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

The Cult of Counterinsurgency

A quiet revolution in the U.S. military has resurrected Vietnam-era strategies to fight the war on terrorism. Retired Lt. Col. John Nagl makes counterinsurgency seem so appealing that it's easy to forget its dark side.

John Nagl's memories of Vietnam are vague, at best. He was, after all, only two years old during the 1968 Tet offensive and was in grade school in Omaha, Nebraska, during the fall of Saigon. It is perhaps for this reason that Nagl, a former tank commander turned military strategist, does not see Vietnam as a symbol of dishonor, the way older military officers do. Rather, the Vietnam War is a subject to be studied: Nagl's acclaimed book, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife , explores lessons from the American experience in fighting an insurgency in Vietnam. He's been one of the foremost proponents of applying those same techniques in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Vietnam War, he writes, shows the importance of understanding tribal loyalties, working to improve the lives of civilians, and training local forces. Many of these lessons were forgotten in the decades following Vietnam. Nagl believes this is an oversight, and he has worked harder than almost anyone to bring these fundamental tenets...

Man Without a Shadow: An Interview with Barton Gellman

Barton Gellman, author of Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, reveals the inner workings of one of the most secretive offices in history.

Bestselling author Barton Gellman , who is currently a fellow at NYU Law School's Center on Law and Security, does not waste time. He orders lunch (soft-shell crab) by cell phone so his meal at a Dupont Circle restaurant will be ready shortly after he arrives. Even more impressively, he did the final interview for Angler on July 4, only ten weeks before the book was published. Here, he talks about sources, subterfuge, and some of the lesser-known things Cheney has done that will have an impact on the United States. Tara McKelvey: What do you think are the most important things Cheney has done that will last or have a legacy? Barton Gellman: It's so hard to understand legacy with Cheney. He says he wants to be judged by history, but he has thrown up roadblocks to historians such as the new executive order on presidential records. In other cases, he simply did not keep records. They also invented this curious new form of quasi-classification where they would stamp things as if they were...


The term "enemy combatant" is an awkward one, made even more complex because its definition has shifted over time. In the early days in the war on terror, it meant individuals who had attacked the United States. Over time, though, it began to include a broader range -- from individuals who had been involved in direct assaults on the U.S. to those who were accused only of providing material aid. "It's a term that allows the government to fill that category with whoever they want," says Michael Ratner of the New-York-based legal Center for Constitutional Rights. He was speaking at a panel discussion entitled "The Enemy Combatants Papers: American Justice, the Courts, and the War on Terror," in New York on Wednesday at an event hosted by NYU Law School's Center on Law and Security . One of the other panelists, Joshua Dratel , who is co-editor of a new book The Enemy Combatant Papers , puts it more simply: "It's a backward definition," he says. "The people who are at Guantanamo are enemy...


The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma runs a program, Ochberg Fellowships, for journalists, editors and photographers who cover traumatic incidents and violence. I was an Ochberg Fellow last year, and I got to meet Margarita Akhvlediani . She was a perfect fit for our group: Super-nice, smart, accomplished -- and she had seen the world's troubles in her career as a journalist writing about Georgia in the early 1990s. (Other fellows that year include Donna Alvis-Banks , who covered the Virginia Tech massacre, and James MacMillan , who had worked as a photographer in Iraq.) We all met up for several days in Baltimore, and Margarita was especially fun to hang out with. One evening, we went for crab cakes in the neighborhood and talked about Putin , Russia and (my hero) investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya , who was shot and killed outside her Moscow apartment building in October 2006. Recently, Margarita was attacked while on a reporting trip. She had been headed towards Gori...


Over at CQ ’s SpyTalk, Jeff Stein says we knew all about the invasion of Georgia, and also about Georgia’s decision to send troops into South Ossetia last Thursday, despite our Casablanca defense (we are “shocked, shocked”) that Rob discusses below. Stein makes a convincing case: We have so many military “advisers” in Georgia that it would be odd if we didn’t know what was going on. As Stein sees it, we maintain close ties with people -- in Georgia or elsewhere -- when they are useful and dump them when they became a problem (i.e., the Russians are coming). In other words, it’s business as usual. --Tara McKelvey