16 Jun

Obama’s Legacy; to legitimize assassination

Transcript: Jeremy Scahill– Obama’s Legacy; to legitimize assassination as an essential Component of US foreign Policy

The O’Leary: Obama, a disaster.

By (about the author)

June 16, 2013

Transcript: Jeremy Scahill– Obama’s Legacy; to legitimize assassination as an essential Component of US foreign Policy

By Rob Kall

In a riveting interview, I talk with Scahill about Obama’s murders, his assassination diplomacy, Training troops for repression in foreign lands, Murder Inc., the more dangerous aspect of the Obama presidency, Liberals on shaky ground, being killed for what you might become– a “grotesque form of pre-crime.

“I interviewed Jeremy Scahill on June 11th..  Here’s a  link  to the audio podcast.

Thanks to  Don Caldarazzo   for doing the transcript.

Rob Kall:   And welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM.  My guest tonight is Jeremy Scahill.  He is National Security Correspondent for The Nation Magazine, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow with the Nation Institute, and the author of the New York Times Bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.  He’s got a new book out: Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, and a movie – a documentary – that is a gripping, intense documentary that is a must see.  Welcome to the show, Jeremy.

Jeremy Scahill:   Hey.  Thanks for having me.

Rob Kall:   What is the message that you want to get across from this combination of book and movie?

Jeremy Scahill:   In the past twelve years in this post-911 world that we’re in, there have been so many lines that have been crossed under both the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration on a domestic and international front, that I think we haven’t really confronted how far we’ve gone in the creation of the National Security State, but also in this aggressive, targeted killing program around the globe.  At the end of the day, I think that many of our policies are, on the one hand, internationally making us less safe, because I think they’re creating more new enemies than they are killing actual terrorists; and then on a domestic front, I think this fear of a terror attack has resulted in giving up some of our liberties in the name of security.  I think we’re going to look back decades from now and realize this was a very key moment, and that a lot of us were asleep at the wheel.  So it’s intended to contribute to a debate that is just starting in our country, but should have happened long ago, about what kind of National Security Policy we want.

Rob Kall:   You say in your book that this movie and the book basically gets us thinking about the future of American Democracy.  What does that mean?

Jeremy Scahill:   Well, look: if you have a popular Democratic President who is a constitutional lawyer by trade, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and is asserting the right of the United States to conduct what are effectively assassination operations around the world – including killing American citizens who have not been charged with a crime, and are not on an active battlefield shooting at US forces – and you have a President that had campaigned on a pledge to reverse the excesses of his predecessor, but instead is creating systems to legitimatize or systematize some of the more egregious aspects of the Bush/Cheney program, then I think we are indeed looking at a perpetual state of war, because it is being co-signed by Democrats and Republicans alike.

For me, when you take our foreign policy – the drones strikes, the “Night Raid” policy in Afghanistan – and then look at what’s happening at home with the crackdown of whistle-blowers, with the targeting of phone records of journalists, with the revelations that have come out in Glen Greenwald’s reporting from this NSA whistle-blower about the National Security State, I think that we’re looking at an erosion of some of our basic freedoms.  An undermining of not only a Democratic Press, but the ability of whistle-blowers within government to speak out about abuses, or waste, or frauds that are happening in secret.  For me that comes to the heart of some of the most pressing debates we should be having about the undermining of Democratic principles in our country in the name of security.

Rob Kall:   Seymour Hersh, in a very positive interview, says that what you talked about is, “What has been done in the name of America since 9/11.”  Could you comment on that?

Jeremy Scahill:   Well, remember that within days of 9/11, Congress passed this bill, The Authorization for the Use of Military Force,” that was very swiftly signed into law by president Bush.  And basically, that gave the Bush Administration a blank check to declare the world a battlefield.  It was really the legal architecture for operations outside of the stated battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, and led to the boosting up of paramilitary forces from the CIA.  It’s not that the CIA hadn’t always been in the paramilitary game; it’s that it resulted in an expansion of it’s operations and the operations of it’s elite military unit, the “Joint Special Operations Command.”  There was only one member of Congress that actually voted against that in the entire Congress (both houses), and that was Representative Barbara Lee of California.

