In the interview with Kontext TV investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill talks about his latest book "Dirty Wars. The World Is a Battlefield". After his best-selling book "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army" Scahill again presents a ground breaking investigation about US warfare. This time Scahill sheds light on the hidden operations of the Joint Special Operation Command (JSOC). JSOC elite forces are directly subordinated to the White House and are not effectively controlled by US Congress. Around the world JSOC is undertaking night raids, targeted killing, acts of sabotage or drone attacks. It is also commanding warlord militias with assassinations like in Somalia. Targets of these operations are "suspected militants" who are often not even charged with crimes like the American Imam Anwar al-Awlaki. The killings of innocents like in the Afghan village of Gardez where pregnant women were shot or the case of the 16 year old American teenager Abdulrahman are quickly covered up, says Scahill. After 9/11 and especially under president Obama the dirty wars have even been expanded to a global killing program that is now under way in over 70 countries. "We are becomming the force that we seek to destroy. We run the risk of looking like we have no morality at all".
Jeremy Scahill: National Security correspondent of "The Nation", author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army"
David Goessmann: Welcome to Kontext TV. We are at Harvard University in Cambridge. Today we want to talk about Jeremy Scahill’s latest book: “Dirty Wars. The World Is a Battlefield” that was just released in the US. Jeremy Scahill is National Security Correspondent of “The Nation” and author of the New York Times bestselling book “Blackwater. The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army”. At a discussion of his book together with US Critic Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now sponsored by Harvard Kennedy School and ACLU among others we had the chance to Interview Scahill.
David Goessmann: Jeremy, let's talk about ‘dirty wars’. What makes them so different in comparison with normal or regular wars?
Jeremy Scahill: The concept of 'dirty wars' is that the president of the US, Barack Obama, who is a constitutional lawyer by trade, has really tried to present his drone wars and his use of special-operation-forces as a cleaner, smarter form of waging war. And he sort of tries to juxtapose his way of war with what happened during the Bush era with the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the initial invasion and occupation of Afghanistan - and there really is no such thing as a clean war. And I think, that what we are seeing is a window into the future of warfare, where you are not going to see big conventional armies invading other countries. You are going to see lower intensity conflicts around the world, where you have a combination of mercenaries, special-operation-forces, covered actions from intelligence agencies, cruise missiles being the sort of way, that war is waged. I think that this is many ways an old story but new about is is that the technology is so advanced now, compared to WWII or the Vietnam war. The idea that you have robotic warfare, that you don't have that pilots inside the planes where they fly in to bomb a country. I think this raises some very important questions about the ability of powerful nation states to wage wars against insurgents or their own population. I don't think that there is ever much new in war, except the technology. But I do think that the trend we are going to see is away from bigger scale military deployments and into sort of multi faceted covered actions.
David Goessmann: How do these covered operations work?
Jeremy Scahill: The US government has multiple entities available to use in covered actions. The CIA has a paramilitary division, called the 'special activities division', and those commandos can either be borrowed from the military or they are in-house CIA commandos. They can operate in countries where the US will have deniability and so they can engage in an operation to track down and assassinate someone and the US will never own responsibility for that action. And there are very view people in the US government or the congress, that will be briefed on those operations. In the military, the most elite force available to the president is the 'joint-special-operations-command', called the JSOC. This unit was formed in the 1980 after the failed hostage rescue-mission in Iran. And for much of its existence it sort of existed in the shadows. It was whispered about in the halls of the Pentagon, people knew it existed but it was never really brought into the full public light. What we now know is that after 9/11 this force was empowered in an unprecedented way and given cart-Blanche to declare the world the battlefield. And these are the most sophisticated elite forces in the US. And they don't report through the conventional chain of command, it is effectively the president's private army. And these forces are used for everything from taking down pirates that seize a US-vessel, to killing Osama bin Laden, to setting up acts of sabotage or assassination in a variety of countries around the world. So you have two major forces that are available to the president, to be used when you don't want anyone to know your action. And when it is convenient to those in power, they will leak word of it and they will give you every detail including the name of the dog and the raid and all that stuff. But when the operation go off as they wanted them to, like the Osama bin Laden raid they will leak every detail of it, including the name of the the dog and the kind of weapon that they use. When they go wrong, like one of the stories that we tell about - in a night raid where some pregnant woman were killed - then they cover it up. You know then it is all hushed and pushed aside. So I think that we as Americans but also people in the world only know a tiny fraction of what these forces are doing in these dirty wars.
David Goessmann: What about the victims? In your book there are two figures very prominently set they are Americans - what happened to them?
