A MOVING TARGET
A U.S. Navy F/A-18 flying over Afghanistan is suddenly diverted and ordered to bomb a building in Pakistan, where a meeting between al Qaeda and the Taliban is taking place. After destroying its target, the fighter is immediately hit by Stinger missiles and the pilots eject over Pakistan. They are captured, assaulted, and dragged through the streets of Peshawar. The world is on edge.
a secret mission
The pilots are quickly forced onto a private Falcon jet headed for the Netherlands, where they’ll stand trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. The building they hit was actually a medical post constructed by Europeans for Afghan refugees—and sixty-five innocent people were killed.
a trial by fire
It’s up to Washington criminal defense lawyer and former Navy SEAL Jack Caskey to defend the two naval officers. Caskey implores President Obama to intervene, but he is wary of a direct conflict with the ICC. Already fighting a losing battle, an outraged Caskey works with his contacts in the shadowy world of special operations and CIA operatives to free the pilots…or help them battle through an international show trial and face imprisonment—for life.
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James W. Huston is the New York Times bestselling author of several thrillers, including Marine One and Balance of Power. A graduate of TOPGUN, he served as a Naval Flight Officer in F-14s on the USS Nimitz with the Jolly Rogers. He is currently a trial lawyer for the international law firm of Morrison Foerster and has been involved in numerous high-profile cases. He lives in San Diego, California.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
1 Isto pped in at the deli next to my apartment building to get my usual bagel with egg and black coffee. But unlike other mornings, the Today show wasn’t on the television in the corner. The images on the screen were graphic and disturbing. A group of men were dragging two Americans in flight suits through the dirt streets of a dark, menacing city. A graphic on the bottom of the screen read “Peshawar, Pakistan.” I strained to hear the commentary on the television over the conversations around me in the deli. Most people weren’t paying attention, assuming it was just the next story in an unending series of stories on the wars in the Middle East. I could hear some of what the reporter was saying. The footage showed a city that was dark, but numerous small lights illuminated the two Americans from odd angles, flashlights, cigarette lighters, car headlights, whatever they could find. They all illuminated the Americans in this midnight parade of humiliation. I grew angry.
I paid for my breakfast, stepped to the side of the cash register, and stared at the screen. As I bit into the bagel I held by the brown bag, I noticed the Americans had their hands bound behind them and leather dog collars around their necks. Their faces were unmasked and their eyes were wide open with confused courage.
The growing crowd chanted and screamed at them. Occasionally something would fly from the side of the screen and hit one of them in the face or the chest. They had nicks and cuts all over their faces.
They looked around, like they thought they were being led to the place where they would be beheaded. A reporter came on the screen as the image of the two Americans was frozen behind her.
She said, “These images are from earlier today when two American navy pilots were captured after their F-18 Hornet was shot down in a strike in the western mountains of Pakistan. They parachuted out of their plane and landed near a village where they were immediately attacked. The tribal leaders were able to restrain their people, but the two Americans were turned over to others and taken to Peshawar.
“It is unclear what happened, but apparently the navy jet was on a mission and dropped a large bomb on what it thought was an al Qaeda headquarters. The tribal leaders claim it was a building being used for medical treatment for the refugees from the war in Afghanistan. The reports are filtering out—though we have had no access to the site—that forty Afghan refugees and medical workers have been killed, mostly women and children. It is a disaster according to the Pakistanis, and the protesters believe it was done intentionally. They believe it was a message to the people in Pakistan to stop sheltering al Qaeda. Tribal leaders are furious and have stated that they cannot control their people. They will be making claims for payment from the United States government, and want the Americans out of the skies of Pakistan. A spokesman for the United States Navy has said they are investigating the incident, that they cannot independently confirm that the target that was struck was an error, but they will be looking into it. They also call for the immediate release of the navy pilots so they can be returned to their ship. The navy said they had no information on how the F-18 had crashed, or whether it had been shot down as the Pakistanis claim. Right now there are as many questions as there are answers. But one thing is for sure, the Pakistanis are very angry, and this is not going away.”
CNN then returned to rerunning the loop they had been showing when I had come in to the sandwich shop. Damn. Targeting was hard, but it wasn’t that hard. You sure as hell ought to be able to avoid a refugee medical facility. I couldn’t imagine how that happened, nor could I imagine how they’d shot down an F-18. It’s not easy. I couldn’t remember the last time it had happened, if ever.
