We can’t say we weren’t warned.
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.
Above all, it underscores one of the least remarked aspects of our nation’s counterterrorist policy: the degree to which it has been driven not by spies or generals but by pasty men in ties. “The first thing we do,” goes that crowd-pleasing line from Shakespeare’s “Henry VI,” “let’s kill all the lawyers.” Readers of “The Dark Side” might be moved to add: “Before they kill you.” Almost from the moment America was attacked, Mayer writes, 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 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.” This “extralegal counterterrorism program,” contends Mayer, “presented the most dramatic, sustained, and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.” [complete article]