Jeremy Scahill: After 9-11 the US developed the concept of a kill list. Originally it was between 7 and 24 people on the kill-list and most of them were identified as leaders of Al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, Imam AL-Sharif - publicly known figures. So the hunt began for those people. And over the years the kill-list has expanded. You had the deck of cards in Iraq with Saddam and his henchman, in Afghanistan there were thousands of people including low-level Taliban commanders who found themselves on the list. And when the Obama administration took power they really began focusing on this American named Anwar Al-Alwaki. Alwaki was born in the US, he had been an Imam at a very big Mosque in Virginia after 9/11. He was viewed as a moderate guy, he condemned the 9/11 attacks, he was often on American television or radio and when the war started to spread he became more and more radical, started speaking out against the war, has eventually left the US. He went back to Yemen and then he started preaching on the internet and writing a blog where he was openly calling for attacks on US soldiers, calling for Iran Jihad. And eventually the US had him put in prison, for about a year and a half in Yemen, which further radicalized him. And then they started a manhunt for him and he was released from prison and went underground. And then September 30th of 2011 president Obama authorized an operation to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, this American citizen. He hadn't been charged with a crime, no evidence had been presented against him publicly, he hadn't been indicted and yet he was killed in this drone strike alongside another American citizen named Samir Khan who is basically like a propagandist. He was a guy who was the editor in chief of this newspaper, this magazine that Al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula put up, called 'Inspire'. So these two guys they were driving a Jeep, they get killed and after their killings, the reactions in the US kind of fell into two camps: one was just silence - saying nothing - and then the other one was celebrating it as a great victory, taking out this big terrorists. But what many Americans don't know is that, when the US was haunting Awlaki, at the very end, Awlakis teenaged son - 16 year old kid named Abdulrahman - hadn't seen his dad in years, living with his grandparents in Sanaa, he was a very normal kid who had big hair which his grandfather always wanted him to cut. He liked hip-hop music, hanging out with his friends in the square when the revolution was happening in Yemen during the Arab Spring. And this kid, like a lot of kids would be in that situation, missed his father and wanted to see him and of course his family didn't want him to do that but he snuck out of the family kitchen window, very early in the morning on day after he had just turned 16, got on the bus in Yemen, the old city in Sanaa and he took that bus to the province of Shabwah in Yemen where his family's tribe is from and where the US had done repeated drone-strikes and tried to kill his dad. And his plan was to try to hook up with his father. Soon after he got there his dad was killed, somewhere nowhere near Shabwah, he was killed in the north of Yemen. So Abdulrahman family asked him to come home. His grandmother called and said: "You know, it's finished, your dad is dead. It's over. You have to come home". He said: "I'll try but the roads are blocked because of the fighting and the revolution. But I'll come home as soon as I can". And a long story short: The kid is out one night with his relatives, his cousins in that area, they were teenagers also. And they are sitting in this outdoor restaurant and about nine o'clock a drone appears in the sky over them and launches a missile and blows this kid up with his teenage cousins. The Obama administration has never explained, who the target of that strike was. Why that young man was killed. And has not provided any answers whatsoever. In the aftermath of his killing a US military official leaked anonymously a report to the newspapers here - he was 21 years old and then the family produced his birth certificate from the state of Colorado showing he was 16 years old. And they said he was meeting with an Al-Qaida propagandist who was killed in the strike. Well then it turns out, that guy isn't dead. And so I have spent the past couple of years trying to get answers from the White House as to why that 16 year old American teenager was killed. It seems as though his only crime, real crime, was that his father was Anwar al-Awlaki. And to me - not even as a journalist, just as a person - killing a child and then justifying it by saying that their father was a bad person or criminal or a terrorist, is just really kind of disgraceful. So I'm trying to stick on that story. I don't have a conclusion to it in my book, so maybe I'll have to do an updated edition, if we can ever get an answer on it.
David Goessmann: Many people were killed and have been killed in these covered wars - do we have numbers?
Jeremy Scahill: A conservative republican senator, not too long ago, let it slip in either a hearing or an interview - I don't remember - he cited a specific number, so more than 4000 people have been killed in drone strikes. That's just a conservative estimate. But drones, while I think it's an important aspect, is just one part of this. I mean how many people have been killed in actions, that we don't know about, that are assassination operations on the ground? How many Afghans have been killed in night raids? We have no idea. The US general famously said, during the Bush era, "We don't do body counts". No-one is effectively counting how many people have been killed. No-one is counting the number of suspected militants killed, no-one is counting the number of civilians killed. We've killed the number 3 man in Al-Qaida, probably 300 times, who knows. I don't know the answer to that questions. I want to know the answer to that question. I want to know who they were and why were they killed? The US is really sending the image to the world that in some way we are really a law-less nation when it comes to this killing program and that's disturbing - that is a disturbing thing to say for me as an American But I feel very strongly about it, that we are becoming the force that we are seek to destroy. We run the risk of looking like we have no morality at all. A former senior military official, general Hugh Shelton, who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so a very powerful position in the US military. He said to me "You know we want to make sure that our actions don't make us look like the terrorists". This is a guy who chooses his words carefully and to me that was a pretty serious comment from him. I think he is getting at something. If you are in Yemen, as a director he spent a lot of time in Yemen, and you ask people know what terrorism is, they say drones. He said to us "You say that Al-Qaida is terrorism, we say that your drones are terrorism". For them that's true, that's who we are, we are the terrorists to them. Everyone who commits acts of violence, always can think of a way to justify it, that their cause is just. Terrorists do that, nation states do that. That's now of the core problems of our collective history is that we all believe that our violence is somehow justifiable and that the enemy's is not. We need to take a serious look at that.
David Goessmann: Thanks a lot.
Jeremy Scahill: Yeah, thank you. It was good to talk to you.