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.