Thursday 6 July 2017

The Contractor by Raymond Davis

If you’re as obsessed with foreign affairs, the continuing wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and the “war on terror” more generally as I am, then you might just remember the name Raymond Davis. In January 2011, he was involved in a shootout on the streets of Lahore which left two Pakistani men dead in the road. A contractor with the US embassy, his car was soon surrounded by a mob and he summoned help. A 4x4 driven by two other contractors on the way to rescue him collided with a motorcyclist, leaving another Pakistani dead. The 4x4 withdrew and Davis was arrested. The result? A diplomatic crisis with Davis held in a Pakistani prison for almost three months.

There has been a lot written about Raymond Davis in the years since. As well as various newspaper articles, he features in two well-received books written by highly respected journalists: The Way of the Knife, by Mark Mazetti, and Dirty Wars, by Jeremy Scahill. Both these titles examine the CIA and Pentagon’s involvement in paramilitary action post 9-11. The consensus in all this work – the articles, the books - is that Davis was a CIA paramilitary officer, either directly employed by the CIA, or via a Private Military Corporation, and that his role was either intelligence gathering, or perhaps, the targeting of militants for assassination.

Davis rejects those assertions in The Contractor, claiming that he was employed simply as a bodyguard, a personal protection officer for diplomats and US State Department officials. In fact, he expresses great anger at the allegations made in the US press, saying that while he can understand the Pakistani media repeating such fabrications, the US media’s willingness to repeat them without any evidence while he was still in detention endangered his life.

Unfortunately, Davis does little to rebut the picture painted of him so far, as The Contractor focuses almost entirely on his time in detention. With a sub-heading that reads: “How I landed in a Pakistani prison and ignited a diplomatic crisis”, this perhaps should not have come as a surprise. But, I thought and hoped that there might be some context. Don’t get me wrong, The Contractor is a good book; it’s well written and gives a good insight into both the conditions he was held in and what it’s like to find oneself suddenly helpless, at the mercy of a foreign judicial system, at the centre of diplomatic and media storms.

But I couldn’t help but find myself intrigued by the few hints he did give as to his life before. For example, he tells the story of how he was on Hamid Karzai’s protection detail when they rolled into the compound of an Afghan warlord only to find themselves in a Mexican standoff with the Warlord’s men. It’s a great anecdote and made me wonder what other tales he has to tell. Perhaps Davis is holding them back for another book? If so, great, I will read that also. The problem is that until that is published, there is so little in The Contractor about what he was doing in Pakistan on the fateful day of the shootout that led to his gaoling, that it is inevitable the vacuum will be filled with speculation. Perhaps baseless speculation, but speculation nonetheless.

4 out of 5 stars 

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