disappeared from public view. But his inﬂuence had already begun to shape all that followed.
From the Hardcover edition.
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I am convinced that what Woodward and Bernstein's book "All the President's Men" did to the Nixon administration, Jane Mayer's book "The Dark Side" will do to George Bush's administration: blow away, like a piece of straw, the last sliver of credibility that the few remaining supporters of George Bush desperately cling to. "We don't torture", said the President, and Jane Mayer has responded with this book, as if to say: "That is a lie".
Although many of the incidents and details narrated in this book have been well known for quite some time, what is remarkable is the thorough and painstaking manner in which the author has arranged them together, as if she were connecting the haphazard dots and linking them together, to create a clear, convincing, and devastating picture. She has included a significant amount of new information also. Reading this book will make the hair on your nape stand up, as if electrified, and shock you to the very core, and leave you speechless.
The book is full of passages based on well-documented facts that will stun the readers and shake their conscience. For example, she has written that: "For the first time in its history, the United States sanctioned government officials to physically and psychologically torment U.S.-held captives, making torture the official law of the land in all but name."
The International committee of Red Cross wrote a secret report about the torture the prisoners were subjected to, under the supervision of the CIA at the prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and gave a copy to the CIA. Jane Mayer wrote: "The Red Cross document warned that the abuse constituted war crimes, placing the highest officials in the U.S. government in jeopardy of being prosecuted.", and she states emphatically, "The International Committee of the Red Cross declared in the report, given to the C.I.A. last year, that the methods used on Abu Zubaydah, the first major Qaeda figure the United States captured, were `categorically' torture, which is illegal under both American and international law". The book states that Abu Zubaydah was subjected to water-torture("Waterboarding") as often as ten times a week, and up to three time a day. The CIA shared the report, later, with President Bush and Condoleezza Rice.
It is quite shocking to learn that almost half of all prisoners tortured were found to be innocent of harming the United States in any way, and were eventually let go, without being charged of any crimes, and after spending more than five years in jails. The author has written: "The analyst estimated that a full third of the camp's detainees were there by mistake. When told of those findings, the top military commander at Guantanamo at the time, Major Gen. Michael Dunlavey, not only agreed with the assessment but suggested that an even higher percentage of detentions -- up to half -- were in error. Later, an academic study by Seton Hall University Law School concluded that 55 percent of detainees had never engaged in hostile acts against the United States, and only 8 percent had any association with al-Qaeda."
Reading this book will make you stop and think and wonder how a small group of people in the White House could wreak so much havoc around the world, and tarnish our reputation. This is an extraordinary, thought-provoking, riveting and frightening book.
By September 11, 2001, the President of the United States had already spent fifty days of his first eight months in office on vacation. Despite several warnings of an impending attack from foreign intelligence sources as well as our own, the administration never quite understands the threat.
The attack on a clear summer morning changes that, and it changes things for worse. The subsequent invasion of Afghanistan allows the military and the C.I.A. to round up hundreds of Taliban prisoners. An offer of a $5,000 bounty for the capture of al-Qaeda and Taliban nets them hundreds more. The administration screams for actionable intelligence from these detainees, but sorting them out and interrogating them is another matter. The assumption is that "enhanced interrogation techniques" will bring more accurate results in a shorter period of time. It also has to be justified.
That comes from John Yoo, the legal counsel for the Justice Department who provides just the argument Dick Cheney and his attorney, Dick Addington are looking for. It says the president can do essentially anything he wants, and ignore Congress, if it is for the security of the country. Yoo also states that such interrogation methods are not torture unless it results in organ failure or death. Alberto Gonzalez joins in describing Afghanistan as a failed state, and their detainees as unlawful combatants. The state department is not consulted.
America's shame is just beginning.
With John Yoo's memo providing the green light, American military and C.I.A. begin to torture detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Saddam Hussein's Abu-Ghraib prison, and one in Afghanistan. The techniques they employ are standing for prolonged periods, the absence of light and irregular meal periods to enhance disorientation, water boarding, extreme cold and heat, constant loud music, humiliation, no toilet breaks, confined spaces, prolonged restraints, especially Palestinian hangings, irregular and insufficient periods of sleep, and threats. Other detainees are sent to countries for rendition, countries known for human rights abuses. Prisoners will die of exposure, heart attack, asyphixiation, or from simply being beaten to death.
