Obama’s advisers explained to reporters that Erbil holds an American consulate, and that “thousands” of Americans live there. The city has to be defended, they continued, lest ISIS overrun it and threaten American lives. Fair enough, but why are thousands of Americans in Erbil these days? It is not to take in clean mountain air.
ExxonMobil and Chevron are among the many oil and gas firms large and small drilling in Kurdistan under contracts that compensate the companies for their political risk-taking with unusually favorable terms. (Chevron said last week that it is pulling some expatriates out of Kurdistan; ExxonMobil declined to comment.) With those oil giants have come the usual contractors, the oilfield service companies, the accountants, the construction firms, the trucking firms, and, at the bottom of the economic chain, diverse entrepreneurs digging for a score.
Scroll the online roster of Erbil’s Chamber of Commerce for the askew poetry of a boom town’s small businesses: Dream Kitchen, Live Dream, Pure Gold, Events Gala, Emotion, and where I, personally, might consider a last meal if trapped in an ISIS onslaught, “Famous Cheeses Teak.”
It’s not about oil. After you’ve written that on the blackboard five hundred times, watch Rachel Maddow’s documentary “Why We Did It” for a highly sophisticated yet pointed journalistic take on how the world oil economy has figured from the start as a silent partner in the Iraq fiasco.
Of course, it is President Obama’s duty to defend American lives and interests, in Erbil and elsewhere, oil or no. Rather than an evacuation of citizens, however, he has ordered a months-long aerial campaign to defend Kurdistan’s status quo, on the grounds, presumably, that it is essential to a unified Iraq capable of isolating ISIS. Yet the status quo in Kurdistan also includes oil production by international firms, as it might be candid to mention. In any event, the defense of Kurdistan that Obama has ordered should work, if the Kurdish peshmerga can be rallied and strengthened on the ground after an alarming retreat last week.
Yet there is a fault line in Obama’s logic about Erbil. The President made clear last week that he still believes that a durable government of national unity—comprising responsible leaders of Iraq’s Shiite majority, Kurds, and Sunnis who are opposed to ISIS—can be formed in Baghdad, even if it takes many more weeks beyond the three months of squabbling that have already passed since the country’s most recent parliamentary vote.
The project of a unified Baghdad government strong enough to defeat ISISwith a nationalist Army and then peel off Sunni loyalists looks increasingly like a pipe dream; it was hard to tell from the Friedman interview what odds Obama truly gives the undertaking.
Why has political unity in Baghdad proven so elusive for so long? There aremany important reasons—the disastrous American decision to disband the Iraqi Army, in 2003, and to endorse harsh de-Baathification, which created alienation among Sunnis that has never been rectified; growing sectarian hatred between Shiites and Sunnis; the infection of disaffected Sunnis with Al Qaeda’s philosophy and with cash and soft power from the Persian Gulf; interference by Iran; the awkwardness of Iraq’s post-colonial borders, and poor leadership in Baghdad, particularly under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But another reason of the first rank is Kurdish oil greed.
During the Bush Administration, adventurers like Dallas-headquartered Hunt Oil paved the way for ExxonMobil, which cut a deal in Erbil in 2011. Bush and his advisers could not bring themselves to force American oil companies such as Hunt to divest from Kurdistan or to sanction non-American investors. They allowed the wildcatters to do as they pleased while insisting that Erbil’s politicians negotiate oil-revenue sharing and political unity with Baghdad. Erbil’s rulers never quite saw the point of a final compromise with Baghdad’s Shiite politicians—as each year passed, the Kurds got richer on their own terms, they attracted more credible and deep-pocketed oil companies as partners, and they looked more and more like they led a de-facto state. The Obama Administration has done nothing to reverse that trend.
And so, in Erbil, in the weeks to come, American pilots will defend from the air a capital whose growing independence and wealth has loosened Iraq’s seams, even while, in Baghdad, American diplomats will persist quixotically in an effort to stitch that same country together to confront ISIS.
Obama’s defense of Erbil is effectively the defense of an undeclared Kurdish oil state whose sources of geopolitical appeal—as a long-term, non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe, for example—are best not spoken of in polite or naïve company, as Al Swearengen would well understand. Life, Swearengen once pointed out, is often made up of “one vile task after another.” So is American policy in Iraq.
My weekly Guardian column:
William Binney is one of the highest-level whistleblowers to ever emerge from the NSA. He was a leading code-breaker against the Soviet Union during the Cold War but resigned soon after September 11, disgusted by Washington’s move towards mass surveillance.
On 5 July he spoke at a conference in London organised by the Centre for Investigative Journalism and revealed the extent of the surveillance programs unleashed by the Bush and Obama administrations.
“At least 80% of fibre-optic cables globally go via the US”, Binney said. “This is no accident and allows the US to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores.”
The NSA will soon be able to collect 966 exabytes a year, the total of internet traffic annually. Former Google head Eric Schmidt once arguedthat the entire amount of knowledge from the beginning of humankind until 2003 amount to only five exabytes.
Binney, who featured in a 2012 short film by Oscar-nominated US film-maker Laura Poitras, described a future where surveillance is ubiquitous and government intrusion unlimited.
“The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control”, Binney said, “but I’m a little optimistic with some recent Supreme Court decisions, such as law enforcement mostly now needing a warrant before searching a smartphone.”
He praised the revelations and bravery of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and told me that he had indirect contact with a number of other NSA employees who felt disgusted with the agency’s work. They’re keen to speak out but fear retribution and exile, not unlike Snowden himself, who is likely to remain there for some time.
Unlike Snowden, Binney didn’t take any documents with him when he left the NSA. He now says that hard evidence of illegal spying would have been invaluable. The latest Snowden leaks, featured in the Washington Post, detail private conversations of average Americans with no connection to extremism.
It shows that the NSA is not just pursuing terrorism, as it claims, but ordinary citizens going about their daily communications. “The NSA is mass-collecting on everyone”, Binney said, “and it’s said to be about terrorism but inside the US it has stopped zero attacks.”
The lack of official oversight is one of Binney’s key concerns, particularly of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa), which is held out by NSA defenders as a sign of the surveillance scheme’s constitutionality.
“The Fisa court has only the government’s point of view”, he argued. “There are no other views for the judges to consider. There have been at least 15-20 trillion constitutional violations for US domestic audiences and you can double that globally.”