She said in her speech, “We can’t live in a state of perpetual war, and I fear that this law will insure that we do.”  I think she was largely right; but we what we saw then under Bush and Cheney, of course, was “Murder Inc.,” where these guys are setting up black sites around the world; where they are rendering people (in some cases) to third countries, in other cases to the CIA black sites in Poland, and Thailand, and elsewhere.  They start reverse engineering torture tactics that had been used to train American soldiers on how to resist lawless enemies’ torture — we started using those very same tactics against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, the black sites, Guantanamo – and this goes on for both terms of the Bush Administration.

Then President Obama comes into office; and he is briefed on the various threats around the world, hundreds of concurrent terrorist threats around the world, and basically buys into this idea that America is going to need to kill it’s way to victory and engage in preemptive war.  So he starts to tweak the Bush/Cheney machine so that he can keep his campaign pledge.  He says, “I’m going to ban torture, we’re going to shut down the black sites, and I’m going to close Guantanamo.”  Well, of course Guantanamo is not closed for a combination of reasons; part of it has to do with the Republicans blocking it, part of it is because Obama hasn’t really made this a priority for much of his time in office.

But what I’ve seen, Rob, in my travels around the world, is that in many cases, what the Obama administration has done is slightly tweak the program to try to make it seem more legitimate, and I’ll just give you one concrete example: I believe that Obama did shut down the CIA’s black sites.  But instead, we’re using other countries’ black sites to have prisoners interrogated – at times, with the participation of CIA personnel, or military intelligence personnel.  What this allows the White House to do is say, “We’re not torturing people, we’re not holding them at black sites; but what we’re doing is directing allied countries to snatch them for us and take them to prison, and then our interrogators can come in after they’ve been softened up and then talk to them.”  So it’s not that there’s no difference between Bush and Obama; it’s that the difference is largely a re-branding of the program in many ways.

Rob Kall:   And that was going to be a question.  It seems like Obama has continued, intensified, and worsened some of Bush’s worst programs.

Jeremy Scahill:   Right.  I mean: I want to be clear, because I covered all of this abuse and murder  that happened under the Bush Administration.  I mean, these guys were uniquely bloodthirsty characters.  I think we have to be careful.  I agree with everything that you’ve said, I do think Obama has done all of that; but I also want to just be clear that (laughs) we are looking at Murder, Inc. under those guys, so.

For me, the really interesting part of this is: President Obama started an air war in Yemen very early on in this administration.  December of 2009 was the first airstrike that he ordered there, and had these teams of Special Operations Forces running around Yemen.  They’re doing not only drone strikes, and cruise missile strikes, they’re training units in Yemen that have been used not just by Al Qaeda, but for domestic repression purposes.  In Somalia, the US has a counter-terrorism base at Aden Adde Airport, and they’ve been putting Somalis on the payroll to engage in outsourced kill campaigns.

For me, the enduring legacy of Obama is not going to be in any one drone strike, or any one aspect of his policy.  I think it’s going to be that he helped to legitimize and streamline assassination as an essential component of US foreign policy.  It’s not that the US hasn’t always engaged in some form of assassination despite the ban; it has.  It’s that Obama is selling this idea that it’s a smarter way of waging war, and a lot of Liberal have bought into that idea.  To me, the more dangerous aspect of the Obama presidency is this idea that you lay the groundwork to make it permanent.  The next time a Republican is in office, Liberals are going to have very shaky ground to stand on if they try to confront assertions that American citizens can be killed without a trial, or that the US can wage war anywhere around the world without Congressional authority.

Rob Kall:   You talk in the book and in the movie extensively about  Abdulrahman alAwlaki , the son of the leader in Yemen.  He was killed by a drone strike a few weeks after his father was killed, and you say, “He was killed for what he may become.”  This is like the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report!  Can you talk a little bit more about that whole mentality?

Jeremy Scahill:   Yeah.  First of all, Anwar al-Awlaki — I mean, I won’t get into the story of him.  I think most people are familiar with the images of him in the camouflage jacket calling for armed Jihad against the United States.  I’m willing for the sake of argument to concede that everything that the White House had leaked about him is true: that he directed the underwear bomb plot, that he was engaged in plots against the United States.  For me the question with him is, “How do we handle citizens like that, that are reprehensible?”  And the idea that we just sentence them to death without even presenting any evidence, just having assertions made by officials, is really disturbing and I think something that all of us should be looking at.

