My book review appears in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:
Days after the Boston marathon bombings in April, the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, reportedly told authorities that he and his brother, Tamerlan, watched online the sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born cleric who was killed by an American drone in Yemen in 2011.
It was just the latest appearance in the media of Awlaki; his death was praised by US President Barack Obama as a ”major blow to al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate”. Two weeks later, the Obama administration killed Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, in a drone strike in Yemen. It remains shrouded in mystery. American investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill uncovers evidence that Obama himself was ”surprised and upset and wanted an explanation”. One White House official described it as ”a mistake, a bad mistake”.
In arguably the most comprehensive examination of post-September 11, 2001 ”war on terror” policies, Dirty Wars reveals how Washington’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has risen to become the most elite force in the US arsenal. It led the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, but its more disturbing role is conducting missions across the globe that receive no media.
Scahill, a national security correspondent for The Nation, long-time contributor to Democracy Now! and author of Blackwater, travels to Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond to report on the war we don’t see with embedded journalism, an all-too-common feature of modern war coverage. Wikileaks-released documents provide essential evidence for his work.
Take the nightly JSOC raids in Afghanistan, reportedly to capture alleged Taliban or al-Qaeda members. The reality is very different, as I heard myself in Afghanistan in 2012.
Scahill uncovers a massacre of civilians by US forces in Gardez in Paktia province in 2010 and the attempts to cover it up by senior military figures including the head of JSOC, William McRaven.
What’s most shocking is not just details of this horrific crime, but also the frequency of such acts.
Journalist Nick Turse reveals similar activities during the Vietnam War in his recent book,Kill Anything That Moves. My Lai-style massacres weren’t an aberration, he proves, but rather a regular occurrence. Scahill’s digging challenges the notion that ”surgical strikes” and ”targeted assassinations” are a clean way to prosecute foreign policy.
”One of the enduring legacies of the Obama administration,” the writer said in May to HBO’s Bill Maher, ”is that Obama has normalised assassination as a central component of US national security policy.”
Dirty Wars is infused with a necessary anger towards the lack of questions in the US about these destructive policies. ”Obama has sold the Bush/Cheney policy to liberals,” Scahill argues, and he’s right that a vast majority of Americans claim to support drones. However, this is only because citizens so rarely see or hear the victims of these covert attacks. The corrective is to speak independently to the civilians apparently being liberated by Western weapons.
The power of Scahill’s work is making the reader question the legality and morality of American policy. Not unlike Ronald Reagan’s dirty wars against left-leaning countries in Latin America in the 1980s – hundreds of thousands of victims were murdered by US-backed thugs in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile and elsewhere – today’s proxy forces operate with the same level of impunity.
Scahill spends time with Somalian warlords who are paid by the US to fight al-Qaeda militants, but while in Mogadishu he discovers a CIA-run underground prison that assists Somali intelligence officials.
”We define our society by how we treat the most reprehensible of citizens,” Scahill said on US TV earlier in the year. The success of this book, a New York Times bestseller, is rejecting the official rationale given to pursue a ”war on terror” that causes blow-back on our own societies and destruction across the globe.
Antony Loewenstein’s latest book is Profits of Doom (MUP).
Purchase Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill here.
DIRTY WARS: THE WORLD IS A BATTLEFIELD
Serpent’s Tail, 672pp, $29.99