An eye opening book that enlightened me on the both the power inherent in the executive office as well as the constraints built up since 9/11 and as a result of then president Bush's unilateral approach to attacking the terrorist threat. Of the endless books on current affairs and politics, this is a must read. Intelligently written, neutral and well documented it's a must read in order to understand today's politically charged atmosphere.
Since the terror attack of 9/11, I have been increasingly concerned with the actions of our government. The revelation of abuses at Abu Ghraib, the shocking stories of secret CIA prisons, and our policies of indefinite detainment and “enhanced interrogation” at facilities like Bagram and Guantanamo have made me wonder whether the cure was worse than the disease.
Jack Goldsmith makes a good case that traditional checks and balances are still very much at play. What we see in the media is that nobody above the rank of sergeant went to prison over Abu Ghraib, and nobody’s been tried for what in retrospect was probably torture in CIA prisons. I still find that shocking, but no matter how Teflon-coated our policy makers appear in the media, the author explains that behind the scenes each new scandal results in a flurry of activity. One of the results is that every branch of government has newer and tighter policies, plus a veritable army of in-house lawyers whose job it is to enforce compliance.
As we read about widespread NSA surveillance of our phone calls and emails (as revealed by Edward Snowden after this book’s publication), and as we see the defenders of those policies seeming to prevail in Congressional hearings, it is comforting to know that despite the appearance of unchecked power, behind the scenes these same people are scurrying to make their activities more acceptable to the courts, the Congress, and American public. It may be that in their minds it’s just window dressing, but the result according to Goldsmith is serious and long-lasting constraints.