While the administration claims that the techniques work, there are too many instances where the tormented harden their resolve during harsh treatment, and cooperate when treated well. Many who are tortured provide false information that sends our intelligence assets on fools' errands. The most damaging disinformation comes from Sheikh Ibn als-Libi who gives evidence against Saddam Hussein while he is being tortured. This is the justification for going to war with Iraq. He only wanted his torturers to stop.
In 2003-4, the policy begins to unravel. Charges are reduced, dropped, or changed against John Walker Lindh, Yasser Hamdi, and Jose Padilla. Since they were tortured, their charges won't stand up in court. Justice Department lawyers begin to question John Yoo's legal precedents. The CIA Inspector General begins to investigate abuses. JAG officers refuse to prosecute or serve on military tribunals. In 2005, the Abu-Ghraib scandal will break. It is later estimated that most of the detainees at "Gitmo" are people who were rounded up when they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or were turned in for the generous bounty offered. They include an eighty-year old deaf man, and a wealthy Kuwaiti businessman who will indignantly refuse to buy another Cadillac after his mistreatment. A German and a Canadian citizen will be kidnapped and tortured before they are set free. Three hundred forty of 749 detainees held in Gitmo will remain there with only a handful being charged.
In spite of a growing rebellion inside the Departments of Defense and Justice, the President refuses to remove people he promised he would hold accountable for abuses. Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 600 U.S. military and civilian personnel were involved in torture.
The true leader of this policy holds a tight rein and his resistance to change is fierce. It is Dick Cheney and his loyal lawyer, Dave Addington. Even the new attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez refuses to go toe to toe with Dave, a tall, snarling bully. Cheney takes the unprecedented step of summoning the C.I.A.'s Inspector General to his office while he is conducting his investigation. The military holds a number of investigations that limit them to looking at the lower ranks. It is also clear by 2005, that Bush is fully aware that some of his senior officials believe that Gitmo should be closed and his detention policy changed. The dissenters and naysayers are excluded from any more discussion. To this day, Bush refuses to budge.
This is a powerful story. She tells us that we must look at ourselves if we ever hope to recapture our moral greatness. Even this she concedes will take years. Her book is a good place for our national introspection to begin. It is organized and well-written. Her appeal is persuasive. It is a classic page-turner, and held my interest throughout. There were no "dry spots." Equally important are her sources and references, which are impeccable.
She concludes this powerful report with the following: "Seven years after Al Qaeda's attacks on America, as the Bush Administration slips into history, it is clear that what began on September 11, 2001, as a battle for America's security became, and continues to be a battle for the country's soul."
"This country does not believe in torture." George W. Bush, March 16, 2005.
The Magna Carta bound kings to follow certain legal procedures and is the basis for governance in English and American jurisprudence: habeas corpus and other legal matters were codified. It's the forerunner of the US Constitution. It has remained in force in England from 1215 to the present day and was the basis for the US (Louisiana state law is founded on the Napoleonic Code) until 2001. Much of our legal system is intact, but in 2001 the Bush Administration decided that the law was whatever the President and his advisors said it was. Habeas corpus delenda est. The Dark Side shows that the law, when inconvenient, was routinely broken. Normal chains of authority were destroyed, legal decisions were made by people who were not lawyers--such as Cheney--and people who wanted the President to have--literally--life and death firmly in his hands, unrestrained. The Geneva Convention's restrictions on torture was, in Gonzales' words, "quaint". Objections by Powell and legal experts (inside the military and out), were ignored: the objectors were considered not to be team players and "soft on terrorism". Euphemisms and weasel words such as "robust interrogations" became the norm. The Dark Side notes that the TV series "24" in which the hero tortures people to prevent terrorist acts was immensely popular with the CIA, and the Guantanamo forces. I've never seen it myself--but I wonder if Jack Bauer ever makes mistakes? Does he torture innocents who don't have any information? As Dark Side and other sources make abundantly clear, the vast majority of information you get during torture is useless.