It wasn’t going to be easy on the pilots either. The people of Waziristan aren’t easy to befriend. I’d been there, and had no interest in going back. I sure wouldn’t want to be there on the ground with a dog collar around my neck being pilloried by every angry man in Peshawar. I also knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that, somewhere, several people with a very high level of capability were planning to extricate those naval aircrew from wherever it was they were being held. But I also thought that the likelihood of them being found was low. The video I saw was taken at night. Probably from the nighttime that had just passed. But it could have been from the night before. In all likelihood the videotape had simply been delivered, like a prepackaged propaganda kit. It wasn’t CNN film, and it wasn’t the BBC. It was somebody with a digital camcorder. So even though it claimed to be Peshawar, it could’ve been taken anywhere and nearly any night. They were going to be very hard to find.
I wrapped up my bagel and headed to my office a block away. I picked up a copy of the Post on the way out the door to see if they had anything on it.
The images pulled at me. I had been in the navy for several years. I wasn’t a pilot, but I’d been around. I knew a lot of pilots. I’d even pulled a couple of their asses out of pretty big fires. But seeing those two about to be subjected to whatever was coming was horrifying.
I looked at my watch. It was 8:30 A.M., 6:30 P.M. in Pakistan. I had a court appearance for one of my clients in a criminal case in a half hour. It would take most of the morning, then I was supposed to have lunch with Rick Fielding, an old friend of mine who still worked in the criminal division at the Department of Justice where I used to work. We had lunch together probably once a month. I liked to catch up on what they were doing. I was mostly on the other side now, though I rarely went against my former DOJ colleagues. I do criminal defense work and am therefore considered irrational, or a turncoat, by most of the other prosecutors. Unless you went over to doing big-time white-collar defense for big money at a big firm, you were considered a loser. Anybody who went into general criminal defense work and took run-of-the-mill cases was thought to be unable to get good work. That wasn’t my experience, and Rick understood that, but others didn’t get it. Neither of us had much time for lunch so we usually met at Casey’s on K Street.
My hearing went fine, and I got out in time to meet Rick. He was there when I arrived. We ordered and Rick immediately mentioned the F-18. Everyone was talking about it. Most stories about the ongoing war in the Middle East didn’t get much attention. Somebody else got blown up, another wedding that got bombed by an American jet, or even better, an unmanned Predator, and the U.S. was sorry for killing a bunch of people, or some suicide bomber in some market somewhere, or an attack on an Afghan army outpost, whatever. But this was different. American officers had been captured and nobody knew where they were.
“You believe those guys got captured?” Rick asked.
“No. But I wouldn’t want to be holding them right now because some tough men with bad attitudes will be looking for them.”
“Yep. They may not succeed, but I wouldn’t want to be the ones hiding them.”
“How could they find them? They got GPS transmitters on them or something?”
“So how do two Americans end up in dog collars in Peshawar being stoned by a mob?”
I shook my head. “No idea. Must’ve had a midair, or got shot down. Obviously they got out of their plane intact, but now they’ve got big problems.”
“You hear the latest rumors? What the bloggers are saying?”
“Must be true if someone’s saying it on a blog.”
“Point taken. But get this. You know Flight Track? I can’t remember the name of the site. Anyway, they’re saying that a charter jet has been tracked. A high-end business jet. Nonstop, all the way from Pakistan to Holland.”
I sat back and frowned. “What does that mean?”
“Beats the hell out of me. That’s just what they’ve seen.”
“Why Holland?” Then it hit me. Oh shit. “The Hague?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“You know what’s in The Hague?”
“The dope smokers who can’t fit into Amsterdam?”
“Seriously. Know what’s there?”
“The International Criminal Court. I’ll bet you these Pakistanis have arranged with the International Criminal Court to transport these two guys there and put them on trial for war crimes. Holy shit.” I looked around. “This could run completely out of control. The European public will cheer, the Middle East will celebrate, the Muslims who make up about twenty percent of Holland will be weeping for joy, and the American public will demand blood.”
“Shit, Jack. You really think that’s where they’re going?”
“If your blogger is right, I guarantee it. And the shit will really hit the fan. This is really going to put our president in a fix.”
“He’s long implied he wants to cooperate with the ICC. The first speech his new U.N. ambassador gave endorsed the then current investigation of the ICC. We’d never endorsed anything they had done. Big sea change. So he can’t oppose the ICC now. I think he eventually wants to sign the ICC treaty and get the Senate to ratify it.”
“Clinton didn’t want it ratified.”
“And Bush hated it. It was a joke. But almost everyone else signed it. We’re out there in the distinguished company of Iran, and Israel, and North Korea.”
“Didn’t you work on some study group while you were at Justice?”
“Yeah. Led it. The attorney general wanted a report to update Congress on our opinion of the International Criminal Court. I was the only one around with military experience.”
“What did your report say?”
“The court still claims to have worldwide jurisdiction even over countries that haven’t signed the treaty. They don’t have any of the fairness guarantees that we take for granted, and the definitions of war crimes and aggression are wide open. It still looks like an anti-American tract since we’re the one doing all the global enforcement.”
“And we still never signed it. Right?”
