lefaquin’s #CBR5 Review #8: The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

In the past 12 years, much of the news, foreign policy, and many of the personal and professional choices I have made have been influenced in some way by the events of September 11th. For many people the effects were greater, more personal and much more devastating. The events of that day have made a huge mark on the US and its citizens, and for me, it was important to read more, know more, better understand the things that went on, and brought us here. I think that the sprawling history of The Looming Tower is important for Americans to know. I don’t know if everyone should read it, or if they’ll have the patience to read the entire book – to know the multitude of characters, to flip back and forth between stories, but I think it’s worth it.

To read the rest of my review, go to my blog.

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #68: The Kill Room by Jeffrey Deaver

This latest Lincoln Rhyme/Amelia Sachs book by Deaver is more political than most of his thrillers. An anti-American American citizen is targeted for assassination by a powerful black-ops type government agency known by its acronym NIOS, and the man is killed by a sniper’s bullet through his hotel window in the Bahamas. The target’s bodyguard and journalist who were in the room are killed by flying glass, and a quick cover-up of the incident as “a drug cartel hit” is orchestrated while witnesses are quickly, and brutally, silenced. Back in New York, a righteous assistant district attorney who received a leak on the NIOS role in the hit taps Rhyme and Sachs to join her in using this extra-official murder of an American citizen to bring down NIOS.

The timing of this theme is exquisite, as there is a growing furor both at home and abroad over President Obama’s approved use of drones to murder American citizens deemed “terrorist,” much as the victim in the Deaver book is. Frankly, I was impressed by Deaver’s courage in taking on this political hot potato. True, the bulk of the book is a mixture of detailed descriptions of the psychotic kills of the assassin (Deaver’s specialty) and detailed descriptions of the Rhyme/Sachs method of using forensics on crime evidence to solve crimes. Nonetheless, the picture of mentally-unbalanced self-described “patriots” deploying killer drones to take out anyone deemed a threat to the U.S. is very close to home.

Which is why I feel that Deaver ultimately cops out big-time in his conclusion. I don’t want to spoil the plot for Deaver lovers out there, so I will just say that Deaver somehow manages to do an about-face toward the end of the book, and it’s downhill from there. For example, one nasty character, also an American citizen, who is a bonafide terrorist is about to be taken out by a drone kill when innocents at the same location suddenly appear in the cross-hairs and the drone operator has a change of heart and diverts the missile. If the innocents hadn’t appeared, would the murder-by-drone have been morally acceptable? Whatever happened to the constitutional process of gathering the evidence, arresting the perp, and then trying him/her in court?

And the fact that the lunatic running NIOS gets a pass in the end had me squirming in my seat. Is it ultimately okay for lunatics to run powerful institutions of government, as long as they are on the “right” side, whatever that is?  I would like to give Deaver the benefit of the doubt, and say that he deliberately included all these zig-zags in his plot to force the reader to debate these important issues, but I suspect that Deaver just chose the easy way out in the end. What do other readers of The Kill Room think?

geekchicohio’s #CBR5 Review #9: Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill

While reading Jeremy Scahill’s new book Dirty Wars: The World is A Battlefield, I described it to a friend as a “direct sequel” to Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower. Now that I’ve finished it, I’ll gladly double-down on that assertion–and not only because it’s a spiritual successor to that book, but also because it too deserves a Pulitzer.

Where Wright led us through the story of the rise of radical Islam to its climax on September 11, Scahill takes us through the following decade. As Wright told the story of both the FBI team following bin Laden and the man himself, Scahill follows JSOC, the CIA, various privateers and warlords, and their fight against the likes of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Shabab, the Taliban, and others.

The book tells the story of the rise of the Joint Special Operations Command, and the quiet deployment of special and covert ops forces in countries around the world, and away from the places where official wars have been declared. These so-called small wars are taking place off the books and out of most headlines in places like Somalia, Yemen, Mali, and Pakistan. The new military doctrine that “The world is a battlefield” has allowed both the Bush and the Obama administration to bend the letter of the law to mean that war can be waged anywhere, any time, as long as it is in the interest of the United States of America.