A Fisa court in 2010 allowed the NSA to spy on 193 countries around the world, plus the World Bank, though there’s evidence that even the nations the US isn’t supposed to monitor – Five Eyes allies Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – aren’t immune from being spied on. It’s why encryption is today so essential to transmit information safely.
Binney recently told the German NSA inquiry committee that his former employer had a “totalitarian mentality” that was the “greatest threat” to US society since that country’s US Civil War in the 19th century. Despite this remarkable power, Binney still mocked the NSA’s failures, including missing this year’s Russian intervention in Ukraine and the Islamic State’s take-over of Iraq.
The era of mass surveillance has gone from the fringes of public debate to the mainstream, where it belongs. The Pew Research Centre released a report this month, Digital Life in 2025, that predicted worsening state control and censorship, reduced public trust, and increased commercialisation of every aspect of web culture.
It’s not just internet experts warning about the internet’s colonisation by state and corporate power. One of Europe’s leading web creators, Lena Thiele, presented her stunning series Netwars in London on the threat of cyber warfare. She showed how easy it is for governments and corporations to capture our personal information without us even realising.
Thiele said that the US budget for cyber security was US$67 billion in 2013 and will double by 2016. Much of this money is wasted and doesn’t protect online infrastructure. This fact doesn’t worry the multinationals making a killing from the gross exaggeration of fear that permeates the public domain.
Wikileaks understands this reality better than most. Founder Julian Assange and investigative editor Sarah Harrison both remain in legal limbo. I spent time with Assange in his current home at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last week, where he continues to work, release leaks, and fight various legal battles. He hopes to resolve his predicament soon.
At the Centre for Investigative Journalism conference, Harrison stressed the importance of journalists who work with technologists to best report the NSA stories. “It’s no accident”, she said, “that some of the best stories on the NSA are in Germany, where there’s technical assistance from people like Jacob Appelbaum.”
A core Wikileaks belief, she stressed, is releasing all documents in their entirety, something the group criticised the news site The Intercept for not doing on a recent story. “The full archive should always be published”, Harrison said.
With 8m documents on its website after years of leaking, the importance of publishing and maintaining source documents for the media, general public and court cases can’t be under-estimated. “I see Wikileaks as a library”, Assange said. “We’re the librarians who can’t say no.”
With evidence that there could be a second NSA leaker, the time for more aggressive reporting is now. As Binney said: “I call people who are covering up NSA crimes traitors”.
My weekly Guardian column is published today:
Years after America officially withdrew from the country it invaded in 2003, Iraq remains in chaos. The issue is largely ignored in the press these days, except for the occasional horrific tale of carnage. Nobody senior in the western world has found themselves in the dock defending their justifications for the war.
While examining the lack of legal oversight, the lack of planning or concern for the aftermath of the inevitable fall of Saddam Hussein, and the lack of parliamentary scrutiny preceding what amounted to a US war of aggression, it’s worth reflecting on the viability of making a peaceful, citizen’s arrest on former Australian prime minister John Howard for his central role in this story.
This idea has a clear and principled pedigree. In 2010, Guardian columnist George Monbiot initiated the ArrestBlair.org campaign for the purpose of rewarding anybody who made a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former British leader. Blair was accused of “crimes against peace” and the crime of aggression. Because the political and media elites continue to insulate Blair and his colleagues from legal culpability over the Iraq war, alternative methods were required.
To this day, Iraqis are enduring insecurity, violence, kidnapping, sexual violence, extremism and terrorism. The legacy of the conflict is absolutely devastating. And yet the politicians who took America, Britain and Australia into the conflict work and play openly.
Howard, who led Australia into Iraq in 2003, remains a free man, lecturing around the world. He was given an award at Tel Aviv University this year for his “unwavering, courageous advocacy of the state of Israel spanning decades”, is often quoted in the media, and gave a talk at Sydney’s Lowy Institute in 2013 defending the morality of removing Hussein from power.
No apologies, no mea culpas and no serious questions followed. The vast bulk of the political elite prefers to ignore what transpired in 2003, and there are no serious calls to hold Howard accountable for alleged breaches of international law in joining George W Bush’s operation (Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry is a notable exception).
In Britain, the Downing Street memo revealed the illegality of the war without a UN resolution. In Australia Howard’s government, according to countless interviews with insiders at the time, had no interest in gaining advice about the legality of the enterprise. Blindly supporting the US alliance, and a desire to crush a former American ally, was paramount. Then defence department head Ric Smith has said that he “was not aware of any senior official advising against it [going into Iraq] in my time .” In reality, John Howard ministers took no advice before joining the war.
The head of the department of prime minister and cabinet, Peter Shergold, told journalist Paul Kelly in his 2009 book The March of the Patriots that “it would be wrong to think they [Howard and then foreign minister Alexander Downer] were not interested in advice but the advice they wanted … was about the conduct of the war and capabilities, not the decision to go to war.”
Britain’s Chilcot inquiry, yet to release its report amidst accusations of political interference, heard in 2010 that every senior legal advisor at the Foreign Office before the war concluded that it breached international law. Despite these damning facts, Blair and his foreign secretary Jack Straw are seemingly immune from prosecution or even serious investigation.
This is where the power of the people becomes vital, if for only symbolic reasons, to highlight the institutional failure of our nominally democratic system to hold the highest office bearers to account. International law must apply to all.
This January, Monbiot praised the latest individual who confronted Blair, at a restaurant in London, and wrote that:
It has already succeeded in doing two things: keeping the issue – and the memories of those who have been killed – alive, and sustaining the pressure to ensure that international law binds the powerful as well as the puny.
The evidence against Howard is long and detailed. He has continued to claim it was “near universal” that Saddam had WMDs and Iraq was therefore a threat to the world. In fact, countless officials, insiders,weapons inspectors and secret services questioned the accuracy of these “slam dunk” assessments. The head of Britain’s MI6 told Blair in 2002 that “the intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy.” In Australia, senior intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie resigned in 2003 over his claims that Howard was abusing intelligence reports over Iraq. No independent legal advice was sought, and therefore the party cabinet decision on war was not a transparent process .
Even former Howard government minister, Nick Minchin, admitted in 2010 that he regretted Australia was “not able to be more successful in persuading the Bush administration to remain focused on Afghanistan rather than in opening up another front in Iraq.” Minchin argued that he “knew that the decision [to invade Iraq] having been made, Australia had to support it.” There was no mention of legal advice supporting Canberra’s entry into the conflict.
