America’s Covert War in East Africa

Surveillance, Rendition, Assassination

April 2019 9781849044134 288pp


Clara Usiskin has spent eight years investigating the ‘War on Terror’ and its effects in the East and Horn of Africa, documenting hundreds of cases of rendition, secret detention and targeted killings. Her book sets out the historical background to today’s covert war, including the early Somali jihads and British repression in colonial Kenya, through to the 1998 US Embassy Bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, and President Clinton’s early rendition programme. America’s Covert War in East Africa then looks at the US Military’s new Africa Command, with its emphasis on counterterrorism, alongside increasing use of targeted killings by security forces in the region, and continued renditions and secret detention.

Finally, Usiskin investigates the shorter and longer term consequences of such intensive militarisation, and the proliferation of surveillance and other technologies of control in East Africa and its surrounding waters, focussing in particular on their impact on vulnerable ethnic and religious groups in a highly volatile region.


‘America’s Covert War in East Africa is the harrowing and ongoing story of how a fundamentally misguided security policy surveillance, rendition, assassination has warped and destabilized the politics of a region and devastated countless innocent lives.’ — New Internationalist

‘Usiskin skilfully combines eye-witness accounts, personal testimony and excerpts from official documentation to construct a chilling portrayal of a sinister apparatus of illegality and terror.’ — Counterfire

America’s Covert War in East Africa is a breath of fresh air—a positive anomaly in the crowded counterterrorism literature.’ Parameters

‘Usikin writes clearly and emotes very effectively … This is an informative read for anyone interested in the East African experiences during the almost two-decade-long global “War on Terror”.’ — LSE Review of Books

‘Clara Usiskin is a leading member of that surprisingly small band of lawyers, researchers, journalists and law-makers who painstakingly forced into the open some of the most disturbing secrets of the so-called war on terror. In this book she sheds new light on one of the major battlefields of that war. This is an invaluable contribution to the history of a very dark time.’ — Ian Cobain, author of The History Thieves

‘This book is a must-read to understand how the misguided US and British security policies in East Africa destabilise the region, from someone who has put in the long hours there.’ — Clive Stafford Smith, Founder, Reprieve

‘If you want to understand how US renditions and secret detentions work in Africa and how allies of Washington such as the UK have supported these Counter-Terrorism efforts — buy this book. A really sobering and important book to read.’ Alex Vines, Head of the Africa Programme, Chatham House

‘A harrowing first-hand account of the US war on terror. Usiskin goes deep into the belly of the beast to bring us some of the most heart-wrenching accounts of torture against detainees accused of masterminding acts of terror against America and its allies in East Africa. This book is unique in several ways, particularly in its combination of a refined legal investigation and extremely cautious investigative journalism.’ — Jok Madut Jok, co-founder of the Sudd Institute

A highly disturbing but essential book. Usiskin’s kaleidoscopic accounts of renditions, secret detentions and extrajudicial killings highlight the incredible reach of American and British power into African polities, as well as the eagerness of east African governments to use the ‘War on Terror’ to justify increased surveillance of everyday citizens, torture of political opponents, attacks on national judiciaries and violence against minority populations.’ — Phil Clark, Reader in Comparative and International Politics, SOAS

‘Clara Usiskin takes the reader on a journey through Britain’s colonial past and Al Qaeda’s attacks in the 1990s to the modern cyber confrontation in the region.  A book full of fascinating insight and episodes, revealing the troubling and enduring nature of terrorism in the region.’ — Michael Goodman, Professor in Intelligence and International Affairs, King’s College London


Clara Usiskin is a human rights investigator who documents national security-related abuses around the world, with a particular focus on the East and Horn of Africa. She was formerly a national security fellow at the Open Society Justice Initiative and Deputy Director of the Secret Prisons team at Reprieve.

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