Law of the Jungle

Maybe it’s because you’re not allowed to wear government-issue camouflage; maybe it’s because — when all is said and done — you’re going to war for the money. But if you’re a private military contractor fighting on foreign soil, you might as well be a cowboy looking for payday, and you won’t convince anyone you’re a hero. If you survive, you won’t march in victory parades. If you die, you won’t be buried in Arlington Cemetery. If you’re taken hostage, you’ll rot before Washington pays you any mind.

That, in any case, is what three employees of Northrop Grumman found out on Feb. 13, 2003, when their lumbering, rickety, single-engine Cessna malfunctioned and crashed during a secret mission over rebel territory in the Colombian jungle. Before they could stagger out from the wreckage, ex-Marine Keith Stansell, former Air Force analyst Marc Gonsalves and retired airline pilot Thomas Howes were captured by Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC), the truculent, drug-trafficking guerrillas who have terrorized the region for decades.

Read the full review >

Book review of Law of the Jungle: The Hunt for Colombian Guerrillas, American Hostages, and Buried Treasure by John Otis.

By Marie Arana, Washington Post, Sunday, May 23, 2010