Terminate with Extreme Prejudice

Posted: September 4, 2016 in Book reviews
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By Richard Belfield

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I picked this up second hand for about 50p earlier in the year as it looked interesting (and was obviously cheap). Finally decided to give it a read. It’s written by (I think) a former ITV journalist and it’s quite old now (2005) so parts were out of date—this was written in a world where Gaddafi and Bin Laden were still alive, when British and American troops were still heavily involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, long before the Arab spring  or ISIS.

It’s an interesting read, though at times the author has a tendency to make stories that should be exciting or engaging a little dull. He does delve into the history of assassination, in particular focusing a lot on the Hashashin, the Islamic sect from whom we draw the word assassin, and this part is interesting, especially as it debunks a lot of the myths (that they were drugged and tricked into believing paradise awaited them). There’s also an interesting section on the death of Thomas Becket and whether Henry II had actually wanted him killed when he gave his vague order for someone to rid him of this troublesome priest. There are also interesting references to other historical killings such as one that occurred during the French Revolution, and to the many attempts on the life of Queen Victoria.

On the whole though the book focuses on the twentieth century, for the most part the latter half of the century, but there’s reference to the death of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand. Reading the blurb I had expected a wide ranging discussion of hitmen at all levels, but—aside from some Mafia related killings—Belfield focuses on the use of political assassination, which is fine but a broader take would have been nice.

The Cold War, the KGB and the CIA feature heavily here, and Belfield makes the point that the KGB gave up on assassination after a few high profile failures (several instances where KGB hitmen turned up on the doorsteps of their targets and said “I’m supposed to kill you but I actually want to defect”) whereas the CIA couldn’t stop with the killings, from the activities of the United Fruit Company in Guatemala in the 50s, to the ludicrous attempts in Castro’s life and the killing of South Vietnam’s President Diem.

There’s a heavy focus on the big assassinations of the 1960s (JFK, RFK and MLK) and discussions of patsies, be they Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan or James Earl Ray. The author has a tendency to lean towards a conspiracy theory if one exists which is fine, but such theories are often just that; theories.

Later in the book he’ll lean even more this way; when discussing the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside of the Libyan embassy in the 1980s he pretty much suggests it was a CIA conspiracy, though I’m not sure how much evidence there is of this. Worse is to come of the Princess Diana chapter. He mentions a host of discrepancies in people’s accounts of the evening in Paris, challenges some supposed facts, but though he’s clearly desperate to imply that she was assassinated he never seems able to tie the various threads together, or to offer any coherent theory that wouldn’t require the British government, the French government, the CIA and the paparazzi to all be in cahoots, which seems improbable to say the least, especially given that he’s spent a lot of the book so far telling us how incompetent all these government assassins are, and  that such an attempt on Diana’s life might well have have failed if she’d just fastened her seatbelt.

It’s a shame the book wasn’t written a little later, because whilst he mentions an instance of an Al Qaeda operative being killed by a drone, he obviously predates a time when this would become commonplace. Interesting in part this book is let down by a certain dryness to the prose, and an obvious desire to see conspiracies around every corner. By all means give it a go if you have an interest in the subject, just don’t take it all as gospel.

 

 

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Comments
  1. Hmm. The problem with most conspiracy theories is that you’re simultaneously expected to believe that some organisation is powerful enough to order the killings of people, secret enough that there’s next to nothing on official record, and yet incompetent enough that people can pick out the truth from secondhand reporting on telly/ in the papers. Naaaaah. Still, it’s an interesting subject.

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