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An Innocent Man

500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars by Kurt Eichenwald (Touchstone, $30.00, 611 pages)

Amazing.   Bush believed that he could establish a new legal system, and then declared his order exempt from judicial review?   Had anyone in the White House even read the Constitution?”

This is a stunningly good, and often sad and depressing, account of the first 500 days of the Bush administration’s response to 9/11.   As detailed in this book, a number of innocent persons were labeled as dangerous terrorists and were either tortured or lost their lives.   However, author Eichenwald seems to be both sympathetic to, and critical of, the people who worked in the White House and in the U.S. intelligence system.

“My God, they’re arguing that the president can do whatever he wants.”

The Bush White House was guided, during these 500 days, by a Berkeley law professor who incredibly advised that, “…we do have the right to violate international law.”   John Woo, a Republican lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel, asserted that the executive’s power was virtually unbounded; a latter-day acceptance of Richard Nixon’s version of an imperial presidency beyond the review of the courts and Congress.   Fortunately for this country, a number of other government lawyers were fully prepared to take on Woo.   And they did.   One noted of Woo’s position:  “Adopting these standards would invite enemies to torture American soldiers.”

“The call ended without a resolution of their conundrum and with both men befuddled by the difficulty of nailing down Arar’s terrorist leanings.   Neither considered the obvious explanation – the evidence didn’t exist because Arar was an innocent man.”

These were days when fear and hatred led to a trampling of individual human rights; a national tragedy was exploited by extremists.   Let’s hope this account prevents us from repeating such a misguided and unfortunate chapter in our nation’s history.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “A page turner…  Jaw-dropping…  It crackles.”   The Washington Post500 Days (3d)

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Monster Mash

The Bone Yard: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass

“Just head, in a patch of ground between two huge branches of the live oak, stood three rows of knee-high crosses – four crosses in two of the rows, three in the other; eleven crosses in all…  Vickery eased the Jeep to a stop alongside the nearest row of crosses.   ‘Welcome to the Bone Yard,’ he announced.”

The most recent mystery/thriller from the writing duo of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, together known as Jefferson Bass, is not for the faint of heart.   The underlying message here is that human cruelty knows no limits.   This book picks up smoothly after the last one in the series, The Bone Thief.

This reviewer began absorbing the book as an Audible download to an iPod that was plugged into the dashboard of her trusty Mini Cooper.   The tale began innocuously, as do all the Body Farm novels.   The subtle, aw shucks anthropological introduction is followed by a second story line.   The first is set in the present day and the second is grounded in the Florida swamps of 40 years ago.

The current day story line revolves around a personal request from Angie St. Claire, a forensic analyst with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to Dr. Bill Brockton – the main character of the Body Farm mysteries.   Angie’s sister has died in a questionable manner and Angie is determined to prove that it was murder.   Since Dr. Brockton’s summer hiatus from teaching at the University of Tennessee in the anthropology department has just begun, he is more than willing to travel to Florida to provide Angie with his forensic knowledge.

In the meantime, local law enforcement officials in Florida come into possession of two skulls that need to be identified.   Naturally, the task falls to Angie and Dr. Brockton and he, in turn, involves his expert staff to determine the ethnicity, age and gender of the skulls.   Along the way clues are revealed that lead to a boy’s reform school.   A separate narrative begins in the voice of a young boy who was interned at the reform school.

As the audio novel progressed, the shared themes of graphic descriptions of unimaginable violence made it clear that there might be some value in switching to a hard copy of the book tucked away safely at home.   Driving while listening to this sort of content is not conducive to safe driving!   The hard copy provided the welcome option of skipping the most horrific scenes of torture, in the guise of attitude adjustment, administered forty years prior to boys who were housed at the reform school sequestered in the woods of Florida.

Both story lines are filled with nagging suspicions and dedicated forensic work that incorporates many jurisdictions.   The reader might well hope that this level of cooperation exists in the real world on a widespread basis.   There are strong plugs for peace and civility from the team of Jefferson Bass.   Moreover, the good guys are very, very good and the villains are rotten to the core.

The tension and intrigue build to a quick paced race against time and evil.   The conclusion leaves plenty of opportunities for a future supply of the further exploits of Dr. Bill Brockton.   This is a real page turner!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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