Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda by Al

The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-QaedaThe Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda by Ali H. Soufan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who planned and carried out the bombing of the USS Cole? How about the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks? What about numerous other attacks, either successful or foiled?

That we know in detail not only who did these things, how they were planned and financed, and how they were carried out is due in large part to the efforts of Ali Soufan and people working with him. You may have seen him on 60 Minutes, heard him on Morning Edition, or heard him on Terry Gross, but The Black Banners is still worth reading.

For those of us who grew up in the 1960's, and came to view the FBI as the ultimate enemy of civil liberties, this book may be surprising, because it reveals that in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks it was Soufan and other FBI agents who opposed the Bush Administration's torture plots as both illegal and ineffective. Unfortunately, forces at the very top of the administration were determined to use torture even when it was shown not to lead to the discovery of actionable information. As a result, Soufan demonstrates that they delayed the discovery and apprehension of Osama bin Laden for many years and failed to discover and prevent at least one terrorist attack, on an oil tanker in the Arabian Sea.

Lies, coverups, internal deception, and disregard for constitutional and humane values: Soufan demonstrates how these were the hallmarks of the Bush Administration's conduct in the years following 2001. The stated justification for these practices was that they were the only effective way to obtain information we needed to defeat the terrorists, particularly in the so-called ticking time bomb scenario.

Of course, we know, both from Soufan and elsewhere, the opposite is true. For instance we are told that Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was waterboarded 183 times, whereupon he gave up vital operational information. Soufan demonstrates that this claim is false, and that waterboarding and other forms of torture have, in fact, defeated attempts to obtain actionable information, rather than the reverse.

I strongly recommend The Black Banners. There are areas where it's tough going, frequently because of the merciless onslaught of unfamiliar names, when you don't know which names are important. There is a guide to names and persons at the end, and it would have been good to know that it was there when I started reading it. Since I was reading the Kindle version I would have appreciated links in the text to the appendix.

One other thing: if you're coming to find a debunking of the official version of the 9/11 story, look elsewhere. Fringe characters aside, the debate is over. There is no question of what happened on September 11, 2001. We know who did it, we know how they planned it, and we know it wasn't the CIA, Mossad, the Bilderberg Group, Bush, or anyone else the conspiracy nuts have claimed.

But if you're interested in reality, you should read this.

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