5 Books Tell of US Torture in Post 9/11 World

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Ok, I know it sounds depressing to pick a book about torture for your summer beach reading, but the following books that tell the tale of US torture since 9/11 are actually compelling reads that will inspire your human rights activism during Torture Awareness Month and beyond.

I know there are plenty of other indispensable books against torture–please share your suggestions in the comments section; one random commentor will receive an autographed copy of former US military interrogator Matthew Alexander’s “Kill or Capture” (number 3 below).

One other thing: if you buy books (or anything else) from Amazon.com via this referral link, Amnesty International will receive between 5 – 10% of the sale.

1) The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals

By: Jane Mayer

Summary: If you’re looking for a super-readable history of US torture and Guantanamo since 9/11, this is it. Titled after former Vice President Dick Cheney’s quote that America should use the “dark side” and “any means at our disposal” to destroy al-Qaeda, Mayer traces how our government destroyed the rule of law and our moral fabric instead. The book reads like a thriller but is so meticulous and well-researched that it could serve as a charge-sheet for prosecuting America’s torturers.

2) Hope and Despair: My Struggle to Free My Husband, Maher Arar

By: Monia Mazigh

Summary: Monia Mazigh tells the story of how her husband, Canadian citizen Maher Arar , was kidnapped at JFK airport in New York by US officials and sent to Syria to be tortured, as part of the US “extraordinary rendition” program. The good news is that with Mazigh’s unwavering persistence Arar was eventually released back to Canada, where the government apologized and paid him compensation. The bad news is that the US has refused to apologize or offer Arar any form or remedy, as required by law. Amnesty’s “I Apologize” action is intended to change that, and help make progress toward the day when there’s full accountability for US torture. Sign the petition for Arar at www.amnestyusa.org/apologize

3) Kill or Capture: How a Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious al Qaeda Terrorist

By: Matthew Alexander

Summary: This is the book every pundit (including your cranky uncle) who ever invoked “24” and Jack Bauer to justify torture has got to read. Matthew Alexander is the real deal—a military interrogator who did serious time in Iraq and got crucial intelligence the only reliable way: by using his brain. Alexander gives you chase scenes, gun battles and the reason why America’s torture policy cost the lives of American soldiers. He’s a passionate anti-torture advocate and you simply can’t argue with his credentials (or propulsive writing style). My only question: When’s the TV show coming out?

4) The Eight O’Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantanamo Bay

By: Clive Stafford Smith

Summary: This is as close as I ever want to get to Guantanamo. Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith gives us the inside scoop, literally (he goes there all time), on the notorious US detention facility in Cuba. From McDonalds to giant banana rats to orange jumpsuits to the mind-bogglingly ironic official GTMO slogan (“Honor bound to defend freedom”),  Stafford Smith details what life is like for the detainees, soldiers and lawyers caught up in the maelstrom of indefinite detention and unfair trails that is Guantanamo. The valiant efforts of defense lawyers—both military and civilian—taking a stand for justice in the face of enormous odds is a classic tale of heroism in the face of tyranny.

5) Torture and Democracy

By: Darius Rejali

Summary: This book is deep. And, at 880 pages, it will keep you thinking all summer long. I think Richard Jackson (Critical Studies on Terrorism) said it best: “Torture and Democracy is arguably the most impressive and most important book to be published on torture in the past few years. A monumental achievement of meticulous documentation, theoretical testing, and reasoned argumentation, it is certain to become the yardstick against which future research on torture will be measured….It should be required reading for any scholar or student of torture, and more importantly, for every policy-maker and counter-terrorism practitioner considering whether torture could or should be used to deal with the current terrorist threat.”

Don’t forget to enter our drawing for a free copy of Kill or Capture: recommend the anti-torture books that you’ve found compelling in the comment section.

This post is part of our 2011 Torture Awareness Month series

AIUSA welcomes a lively and courteous discussion that follow our Community Guidelines. Comments are not pre-screened before they post but AIUSA reserves the right to remove any comments violating our guidelines.