Margaret Swieringa, a senior Australian public servant who worked as a secretary to the federal parliamentary intelligence committee from 2002 until 2007, wrote in 2013 that Howard’s use of intelligence reports was fundamentally flawed. She knew, as an insider, that, “none of the government’s arguments [of Iraq’s apparent immediate threat] were supported by the intelligence presented to it by its own agencies. None of these arguments were true.”
A campaign to hold Howard to account wouldn’t be a stunt. It would be a serious attempt to keep the most devastating war in a generation in the public arena by reminding those most implicated that there is a price to be paid if such actions are ever repeated again.
A full public inquiry into the Iraq war, including the war powers used by Howard to take Australia into a conflict opposed by a great number of Australian people, is required.
Green Left Weekly asked me to name my best book of 2013. Easy choice:
The corporate media are filled daily with stories of “terrorists” being killed, captured and droned in the far corners of the globe. Since 9/11, the Bush and Obama administrations have pursued a ruthless policy of global assassination and counter-insurgency in the name of democracy. It’s been a costly and deadly sham and leading American investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill reveals in this detailed book, along with a stunning documentary of the same name, why these actions are making the US and the West a far more dangerous place. We are facing terrorism because we are committing terrorism. Scahill uncovers some of the darkest aspects of the “war on terror’ by speaking to the civilians, victims, contractors and undercover agents in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and beyond. America has the most sophisticated technology in the world but excessive and illegal policies are creating a walled ghetto that provides illusory security.
Far too many reporters see themselves as extensions of power instead of checks on it. One of the finest journalists in the world, Seymour Hersh, unloads on this trend. I couldn’t have put it better myself (via Guardian):
Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.
It doesn’t take much to fire up Hersh, the investigative journalist who has been the nemesis of US presidents since the 1960s and who was once described by the Republican party as “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist”.
He is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth.
Don’t even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would” – or the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.
Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an “independent” Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. “The Pakistanis put out a report, don’t get me going on it. Let’s put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It’s a bullshit report,” he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.
The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.
“It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama],” he declares in an interview with the Guardian.
“It used to be when you were in a situation when something very dramatic happened, the president and the minions around the president had control of the narrative, you would pretty much know they would do the best they could to tell the story straight. Now that doesn’t happen any more. Now they take advantage of something like that and they work out how to re-elect the president.
He isn’t even sure if the recent revelations about the depth and breadth of surveillance by the National Security Agency will have a lasting effect.
He is certain that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden “changed the whole nature of the debate” about surveillance. Hersh says he and other journalists had written about surveillance, but Snowden was significant because he provided documentary evidence – although he is sceptical about whether the revelations will change the US government’s policy.
“Duncan Campbell [the British investigative journalist who broke the Zircon cover-up story], James Bamford [US journalist] and Julian Assange and me and the New Yorker, we’ve all written the notion there’s constant surveillance, but he [Snowden] produced a document and that changed the whole nature of the debate, it’s real now,” Hersh says.
“Editors love documents. Chicken-shit editors who wouldn’t touch stories like that, they love documents, so he changed the whole ball game,” he adds, before qualifying his remarks.
“But I don’t know if it’s going to mean anything in the long [run] because the polls I see in America – the president can still say to voters ‘al-Qaida, al-Qaida’ and the public will vote two to one for this kind of surveillance, which is so idiotic,” he says.
Holding court to a packed audience at City University in London’s summer school on investigative journalism, 76-year-old Hersh is on full throttle, a whirlwind of amazing stories of how journalism used to be; how he exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, how he got the Abu Ghraib pictures of American soldiers brutalising Iraqi prisoners, and what he thinks of Edward Snowden.
Despite his concern about the timidity of journalism he believes the trade still offers hope of redemption.
“I have this sort of heuristic view that journalism, we possibly offer hope because the world is clearly run by total nincompoops more than ever … Not that journalism is always wonderful, it’s not, but at least we offer some way out, some integrity.”
His story of how he uncovered the My Lai atrocity is one of old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism and doggedness. Back in 1969, he got a tip about a 26-year-old platoon leader, William Calley, who had been charged by the army with alleged mass murder.
Instead of picking up the phone to a press officer, he got into his car and started looking for him in the army camp of Fort Benning in Georgia, where he heard he had been detained. From door to door he searched the vast compound, sometimes blagging his way, marching up to the reception, slamming his fist on the table and shouting: “Sergeant, I want Calley out now.”
Eventually his efforts paid off with his first story appearing in the St Louis Post-Despatch, which was then syndicated across America and eventually earned him the Pulitzer Prize. “I did five stories. I charged $100 for the first, by the end the [New York] Times were paying $5,000.”
He was hired by the New York Times to follow up the Watergate scandal and ended up hounding Nixon over Cambodia. Almost 30 years later, Hersh made global headlines all over again with his exposure of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
For students of journalism his message is put the miles and the hours in. He knew about Abu Ghraib five months before he could write about it, having been tipped off by a senior Iraqi army officer who risked his own life by coming out of Baghdad to Damascus to tell him how prisoners had been writing to their families asking them to come and kill them because they had been “despoiled”.
“I went five months looking for a document, because without a document, there’s nothing there, it doesn’t go anywhere.”
Hersh returns to US president Barack Obama. He has said before that the confidence of the US press to challenge the US government collapsed post 9/11, but he is adamant that Obama is worse than Bush.
“Do you think Obama’s been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for. What’s going on [with journalists]?” he asks.
He says investigative journalism in the US is being killed by the crisis of confidence, lack of resources and a misguided notion of what the job entails.
“Too much of it seems to me is looking for prizes. It’s journalism looking for the Pulitzer Prize,” he adds. “It’s a packaged journalism, so you pick a target like – I don’t mean to diminish because anyone who does it works hard – but are railway crossings safe and stuff like that, that’s a serious issue but there are other issues too.
“Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone programme, why aren’t we doing more? How does he justify it? What’s the intelligence? Why don’t we find out how good or bad this policy is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that monitor drone killings. Why don’t we do our own work?
“Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here’s a debate’ our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who’s right and who’s wrong about issues. That doesn’t happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There are some people – the New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would … it’s like you don’t dare be an outsider any more.”
He says in some ways President George Bush‘s administration was easier to write about. “The Bush era, I felt it was much easier to be critical than it is [of] Obama. Much more difficult in the Obama era,” he said.
