Jane Mayer's new book The Dark Side is as good as reviewers have said. It is not easy reading; the descriptions of torture are circumspect, but not without detail. And it's no fun reading about the adoption of "enhanced interrogation techniques" as formal U.S. policy. It brought home to me as nothing else has that the Bush administration has created the potential for an American Nuremberg. What a legacy.
Reading it as a law professor gives it an entirely other dimension. Mayer documents how, from day one (September 11), some lawyers within the administration took the lead in formulating and justifying the torture policies. Others fought back, often with considerable courage. One could build an entire professional responsibility course around analyzing the moves and countermoves, as different administration lawyers – some political appointees, some career civil servants – grappled with their ethical responsibilities in the face of pressure from the vice president's office not to call a war crime a war crime. Law students need to learn that everyone does not go along in the face of that kind of pressure, and that the moments that test one's professional integrity do not necesarily arise in dramatic confrontrations, but in the daily routine of the life of a government lawyer.