America’s journey to a rogue state

My following book review appeared in the Melbourne Age on January 10:

The gloves came off after September 11 and left leaders petrified, writes Antony Loewenstein.

The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals
By Jane Mayer
Scribe, $35

Near the beginning of this fascinating work about US war crimes since September 11, 2001, New Yorker writer Jane Mayer says “the enemy that the Bush Administration faced (on 9/11) was both real and terrifying”.

“But this country,” she continues, “has in the past faced other mortal enemies, equally if not more threatening, without endangering its moral authority by resorting to state-sanctioned torture”.

Alas, she is wrong. Like so many Americans, Mayer ignores the sordid history of American power in fostering terror and torture in the decades before September 11, 2001.

As evidenced in Michael Otterman’s American Torture, Washington and its allies pursued power with whatever means necessary, not least under Ronald Reagan in the dirty Latin American wars in the 1980s.

It is a rare slip in an otherwise extraordinary book. She acknowledges that the Bush Administration was petrified after 9/11 of further attacks. Mayer explains that Vice-President Dick Cheney, a central figure in expanding interrogation possibilities in the “war on terror”, suffered deep anxiety.

“He was chauffeured in an armoured motorcade that varied its route to foil possible attackers,” she says. “On the back seat behind Cheney rested a duffle bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit.”

One of the most disturbing revelations involves evidence that the Bush Administration ignored warnings from the CIA six years ago that up to a third of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay may have been imprisoned by mistake. Instead, it pushed through increasingly extreme legislation to condone “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Torture, partly inspired by the Israelis, became widely used on thousands of prisoners across the world, most of whom enjoyed no international protections under American law. Countless “terrorists” remain in legal limbo to this day.

Mayer reveals a report by the International Red Cross last year warning that the CIA’s treatment of detainees could make officials who approved the methods guilty of war crimes. One prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, told the Red Cross he was confined in a small box and water-boarded at least 10 times in one week.

The Administration’s mindset was best explained by Cofer Black, a former State Department co-ordinator for counter-terrorism and now a vice-chairman of military contractor Blackwater, who said in September 2002 that, “there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11 … After 9/11, the gloves come off”.

Mayer, one of America’s finest investigative journalists, powerfully explains how America’s leadership made a decision after 9/11 to become a rogue state that supports and encourages the most brutal forms of degradation. The country’s future direction after the Bush years is yet to be written.

Antony Loewenstein’s most recent book, The Blogging Revolution, is published by Melbourne University Publishing.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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