FREE PRESS £18.99 £17.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897 and WEIDENFELD £12.99 £11.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

State of War: The secret history of the CIA and the Bush Administration by James Risen
Love my Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the US Army by Kayla Williams

Hustlers and fabricators, unite!

An American diplomat, watching with bewilderment and dismay his nation's charge into the quagmire of Iraq, is reported to have said: "I just wake up in the morning and tell myself, 'There's been a military coup,' and then it all makes sense."

Some of the stories told by James Risen, a veteran national security reporter for the New York Times, make that assessment seem only slightly exaggerated. The book has already caused a political storm in the US with its revelation that the White House authorised the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on thousands of Americans without a warrant, but there is much else here to disturb the reader.

Risen's central thesis is that the 9/11 attacks were used by Donald Rumsfeld, Bush's uncompromising Defence Secretary, and Vice-President Dick Cheney to hijack American security and foreign policy. As soon as the Taliban had been ousted in Afghanistan, they were campaigning to invade Iraq. If decisions went against them, they ignored them or convened another meeting, this time without their opponents, to get their way. There was never a formal meeting of all George Bush's senior advisers to decide whether Iraq should be invaded, and it is even possible, according to the author's sources, that one of the most disastrous post-invasion decisions - to disband the Iraqi army - was taken without the President's knowledge.

Most of Risen's informants are CIA officers disgusted with the "poisonous new culture" of rendition flights, secret prisons and "coercion techniques", amounting to torture, that came into being after 9/11. It did not take much more for the "new cowboys" in the Pentagon and their neo-conservative allies to doctor the intelligence on Iraq so that they could have their war. Some of the detail about power games in Washington will seem tedious to British readers, but Risen sheds new light on how "hustlers and fabricators" were embraced if their information served the cause of war, while genuine intelligence was ignored.

One intriguing example of the latter was the effort to contact Iraqi scientists through family members living in the US. Some 30 Iraqi-Americans went back to Baghdad at considerable risk, and all reported that their relatives said there were no weapons of mass destruction, but their information disappeared into a black hole. Even after the war, says the writer, CIA officers discovered that reporting too frankly on the insurgency that followed was harmful to their careers.

The overall conclusion is stark: there has been "a disturbing breakdown" in checks and balances within the US government's executive branch, leading to "a new domestic spying programme, a narco-state in Afghanistan and chaos in Iraq". But Risen cannot determine just how much George Bush himself is to blame. The administration's legendary secrecy and short way with opposition has left him unable to confirm whether the President adopted the neo-con agenda or simply went along, though most of Risen's evidence points to a more passive role.

Risen's carefully sourced, sometimes plodding account is Iraq as seen from Washington's ruling heights. Kayla Williams is all first-person: a girl from the American heartland with a messy upbringing who enlists in the US Army and finds herself in Iraq, and wants to tell us what it was like.

Any female soldier stationed abroad in a predominantly male military environment, she says, automatically becomes more attractive - "Queen for a Year" - and it can go to your head if you are unused to being noticed at home. You are a slut if you partake of the sex on offer, and a bitch if you refuse: "Mostly I chose to be a bitch." To her exasperation, she watched women, some of whom were her superiors, use their femininity to gain an easier time, at the price of male contempt for their capabilities.

Wlliams can sound a little Valley Girl-ish as she tries to stick to her vegetarian diet in the desert, and deals with sexual innuendo and outright molestation from her male colleagues. Unlike her fellow grunts, however, she was a trained Arabic linguist who had lived for two years in the US with a Palestinian and spent time with his Arab friends. In Iraq she finds herself in the midst of mutual incomprehension which hardens into hostility.

"Put yourself in the position of some 18-year-old infantry soldier with a loaded weapon in a country surrounded by people who don't speak his language," she says. "And these people come up to him and yell. They want to tell him something. And he doesn't know what it is."

This deadly clash of cultures is epitomised by the bloodiest incident she witnesses in Iraq. A field on the edge of Baghdad is full of unexploded bombs and shells, and she warns the locals to stay away. But warning signs are put up in English alone. Two days later she finds herself back in the same spot, tending soldiers and civilians who have been caught up in an explosion. An Iraqi dies in front of her, and she has to calm local people who say it is the Americans' fault.

In an echo of the Abu Ghraib scandal, she is asked to help with the interrogation of a prisoner. "I am prompted to participate. To mock this naked and crying man... 'Do you think you can please a woman with that thing?' I ask, gesturing." But she imagines that it is her former lover who is being slapped and burned with cigarettes, and refuses to be involved again. "All I said was: 'I am not going to be a part of it.' I did not blow the whistle on anybody. So how morally culpable am I?"

Stories such as these make it clear that the insurgency was inevitable, and towards the end of her tour, says Williams, even Arabic speakers like her "started to hate the locals". She returns home to reverse culture shock - "everybody in America was fat" - and depression: "A year of my life and what the fuck for? It took lies to get us deployed."

At this point two very different American perspectives become mutually complementary. If James Risen explains how we went to war on a false prospectus, Kayla Williams brings out the tragic impact of that untruth, both on Iraq and upon ourselves.

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris
architecture

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album