As the book shows, there are plenty of those who say "We must treat terror suspects harshly. Why should they have any legal rights?" The Dark Side recounts many tales of where mistakes were made, and people without any connection to terrorism were arrested, tortured (or robustly interrogated if you prefer), rendered to Egypt, Syria, etc. (Clive Smith's The Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side focusses on one such poor soul at Guantanamo.) The book shows that for altogether too many of these people, the harsh treatment continued long after it became readily apparent that they had no connection to terrorists. Under Stalin, being a suspect was a crime in and by itself--you had no legal rights at all. Plus la change, plus la meme chose, as they say. The final sentence in the book is a quote from Phillip Zelikow speaking of the internment of Japanse-Americans in WW II: "Fear and anxiety were exploited by zealots and fools".
This book is an examination of how the Bush presidency, in many ways, used the war on terror as a subversive tool to start to undermine the basic civil rights we had in this country up until then. Starting with that horrible day we all remember, we see Cheney in action, who apparently had been expecting some country wide issue that would require him to work from a "shadow government" base near Camp David. As the World Trade Center buildings came down, Cheney was stationed in the White House bunker, commanding everything as well as he could. Fear instantly pervaded the adminstration, deservedly so. Anthrax popping up in letters and people dying from it made Cheney sure that America was under attack and it wouldn't stop.
As Americans, we turn to our government in times of crisis to quickly handle the problem.
The problem wasn't their fear, ultimately, it was the unfortunate decisions made at this time that would send our country into a civil liberty tailspin. Cheney long since believed that our presidency had been weakened by Nixon's administration, not because of Watergate, but because of a series of laws passed by Congress that he thought ultimately weakened the president. Cheney saw the 9/11 attacks as an opportunity to regain the power of the presidency, seemingly to go as far as suggesting that our president has absolute power (didn't George Lucas do a series of movies about a person wanting absolute power?).
Being a prime presidental confident, Cheney manages to convince Bush to make a series of decisions early on that ultimately would infringe on our basic civil rights: domestic spying, advocating torture, bypassing Congressional oversight on the war on terror, to name a few. Mayer goes into detail about all of these movements, and the effect of these decisions had on people in and out of our country.
Clearly, in reading Mayer's book, she is clearly not a fan of the Bush administration. However, the reading is literally so scary that you forgive that immediately. Bush, a novice on domestic aggression issues, gives Cheney the power to conduct the war on terror, agreeing to support all of his decisions. Mayer introduces us to some new players in this governmental travesty, and her clear writing never becomes so overburdened with names that I was confused. Her chapters on the Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisoners debacle are absolutely horrifying.
Bush and Cheney's publicly stated goal in the "War on Terror" was to protect America. Ultimately, our position in the world has deteriorated, and we are only making other countries more angry with the "either you are with us or against us" dogma. It's certainly frightening, but it's important the truth comes out now, lest we make the same mistakes.
To the extent we can take Mayer at her word, this is a disturbing and compelling read. The metaphor of the "dark side" is a rich one. While Dick Cheney intended the expression, during his famous interview, to signify America taking off the gloves to combat terrorists, it was an unintended (or perhaps subconscious) premonition of the ugly part of ourselves that can emerge when we are threatened. If you believe America is worth fighting for (and even after reading this I still think it is), reading this book will remind you of the why and the how of going about that fight. We must fight to preserver our values, not flout them in the name of a false sense of "security".
Mayer portrays a gaggle of scofflaws, such as Dick Cheney's legal council David Addington and DOJ Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo, essentially conducting national foreign, military, and legal policy like a group of unruly boys who have discovered their fathers' caches of guns and beer. Along with the rest of the "War Council", they routinely contrived Constitution- and treaty-skirting legalese to justify intensified aggression in the war on terror, circumvention of normal chains of communication and command, routine violation of accepted standards of military and legal conduct, and "enhanced interrogation" techniques including the well-discussed water boarding but numerous other barbarities as well. What you sense from reading the book is that these people genuinely thought they were cutting through the red tape of legal procedure to act in American interests, although Mayer `s language does not directly grant them the benefit of the doubt for this reasonable motive.