“Well Clinton signed it, but then told Congress not to ratify it. And Bush unsigned it. We probably never will unless they put in some guarantees. But these assholes have gone after American servicemen, and they’re going to have a fight on their hands.”
He smiled. “I bet you’d love to be part of that fight.”
I shook my head. “You think there’s any chance they won’t get a conviction? If they were on their way to The Hague before the night was out, that means this whole thing has been planned. Someone was waiting for them.”
“There you go with your defense attorney conspiracy mentality.”
“Yeah. That’s me.” I glanced at my watch. “I’ve got to get back to the office. Another slam-dunk habeas petition to argue this afternoon.”
“You making any money yet?”
“I get by.”
“Shit, man. I figured those two felony cases you tried back-to-back last year would make you the man.”
“Got me on the front page of the Post.”
“Twice. And what about those Marines you defended out in California? Where was that?”
“That was huge. Didn’t you get some guys off who got crosswise with some villagers somewhere? That even made CNN.”
“Didn’t you get some award?”
“That was for the two felonies here.”
“What was it?”
“Criminal Defense Lawyer of the Year.”
“That’s got to get you some big cases. At least some notoriety. And maybe even some people who can pay.”
“Maybe. We’ll see. I gotta go.”
I walked back down K Street to my office, which is in one of the oldest buildings on the block. My secretary handed me a stack of phone messages.
“On top. That guy is really trying to get ahold of you.”
I looked at the phone slips. Three of them were from the same person. I didn’t recognize the name or the number. “Who is he?”
“Wouldn’t say.” She looked at me with a inquisitive look. “You recognize his number?”
I looked again. “No. You give him my cell?”
“No sir. You told me never to give it to anybody. I believe you told me I could exercise good judgment, but so far that’s meant never giving it out.”
“He say what he wanted?”
“No.” The phone rang and she looked at her caller ID. “Here he is again. Want to talk to him?”
I nodded and headed toward my office. I took off my jacket, put it over the back of my chair, and looked at the phone. She had put him on hold. I closed the door, sat down at the desk, picked up the phone, hit the button, and said, “Jack Caskey.”
“Jack, Chris Marshall.”
I didn’t recognize the name or the voice. “Do I know you?”
“We have friends in common. I need to talk to you.”
“What about? You in trouble?”
“No. Recent events.”
“Who are you exactly?”
“I’d rather not talk on the phone. Can I come to your office?”
“I have a hearing in thirty minutes.”
“District Court. Courtroom three.”
“I’ll see you there.”
“How will I know you?”
“I’ll know you. I’ll talk to you after the hearing.” He hung up. I glanced at the clock, picked up the file for the hearing, stuffed it in my briefcase, grabbed my suit coat, and headed for court.
In my former life in the navy I learned to spot people who are physically dangerous. By the way they carry themselves, their build, the way they hide their athleticism in their clothing, and by a certain look in their eyes. A complete lack of fear and a complete belief in their ability to do whatever they want. I didn’t encounter that look very often practicing law in Washington. I run into a lot of men who think they’re tough, who think because can talk big or baffle you with a bunch of bullshit that they’re somehow better than you; some—most who had never been in an actual fight—think they can kick your ass. Probably because they had taken a couple of years of kung fu when their kids were in training. But it’s a vast leap between that kind of person and the kind who can truly do it. And I spotted him immediately.
He was waiting for me at the back of the courtroom until the hearing was over. He was clearly the one who had called. He probably now did what I used to do. I walked right by him like I hadn’t seen him. But I knew he had seen me noticing, and I knew that he knew that I had chosen to walk right by. Outside the courtroom I stood in the hallway. I put down my briefcase and waited for him to approach while I checked my e-mail on my iPhone. He walked up to me slowly. He was about my size, maybe an inch shorter, and stockier. I’m six feet, and he was probably five feet eleven. Where I weigh 185, he probably weighed 190. My hair used to be closely cut, but now had that sort of slightly too long look to it that a lot of criminal defense attorneys wear as a constant symbol of their general rebellion, and to distinguish themselves from the cookie-cutter government prosecutors. But now I was just a plain old criminal defense lawyer in Washington, D.C., and loved what I did. But whoever he was, he wasn’t the usual kind of person who came looking for me. I waited for him to speak first. “You’re Jack.”
We shook hands. He had a firm grip but was careful not to try to show how strong he was. I studied his face. He wasn’t in trouble, and from what I could tell he didn’t have a friend or a wife or a nephew who was in trouble. This was something else entirely. “So you haven’t been charged with anything, and I would guess based on the look on your face that nobody you know has either. What can I do for you?”
“I need to talk to you in private. Is there somewhere that we can go?”
“Depends how private...
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Book Description St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2011. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0312544138
Book Description St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2011. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110312544138
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