The Corner

See No Jihad

In the current issue of Commentary, I review Jane Mayer’s book, The Dark Side which proclaims itself “The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.” A few excerpts:

For Mayer, it is axiomatic that the aftermath of September 11, and what it revealed about the flaws in the American security apparatus that made the jihadist attack possible, did not necessitate any new framework for thinking about the protection of the United States from a new form of foreign aggression. She is outraged that Bush and Cheney would even presume to ask their legal advisers to study the latitude available to them in fighting the terrorists—to determine which practices would be permissible and which would fall into a gray area requiring new laws and policies.

Instead, these advisers are presented here in monochrome—all black. David Addington, Cheney’s legal counsel, is “a loner” with “rigidly conservative views” who “seemed to revel in being anonymous and abstemious,” so indifferent to the opinions of right-thinking people that, according to a colleague, he “didn’t care about advancement in the Washington world.” Another administration attorney, deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan, is a “Mormon and anti-abortion activist” who was “involved in the politically divisive legal investigation of Bill Clinton’s sex life.” …

By contrast, the administration’s critics are portrayed without blemish. … Even John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban who was picked up by U.S. military in Afghanistan, is portrayed as a man who won friends among the Taliban for his skill at “cooking macaroni.” To his misfortune, Lindh “came to the region to study Arabic,” but “got caught up in a religious cause.” Mayer seems unaware that the closest Arabic-speaking area to Afghanistan is many hundreds of miles to the West. …

When she discusses the protections of the Geneva Convention, Mayer shows no familiarity with the argument, put forth most plainly by Andrew C. McCarthy, that al Qaeda’s status as a stateless network denies it the right to be considered a “high contracting party” to the Convention and that therefore its operatives have “no general or presumed claim on the treaty’s protections.”

In Mayer’s view, al-Qaeda terrorists fall into the same category as, say, members of the French Resistance in World War II; they, too, according to her, might have been considered “non-uniformed ‘unlawful’ combatants.” …

Mayer approvingly quotes Eric Haseltine, a former adviser to the Director of National Intelligence, who judges that “our greatest sin in the eyes of Muslims was not invading the Middle East, or even our support of Israel: our greatest sin was robbing Muslims of hope.” And how do we give back to Muslims the hope we have allegedly purloined? By returning to pre-9/11 thinking; by re-casting the war on terror as a criminal-justice matter alone; and by extending American constitutional protections to foreign terrorists on foreign soil.

According to Mayer, “it is hard to know” whether the Bush administration’s successful avoidance of a second attack on American soil since 2001 “represents the vanquishing of new credible threats, or rather the absence of any.” If, over the years ahead, the message of this book should come to be embraced by Washington, we may find out.

Clifford D. MayClifford D. May is an American journalist and editor. He is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ...

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