Tara McKelvey

Tara McKelvey, a senior editor at the Prospect, is a research fellow at NYU School of Law's Center on Law and Security and the author of Monstering: Inside America’s Policy on Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War.

Recent Articles

You Can Handle the Truth

After eight years of a notoriously secret executive branch, Obama seems willing to consider opening the vault to historians and journalists alike.

J. William Leonard, the former head of classification procedures for the government under President George W. Bush, was settling into his new life in St. Mary's County, Maryland, after his retirement in late 2007. He planned to teach political science at a small liberal-arts college and tend his garden, leaving behind the world of government and classified documents. But several months later, he came across a news story about an Office of Legal Counsel memo that had been classified for national-security reasons and only recently released. Leonard turned on his home computer and downloaded the memo, an 81-page document about interrogation policy that assistant attorney general John Yoo had written in March 2003. The memo had no information that would endanger national security. Instead, it was a legal defense of harsh interrogations. "You know, I guess 'angered me' would be the appropriate phrase," Leonard says describing his reaction. The memo had been withheld, he says, to shield the...

How Bush Broke the Government

To gain a true sense of Bush's legacy, we survey the systematic and politically motivated ways he undermined the federal government.

There is nothing new about presidents who are eager to overstep the bounds of their power, whether they are conservative or liberal in their political views. But the strategies that George W. Bush used to strengthen his presidency -- and weaken other branches of government -- have been more widespread than the ones employed in the past. Rather than isolated abuses of executive power, such as Bill Clinton's bombing of Kosovo without congressional approval, the actions of the Bush administration have been the most systematic abuses of executive authority since the branch's powers were curtailed in the wake of Watergate. "You know how there are all these checks and balances in the government?" says Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. "Under the Bush administration, all that was turned on its head. When you look at what they did, it's like reading the opposite of the Federalist Papers ." Despite the fact that Alexander Hamilton...


He is well known among those who have been skeptical of the Iraq War. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2003, Gen. Eric Shinseki , who has been named the new head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the U.S. would need more troops in Iraq than were planned, aggravating Donald Rumsfeld and other people in the administration. So liberals are pleased -- with good reason. This means, of course, that Tammy Duckworth , the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs who was on a short list of candidates for Shinseki's position, was not chosen. She could instead become a new senator from Illinois, taking over Obama's job. (Previously, she was being considered for both slots.) Maybe she's lucky. Shinseki has his work cut out for him: The V.A. is the second-biggest agency in the federal government (behind the Pentagon) and many of its employees have been demoralized by the way things were handled under the Bush administration. Meanwhile,...

Damaged Heroes

Four recent films reveal how America sees its Iraq War veterans.

In the 2007 film In the Valley of Elah , Vietnam veteran Hank Deerfield is driving to an Army post in New Mexico to look for his son. When he passes a school and notices its American flag is flying upside down, he stops to help an immigrant worker straighten it out and hoist it back up the pole. An upside-down flag is "an international distress signal," explains Deerfield (played by Tommy Lee Jones in an Oscar-nominated role). "It means we're in a whole lot of trouble." No kidding. Deerfield's son, Mike, has gone absent without leave. Meanwhile, every day across the country, soldiers who have served in the Middle East are fading into the American landscape. Some are resuming their lives, but others -- like Mike Deerfield -- are finding themselves in lousy, even tragic, circumstances. (The film is loosely based on the murder of a soldier, Richard Davis, in 2003.) Valley of Elah is one of several new films that chronicle the challenges of the veteran's homecoming. These films include...

Distress Signal

One Iraq veteran's suicide shows the human cost of the overburdened VA medical system, and the tragedies that occur when the care of veterans is delayed or insufficient.

Derek Henderson was jumpy and full of rage when he came home from Iraq in 2003. Over the next four years, he fought with his mother and brothers and got into trouble with the police. Finally, on June 22, 2007, he jumped off a bridge into the Ohio River. He didn't die, though, at least not right away. He tried to swim to a pole that supports the bridge and then slid under the water. He was 27 years old. Some suicides seem preordained -- or at least planned with determination and care. That was not the case with Henderson. True, he was a mess, physically and emotionally -- and dangerous, too. He carried a box cutter in his pocket and kept a hatchet in his Mercury Cougar. Once he got into a fight at home with his brother, Garland Sharpe. The fight was so savage, Sharpe barely survived. Henderson, who was 5-foot-11 and weighed 160 pounds, reached for a 10-pound weight during the brawl. Luckily, their mother, Diana Henderson, moved it out of the way. Otherwise, says Sharpe, "I probably...