Asked what the solution is Hersh warms to his theme that most editors are pusillanimous and should be fired.
“I’ll tell you the solution, get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist and start promoting editors that you can’t control,” he says. I saw it in the New York Times, I see people who get promoted are the ones on the desk who are more amenable to the publisher and what the senior editors want and the trouble makers don’t get promoted. Start promoting better people who look you in the eye and say ‘I don’t care what you say’.
Nor does he understand why the Washington Post held back on the Snowden files until it learned the Guardian was about to publish.
If Hersh was in charge of US Media Inc, his scorched earth policy wouldn’t stop with newspapers.
“I would close down the news bureaus of the networks and let’s start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won’t like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing,” he says.
Hersh is currently on a break from reporting, working on a book which undoubtedly will make for uncomfortable reading for both Bush and Obama.
“The republic’s in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple.” And he implores journalists to do something about it.
Devastating article by writer John Grisham in the New York Times:
About two months ago I learned that some of my books had been banned at Guantánamo Bay. Apparently detainees were requesting them, and their lawyers were delivering them to the prison, but they were not being allowed in because of “impermissible content.”
I became curious and tracked down a detainee who enjoys my books. His name is Nabil Hadjarab, and he is a 34-year-old Algerian who grew up in France. He learned to speak French before he learned to speak Arabic. He has close family and friends in France, but not in Algeria. As a kid growing up near Lyon, he was a gifted soccer player and dreamed of playing for Paris St.-Germain, or another top French club.
Tragically for Nabil, he has spent the past 11 years as a prisoner at Guantánamo, much of the time in solitary confinement. Starting in February, he participated in a hunger strike, which led to his being force-fed.
For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behavior, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2001. Following the United States invasion, word spread among the Arab communities that the Afghan Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing foreign Arabs. Nabil and many others headed for Pakistan in a desperate effort to escape the danger. En route, he said, he was wounded in a bombing raid and woke up in a hospital in Jalalabad.
At that time, the United States was throwing money at anyone who could deliver an out-of-town Arab found in the region. Nabil was sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul. There he experienced torture for the first time. To house the prisoners of its war on terror, the United States military put up a makeshift prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram would quickly become notorious, and make Guantánamo look like a church camp. When Nabil arrived there in January 2002, as one of the first prisoners, there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar, where the abuse continued.
Throughout his incarceration in Afghanistan, Nabil strenuously denied any connection to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or anyone or any organization remotely linked to the 9/11 attacks. And the Americans had no proof of his involvement, save for bogus claims implicating him from other prisoners extracted in a Kabul torture chamber. Several United States interrogators told him his was a case of mistaken identity. Nonetheless, the United States had adopted strict rules for Arabs in custody — all were to be sent to Guantánamo. On Feb. 15, 2002, Nabil was flown to Cuba; shackled, bound and hooded.
Since then, Nabil has been subjected to all the horrors of the Gitmo handbook: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, prolonged isolation, lack of access to sunlight, almost no recreation and limited medical care. In 11 years, he has never been permitted a visit from a family member. For reasons known only to the men who run the prison, Nabil has never been waterboarded. His lawyer believes this is because he knows nothing and has nothing to give.
The United States government says otherwise. In documents, military prosecutors say that Nabil was staying at a guesthouse run by people with ties to Al Qaeda and that he was named by others as someone affiliated with terrorists. But Nabil has never been charged with a crime. Indeed, on two occasions he has been cleared for a “transfer,” or release. In 2007, a review board established by President George W. Bush recommended his release. Nothing happened. In 2009, another review board established by President Obama recommended his transfer. Nothing happened.
According to his guards, Nabil is a model prisoner. He keeps his head down and avoids trouble. He has perfected his English and insists on speaking the language with his British lawyers. He writes in flawless English. As much as possible, under rather dire circumstances, he has fought to preserve his physical health and mental stability.
In the past seven years, I have met a number of innocent men who were sent to death row, as part of my work with the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly convicted people. Without exception they have told me that the harshness of isolated confinement is brutal for a coldblooded murderer who freely admits to his crimes. For an innocent man, though, death row will shove him dangerously close to insanity. You reach a point where it feels impossible to survive another day.
My following article appears today in the Guardian:
In April 2010, as the war in Afghanistan was raging and US president Barack Obama “surged” 30,000 more troops into the country, Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott suggested that under his leadership, a Coalition government would have considered increasing involvement. “The government should explain why it’s apparently right that Nato countries should commit more troops, but not Australia”, he said.
Abbott remained silent on the catastrophic civilian toll since the 2001 invasion, evidence of US incompetence, and failed Western policy in the nation – all of which were revealed in recently deceased journalist Michael Hasting’s blistering 2012 book The Operators.
Instead, Abbott’s commitment was to Washington and a war that had helped, in his own words, to bring “universal decencies of humanity” to a “country which has been pretty short on decency for a very long time”. He was also noticeably silent on Australia’s collusion with the notorious warlord and multi-millionaire Matiullah Khan in the Oruzgan province. Independent reporting from the country, away from embedded journalism on the military’s drip-feed, reveals a damning assessment of 12 years of Western occupation leaving the Afghan people exposed to rampant corruption and rising tensions between India and Pakistan.
As Australia approaches a federal election and with the re-appointment of Kevin Rudd as Labor leader and prime minister, it’s worth considering the similarities and differences in foreign policy between the two major parties. In short, there aren’t many. Although foreign minister Bob Carrrecently told the National Press Club that Labor had bravely opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq while in opposition – “there’s no way we would have supported that war” if in power, he stated – there are few precedents for a government in Canberra resisting the overtures from America when war is in the air. I believe Labor would have been seduced by the Bush administration’s sweet whispers just the same.
The war, still costing thousands of Iraqi lives every month, is barely discussed today. Without any apparent regret about the massive loss of life, Abbott claims it “advanced everyone’s interest” – except, presumably, the innumerable Iraqis no longer alive. At least in 2008, Rudd rightly blamed a craven Liberal government for taking Australia to war in Iraq based on an intelligence “lie”.
It’s remarkable how little has been examined about Abbott’s view of the world. There’s a coterie of former advisers to prime minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer, some of whom are now rising Liberal politicians, who have learned nothing from the disastrous conflicts since September 11, and who still influence Abbott today.