But then two weeks after they kill Anwar-Alaki in this drone strike, his son, [who] is sixteen years old, hadn’t seen his father in years, is sitting in an outdoor restaurant with one of his cousins, another teenager, and some friends, and they get blown up by a drone; and the White House has never explained why he was killed.  In the film, I say that maybe it was that he was killed for who he might one day become.  What I meant by that is, I suspect that it’s possible he was killed in what is called a “Signature Strike,” where you have a group of military age males, and maybe someone within that group is being tracked by the US for some reason, and because this person has been determined to be dangerous, the mission planners decide that it’s acceptable to take all of the people out if they’re military age males.  It is this grotesque form of pre-crime.

Whether he was specifically targeted in this operation or he was killed in some form of signature strike, I don’t know; but I think that the answer to that question says a lot about who we are as a society, and I’ve continued to try to press the White House to be transparent.  What they said, actually, was that “He was not specifically targeted.”  They didn’t say he wasn’t targeted, they said he was not specifically targeted – which raises questions for me, about “Who was the target, then?”  Because the guy that they initially said they killed in that operation, a man named Ibrahim al Banna, to my knowledge is still alive.  So who were they trying to kill there?  Part of why we raised that question in the film is that, if you start killing people based on their associations with others, or because their father happened to be a guy that you believe was an enemy of the United States, then we’re crossing into very dangerous territory.

Rob Kall:   OK.  Another question (we’re down near the end of the interview here): You report in your discussion of Gardez that JSOC does twenty killing raids a night.  That’s thousands per year, and /

Jeremy Scahill:   Yeah.

Rob Kall:   I can’t imagine how Obama could, as he claims, be personally making decisions on who to kill for each of these thousands of raids per year.

Jeremy Scahill:   No.  In Afghanistan, Obama is not signing off on each of the raids.  Afghanistan is different than Yemen, for instance, or than drone strikes.  The military is running an expansive kill campaign inside of Afghanistan, and they are engaged in a military operation, whereas many of the drone strikes are CIA operations and the President is directly signing off on them, and they’re taking out people away from the stated battlefield of Afghanistan.  So the pace of the night raids there is because it’s a military operation.

What’s incredible about it is we don’t know the standards being used to target people in those night raids, but the President doesn’t sign off on everyone of those.  These task forces from the military are already empowered to take out people that they determine to be making improvises explosive devices, or are the leadership of Taliban, or the Haqqani Network.  I think so much killing is going on, that we’ve killed our way so far down the list that we don’t even know who we’re killing anymore; or, people are being targeted for fighting the Americans simply because we’re in their valley.  And that’s a classic no-no in counterinsurgency 101: when you are the force that is actually creating the uprising, then you really have to rethink your policy.

Rob Kall:   OK.  And one of the people in the movie literally says that after his wife and niece and sister were killed, that he was ready to put on one of those vests and blow himself up as a Jihadist.  That’s the kind of blowback we’re talking about here.  I want to ask you: near the end of your movie you say, “I didn’t realize how much the journey would change me.”

Jeremy Scahill:   Yeah.

Rob Kall:   How did it change you?

Jeremy Scahill:   First, Rob – I heard over the course of not just the years of working on this story, but over fifteen years or so of working in journalism of this sort, I’ve heard in multiple languages in various countries some version of the same sentiment, and that is:

“When you killed my loved one,”

or, “You blew up my village,”

or, “When you did this night raid that humiliated me,”

or “You tortured me,”

—  “I wanted to fight against you.  I wanted to engage in armed Jihad,”

or “I wanted to blow myself up with a suicide vest,”

—  I think that it really led me to believe that we’re actually giving people a legitimate reason to want to fight us or hate us.  Not an ideological reason, but a reason because we had taken something from them.

To be honest with you, working on this story kind of gutted me as a person.  I don’t write in the first person or talk about myself often.  This film became a very personal journey, and I think I realized what an impact knowing all of these people for all these years of doing it, and taking in their stories of the worst things that ever happened to them – it shakes you to the core.  I think that we try to run away; as journalists doing this kind of reporting, you try to just run away from the impact that it has on you.

So when I was talking about how it changed me personally, I also was talking about us a as a society.  Over this past twelve years of just nonstop war, being told that plots are being hatched at every moment and we need to be afraid – at the end of the day, I think all of us have to figure out a way to collectively confront that fear; because fear leads to a lessening of our rights, and a rollback of our rights, and that’s my great concern.

