Jane Mayer is a staff writer for The New Yorker. The essay in this issue is based on her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, which was published in July by Doubleday. (August 2008)
Seven years after al-Qaeda’s attacks on America, as the Bush administration slips into history, it is clear that what began on September 11, 2001, as a battle for America’s security became, and continues to be, a battle for the country’s soul.
In looking back, one of the most remarkable features of this struggle is that almost from the start, and at almost every turn along the way, the Bush administration was warned that whatever the short-term benefits of its extralegal approach to fighting terrorism, it would have tragically destructive long-term consequences both for the rule of law and America’s interests in the world. These warnings came not just from political opponents, but also from experienced allies, including the British Intelligence Service, the experts in the traditionally conservative military and the FBI, and, perhaps most surprisingly, from a series of loyal Republican lawyers inside the administration itself. The number of patriotic critics inside the administration and out who threw themselves into trying to head off what they saw as a terrible departure from America’s ideals, often at an enormous price to their own careers, is both humbling and reassuring.
In March of 1992, a sensational investigative report by an unknown journalist was published in a little-read magazine. Though it wasn’t clear at the time, David Brock’s article, “The Real Anita Hill,” which appeared in the American Spectator, marked the beginning of one of the nastiest decades in American political …