The Dark Side

Last week saw the release of what looks to be another great (and damning) book about the Bush Administration: The Dark Side: the Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer.

From the Salon review by Louis Bayard:

The very first Sunday after the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney descended like a cloud on “Meet the Press” to outline the Bush administration’s response. “We’ll have to work sort of the dark side, if you will. 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.”
Around the nation, one presumes, numbed heads were nodding in approval. Whatever it takes to get those bastards. The true nature of our Faustian bargain would not become clear until later, and maybe it needed a journalist as steely and tenacious as Jane Mayer to give us the full picture. “The Dark Side” is about how the war on terror became “a war on American ideals,” and Mayer gives this story all the weight and sorrow it deserves. Many books get tagged with the word “essential”; hers actually is.

In a New York Times opinion column, Frank Rich points out that, “In [Mayer’s] telling, a major incentive for Mr. Cheney’s descent into the dark side was to cover up for the Bush White House’s failure to heed the Qaeda threat in 2001. Jack Cloonan, a special agent for the F.B.I.’s Osama bin Laden unit until 2002, told Ms. Mayer that Sept. 11 was ‘all preventable.’ By March 2000, according to the C.I.A.’s inspector general, ’50 or 60 individuals’ in the agency knew that two Al Qaeda suspects — soon to be hijackers — were in America. But there was no urgency at the top. Thomas Pickard, the acting F.B.I. director in the summer of 2001, told Ms. Mayer that when he expressed his fears about the Qaeda threat to Mr. Ashcroft, the attorney general snapped, ‘I don’t want to hear about that anymore!'”

From Andrew J. Bacevich’s review of Mayer’s book in The Washington Post: “As Mayer makes clear, the White House seized upon the prospect of open-ended war with alacrity. And why not? In the near term at least, going to war almost invariably works to the benefit of the executive branch. War elicits deference from Congress and the courts. As a wartime commander-in-chief, the president wields greater clout. In this particular case, war also helped deflect demands for accountability: Despite what Mayer describes as ‘the worst intelligence failure in the nation’s history,’ the aftermath of 9/11 saw not a single senior official fired.”

Bloomberg’s Craig Seligman takes note of how the book traces torture and other atrocities directly back to Vice President Dick Cheney, his chief aide David Addington, former secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo: “Wrapping themselves in the flag, repeating the mantra ‘security’ and attacking anyone who questioned this insanity as soft on terrorism, they succeeded in disgracing their country before the world, and now they deserve to be called what they are: traitors. In a just world they would be prosecuted and convicted.”

According to some of the books’ revelations reported in the Washington Post, “A CIA analyst warned the Bush administration in 2002 that up to a third of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay may have been imprisoned by mistake, but White House officials ignored the finding and insisted that all were ‘enemy combatants’ subject to indefinite incarceration, according to a new book critical of the administration’s terrorism policies.

“The CIA assessment directly challenged the administration’s claim that the detainees were all hardened terrorists — the ‘worst of the worst,’ as then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at the time. But a top aide to Vice President Cheney shrugged off the report and squashed proposals for a quick review of the detainees’ cases.”

The book quotes Cheney staff director David Addington as saying, “There will be no review. The president has determined that they are ALL enemy combatants. We are not going to revisit it.”

This all seems to echo the opinion of the late historian Arthur Schlesinger: “the Bush administration’s extralegal counterterrorism program presented the most dramatic, sustained and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: