Dergrossest's Reviews > Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw

Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden
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May 03, 2010

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This well told, if a bit over-told, story of Pablo Escobar, the man who held a country of 27 million hostage, raises interesting questions for those of us living in post 9-11 times. On the one-hand, the author makes very clear that this wanna-be Latin Robin Hood, who built apartments and soccer stadiums for the poor with his $5-$10 billion in drug money, was nevertheless a very bad man who killed presidential candidates, the prosecutors who investigated him, the police who accompanied them and the judges who later issued warrants for his arrest relating to such murders. And all that was before lunch. Escobar also engaged in the wholesale murder of his drug-dealing competitors, hired Communist insurgent groups to hold the entire Colombian Supreme Court hostage (which resulted in the death of half the justices), held the rich and famous hostage (and killed many of them) and detonated car bombs throughout Bogota. He was effectively a combination of Al Queda and Al Capone.

On the other hand, the response of the Colombian government is somewhat disturbing. Completely unable to stop him, the Colombian President decided upon a new strategy which abandoned any pretense of constitutionality and instead relied upon an unholy alliance of other drug-dealers, murderers, rogue police units and American Special Forces to kill all of Escobar's family, friends, business associates, attorneys and accountants in an attempt to hurt his ability to finance his private war and thereby flush him out. While the strategy ultimately worked, the question is whether the price of success was too high. The book never really grapples with this issue, but we need to since 9-11 saw Congress and most of the Country ready to cede all power to the President with their blessing to do anything necessary to make sure it never happened again. This makes the story a timely read for all of us.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Brian (new)

Brian Interesting dilemma that you raise. Right after 9/11, many people I knew, even thoughtful people, were of the mind that no abrogation of civil rights was too high a cost for security. For myself, beyond certain basic measures, security is illusory, and once a government is so empowered, it is a short step to the abuse of such power, even for a relatively benign government (which in itself is an illusory concept).

As children, we're taught that the ends do not justify the means and that might doesn't make right, but in fact we do the exact opposite when push comes to shove. George Carlin once said that we do not really have rights, but rather privileges, since time and again we see examples of how rights are denied to people, even US citizens. For instance, a book I just read recently, Zeitoun, is about a Syrian-born US citizen how was detained for months in post-Katrina New Orleans without any contact with his family or lawyers, under the suspicion of being a terrorist. And this happened to others as well who were native-born whites.

Dergrossest While you cannot ignore the words of the wise man who said that the Constitution is not a suicide pact, unfortunately, American history is replete with examples of enthusiastic public support for government repudiation of constitutional rights in the face of crisis, including Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus, Woodrow Wilson's reprehensible Espionage and Sedition Acts, and Roosevelt's unpardonable internment of Japanese Americans. Fortunately, until Obama’s cowardly decision not to investigate the Bush Administration’s many-faceted constitutional breaches post 9-11, the United States has always redeemed itself by later repudiating such abuses through legislation and/or Congressional investigation. I think that the guilt we feel as Americans for such transgressions is admirable and unique, particularly when compared to a number of our holier-than-thou European critics whose countries never engage in such public introspection.

What is perhaps more interesting for Americans is the fact that neither major political party is truly committed to preserving individual rights anymore, not that the Democrats really ever were beyond agitating for reproductive and sexual orientation freedoms. We should all lament the American Right’s movement away from its previously staunch opposition to the expansion of the police powers of the state. Indeed, American Conservatives used to be reliable supporters of the Bill of Rights, until Bush-Cheney and the Christian Conservatives hijacked the party and moved away from the Country Club Republican prototype (i.e., conservative on economic issues, laissez faire on social issues, radical on restraining the power of government) to the big-government, tear-up-the-Constitution, in-your-bedroom ayatollahs which they have become. Very sad.

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