Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews


The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer








Click on title or picture to buy from amazon.com






The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer presents a new book titled, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, filled with 400 pages of description and perspective of the decisions made by the Bush administration in the aftermath of 9/11. Mayer lays out details of the actions by individuals that will chill most readers in that American policies have devolved into practices that are closer to those of a rogue state than to the principles of our democracy. pp. 110-112:


Almost from the start, the Bush Administration's aggressive use of "extraordinary renditions" stirred fierce internal resistance, much of it coming from surprising quarters not just human rights activists but rather hard-line law-and-order stalwarts in the criminal justice sys­tem with years of experience fighting terrorism. Their concerns were as much practical as ideological. Firsthand experience in interrogation led most to doubt the effectiveness of physical coercion as a means of extracting reliable information. They also warned the Bush Adminis­tration that once it took prisoners outside the realm of the law, it would have trouble bringing them back in. By holding detainees indefinitely, without counsel, without charges of wrongdoing, and under circumstances that could, in legal parlance, "shock the con­science" of a court, the administration, they warned, would jeopard­ize its chances of convicting hundreds of suspected terrorists, or even of using them as witnesses in almost any court in the world.

"It's a big problem," said Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general and a member of the 9/11 Commission. "In criminal justice, you either prosecute the suspects or let them go. But if you've treated them in ways that won't allow you to prosecute them you're in this no-man's-land. What do you do with these people?"

The criminal prosecution of terrorist suspects, of course, was not a priority for the Bush Administration in the immediate aftermath of September 11. But even some who had led the fight against Al Qaeda in the administration worried about the unintended consequences of the White House's radical legal measures. Surprisingly, among these critics was Michael Scheuer, the Jeremiah-like former head of the Bin Laden Unit at the CIA who helped establish the practice of rendition in the first place.

"It was begun in desperation," he later explained. During the 1990s, under the Clinton Administration, the stated mission of his job had been to "detect, disrupt, and dismantle" terrorist operations. His unit spent much of 1996 studying how Al Qaeda operated; by the next year, Scheuer said, they had determined the need to try to cap­ture Bin Laden and his associates. The problem, in his view, was that Clinton's reluctance to authorize lethal operations against Bin Laden put the CIA in a bind. He recalled, "We went to the White House and they said, ‘Do it. He added that Richard Clarke, who was in charge of counterterrorism for the National Security Council at the time, offered no advice. "He told me, 'Figure it out by yourselves,"' Scheuer said. (Clarke did not respond to a request for comment about Scheuer.)

Scheuer sought the counsel of Mary Jo White, then the U.S. Attor­ney for the Southern District of New York, who, along with a small group of FBI agents in New York, was pursuing the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case. In 1998, White's team obtained an in­dictment against Bin Laden authorizing U.S. agents to bring him and his associates to the United States to stand trial. This formally estab­lished that Bin Laden was a wanted fugitive who could be legally ren­dered to stand trial in the United States. From the start, though, the CIA was wary of granting terrorism suspects the due process afforded by American law. The agency did not want to divulge secrets about its intelligence sources and methods, and American courts demanded transparency. Even establishing the chain of custody of key evidence—such as a laptop computer—could easily pose a significant problem: foreign governments, fearing retaliation from their Muslim pop­ulations, might refuse to testify in U.S. courts about how they had obtained the evidence, for fear of having their secret cooperation ex­posed. The provenance of a laptop computer had in fact been the cen­ter of an extraordinarily bitter tussle between the CIA and the FBI. Filled with details of Al Qaeda's structure, it was considered the Rosetta Stone of counterterrorism in the pre-9/1 1 period. But the CIA had refused to share it with the FBI for months, because of the Agency's fears that the computer's foreign sourcing would leak out.

The CIA also felt that other agencies sometimes stood in its way. In 1996, for example, the State Department stymied a joint effort by the CIA and the FBI to question one of Bin Laden's cousins in Amer­ica because he had a diplomatic passport, which protects the holder from U.S. law enforcement. An FBI agent arrived in the Falls Church, Virginia, office of the cousin, Abdullah Mohammed Bin Laden, de­manding to question him. But he suavely said that he would be "more than happy" to talk, except for this: he produced a diplomatic pass­port. He was not a diplomat, he was working for a suspicious non­governmental organization. But the Saudi government had accredited him to the embassy as an "attache." Describing the CIA's frustration, Scheuer said, "We were turning into voyeurs. We knew where these people were, but we couldn't capture them." And even if they could, he noted, "we had nowhere to take them." The Agency realized that "we had to come up with a third party."

The obvious choice, Scheuer said, was Egypt. The largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid after Israel, Egypt was a key strategic ally, and its secret police force, the Mukhabarat, had a reputation for brutality. Egypt had been frequently cited by the State Department for torture of prisoners. According to a 2002 report, detainees were "stripped and blindfolded; suspended from a ceiling or doorframe with feet just touching the floor; beaten with fists, whips, metal rods, or other ob­jects; subjected to electrical shocks; and doused with cold water [and] sexually assaulted." Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's leader, who came to of­fice in 1981 after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamist extremists, was determined to crack down on terrorism. His prime political enemies were radical Islamists, hundreds of whom had fled the country and joined Al Qaeda. Among this radical Islamic diaspora was Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Cairo physician who after having been brutally tortured in Egyptian prisons went on to Afghanistan, where he eventually became Bin Laden's top deputy.


Most readers are likely to be shocked and disturbed by The Dark Side. Knowing that, read The Dark Side anyway.


Steve Hopkins, November 20, 2008



Buy The Dark Side

@ amazon.com

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage



Go to 2008 Book Shelf

Go to Executive Times Archives


Go to The Big Book Shelf: All Reviews





*    2008 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the December 2008 issue of Executive Times


URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/The Dark Side.htm


For Reprint Permission, Contact:

Hopkins & Company, LLC • 723 North Kenilworth AvenueOak Park, IL 60302
Phone: 708-466-4650 • Fax: 708-386-8687

E-mail: books@hopkinsandcompany.com