Another thinking-man’s slam-bang military thriller from Huston that asks what the American government might do if it ever got its hands on bin Laden.
Frightening but true: a few months before 9/11, Huston, a former Navy fighter pilot now practicing law in California, predicted (in his fourth, Fallout, 2000) that terrorists might use American flight schools to accomplish their ends. Now, Lieutenant Kent “Rat” Ratham, a gung-ho Navy SEAL and member of an elite antiterrorist force, captures a bin Laden stand-in named Wahamed Duar, “perhaps the most hated man in the world.” But, alas, in bringing in the bad guy, Rat uses a primitive water torture on one of Duar’s cronies. The crony dies, and “pompous” Secretary of State Howard Defense decides the US should prosecute Rat for violating the Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, terrorist chatter is a picking up, and the dour Duar, disgusted that the Americans would assign a woman to defend him, won’t reveal his organization’s next move. “Why is it,” one of Rat’s buddies moans, “that they can murder us and we can’t even touch them?” Rat decides to spring Duar—temporarily—and hand him over to the Egyptians, who gleefully torture him because one of Duar’s attacks killed more Egyptians than Americans. Huston then builds two plots: a better-than-Grisham courtroom drama that, despite the crafty tactics of his attorney, doesn’t bode well for Rat; and a better-than-Clancy scheme requiring Rat to stop a Japanese freighter rigged with hot nuclear reactor cores that’s steaming up the Chesapeake to Washington, DC. As much as Huston gives lip service to those who want the US to play by the rules in capturing, trying, and punishing terrorists, he’s squarely on the side of cool-under-fire, loyal American professionals like Rat who, he insists, must be allowed to decide when and how to deal with terrorists.
After so much cynicism about craven government hacks, whining liberals, and ruthlessly efficient bad guys, Huston’s happy ending might not convince. Everything else does.