The War on What, Now?

A Review of “The Dark Side” by Jane Mayer
by Eric Leinung
January 28th, 2009

In her book, The Dark Side, Jane Mayer recounts how the so-called “War on Terror” quickly became a challenge to American values. Mayer states that when it came to “fighting to liberate the world from Communism, Fascism, and Nazism, and working to ameliorate global ignorance & poverty, America had done more than any nation on Earth in the name of human rights.” She claims that, in the past seven years, the country has moved further from that sentiment than it has during any point in history.

We begin with Vice President Dick Cheney, who many would see as the brain behind the Bush presidency. Cheney is depicted as an unapologetic advocate for presidential power, the likes of which have not been seen since Watergate. Although Mayer does not portray Cheney as a necessarily evil man, he is one with a mindset that would allow him to react to 9/11, an event which jarred and changed him very much, by deciding to “work sort of the dark side” (Cheney, as quoted in Mayer, p. 9). What follows, is the story of how a few men undid the rule of law, both International and American, and thwarted the efforts of the Supreme Court and Congress.

Almost immediately after 9/11, the Bush Administration began a program about which even the House and Senate Intelligence Committees would not learn anything until a year later. On September 26, 2002, Cheney told them only that terrorists were being detained at a highly classified area. Although he kept the details classified even to those Committees, he did say that “All you need to know is that there was a ‘before 9/11’ and there was an ‘after 9/11.’ After 9/11, the gloves come off.”

Apparently, even American Citizens were not safe from the “gloveless” approach, as President Bush had already circumvented existing laws and begun wire-tapping American citizens, with the intention of breaking into the homes of, searching, and arresting anyone he thought could possibly be a “terrorist.” And it didn’t help that the president’s definition of the term was broad. He told Americans that the War on Terror would not end with Al Qaeda, and that this was just the beginning.

Mayer gives special criticism to the Bush Administration’s dismissal of the Geneva Conventions, and use of torture as a means of finding useable information. Mayer includes in her book the photographs from Abu Ghraib, made public in 2004. Although the President insisted that these were the work of a few bad apples and that he would not tolerate this, Mayer makes it abundantly clear that he was simply talking about the photographs, not the subject matter. After all, it was President Bush who made these practices possible. It was the President and Vice President who decided it was okay to hold the innumerable detainees– many of whom were ultimately deemed innocent-for years without charges, lawyers, trials, or notification to their families, and that it was okay to use physical abuse and water boarding to extract information from them. The Vice President justified continuing to hold those found innocent by saying, in a White House meeting detailed in Mayer’s book, that “People will ask where they’ve been and ‘What have you been doing with them? They’ll all get lawyers” (quoted in Mayer, p. 305). And yet, they find no problems handing detainees over to foreign Middle Eastern governments whose secret police have no qualms with torturing people, a practice the Administration calls “extraordinary rendition.”

All of this comes from the erroneous assumption of the Bush Administration that torture is an effective tool for finding information. Mayer supplies a very convincing argument that evidence from the US Military and the FBI shows that torture is one of the most unreliable methods of gathering information, and is often responsible for false confessions. Everyone wants to capture those responsible for 9/11, which is the reason that the Administration has gotten away with so much, but Mayer shows exactly why the methods they have used have actually obstructed us from doing just that.

It seems clear that Mayer’s reason for writing this book was to motivate people to unite and oppose the Bush Administration’s crimes. September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and its members are working diligently to undo the damage the current Presidency has done to the pursuit of Justice, and the terror they have caused across this country and the world.

For three days in July, 2008, Peaceful Tomorrows members lobbied Congress for the shutting down of Guantanamo Bay, the most infamous of the government’s black sites, in meetings with top staffers for periods that allowed for substantial discussion (read Anne Mulderry’s excellent report on the meetings for more detail). Although many of the staffers indicated it was unlikely congress would act until after the next election, they did seem to feel that, when the time was right, their congressperson would vote in ways consistent with the way Peaceful Tomorrows’ position. Unfortunately, as Mayer expertly points out, Bush circumvented Congress before, and there is no promise that a future president will not do the same.

Peaceful Tomorrow’s efforts on the Guantanamo issue started long before the recent lobbying trip– Peaceful Tomorrows has long been outspoken in our concern over the lack of due process for “War on Terror”-related detainees. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that the military commissions detainees were faced with were unlawful, as Congress had not approved them. Unfortunately, in 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, giving President Bush the permission he needed. In 2008, The American Civil Liberties Union, launched The John Adams Project, a collaborative effort with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, to assemble defense teams to represent those facing prosecution at Guantanamo Bay. Peaceful Tomorrows has been actively supporting the ACLU in these efforts.

Members of Peaceful Tomorrows testified for the defense in the sentencing phase of the Zacharias Moussaoui case, in the hope that the jurors would not vote for a death penalty sentence. Members have also submitted statements for the defense in the sentencing phase of the Military Commission trial of Salim Hamdan, who was convicted of being a driver and bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden. While Hamdan was found guilty of material support of terrorists, he was acquitted of conspiracy.

Observing the work Peaceful Tomorrows is currently doing, I see that much of it is to counteract the evils Mayer describes in her book. From readings of Peaceful Tomorrows discussions, I think it is safe to say we feel that Mayer is accurate in her portrayal of current events. I would go further and say that she offers great insight into exactly why we must do what we are doing. I firmly believe that if more people hear Mayer’s message, Peaceful Tomorrow’s work will be more successful. I believe she would support the way in which September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows has done this and we could count Mayer as an ally to our cause. Hopefully, she will motivate other people to become allies as well.

Mayer recounts how the so-called “War on Terror” became a challenge to American values. Once this is understood the question becomes; through supporting American values, can we challenge the so-called “War on Terror?”

Filed in: Guantanamo & Military Commissions, Rule of Law: Guantanamo and Civil Liberties

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