A Journalistic Tour de Force

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500 Days – Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, by Karl Eichenwald

Newspaper journalism is often myopic. Largely that’s due, I think, to daily, piecemeal reporting. And 24-7 TV news is often little more than hourly soundbites. This then is where books such as Eichenwald’s are extremely valuable. His 500 days encompass the lead-up to 9-11 and the subsequent lead-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and it fills in the more than 90% of blanks in what we average citizens knew about the events during this period.

The author writes in serial vignettes that remind this reader of newspaper articles, mixing the events following 9-11 with an odd series of bits on the anthrax scare that was totally unrelated to the terror acts, then the slowly evolving decisions of how to house and interrogate captured al Qaida and Taliban fighters – including the eventual blowback to the CIA/Army interrogation techniques – and the U.S.’s bullying of its allies and the U.N. in gaining something of a consensus to invade Iraq on the pretext of disarming Saddam Hussein’s imagined WMDs and his supposed collusion with al Qaida.

The picture painted here in this rather dense, almost 600 page book is one of bad decisions, governmental infighting, and outright mistakes, from President Bush down to the lower enlisted levels of the military. One only gains the complete impact of this picture in Eichenwald’s Epilogue, in which he updates many of the players in this drama and the consequences of their actions during those 500 days.

My rating 18 of 20 stars

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