13 August 2008

The Dark Side

This book by Jane Mayer is a cogent account of our government's post-9/11 embrace of torture as an interrogation technique. The purpose is not to document the kinds of torture that have been applied (though there is some of that), but rather to trace the genesis of decisions and policies that led to it. The story of the past seven years is cast as a struggle between the rule of law and the belief that the president is the law (i.e., if the president does it/wants it/orders it, it can't be illegal). The result is a chilling picture of an administration sorely unprepared to govern in a time of crisis, unwilling to tolerate sound advice that runs counter to its assumptions, and a president utterly insulated from dissent and bad news.

While there is nothing new about the broad outlines of this account, Mayer manages to make the details gripping. The book is upsetting and enraging, but at the same time hard to put down--rather like watching a car crash.

Highly recommended.

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