Rob Kall:   This is the Rob Kall Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM.  I’ve been speaking with Jeremy Scahill, author of the book Dirty Wars, and a new movie that is just coming out.  Last question, Jeremy.  And I want to say: this movie is incredibly moving and powerful, and I want to thank and congratulate you for the courage that it took you to go to places where you never knew whether the bullets you were hearing being fired were bullets being fired by Taliban who could be after you next.  But my question is: if this movie and book are successful, what would you like to see happen?

Jeremy Scahill:   Well, I have very little faith in the jackals on Capitol Hill to do much of anything about the Kill Program or the National Security State, but my hope is that — I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the movie is going to show there; and I hope that the film rolls out to 40 or 50 cities around the country, and that ordinary citizens are going to start asking questions of their representatives about their role in these policies, and that there is going to be a confrontation of the National Security State.  But I’m not so arrogant as to believe there is a quick fox to this; “It’s ultimately about hearts and minds,” to use a military phrase.  We made this film (and ended it) on a series of questions because we want to contribute to a dialogue and debate that ultimately is aimed at coming back to some of our basic principles about Democracy, and human rights, and freedom.  I think we’ve steered quite far off that path.  So we have a modest task, which is that we just want to be able to contribute to a debate or a discussion that’s going to be aimed at dismantling some of the worst aspects of this program.

Rob Kall:   Glen Greenwald has also endorsed your movie enthusiastically.  He is apparently in Hong Kong with Ed Snowden, the whistle-blower who is reporting on all these disclosures about the NSA.  How does what is happening there tie in with what you’re reporting?

Jeremy Scahill:   Oh.  Well, (chuckles) we’re living in a time when we have this crackdown on whistle-blowers, and the guys who actually created the torture program are running around free, when our data is being compromised, when journalists are being targeted, and when the secrecy of operations that are being done in the name of Americans around the world – that ultimately could threaten out security – when members of Congress aren’t even given full access to the legal justifications to these operations, then we’re heading toward a Big Brother State.

So what Glen Greenwald is doing right now I think is a public service.  What Ed Snowden did, like what Bradley Manning did, was to try to present information to the American People that would allow them to understand the extent to which the government in conducting these operations in secrecy.  It should encourage a serious confrontational debate in this country over what our own elected representatives, and more importantly, an unelected National Security State, is doing to us and in our name.  I see it all as part of the same hyper-secret society that we’re living in right now, and the need to confront it.

Rob Kall:   One – I’m pushing.  What about drones and drone killings?  Could you comment on them and where we’re going with that?

Jeremy Scahill:   Well, there’s very little new in war except technology; and like cruise missiles, drones offer the Commander in Chief the ability to wage war without having to subject American lives to being taken or soldiers to being maimed, and I think it is an attempt to sanitize the methods of war.  But I don’t hyper-focus on drones, because I think that it’s the kill program and the assertions from the White House that are really the issue, not necessarily the weapons that they’re using.  I think drones become a point of interest for people because of what they represent: this idea that someone sitting in a trailer in the Southwest of the US can be bombing Pakistan or Yemen cuts to the heart of some the worst war mentality that we’re in, which is this idea that you don’t have to subject your own people to any kind of risk in order to engage in these operations; it happens with very minimal effective oversight.  I think we’re looking at a glimpse of the future with how these wars are being waged.

Rob Kall:  OK, thanks so much Jeremy.  We really appreciate it, hope we can have you back on.

Jeremy Scahill:   OK Rob it was good talking to you.  Thank you.

Rob Kall:   Bye.

Jeremy Scahill:   Bye.

Bio: JEREMY SCAHILL is National Security Correspondent for The Nation magazine and is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute.

Scahill is author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (Nation Books, 2007). Nation Books will release Scahill’s second book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, on April 23, 2013.

He is the writer, with David Riker, and a producer of the documentary feature film, Dirty Wars, which won theCinematography Award for U.S. Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival 2013. IFC Films releases Dirty Wars in theaters June 7 throughout the United States.

Scahill has reported from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen, the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere across the globe. Scahill is a frequent guest on a wide array of programs, appearing regularly on The Rachel Maddow ShowReal Time with Bill Maher, and Democracy Now!. He has also appeared on ABC World News, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, BBC, al Jazeera, CNN, The NewsHour, and Bill Moyers Journal.

Scahill’s work has sparked several Congressional investigations and won some of journalism’s highest honors. He was twice awarded the prestigious George Polk Award, in 1998 for foreign reporting and in 2008 for his book Blackwater.

In 2013, Scahill was named one of nine recipients of the Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes at Yale University.

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