68 thoughts on “5 Books Tell of US Torture in Post 9/11 World

  1. Thank you for the list! I also think "5 Years of My Life" by former Guantanamo detainee Murat Kurnaz is an important book. Keep up the great work!

  2. Thank you for the list! I also think “5 Years of My Life” by former Guantanamo detainee Murat Kurnaz is an important book. Keep up the great work!

  3. Thank you for this list, already i completed 2 from this list and i will complete other 3 as soon as possible. If you have any more collection related to 9/11 please share with me.

  4. Thank you for this list, already i completed 2 from this list and i will complete other 3 as soon as possible. If you have any more collection related to 9/11 please share with me.

  5. Dear michelscofield,

    An indispensable book for your collection : British historian Andy Worthington's "The Guantanamo Files".

    Read on !

  6. We need these books to be written – and read – because they, along with testimony of those tortured, fill the expanse created when debate becomes polemics.

  7. I've read Matthew Alexander's "How to Break a Terrorist." Gripping and eye-opening reading – one of those books I'll never forget. "Kill or Capture" is definitely going on my must-read list! Thanks Amnesty!

  8. What an interesting list! And the fact that Amnesty International gets a percentage of the sale makes the purchase worthwhile!!

  9. Such a great list, it's so important to dispel the myths about torture, that many people believe in this 9/11. Can't wait to get stuck into some of these!

  10. Dear michelscofield,

    An indispensable book for your collection : British historian Andy Worthington’s “The Guantanamo Files”.

    Read on !

  11. @Barbara Moreno: Jane Mayer's book is well worth reading; you'll enjoy it.

    Thanks for the other suggestions. It looks like I'll be on my way to Amazon!

  12. We need these books to be written – and read – because they, along with testimony of those tortured, fill the expanse created when debate becomes polemics.

  13. I'd add, "Getting Away with Torture: Secret Government, War Crimes, and the Rule of Law" by Christopher Pyle

  14. Thank you for the comments everyone!

    @ Bentley: I'll have to check that out, haven't read it yet

    @ Michelscofield: additional suggestions: crucial books on 9/11 include The Looming Tower and Ghost Wars. Additional books on US torture post 9/11: Torture Team and Torture Taxi

    @ Carmen: I agree that 5 Years of My Life is a very moving book

  15. I’ve read Matthew Alexander’s “How to Break a Terrorist.” Gripping and eye-opening reading – one of those books I’ll never forget. “Kill or Capture” is definitely going on my must-read list! Thanks Amnesty!

  16. What an interesting list! And the fact that Amnesty International gets a percentage of the sale makes the purchase worthwhile!!

  17. Such a great list, it’s so important to dispel the myths about torture, that many people believe in this 9/11. Can’t wait to get stuck into some of these!

  18. Thank-you for bringing this to the attention of all Amnesty followers. Being Canadian myself, we can forget how imparitive it is to educate ourselves on the policies of all nations, in this global village we live in. The actions of one government affects the entire human race. For if we do no educate ourselves I shutter to think how many other governments/countries/citizens will follow the same path.

  19. @Barbara Moreno: Jane Mayer’s book is well worth reading; you’ll enjoy it.

    Thanks for the other suggestions. It looks like I’ll be on my way to Amazon!

  20. I’d add, “Getting Away with Torture: Secret Government, War Crimes, and the Rule of Law” by Christopher Pyle

  21. Thank you for the comments everyone!

    @ Bentley: I’ll have to check that out, haven’t read it yet

    @ Michelscofield: additional suggestions: crucial books on 9/11 include The Looming Tower and Ghost Wars. Additional books on US torture post 9/11: Torture Team and Torture Taxi

    @ Carmen: I agree that 5 Years of My Life is a very moving book

  22. Thank-you for bringing this to the attention of all Amnesty followers. Being Canadian myself, we can forget how imparitive it is to educate ourselves on the policies of all nations, in this global village we live in. The actions of one government affects the entire human race. For if we do no educate ourselves I shutter to think how many other governments/countries/citizens will follow the same path.