Liberal MP and former Howard adviser Josh Frydenberg has supported the bombing of Iraq since 1998, and claimed in 2005 that a “vibrant, tolerant and democratic Iraq” was possible. The Australian columnist Chris Kenny, a former adviser to Downer, bleats about “anti-Americanism” to anybody questioning the wisdom of bombing and monitoring Muslim countries. In 2010 he was still talking about a US “victory” in Iraq and Afghanistan, willfully unaware of the reality for locals away from the Green Zone.
Abbott seems to retain a Bush administration style perspective – you’re either with us or against us. He told Washington’s right-wing Heritage Foundation last year that, “Australia’s foreign policy should be driven as much by our values as our interests”. It isn’t clear what values he cherishes when he told the Central Synagogue in 2012 that, “[Israel is] a country so much like Australia, a liberal, pluralist democracy. A beacon of freedom and hope in a part of the world which has so little freedom and hope.” He made no mention of Israel occupying millions of Palestinians under brutal military rule. He went on: “When Israel is fighting for its very life, well, as far as I’m concerned, Australians are Israelis. We are all Israelis in those circumstances”. It’s a comic book reading of the Middle East (at least foreign minister Carr, along with British foreign secretary William Hague, now rightly calls Israeli colonies “illegal”).
When I met Abbott in Sydney in 2010 and challenged him to learn more about Israel’s flouting of international law, he reverted to familiar, right-wing Zionist talking points. Both the Liberal party and Zionist lobby remain upset that in 2012, Australia didn’t reject Palestine’s statehood at the UN. Foreign affairs spokesperson for the Coalition, Julie Bishop, haspledged to return Australia to an uncritical stance towards Israel, placing us in a very isolated position globally. (The Greens, especially senator Lee Rhiannon, condemns Israel’s destruction of aid projects in Palestine,some of which are funded by Canberra).
Abbott would probably rely less on UN scripture – there’s already talk of removing Australia from the Refugee Convention. Private contractors would continue to benefit from bloated “boomerang” projects through AusAid, and rogue nation Sri Lanka would surely be as warmly embraced as it has been during the Labor years. Indonesia’s brutish military, especially in West Papua, would probably remain unchallenged.
If all this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s virtually identical to policies under a Labor government. This bipartisanship, shared by major parties in most Western nations, inhibits independent thought. It’s beyond time for Australia to embrace a different path, one not tethered to the whims of Washington’s entrails.
Australian publication New Matilda published my interview with journalist and author Jeremy Scahill yesterday.
Our recent conversation covered many areas so I’m publishing below a full transcript of the interview conducted by phone on 15th May:
Where are the main places US is using armed drones outside Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia?
One area that has received far too little coverage in the role that it’s playing in the broader US wars around the globe is Africa. In Djibouti, the US several years ago took over this old French army outpost called Camp Lemonier and began building up a capacity to do covert actions throughout Africa but also have used it to strike in the Arabian Peninsula. Teams from the CIA and JSOC and the broader conventional US military and they use Djibouti as a jump off point not only to strike in Somalia but also Western Africa. There’s definitely a drone base in Djibouti. In Ethiopia, the US has been training these Agazi commando units, special operations forces of Ethiopia, to use them as a proxy force. It’s not confirmed that the US has a drone base in Ethiopia. US likely has a drone base in Mali for the targeting of the Al Qaeda of the Islamic Magreb and other militant groups in northern and western Africa will become a serious focal point for US special forces and the CIA. Drone base in Saudi. The drones used to kill Anwar al-Awlaki and Samar Khan seemed to have flown out of Saudi Arabia. Also reports that US has staging ground in Oman, not sure if drones fly from here. Just yesterday I was talking to somebody who was connected to Yemeni intelligence who told me that there’s a base inside Yemen that the US uses sometimes to launch drones and other attacks. In East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, over the past 5 years, the Obama admin has both intensified operations and expanding the archipelago in Africa for US actions and intelligence.
- Would it make any difference in your opinion if the US Army (as opposed to CIA/JSOC) were solely responsible for the drones?
The ascent of John Brennan to CIA director has been a dog and pony show, a farce. It’s staged theatre. The fact is that the US military essentially runs the drone program. The CIA doesn’t have pilots, these are mostly US army personnel from the airforce that are piloting the drones. The US military already has a drone program that it’s running. JSOC has operated drones in Pakistan, Yemen and probably elsewhere. The idea that you can simply tweak the program, move it from the CIA over to the Pentagon, and that’s going to result in any greater transparency is not based in reality. The military can conduct covert operations. People tend to think that the CIA is conducting covert operations and the military is more public. There’s a difference between a clandestine and covert operation. Clandestine operation means that the US military is engaged in an operation where the planning of the mission and the mission itself is kept secret until it’s done but eventually the US will own that it did it. Covert action means that the entire mission itself needs to be deniable so the raid on Bin Laden, although it involved US military forces, was a covert action is because if something went wrong, there was a disaster, if US troops got killed, if Bin Laden escaped, the US would never have to publicly own it and the US would say their soldiers died in a training exercise. At the end of the day, whether it’s CIA or military, the issue is not the technology, it’s not who is in operational control, it’s not even the weapon itself, it’s what do we believe about this program where the US is asserting its authority to assassinate people in countries without any permission from the home government in some cases or without any effective oversight from its own body of law makers. When people talk about drones or cruise missiles or night raids, the more central question is why is the program continuing unabated with very little scrutiny from the very people who are supposed to overseeing US government activities.
- Have you ever been given an explanation (formal or informal) as to why Pakistan govt has consistently refused to give you a visa?
I recently received communication from the Pakistani Ambassador to the US, I’ve tried repeatedly over the last years to get a visa to Pakistan and have been denied, and I was told by a senior Pakistani official that I would not be getting a visa. So I said, are you saying I’m banned and he said you can read into that what you want. The Interior Minister Rehman Malik made all of these ludicrous statements how Blackwater has never been operating in Pakistan. He said at one point that if anybody shows proof that Blackwater is in Pakistan I’ll resign. Shortly after he made that statement I did an expose about Blackwater in Pakistan. Blackwater’s relationship with Pakistan involved very powerful and wealthy Pakistanis, the Pakistani equivalent of Halliburton. I wrote about what Blackwater was doing with the Pakistani Frontier Corp, how they were doing actual operations. I don’t think my banning has anything to do with my reporting on drones but a private company that has caused death and destruction across the Muslim world but about a company that is working with the Pakistani government. They don’t want me poking around powerful Pakistani families and US mercenary companies. One of the problems with reporting on Pakistan is that there’s such hysterics about the role of the US, the CIA and military and you often have exaggeration. The truth is bad enough but there’s a need to take it five steps further and it makes it very difficult to offer a credible argument to what the US is doing in Pakistan because there’s a lot of conspiracy theories. There are some fantastic journalists in Pakistan and some insane conspiracy theories. My reporting has been misused by people who are trying to exaggerate the situation in Pakistan. I don’t know if Blackwater still operates in Pakistan but many US private military companies are there.