Dirty Wars finds its humanity, and it’s most personal story, in the life and death of Anwar al-Awlaki. The American born cleric who transformed from a pro-US defender of democracy and non-violence in the wake of 9/11 to a radicalized firebrand who preached on jihad and praised the deaths of Americans. Awlaki’s story echoes the themes of the rest of the book: the best anti-terrorism efforts of the United States inexorably inflame radical Islam rather than suppress it, and rather than learn from these failures, our country simply walks further down a darkened path from which return is unlikely.

The book is incredibly well reported, it touches on nearly every major story of the post-9/11 national security beat. The breadth and depth of the interviews that support its stories make it clear that Scahill is not alone in his concern about the path American militarism has taken. Current and former officials, analysts, fighters, tribesman, warlords, and victims’ families come together to tell a story of unchecked power, imprecise violence, and global war.

Dirty Wars‘ darkest chapters are easily its 34th and 35th. The former is comprised largely of a letter from American-educated Nasser A. Al-Aulaqi to President Barack Obama, pleading with the President to reconsider his apparent desire to kill–without charge or trial–Nasser’s son Anwar. The latter tells in gruesome detail the story of a botched raid on a homestead in Gardez, Afghanistan, where JSOC forces descended on the household of anti-Taliban Afghani police officer killing several members of the family–some of them women–and then callously attempting to cover up the mistake.

Scahill’s book is easily one of the most important of the year, and I am greatly looking forward to seeing the book’s companion film, also titled Dirty Wars. I recommend it highly and almost without qualification. It will leave you with pressing questions that you’ll be immediately wanting to ask of your politicians:

When can, or can’t, the President decide to kill an American abroad?
Why is the Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye still in prison?
and perhaps most upsettingly,
Why was Anwar al-Awlaki’s American-born 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, an innocent boy, killed by a drone strike while eating with his cousins?

Dirty Wars: The War Is A Battlefield will make you want the answers.

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #18: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Zeitoun is the story of a good-hearted and hard-working Syrian-American painter/contractor named Abdulrahman Zeitoun, and what happened to him and his family during the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. It is a true story, it is a horrible story, it is a shocking story, and it is a story which should set alarm bells ringing over how close this “land of the free and home of the brave” can veer to a fascist state. When Katrina conditions went from bad to worse in New Orleans, Zeitoun’s American-born wife Kathy wanted the family to leave for safer ground but Zeitoun—perhaps because of his strong identification with his adopted city or the fact that his company owned properties across New Orleans—opted to stay behind.

When the waters rose, Zeitoun took his canoe and paddled up and down the streets of his ravaged city, helping the sick and elderly to safety, feeding dogs, ferrying those in need, and trying to avoid areas that were reported as dangerous. His few encounters with National Guardsmen from both Louisiana and other states were not good: he was treated with suspicion and his efforts to secure help for abandoned homeowners were largely ignored. But he and some friends draw the wrong kind of attention from the military forces trying to secure the area, and they end up in a Guantanamo-style concentration camp—together with other random victims of martial law run wild–under unspeakable conditions, treated inexplicably as al-Qaeda terrorists, and denied every civil right. Kathy and his close-knit family abroad lose all contact with Zeitoun and presume his death, while Zeitoun’s health and mental state suffer breakdown. Zeitoun is ultimately released and re-united with his family, but nothing is ever the same

While Zeitoun’s case is just one of many such horrors that citizens of New Orleans were subjected to, it is a compelling story because of the terrorist angle caused by Zeitoun’s ethnic background. The horrible mis-treatment of many of the city’s poor black inhabitants is not addressed in this book, but is a reality known to those who have pursued this. Also not addressed in this book, but the most obvious question of all posed by the story, is why the city of New Orleans was not better protected both before, during and after Katrina—why were the levees not better maintained to begin with, why were better storm preparations not made, why was a proper evacuation never conducted, why was there such poor coordination among state and federal government and military agencies, why were the citizens of this city treated like an enemy at war-time by those who were sent to protect them?

Eggers’ book, a prime example of narrative non-fiction in that it was heavily based on interviews with the Zeitoun family, did a tremendous service in helping bring this story to light. It is up to the rest of us to make sure our government never allows such a travesty to happen again.