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Chain of Command: the Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib

( 8 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
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Hersh has been at the forefront of investigative journalism since 1969, when he broke the news of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, which also won him a Pulitzer Prize. Since then, he has disclosed the secret bombing of Cambodia (1969); the U.S.-backed coup in Chile (1973); the ''disappearance'' of flight 007, which was shot down by the Soviets in 1983; and the Gulf War Syndrome (1991 Gulf War). His book The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2003, he won the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism.

Because Hersh has such unique reporting skills that allow him access to classified information, his books contain interesting details not easily accessible to many reporters. For Chain of Command, Hersh follows in the footsteps of John Toland, who used face-to-face interviews with key players to document ''who knew what'' in regard to World War II in general and Pearl Harbor in particular. Hersh goes into the trenches to set the record straight about President Bush's ''War on Terror.''


Hersh's clean style and well-thought-out conclusions only enhance his frustration and disappointment with the current administration. Hersh is not afraid to assign responsibility for the recent missteps. More important, if he seems to have ''inside'' information, it's because he has access to sources that are off limits to most journalists. The feedback he weaves into his book comes from interviews with administration officials (e.g., the White House, Department of Defense, Department of State, National Security Counsel), CIA and FBI operatives, legislators, judges, military officers, petitioners, and foreign sources who run the gamut. He cites news conferences, legislative hearings, reports, memoranda, letters, meetings notes, and other certified documents. He also points out breaking news from other sources, duly crediting these media. These specific details are just the insights that make his books so appealing for the reader, since they are unlikely to be discovered elsewhere. By using such sources from the government and intelligence sectors, Hersh is able to present a new and interesting take on this recent chapter of America's foreign policy--a departure from general media coverage.

Chain of Command wraps up the reporting (26 articles) he has done on this subject over the last three years for The New Yorker magazine, putting it in context under chapter themes and an epilogue. In the eight chapters, he reveals the connections between the actions taken in Iraq, as well as revealing the secrets surrounding the Abu Ghraib prison-abuse scandal and the interwoven mistakes and lies that occurred along the way, making his account original. His narratives address the manner in which intelligence was used throughout the current administration. His revelations will rivet readers, forcing them to ask the unsettling questions and realize that there is always more to a story than what is portrayed by the media. Readers, while they may not always find Hersh's style or tone appealing, will appreciate his insight and legendary reporting skills.

That is not to say that Hersh does not have his critics. Slightly more than midway through the book, Hersh describes his widely publicized confrontation with Richard Perle, who was Ronald Reagan's Assistant Secretary of Defense and a foreign policy adviser in George W. Bush's presidential campaign. In 2001, Perle accepted Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's offer to chair the Defense Policy Board, which advises the government on weapons procurement. However, these individuals cannot detract from Hersh's keen ability to reveal information and conclusions about the government in a way that is original and unique. In his book, Hersh offers the reader a fresh and clear interpretation of the events this administration has dealt with since September 11, as well as the direction we are headed.

Hersh best encapsulates the point of Chain of Command in his chapter on ''The Other War'' (Afghanistan): ''There's always a story that wasn't written, and it almost always should have been.''


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