  23. A very compelling list of books. I look forward to reading them. One of my favorite books is "Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who are Changing Our World" by Kerry Kennedy – very inspiring.

  24. A very compelling list of books. I look forward to reading them. One of my favorite books is “Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who are Changing Our World” by Kerry Kennedy – very inspiring.

  25. It is sad and depressing that the biggest champion of liberty and freedom is also a perpetrator of torture and illegal detention. The paradox is amazing. On one hand, you have one of the freest society in the world with a justice system that serves as a role model for other nations, and yet there are such inane impositions like the Extraordinary Rendition program. The mind literally boggles.
    A very interesting list of books that should be compulsory reading for the statement they make. Would recommend Monia Mazigh's Hope and Despair: My Struggle to Free My Husband, Maher Arar and Jane Myer's The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.

  26. It is sad and depressing that the biggest champion of liberty and freedom is also a perpetrator of torture and illegal detention. The paradox is amazing. On one hand, you have one of the freest society in the world with a justice system that serves as a role model for other nations, and yet there are such inane impositions like the Extraordinary Rendition program. The mind literally boggles.
    A very interesting list of books that should be compulsory reading for the statements they make. Would recommend Monia Mazigh's Hope and Despair: My Struggle to Free My Husband, Maher Arar and Jane Myer's The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.

  27. It is sad and depressing that the biggest champion of liberty and freedom is also a perpetrator of torture and illegal detention. The paradox is amazing. On one hand, you have one of the freest society in the world with a justice system that serves as a role model for other nations, and yet there are such inane impositions like the Extraordinary Rendition program. The mind literally boggles.
    A very interesting list of books that should be compulsory reading for the statement they make. Would recommend Monia Mazigh’s Hope and Despair: My Struggle to Free My Husband, Maher Arar and Jane Myer’s The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.

  28. It is sad and depressing that the biggest champion of liberty and freedom is also a perpetrator of torture and illegal detention. The paradox is amazing. On one hand, you have one of the freest society in the world with a justice system that serves as a role model for other nations, and yet there are such inane impositions like the Extraordinary Rendition program. The mind literally boggles.
    A very interesting list of books that should be compulsory reading for the statements they make. Would recommend Monia Mazigh’s Hope and Despair: My Struggle to Free My Husband, Maher Arar and Jane Myer’s The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.

  29. Yes, Mr Zeke Johnson ,

    For me too Mr Worthington's studies ( not only the book but his continuous coverage of Guantanamo ) is exhaustive & a landmark in the "genre".

    Glad to meet a fellow admirer of his outstanding work !

  30. Yes, Mr Zeke Johnson ,

    For me too Mr Worthington’s studies ( not only the book but his continuous coverage of Guantanamo ) is exhaustive & a landmark in the “genre”.

    Glad to meet a fellow admirer of his outstanding work !

  31. Thanks for all the book recommendations to date! Remember, we will be giving away one free autographed copy of former US military interrogator Matthew Alexander’s book, “Kill or Capture: How a Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious al Qaeda Terrorist.” All you have to do to be entered is share your suggestions for good anti-torture reads in the comments section at the end of this blog post by 11:59 PM EDT on June 30, 2011. Each commenter will be assigned a single entry number. The winner will be chosen at random using the random sequence generator at http://www.random.org. You still have a few more days to enter so keep those submissions coming!

  32. Thanks for all the book recommendations to date! Remember, we will be giving away one free autographed copy of former US military interrogator Matthew Alexander’s book, “Kill or Capture: How a Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious al Qaeda Terrorist.” All you have to do to be entered is share your suggestions for good anti-torture reads in the comments section at the end of this blog post by 11:59 PM EDT on June 30, 2011. Each commenter will be assigned a single entry number. The winner will be chosen at random using the random sequence generator at http://www.random.org. You still have a few more days to enter so keep those submissions coming!

