A terrifying history of American surveillance in the 21st century that shows how the government has eroded civil liberties since 9/11.
Most people are familiar with Guantánamo torture allegations and National Security Agency wiretapping, but few understand the legal maneuvering that makes such transgressions possible. Greenberg (The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days, 2009, etc.), the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law, shows how our right to privacy didn’t change overnight but rather steadily unraveled in Congress and the courts. She opens with the horrific events of 9/11, which led to a widespread overhaul of FBI and CIA practices. Their attempts to “tear down the wall” and share intelligence came with numerous legal side effects. The government tested new policies with the arrest of John Walker Lindh, a U.S.–born jihadi with ties to Osama bin Laden. The George W. Bush administration debated how to prosecute him, whether as a traitor or enemy combatant. At the center of Greenberg’s story is John Yoo, Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General, who helped authorize waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The author fully explains the government’s panicked motivation for permitting torture and secretly watching its own citizens. Yet the book’s central question is timeless: once a government takes rights away, can they ever be restored? When Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, autocracy triumphed. “[MCA] would allow coerced confessions to be entered into evidence,” writes Greenberg. “This abrogation of rights was no longer lurking in the shadows of closely held (and shoddily argued) legal memos; nor was it merely something ‘stumbled upon.’ It was now the law of the land.” That law continues to haunt the current administration, and there have never been enough whistleblowers to amend the damage. “As unambiguous as Obama’s rejection of these policies was,” writes the author, “he seemed at the outset to be averse to rounding up their perpetrators.”
A sophisticated study of executive tyranny in the never-ending war on terror.