Dark Side, The – Review
Publisher: First Anchor Books
Cover: The New Yorker
reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 8/15/2009
Summary: The fear continues: the legal history for America, the “homeland” and its fight against itself.
“The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America . . .”
In quoting Alberto Mora, General Counsel of the United State Navy in 2002, Jane Mayer plainly lays out what was supposed to be at the center of two-hundred years of American history. THE DARK SIDE describes a snippet of time in which America took a detour around its values as a nation. As some will argue, the detour was necessitated by an essentially invisible enemy who flies planes into buildings, drives truck bombs into crowded public areas, and seeks the ultimate weapon of destruction whatever that weapon may be. This enemy requires tactics and means beyond the frail pillars of a republic founded upon the ornate accouterments of individual rights and the due process of law.
In reading THE DARK SIDE, it becomes clear that the epicenter of America’s plunge into the inner world of darkness was guided by Vice President Richard Cheney. Jane Mayer mentions the fear engendered in Cheney by the events of September 11, 2001. Cheney acted on his fear and brought the entire governmental apparatus with him.
One might speculate that if Cheney had at one time served in the military, been shot at, and survived the pathos of having survived, 9/11 would not have been such a pivotal anchor for decisions affecting survival. Nothing enhances the ability to set priorities and achieve focus as having a bullet or piece of shrapnel whiz by your head. Without that experience, one is apt to go through life believing that everything is about ideology.
The comparison between events following September 11, 2001 and December 7, 1941 are inescapable. Mayer quotes Phillip Zelikow who was the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission now teaching history at the University of Virginia, as stating that, over time, the “Bush Administration’s descent into torture would be seen as akin to Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.” Zelikow is wrong. The Roosevelt Administration stood by and let fear dictate law. The Bush Administration interned the American people in a prison of fear and then went about erecting laws to ensure that they stayed there-the indefinite “war on terror”. There is no comparison between benign ignorance in pursuit of safety, whatever its cause, and calculated fear-mongering designed to achieve political ends.
THE DARK SIDE looks specifically at the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) interrogation program. The program seemed to have sprouted from nowhere after 9/11. Rather than being merely an interrogation program, it was a torture program. Who authorized it? Who designed it? Who were the people overseeing it?
Mayer tells the story of Ali Abdul Azzi Al-Fakhiri, also known as Ibn Al-Shaykh Al-Libi. He was reportedly the chief of Bin Laden’s Khalden training camp and knew Bin Laden personally. On December 19, 2001, Pakistan security force captured Al-Libi crossing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. According to Mayer, Pakistan turned Al-Libi over to U. S. authorities for a hefty sum of money. Throughout the book, Mayer contrasts the interrogations conducted by the FBI and the CIA. The FBI, with it one hundred years as a law enforcement agency took the carrot approach to gleaming information from those they interrogated. Al-Libi was interviewed by FBI agent Russell Fincher and New York City detective Marty Mahon. They collected both intelligence and actionable enforcement information from Al-Libi. Not long after the interrogations started, the CIA took control of Al-Libi. According to an anonymously quoted CIA officer, they “strapped him to a stretcher, wrapped his feet, his hands, and his mouth in duct tape” and put him on an airplane, presumably destined for Egypt. Egypt allows torture.
Taking one step back from the vignettes of human beings undergoing the suffering of torture, Mayer delves into the beau racy and presents a grayed-out, twisted roadmap of who authorized what and when they did it. In chapter 4 of the book, “Men of Zeal”, she reports on the “special request from Alberto Gonzales, the White House Counsel” for a provision to be included in the congressional act authorizing President Bush to go to war against the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001 attacks. In the end, on September 14th, the congress approved an act which did not include the specific provision to allow the President to wage war inside the United States. The Bush White House then went to work drafting “legal memos” which achieved the same objective.
THE DARK SIDE does an excellent job of identifying the actors leading up to America’s plunge into the dark ages of the human spirit. What THE DARK SIDE does not do and, to be reasonable, could not do is identify those responsible. It would be politic to say that we all were responsible, the American people.
There have been a number of authors who took the blame the “American people” approach. Broken: The Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI by Richard Gid Powers is one example of blaming the American people for the haphazard functioning of one of its public institutions. Ivian C. Smith’s INSIDE, another book about the shortcomings of the FBI, reviewed here in January 2005, lays responsibility on the American people for the FBI’s adherence to “cultural” norms in pursuit of abnormal events. And finally, Ronald Kessler’s THE CIA AT WAR, reviewed here in January 2004. Kessler’s THE CIA AT WAR does not bluntly offer the American people as a scapegoat for the failures of the intelligence community. Instead, the culpability of the American people in not seeing the dangers of the real world is a foggy background for the men and women who are in positions of leadership to in fact lead.
Jane Mayer’s THE DARK SIDE looks at the process which lead to blithe upon American values-the CIA torture program. While the actors are identified (the memo writers, the justifiers), she does not look at the who and what lead us there. And there was leadership.
When President Bush stood atop that fire engine in downtown New York near the ruins of the World Trade towers and said, in effect, that the guilty would be punished, he conjured both the determination and spirit of America. From that point onward, the hollowness of the man took charge. The Commander in Chief. As in every “leader” milieu, the person at the top “knows nothing” about what goes on “in the trenches”. “Knowing” and not “knowing” is the litmus test of culpability when it comes to descending into darkness. The leader keeps his or her head up, focused on the light, the good, the “protect America at all cost”, even at the cost of her soul. Descending into the darkness.
In looking at the process-the trenches-and punctuating that examination with vignettes of the torture of terrorists, suspected terrorists, and “enemy combatants”, Mayer uncovered the scaffolding behind Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the rest. Additional low-level torturers might end up in prison because of their over-zealous pursuit of “carrying out orders”. That may be one outcome of the focus. But what of the architects of the scaffolding?