Monday, October 15, 2012

Extraordinary Rendition - Paul Batista

Byron Johnson is partner in a Wall Street law firm who, at the apex of his career, volunteers to take on the case of Ali Hussein. Ali is a Syrian national who lived and worked in the US for ten years as an accountant prior to being arrested in Europe over 9 years earlier. Byron learns that Hussein has finally been brought back to the US for trial after being kept, without charge, in solitary confinement at various places around the world and has been tortured and beaten during those nine years. He feels that justice should be done and the man should be charged with something, offered a fair trial and have the right to defend himself in a court of law. This is where the story begins.

Extraordinary Rendition is a fast paced, eloquent, witty, sometimes disturbing account of a lawyer facing an uphill battle against forces within the US government which are hell bent on getting a conviction. Members of nameless government departments, the FBI, Homeland Security and the CIA have worked for years to uncover the invisible millions of dollars which they believe travel around the world almost unseen and untraceable. These are the dollars used to fund terrorist activities. They believe Hussein is the mastermind behind securing funding for, amongst other things, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. For nine years they have tried to make him confess and for nine years he has protested his innocence.

Here’s an extract from Chapter 2. Byron Johnson has called a meeting with the US governments lead lawyer, Hamerindapal Rana, who is prosecuting the case. He is trying to establish the nature of the charges and arrange a date for the indictment:

Rana said, “Mr Johnson, you must understand we will indict Mr Hussein at a time and in a place of our own choosing. It may be an hour from now. It may be six months from now. And it may be in Miami and it may be in Juneau Alaska, with Sarah Palin as judge.”

In the five minutes since the start of the conference, Byron had let go of any pretence that this would be what he liked to call a ‘good, cordial meeting,’ He said, “Mr Rana, the man is now in jail in the United States. He’s been in detention more than nine years by my count. I don’t think you have the right to delay indicting him indefinitely.”

“You think so Mr Johnson?” Like his clothes, Hal Rana’s voice was elegant, almost British-accented. Byron, who had the sense that Rana must have spent time in an English boarding school, was intrigued. Rana continued, “The Congress and the president don’t see it your way. We have an anti-terrorism bill that gives us the option to decide when to indict and where to indict, We don’t need to be concerned by whatever speedy trial rights your client may have, because he has none. And, in this case we can indict him anywhere in the country and he can’t complain that it’s the wrong place.”

“So you are going to pick a state where the jury is most likely to convict, right?”

“We’ve been thinking about Oklahoma, Mr Johnson. We relish the idea of putting a terrorist on trail in front of an Oklahoma jury near the site where McVeigh blew up the federal building.”

“I don’t think that’s fair.”

“You don’t? Then you have to complain to Congress. I am just a simple country lawyer.”

This story feels chillingly realistic. Nobody is quite who they seem to be and sometimes it is hard to know who the bad guys really are. Paul Batista paints a disturbingly blurred line between the terrorism of the offenders and the terrorism of the prosecutors. Justice, it seems, depends on good men doing something out of the ordinary to protect the tenets of law. This doesn’t happen every day, certainly not if a lawyer wants to rise to great heights in their career and gain the ultimate prizes: success and accolade.

I couldn’t put this book down. It is brilliantly written, the characters are realistic and it offers real insight into the intricacies of the US legal system, especially those rather complex, controversial and challenging laws pertaining to Extraordinary Rendition and national security. There is another bonus in this book; any lover of New York City will be enthralled by the many vivid descriptions of places, buildings and landmarks in the city. It made me pine to be back there. Of course, like any good thriller there are many twists and turns in the tale. The one at the end left me asking more questions than it answered. I’m still wondering about it now!

Extraordinary Rendition was published in July 2012 by Astor + Blue Editions. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Just brilliant!


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