What Mayer does hammer home is her view that these activities were not just illegal and immoral (many examples of innocents needlessly suffering at American hands turn the stomach), but were ultimately ineffective relative to traditional investigation and counterterrorism technique. It would be a more compelling dilemma if water boarding KSM actually accomplished anything, but it turns out it did *not* accomplish anything that was not already being achieved through routine investigation. Furthermore, false intel from terror suspects simply attempting to end their torment by telling interrogators what they wanted to hear led to numerous goose chases, including the war in Iraq. Its one thing to break the law to win; it's quite another when you break your own laws and hurt your own cause in the process.
While some view the book as an anti-Bush/Cheney screed, many ideological conservatives--the type of people Mayer would otherwise be at odds with--come off as heroes for their willingness to oppose the Bush Administration's renegade approach and eventually restore order to American criminal procedure.
In the end Mayer praises those who were willing to resist hysteria in the name of the rule of law, and reminds us of why America is supposed to be worth fighting for in the first place.
Response to other reviewers:
Whenever I like a book I always read the other side, so I went and checked all the one-star reviews. The best criticism was from someone who noted the reliance on some anonymous sources forces some skepticism. This is certainly true, but it's ironic when you consider that similar anonymity of sources prevailed during some of the very criminal/intelligence operations the book portrays. Another critic said that Mayer's portrayal of John Lind's extradition was flawed, but never specified how. In any event Mayer's key point about the Lind case was that Lind had a reasonable defense against charges of consciously acting against the United States. The critic did not challenge this central point and it makes me wonder if it's because he knows no such challenge is possible.
Here was one odd criticism:
"She [Mayer] attributes legislative power to Bush when almost every elementary student knows that Congress, not the president, makes the laws, and the president's duty is to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed, If Bush's acts were as unconstitutional as she claims, Congress could have, but did not, refuse to pay for them."
This is an argument?
Mayer's entire point is that the Bush administration did *not* faithfully execute American law *or* abide by constitutional and international norms. Mayer clearly explains that Congressional resistance--whatever form it might have taken--was stifled precisely because no one wanted to look "soft on terror" in the post-911 context. If that is to Congress's shame so be it. But this does not in any way diminish the accuracy of Mayer's work.
Here were some juicy ones:
"Thank God for George Bush and Dick Cheney that protected us from these civilian killers. If it takes pouring water over their face to simulate drowning to save mine, or your family.........sign me up. Humiliation is not torture."
"Do[sic] [Mayer] understand that under the Rules of Criminal Procedure, matters of national security would have to be disclosed to defendants during a criminal prosecution? Is that really wise and would it keep us safe?"
"Ms. Mayer clearly represents that large group of liberals who prefer to be dead rather than even twist the pinky toe of a terrorist. Bush-haters will love this book . . . "
And most poignantly:
"In this book she takes a moral position that murderous people with evil intentions have more rights than the people they kill and that the men and women trying to defeat them are essentially evil. That sadly is just not true."
All of these comments illustrate the very xenophobia and paranoia that got us into the moral and legal wreck that Mayer describes in her book.
The first critic claimed to have "hated" the book when it is clear he did not read it. One of Mayer's key points is that water boarding and other violations of international law and military codes of conduct *hurt* our prospects in the war on terror by alienating allies and steeling the resolve of our enemies. Furthermore, the issue of "matters of national security" became a blanket protection against disclosure of misconduct. The Bush administration disrupted a generally noble (if of course imperfect) American tradition of humane treatment of enemy combatants that had served us well until the War Council decided they knew better and threw out two centuries of American tradition.
What these critics also don't realize is that under the Bush administration, virtually *no one* was ever prosecuted for crimes--*precisely* because their interrogations would never withstand scrutiny in any reasonable court.
And I *dare* the last negative reviewer to produce any quote that substantiates this slur that Mayer believes murderers have "more rights" than their victims. If this fat-mouthed critic had actually read the book, he would have known that what we learned to our horror was that numerous *innocent* people were caught up in this crazed witch hunt.
Simply put, these abuses hurt innocent people, wasted our material and personnel resources, and made us no safer--and possibly less so.