  33. Thanks for all the book recommendations to date! Remember, we will be giving away one free autographed copy of former US military interrogator Matthew Alexander’s book, “Kill or Capture: How a Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious al Qaeda Terrorist.” All you have to do to be entered is share your suggestions for good anti-torture reads in the comments section at the end of this blog post by 11:59 PM EDT on June 30, 2011. Each commenter will be assigned a single entry number. The winner will be chosen at random using the random sequence generator at http://www.random.org. You still have a few more days to enter so keep those submissions coming!

  34. Thanks to all for the recommendations. I'd add None of Us Were Like This Before to the list.

    Keep speaking out against torture, my friends. We must hold ourselves to a standard of human dignity.

  35. Thanks for all the book recommendations to date! Remember, we will be giving away one free autographed copy of former US military interrogator Matthew Alexander’s book, “Kill or Capture: How a Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious al Qaeda Terrorist.” All you have to do to be entered is share your suggestions for good anti-torture reads in the comments section at the end of this blog post by 11:59 PM EDT on June 30, 2011. Each commenter will be assigned a single entry number. The winner will be chosen at random using the random sequence generator at http://www.random.org. You still have a few more days to enter so keep those submissions coming!

  36. I'm about to make my first trip to the US for my summer vacation this year. It looks as though you've found me something to read on the trip – a different side of the USA that the government's less keen to publicize.

  37. A Question of Torture by Alfrey McCoy is a book I would add to any library of human rights activists. It traces the CIA's long and dirty history of torture, especially the sensory deprevation we have seen in Guatanamo, Bagram etc.. It really nails the myth that waterboarding, imtimidation etc. aren't forms of torture. Each one is carefully done to break the mind of the detainee.

    What it does best is show that what we saw in the war on terror wasn't an abboration, or something that was the work of a minority of sadists. Instead it shows that the abuses were the inevitable consequence of the continued policy of the higher echlons of government. A really good read.

  38. Thanks to all for the recommendations. I’d add None of Us Were Like This Before to the list.

    Keep speaking out against torture, my friends. We must hold ourselves to a standard of human dignity.

  39. I’m about to make my first trip to the US for my summer vacation this year. It looks as though you’ve found me something to read on the trip – a different side of the USA that the government’s less keen to publicize.

  40. A Question of Torture by Alfrey McCoy is a book I would add to any library of human rights activists. It traces the CIA’s long and dirty history of torture, especially the sensory deprevation we have seen in Guatanamo, Bagram etc.. It really nails the myth that waterboarding, imtimidation etc. aren’t forms of torture. Each one is carefully done to break the mind of the detainee.

    What it does best is show that what we saw in the war on terror wasn’t an abboration, or something that was the work of a minority of sadists. Instead it shows that the abuses were the inevitable consequence of the continued policy of the higher echlons of government. A really good read.

  41. This is a fine list, but it is frankly incomplete if you don't include "NONE OF US WERE LIKE THIS BEFORE: American Soldiers and Torture." (Check it out if you haven't see it before: http://noneofuswerelikethisbefore.com/book/ )

    "Hope and Despair" is Ok (but doesn't belong on a top five books on torture), and I like "The Eight O’Clock Ferry" well enough, though I found it a bit dry and didn't exactly forge new ground on the topic. But neither are as compelling, deeply researched, and revealing as None of Us Were Like This Before. Just my two cents.

    PS-Rejali's Torture and Democracy is a great book, as is Jane Mayer's of course. I like Matthew Alexander's book, but thought his first one was a bit better.

  42. This is a fine list, but it is frankly incomplete if you don't include "NONE OF US WERE LIKE THIS BEFORE: American Soldiers and Torture." (Check it out if you haven't see it before: http://noneofuswerelikethisbefore.com/book/ )

    "Hope and Despair" is Ok (but doesn't belong on a top five books on torture), and I like "The Eight O’Clock Ferry" well enough, though I found it a bit dry and didn't exactly forge new ground on the topic. But neither are as compelling, deeply researched, and revealing as None of Us Were Like This Before. Just my two cents.

    PS-Rejali's Torture and Democracy is a great book, as is Jane Mayer's of course. I like Matthew Alexander's book, but thought his first one was a bit better.

