"A Most Wanted Man,” by John Le Carré, 2008.
Le Carré is one of the more left-wing writers in the UK. This, one of his latest books, will also be a film featuring the last appearance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died while it was being filmed. While not as strong a book as “The Constant Gardner” or “Absolute Friends,” this one tackles the issue of extraordinary rendition, combining all of Le Carre’s knowledge of intrusive spy-craft with a too-human story. Issa is a mysterious Chechen, dressed in a long overcoat, spouting half-baked Islam, an “idiot’ of the Dostoevskyian variety. He escapes from Russia to Turkey, two countries that tortured him, then from Sweden to Hamburg, Germany. There he meets a pretty human-rights lawyer, Annabel, who takes his case – although it’s not much of a ‘case.’ The case involves a dull German banker, Brue, who falls for them both. Issa has a claim on a vast amount of money at Brue’s bank, courtesy of his dead Russian military father, who laundered it there courtesy of English intelligence as a thank-you for his spying. Convoluted much?
It is a somewhat unbelievable story. The central character is not really sympathetic. The crush developed by the banker on the cute young lawyer is cliché. The villains – the secret services of Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. – are a somewhat familiar set of creeps, thugs and vicious bureaucrats. Among this mess is a somewhat more intelligent arm of the German spy services, who want to use Issa to get to Dr. Abdullah. Abdullah is a well-known moderate Islamic scholar in Germany who diverts 5% of the donations he solicits to possible Islamic terrorists. The more subtle Germans want to ‘turn him’ into an informer, and role up other, real terrorists. The U.S. thugs and the majority of the Germans and the UK just want to disappear both of them and send them to an unknown jail without trial – extraordinary rendition.
Of course you know what happens. In order to do this, one group of intelligence agents must shaft another in an evidently unending internal power struggle. The optimists and naive ‘good guys’ lose.
It is never clearly set out that Issa is a Chechen terrorist of any actual kind – information to that effect is shot down by one of the Germans. He’s a pathetic mumbler with grandiose ideas and a smattering of education – permanently scarred by his torture. His access to riches, which he ultimately rejects for himself, reminds the reader of unknown princes in homeless shelters grasping unread books in their worn hands. He’s basically innocent.
Extraordinary rendition –being abducted by secret police like the CIA and sent to an off-site gaol - was first proposed under Bush I, initiated under Clinton for accused terrorists, used by Bush II extensively and continued under Obama – though there are now ostensible rules against torture. It is not much different than the decades-long disappearances in Latin America engineered by U.S.-trained death squads, except not all now result in death, only incarceration. Of course, they could just send in a drone, but that would not be done in Germany.
Le Carré continues his one-man crusade against the hypocrisies and crimes of the political and economic ruling classes of the ‘advanced’ nations.
August 28, 2014