Dispatches from a horrible mess


If America were a Robert Ludlum novel, Jason Bourne would have swept in by this point to save the day.

The New York Times journalist Jane Mayer seems to agree with this assessment in her third political book The Dark Side: The Inside Story on How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.

Were we in Ludlum’s fictitious universe, thousands of Americans would not have died on Sept. 11, 2001, and Bourne would have thwarted the war-hungry Bush Administration before they were able to sidestep the Constitution and launch a relentless war that has killed thousands.

Unfortunately, no one, fictional or otherwise, was able to prevent these events from unfolding.

Real people died on 9/11 because of what Mayer reports to be a commonplace error. “In short, the errors were painfully mundane,” she states, “misfiled paperwork, inattentive government employees, misunderstandings and miscommunications–just commonplace incompetence.”

Mayer gives detailed accounts of the petty rivalry between the CIA and the FBI, as well as the overaggressive tactics played out by the Bush Administration as a response.

“Instead of trying to learn from what had essentially been a colossal bureaucratic failure,” she writes, “…the Bush White House deferred the focus elsewhere.”

Without a thorough, introspective investigation on our government’s failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks, Mayer makes it frighteningly clear that we remain vulnerable to terrorists.

She paints a picture of George W. Bush as an ignorant, easily manipulated puppet that carries out the paranoid Dick Cheney’s overaggressive and illegal tactics without ever stopping to discuss whether their execution is moral, ethical or even intelligent.

Mayer sheds light on the plight of suspected terrorists as well, who were illegally abducted, detained and tortured in remote locations without the ability to contact their families or a lawyer. She laments that this treatment of opposing forces undermines George Washington’s visionary belief that even enemy soldiers deserve basic humanitarian rights such as food, shelter and medical attention.

Even though Mayer cites several officials who told her that treating prisoners civilly invokes more compliancy than torture does, Mayer explicitly relays the gruesome details of the brutality that hundreds of people were subjected to, courtesy of the U.S. government.

Harrowing details backed up by credible sources make The Dark Side appear to be an eerily accurate account of the wrongdoings of our government. However, for anyone paying attention to the news, it contains few surprises.

Don’t pick this book up anticipating the unveiling of all of the dirty little secrets. Nothing was written about oil, except for a small paragraph explaining how Cheney made his initial millions, and Mayer writes as though this is meant to be regarded as a history book in the years to come and focuses on torture for the majority of its pages.

It would have been nice to have a detailed opinion from Mayer as to what she thinks should be done to improve the situation. The only hope that she gives currently is the 2008 election.

This is the book for you if you’ve been asleep for the past seven years, but for anyone who has been halfway attentive for the past decade it will serve as a sad reminder of what our country has become and a depressing rehash of the in and outs of how it came to be that way.

The Dark Side: The Inside Story on How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals335 pages$27.95***


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