BUSH’S LAW: THE REMAKING OF AMERICAN JUSTICE by Eric Lichtblau (Pantheon), 349 pages, $32 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Here’s a must-read book about how government secrecy allowed the American justice system to falter.
While the U.S. recoiled in horror at the mass murder committed on September 11, 2001, the Bush administration began plotting its counteroffensive against al Qaeda.
As the Bush war machine began rolling, casualties occurred not just on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, but in small and big towns in America, where civil liberties dissolved in the acidic climate of fear.
Those depressing and disturbing years are ably recalled by New York Times investigative reporter Eric Lichtblau, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for chronicling some of the White House’s dirtiest secrets.
One of the worst of these was the National Security Agency’s wiretap program, initiated without warrants and kept secret even from the congressional committees charged with overseeing these types of intelligence operations.
We now know some of the other secrets: suspects arrested and kept incommunicado on the basis of flimsy evidence of terrorist connections, financial records of tens of thousands of innocent people combed for clues of terrorist financing, secret prisons, torture.
When Lichtblau and his partner, James Risen, were set to go to print with their revelations of illegal wiretapping, staff at the highest levels of the White House warned the New York Times it would have blood on its hands if the story ran.
And so the story sat unpublished for more than a year, allowing the White House to continue to lie to Congress and the public about its programs. Lichtblau describes his unease at knowing administration officials were lying, and at not setting the record straight.
Journalism junkies turning to this book in hopes of finding a redux of All The President’s Men will be disappointed. The decision-making process at the Times is given only cursory treatment.
Still, this is an important book about how Bush tried to keep America in the dark.