- Who are the main corporations that build drones and drones ordinance like Hellfires? Any campaigns going on at the moment to bring legal cases against these companies? What else can citizens do to address the US assassinations program?
One company that has escaped public scrutiny for its role in all of these wars is Lockheed Martin. It’s a parallel US military. Blackwater is a parallel CIA/special operations force. LH is like a government unto itself. Their commercials celebrate that they’re involved in every possible aspect of the US war machine. It’s involved from the production of weapons to intelligence to logistics.
- Thoughts on Obama’s attitude towards the secret war he is prosecuting?
I don’t think Obama is all that conflicted about these secret wars. Obama had no military experience, very little foreign policy experience outside of his short stint in the US Senate, he comes into office after campaigning on a pledge to reverse the Bush era excesses but he’d refined his message to the point where he was going to escalate the war in Afghanistan and taking the fight to the terrorists, which means waging offensive/pre-emptive war. He comes into office and the people he’s surrounded with are the people who ran the most covert aspect of Bush’s wars. Stanley McCrystal, who ran JSOC, Admiral William McRiven, original member of Seal Team 6, who helped the Bush admin formulate its kill/capture program in the early days after 9/11 and then the head of JSOC under Obama and David Petraeus, Cheney’s general and somebody who had pushed for a policy to strike in countries around the world not just in declared battlefields. Those three men pitched to Obama that if we don’t give authority to US military forces to strike at will in countries around the world there’s going to be another attack, that there are people plotting to blow up airliners or poison the US water supply or attack public transportation systems or attack US embassies, if we don’t take the fight to them, and take them out, then this is going to be a one-term President who’s going to be responsible for another terror attack on US soil and he would have been eaten alive by the Republicans. So Obama said he would draw down from Iraq, surge in Afghanistan, and decapitate these terror networks, then once we get into that game, of whack-a-mole, a war of attrition. I think they believed that by killing the heads of various militant groups around the world that they’re actually keeping America safe. I think Obama and Cheney are very different people. Cheney is a caricature sitting in his lair plotting the destruction of the world but Obama has bought into this idea that America needs to wage pre-emptive war to keep itself safe. The result will a state of perpetual war for many years to come.
- Implications of future electronic warfare? US dominance won’t last so what does this mean for the wars of the future?
It’s important to not just fight drone program. We’re living in a country in America right now where Sarah Palin has come out against drones. Why? Because the scary black man is president. They’ve created this theory that Obama will kill US citizens who are members of the Tea Party for publishing their little web zine in the mountains of Montana. A lot of this mood from the right-wing is that this Kenyan, socialist, black president is going to hunt them down with a drone strike in whatever strip mall they’re hanging out in. When a Republican is back in office they’ll become the most enthusiastic backer of the kill program. However, because the Tea Party is a significant feature in US politics the issue has come more into the public light. Senator Rand Paul, when he filibusted the nomination of John Brennan, broke the discussion wide open. His filibuster caused big, corporate media outlets to actually talk about the kill program, some for the first time ever.
On Capitol Hill they don’t even ask the right questions. It was wonderful seeing this young Yemeni guy, Farea al-Muslimi, who I know and spent time with in Yemen, came over to testimony in front of the US Senate. 6 days before he testifies his family’s village had been hit by a drone strike and he was live tweeting text messages from his relatives who were at the scene. He described who the target was of the strike and explained how he could have been handed over to the US if they’d wanted to extradite or charge him. Do we have a kill/capture program or just a kill program? As an American, I want people stopped who want to blow up the subway system. Terrorism is a crime. This isn’t a war. I don’t want our response to a relatively minor threat, a real threat, to put us in greater danger. At the US Senate, this Yemeni guy sat next to 3 professors, most of whom could walk to the capitol on any given day and give testimony, and instead asking him about his views nearly the entire hearing is spent talking about theoretical war philosophy by the blowhard professors.
Al Franken and other Democrats are saying we should have drone courts, a judiciary who decides who lives and dies. If that’s the level of discussion in official Washington, it’s probably better not to have hearings on this. If you’re just looking for a more efficient way to kill people or we’ll give it the veneer of legitimacy by involving the courts. Obama admin’s war on whistleblowers is causing a chill through the military and intelligence communities and speaking out.
Anyone who is doing this work is subjected to some degree of surveillance. I try and be careful in protecting sources. My computer was hacked a few years ago. A message was left on my desk top that revealed the actual name of a source of mine that I’d only referred to with code names in my digital life. I think it was a warning. I’m not sure who did it but it suggested that we know who you’re talking to. After that I changed my behaviour online and protected my information. But short of becoming a Luddite, those of us involved in international journalism need to use a computer and have to find a way to use it in the safest way possible. My biggest concern is not somebody snooping into my life but protecting the people I talk to. We’re up against powerful forces.
- Failures of MSM post 9/11, too many journalists embedded physically and psychologically. Importance of alternative/indy media? Have you ever been tempted to take a bigger salary and work for the big media players? Personal philosophy towards journalism?
I started off in community media being a coffee runner for Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! I’d never taken a journalism class, I begged my way into a job with Goodman and learned journalism as a trade, like you’d learn to be a carpenter or plumber rather than a course of academic study or viewing it as a career. I don’t view journalism as my job, it’s my life. It’s a way of life I believe in independent media to the core of my being. When I’m at an event and a young person comes up to me and asks how do I get involved, I’ll always stop and encourage them to get involved because we need fiercely independent people serving as reporters around the world. Part of my bigger mission in life is to built independent media. I’m not interested in going to a bigger publication because it will bring fame or a bigger pay cheque. I stick with an independent publisher when I write a book, I work with independent media outlets because I believe in building them up. I support independent media that has truth and justice at its core. We’re all trying to figure out how to sustain independent media with the economic situation in the world with the consolidation of corporate media outlets, infotainment media culture, pictures of cute cats, we need to create a culture where citizen journalists, the ones you see on Twitter doing a fantastic job, often better than corporate journalists, how do you take the energy of citizen journalist movement and combine it with the necessary components of good journalism; fact-checking, peer review, editing, old school muckraking techniques, document diving.
