“The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”
So wrote Justice Louis Brandeis in 1928.
Perhaps no more incisive summary than these words of the Justice can be found to describe Jane Mayer's highly readable, gripping The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. In the days and months that followed 9/11, a small group of men inside the Bush Administration, led by the Vice President, pushed to dismantle the Constitutional limits on executive power.
Deeply researched, filled with insights and direct quotes from many inside the circle of power, The Dark Side traces the fateful consequences of that momentous decision, consequences that would damage America's moral standing in the world as those charged with protecting the nation crossed into the dark side.
The historical moment in which men like Addington and Yoo worked, crafting the now infamous memos that provided the legal scaffolding for unlimited, unchecked executive power to capture and detain terror suspects, even American citizens on American soil, was a time of panic. Much of that panic was stemmed from the visceral, deeply emotional response to the crisis.
For men steeped in the Cold War mythology, the idea that a ragtag band of men from another side of the world could wreck so much havoc and destruction behind the lines was almost unimaginable. It was as if the ground had moved under their feet. Worse, there was no immediate target that could be hit in retaliation, for unlike previous enemies the U.S. faced and fought in the past, Al Quaeda was a non-state entity with no fixed mailing address. Not only couldn't you nuke a training camp, the terror networks were spread around the globe, hidden in the ruins of failed states. And Al Quaeda fought in ways that no former enemy ever dared to consider. As bad as the Soviet Union seemed, Stalin never bombed downtown Manhattan. He wouldn't dare. The terrorists showed themselves to live inside a completely alien world view.
Something entirely new had to be developed to address this new kind of enemy, and fast. In those feverish days following the strikes, Cheney and his men worked under the dark cloud of new attacks — the sky seemed to be falling. Most inside the intelligence apparatus believed that a new wave of attacks was imminent and that the destruction would be even greater. The time for analysis, for an audit of the bureaucratic failures, if it ever came, would have to wait.