  43. This is a fine list, but it is frankly incomplete if you don't include "NONE OF US WERE LIKE THIS BEFORE: American Soldiers and Torture." (Check it out if you haven't see it before: http://noneofuswerelikethisbefore.com/book/ )

    "Hope and Despair" is Ok (but doesn't belong on a top five books on torture), and I like "The Eight O’Clock Ferry" well enough, though I found it a bit dry and didn't exactly forge new ground on the topic. But neither are as compelling, deeply researched, and revealing as None of Us Were Like This Before. Just my two cents.

    PS-Rejali's Torture and Democracy is a great book, as is Jane Mayer's of course. I like Matthew Alexander's book, but thought his first one was a bit better.

  44. I second that about None of Us Were Like This Before. It's a remarkable book, an a very gripping read about torture. I've read The Dark Side, which is a great book as well. I've heard about the Darius Rejali book, but not the others. Marvelous list, though.

  45. I'm sorry, but from what I understand A Question of Torture, by Alfred McCoy is a highly questionable read. While I sincerely appreciate his critique of US torture, many of his facts that supposedly connect the CIA to psychologists have been repudiated. I agree it's important to look at those issues, but think that there's actually been a lot of poor research on that topic. In general, I feel that the focus on the CIA and Guantanamo, while important, eclipse what seemed to be a larger, more pervasive problem: the military's widespread use of torture during the war on terror. I wish Amnesty would've covered that in its books. By the way, I would've included Sy Hersh's Chain of Command as part of that. I haven't read None of Us… yet, but I've heard that it's quite good.

  46. This is a fine list, but it is frankly incomplete if you don’t include “NONE OF US WERE LIKE THIS BEFORE: American Soldiers and Torture.” (Check it out if you haven’t see it before: http://noneofuswerelikethisbefore.com/book/ )

    “Hope and Despair” is Ok (but doesn’t belong on a top five books on torture), and I like “The Eight O’Clock Ferry” well enough, though I found it a bit dry and didn’t exactly forge new ground on the topic. But neither are as compelling, deeply researched, and revealing as None of Us Were Like This Before. Just my two cents.

    PS-Rejali’s Torture and Democracy is a great book, as is Jane Mayer’s of course. I like Matthew Alexander’s book, but thought his first one was a bit better.

  47. I second that about None of Us Were Like This Before. It’s a remarkable book, an a very gripping read about torture. I’ve read The Dark Side, which is a great book as well. I’ve heard about the Darius Rejali book, but not the others. Marvelous list, though.

  48. I’m sorry, but from what I understand A Question of Torture, by Alfred McCoy is a highly questionable read. While I sincerely appreciate his critique of US torture, many of his facts that supposedly connect the CIA to psychologists have been repudiated. I agree it’s important to look at those issues, but think that there’s actually been a lot of poor research on that topic. In general, I feel that the focus on the CIA and Guantanamo, while important, eclipse what seemed to be a larger, more pervasive problem: the military’s widespread use of torture during the war on terror. I wish Amnesty would’ve covered that in its books. By the way, I would’ve included Sy Hersh’s Chain of Command as part of that. I haven’t read None of Us… yet, but I’ve heard that it’s quite good.

  49. I completely agree with what Janet M. and Wlalt K. wrote. Both well said. Great selection of books, though I would include the aforementioned suggestions.

  50. Thanks to everyone who submitted book recommendations and comments! The winner of the drawing for an autographed copy of Matthew Alexander's "Kill or Capture" is A. Sears, commenting on June 24th. Please e-mail security@aiusa.org to give us a mailing address where we can send your prize.

  51. I completely agree with what Janet M. and Wlalt K. wrote. Both well said. Great selection of books, though I would include the aforementioned suggestions.

  52. Thanks to everyone who submitted book recommendations and comments! The winner of the drawing for an autographed copy of Matthew Alexander’s “Kill or Capture” is A. Sears, commenting on June 24th. Please e-mail security@aiusa.org to give us a mailing address where we can send your prize.