How do we merge the energy of new, creative media folks with the proven old school tactics? To fund it, unless you want to sell out to click bait with cute cat pics, we have to look at alternative ways to funding our media. My advice to young journalists, if you don’t have obligations or have to look after a sick parent, is to find a job that doesn’t drain your brain, like picking apples or working the night shift somewhere, and spend 6 or 8 months saving up money, with the goal of trying to go somewhere for 3 months that you’re interested in reporting on, whether it’s Palestine, Egypt or somewhere in Africa. And even if you don’t have an employer and nobody is sending you there, act like you do have an assignment and develop a discipline. Even if all you’re doing is starting a newsletter to send back to your friends or your community, you treat yourself like you are working for a real media outlet and you get that experience. The best journalists I’ve met in the world almost never have degrees in journalism. They’re united in one thing, a passion for the truth. We need to mainstream that kind of program, where we develop apprenticeships for young people. Journalism isn’t rocket science. It should be a working class course of work where you are getting your hands dirty and not the [New York Times’] Thomas Friedmans of the world about what taxi drivers he’s met. If I hear about one more taxi driver or concierge he’s met I want to shave off his mustache.
- Significance of Wikileaks/Bradley Manning connection?
It would be impossible to quantify the significance of Wikileaks not just to my or your work but to the world’s understanding of US covert and overt operations. It was the most significant document dump in modern history. It altered history. It was like an earthquake. It was the most real confrontation of American empire certainly since the Pentagon Papers but it may prove to be more significant. The idea that you had a democratisation of classified documents and access to them, you can go in and search any country and figure out what the US relationship is with various political forces or factions. I dug deep into the relationship between the US and Somalian warlords. I found individuals who were on the CIA payroll because of Wikileaks and went and found them and got them on record. I would never have known that these people even existed but for Wikileaks.
The smear campaign against Wikileaks is clearly politically motivated, it’s retaliatory, there’s an attempt to portray Wikileaks as responsible for putting America in jeopardy. I would argue that Wikileaks has done a tremendous public service, not only to the American public but to the world. We have a right to understand as Americans what is being done in our name. But the rest of the world has a right to understand how they’ve being targeted economically or militarily by the most powerful nation on earth.
I had hesitated to praise Bradley Manning or discuss Manning’s actions until I heard the leaked recording of him at his court martial owning responsibility. What we’ve become very good at in the American media is litigating cases against people through leaks and we don’t allow evidence to be presented against them. I get asked all the time what I think of the Boston marathon bombers and I say that we don’t know the facts yet. There has to be a judicial process that plays out and evidence. We can’t have a state of justice where for certain kinds of people or crimes you call out the mob with their pitchforks and deliver citizen’s justice. You’re either governed by the rule of law or you’re not.
Once Manning came out and owned that he did it. Every one should listen to that young man’s testimony that he offered at his court martial because there has been a smear campaign against him to portray him as a moral degenerate or to constantly focus on his sexual orientation. This was a guy who calmly stood up, facing potentially the death penalty, and owned his actions as an act of conscience. Once he said that I felt comfortable telling my own small story involving Manning which was that before the Collateral Murder video was published, he had emailed me and I didn’t know it was him. I get emails all the time tipping me off to something. Another journalist had contacted me about a project on Bradley Manning and I’m reaching out to people who have been in touch with him. I said I’ve never been in touch with him and he said that he must have been mistaken because I was told that you were. I said no and that I think I would remember that. He calls me back a few days later and asks me to search my email with this address. So I search it pulls up an email very clearly from Bradley Manning. What’s remarkable about the email is that Manning did not offer me any classified information, he didn’t say he was in the US military, he told me he had a personal connection to someone that had information about the movements of Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater.
Through Bradley Manning I discovered that Prince was leaving the US at a time when Blackwater was falling apart and they were multiple investigations against them and 5 people under Prince got indicted. Manning when he wrote to me was concerned with the idea that if Prince was trying to flee the US to avoid accountability for the activities of his company, Manning found this deeply offensive and he was writing to me just as an ordinary person saying I have this tiny piece of information and I want to offer it to you. It wasn’t a short email and clearly motivated by someone with a conscience. It was very well-written. The point of it was that I don’t want people to get away with potential crimes. I felt stupid later when I realised it was Bradley Manning and reminded me how many people stick their neck out for journalists and we maybe don’t even know their names. When I spoke to that journalist who called me about Manning I didn’t confirm or deny that I got an email from Manning because I considered him to be a source. I didn’t realise who he was. He wasn’t writing to me to interview me.
The reason I feel comfortable talking about that initial communication with him is that because it’s relevant to how Bradley Manning is. My motivation for talking about it is that Manning should be treated as a serious prisoner of conscience. There’s a pattern that’s borne out in his history of believing what he was doing was moral and necessary and he probably was terrified of what it would mean for him but ultimately felt that the greater good being served by him going to prison was so important that he couldn’t not blow the whistle. Manning will face the consequences of his actions, he knew what he was doing was against his oath as a soldier but he felt what he was did served a greater good and I certainly admire this young man’s courage and it’s shameful that only three journalists, none of whom worked for big corporate media outlets in the US, are covering that trial with any regularity. The New York Times should be ashamed of itself. They sold newspapers based on the documents Manning provided to Wikileaks and they had it splashed across its front pages for days on end and when Manning goes down they ignore his situation.
Julian Assange is living in a small room in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. I would like to see Assange be able to respond to the allegations against him in Sweden. I don’t know the facts of what happened there but I believe that he should be able to respond to those allegations. The issue here is if I was Assange I’d be concerned about my life. You have prominent political commentators in the US going on TV to call for his assassination on the most powerful media outlets in America. There have been rumblings about grand juries. Perhaps there’s a sealed indictment against Assange. Whatever you think about him as a person, and I want to hear his explanation for what happened in Sweden, but this is a guy who has been threatened by the most powerful nation on earth for having been responsible for the significant exposure of secret, covert US activities around the globe in history. The idea that the New York Times has tried to turn this into a twisted tale of sex and ego misses the entire point of it. This man was responsible for an epic exposure of the empire and of course he has reason to be concerned. But for the New York Times, when Assange was convenient to their agenda to scoop other US media outlets and to break this incredibly significant story, then he was a legitimate partner. But then the pile on begins against Assange and [New York Times’] Bill Keller and others throw him under the bus and act as though they don’t owe him some debt for what he did for them, it’s shameful.
