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The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals Paperback – May 5 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (May 5 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307456293
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307456298
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 13.6 x 2.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 440 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #275,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Graymac on May 17 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a very well researched and argued book. Mayer exhaustively documents the moral bankruptcy of the Bush Administration's war on terror, exposing how it systematically violated core American principles of freedom and justice.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Honda Prelude Guy on Jan. 7 2010
Format: Paperback
Loved this book.

Carefully researched and gripping. The topic area is a tad dark, but the light it sheds on some of the issues surrounding the war on terror is a breath of fresh air. Totally worth the money.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By P. Lake on Sept. 30 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a thoroughly researched piece of history. She has clearly interviewed many of the parties involved from the Bush Administration to the front line operatives. The revelations of the systematic violation of American values, international law, and the Geneva Convention are stunning. Ms. Mayer's writing reminds us that this happened at a time when those responsible for security in the US did not know if another attack was planned.
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Amazon.com: 170 reviews
480 of 529 people found the following review helpful
Screened from the eyes of the world: torture in the dark dungeons of American gulags July 15 2008
By Yesh Prabhu, author of The Beech Tree - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Of the nearly two dozen books published so far that describe and document the nefarious deeds of George Bush's administration, Jane Mayer's book, "The Dark Side" , is perhaps the most thoroughly researched, meticulous, impressive, and deeply disturbing. It is also gripping and highly readable.

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.
95 of 110 people found the following review helpful
Without Liberty and Justice for All Sept. 5 2008
By Edwin C. Pauzer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
History is supposed to teach us lessons from the past. From the Alien and Sedition Act, the "Red Scare" of 1919, the detention of thousands of Americans during World War II because of their Japanese ancestry, we were supposed to learn that even through the most dire threat to our safety, the rule of law ennobles us and protects us from tyranny. In "The Dark Side," Jane Mayer explains how easy it is for history to repeat itself in the name of security.

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.
113 of 135 people found the following review helpful
This might be too scary for you to read... July 26 2008
By James Hiller - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As of late, I've read three books on the Bush Administration. The first was What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, the next wasThe Bush Tragedy, and now this. With Bush's administration finally ending (I'll willingly admit to being a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat), I thought it was time to read some early "look backs" of this presidency gone so wrong. The first book allowed me to see the inner workings of the White House, while allowing me to see, if briefly, the human Bush. The second book explained some possible patterns and trends in Bush's psyche by examining his family tree. Out of all three, the one that has absolutely scared the politico out of me is Jane Mayer's astounding new book "The Dark Side".

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.
67 of 79 people found the following review helpful
l'etat, c'est moi! July 27 2008
By David W. Straight - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a singularly depressing work, and the worst of the worst is when a study concluded that only 8% of the Guantanamo detainees were alleged to have any association with Al Qaeda. Only 5% were captured by US forces (the other 95% by Pakistanis and bounty hunters, etc, mostly for hefty fees). 55% were not implicated in any hostile act against the US, and for many of the rest, "hostile acts" included fleeing US bombs. The book describes how Bellinger took the study to the White House--and was confronted by Addington and Gonzales. Addington told Bellinger that there would be no discussion of the matter: President Bush had decided that every single one of the detainees was an enemy combatant and that was the final word.

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".
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Required Reading for Patriots July 2 2011
By Timothy Griffin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Overall Assessment:

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".

Summary:

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.

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