My following interview appears in today’s New Matilda:
Journalist Jeremy Scahill has spent his life exposing the dark recesses of US foreign policy. He talks independent media, drones and terror in this exclusive interview with Antony Loewenstein
The Weekly Standard is the neo-conservative bible that backed the US wars against Iraq and Afghanistan and today advocates military intervention in Syria, Iran and any country deemed an enemy of Washington. In its latest edition, Bruce Bawer reviewed journalist Jeremy Scahill’s new book and documentary, “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield”. Scahill, a New York Times best-selling author, is “a radical ideologue out to discredit America and debilitate its defences”, Bawer writes:
“What Scahill has given us here is, in short, an indictment of the West’s entire post-9/11 struggle against jihad. To offer serious criticism of American strategy is, of course, thoroughly legitimate. But Scahill isn’t a patriot who wants to see America triumph. On the contrary, it seems clear that the only thing he would hate more than a mismanaged war on jihad would be a successful one. Indeed, it’s hard to avoid feeling that this book’s definitive goal, like that of [Anwar] Awlaki’s sermons, is to swell the jihadist ranks—anything to bring down the Evil Empire with which Scahill has been at war all his professional life.”
Bawer believes journalists should be propagandists. In an exclusive interview with New Matilda, Scahill challenges this understanding of his profession: “I don’t view journalism as my job. It’s a way of life. I believe in independent media to the core of my being.”
Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation, contributor to Democracy Now! and author of best-selling book Blackwater, gives a devastating account of how, under America’s foreign policy post 9/11, targeted killings, covert wars and “kill lists” are the new norm. Although he slams former US president George W. Bush for an escalation in these policies, he’s equally damning of Barack Obama and his partisan followers. He argues that Obama “isn’t conflicted about these secret wars” and came into office in 2009 with a coterie of advisors who all believed in pre-emptive war.
He cites three individuals as the key influences on the militarily inexperienced president. “Stanley McCrystal, who ran JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] and Admiral William McRiven, an original member of Seal Team 6 who helped the Bush administration formulate its kill/capture program in the early days after 9/11 and is today the head of JSOC under Obama. Finally, David Petraeus, Dick Cheney’s general and somebody who pushed for a policy to strike in countries around the world and not just in declared battlefields.”
Scahill, through his research in America, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond — he’s currently banned by Pakistan for revealing the connections between the Pakistani elites and American mercenary company Blackwater — says that, “those three men pitched to Obama that if we don’t give authority to US military forces to strike at will in countries around the world, there’s going to be another attack. That there are people plotting to blow up airliners, poison the US water supply, attack public transportation systems or attack US embassies and if we don’t take the fight to them and take them out, then this is going to be a one-term President who’s going to be responsible for another terror attack on US soil.”
Obama bought this narrative and the result, Scahill tells NM, is “a state of perpetual war for many years to come”. The legality and morality of the missions are rarely discussed in the US mainstream.
This posture has brought a massive expansion in America’s footprint across the world, especially in Africa. Scahill says that the US now has bases, some allowing the launch of drones, in Mali, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. “Just yesterday I was talking to somebody who was connected to Yemeni intelligence who told me that there’s a base inside Yemen that the US uses sometimes to launch drones and other attacks. In East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, over the past five years, Obama has both intensified operations and expanded the archipelago in Africa for US actions and intelligence.” This territory will be a key battleground in the coming decade in America’s war against what it perceives to be terrorism.
But Scahill argues along with Noam Chomsky and many others, that Washington’s actions are creating new enemies across the globe. As Chomsky said in the wake of 9/11, “If you want to stop terrorism, stop participating in it”. Scahill meets local communities in Yemen and Afghanistan who tell of horrific stories of US-led violence against them and their desire to inflict revenge.
When a Yemeni, Farea al-Muslimi, appeared recently at a US Senate hearing to demand the end of US drone attacks in his country, politicians expressed little interest in hearing his perspective. Scahill says that days before he testified, al-Muslimi’s family’s village had been hit by a drone strike and he was live-tweeting text messages from his relatives who were at the scene. Despite this, Scahill says, “nearly the entire hearing was spent talking about theoretical war philosophy with blowhard professors.” The political and media class prefer to question how Obama is selling his message and not the effect on people under American bombs.
Scahill is a rare independent journalist who refuses to embed with American troops in conflict zones. While researching Dirty Wars, Wikileaks documents were essential in understanding the scope of Washington’s reach. “It would be impossible to quantify the significance of Wikileaks not just to my or your work but to the world’s understanding of US covert and overt operations. I dug deep into the relationship between the US and Somalian warlords. I found individuals who were on the CIA payroll because of Wikileaks and went and found and got them on record. I would never have known that these people even existed but for Wikileaks.” Scahill criticises the smear campaign against Wikileaks as “politically motivated” and designed to protect the cosy arrangements between insider reporters and the state.
The author reveals that he had contact with Bradley Manning, the US army private currently facing life in prison for leaking US cables to Wikileaks, before the 2010 Collateral Murder video. Scahill only recently spoke publicly about his communication with Manning, believing that the whistleblower’s role as a source should be protected (he had told the journalist that Blackwater head Erik Prince was planning on leaving the US and feared he would never face justice for his company’s crimes).
“My motivation for talking about it”, he told NM, “is that Manning should be treated as a serious prisoner of conscience. There’s a pattern that’s borne out in his history of believing what he was doing was moral and necessary and he probably was terrified of what it would mean for him. But ultimately he felt that the greater good was being served by him going to prison was so important that he couldn’t not blow the whistle.”
Scahill has spent a career working with independent media. “[P]art of my bigger mission in life is to build independent media. I’m not interested in going to a bigger publication because it will bring fame or a bigger pay cheque. I stick with an independent publisher when I write a book, I work with independent media outlets because I believe in building them up. How do we merge the energy of new, creative media folks with the proven old school tactics?”
A recent study by American anthropologist David Vine discovered that at least $385 billion has been spent since 9/11 by private companies hired by Washington to establish global US bases. Scahill’s investigations remain essential to understanding the historical unprecedented nature of the American war machine and how it affects us all.