The Obama administration says it is backing a strategy of reconciliation with the Taliban. But just back from Afghanistan, unembedded investigative journalists Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley say night raids by US Special Operations are killing the reconciliation the administration claims to support. [includes rush transcript]
Jeremy Scahill has written a cover story on Afghanistan for The Nation magazine titled, 'Killing Reconciliation.' Rick Rowley has reported extensively from Afghanistan and Iraq. His films are available through Big Noise Films.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: In recent weeks, the Obama administration has been touting a strategy of reconciliation with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, the administration said it was backing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Speaking at a NATO summit in Brussels, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US supports Afghan reconciliation.
DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES: We’ve always acknowledged that reconciliation has to be a part of the solution, ultimately, in Afghanistan, and we will do whatever we can to support that process. I think one of the principles that we have established with President Karzai is transparency with one another as this process goes forward. So we are in very close consultations with President Karzai and the Afghan government.
JUAN GONZALEZ: A few days later, the New York Times reported that US-led forces allowed senior Taliban leaders to enter Afghanistan for meetings with Afghan leaders in Kabul. The Times reported the talks included leaders of three key Taliban factions, including the so-called Quetta Shura, which that paper said oversees the Taliban’s war efforts in Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, investigative journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill and Big Noise Film’s Rick Rowley have just returned from Afghanistan. They were not embedded for two weeks. In a new article in The Nation magazine, Jeremy describes how brutal raids by US Special Operations Forces are sabotaging the political strategy of the Obama administration claims to support in Afghanistan. The article is called "Killing Reconciliation." Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley join us here in our studio just after returning from Afghanistan.
It’s great to see back safe and sound, both of you.
RICK ROWLEY: It’s great to be here.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us what’s happening in Afghanistan.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, first of all, what’s abundantly clear from traveling around the Pashtun heartland — the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan are where the Taliban have their strongholds, and also Rick and I traveled in areas that are really heavily populated by members of the Haqqani network, which is the insurgent group that the United States government most closely identifies with al-Qaeda, with strong links to Pakistan’s ISI spy agency, and so we traveled around these areas talking to tribal leadership, to civilians. We even interviewed some current Taliban commanders, as well as former senior members of the Taliban government, including Mullah Zaeef, who was the former Taliban spokesperson to Pakistan, the man who after 9/11 really emerged as the public face of the Taliban. He then was taken for four years to Guantánamo prison. So, much of what Rick and I focused on was trying to get a sense of the nature of the insurgency. And what’s abundantly clear is that the US counterinsurgency strategy, the so-called COIN doctrine, has utterly failed.
The Taliban are gaining in popularity, gaining in strength. The leadership of the Taliban acknowledged that the so-called targeted killing campaign of senior Taliban leadership has been successful, but they say that it’s only producing new generations of leaders within the Taliban that are actually more radical than the previous generation. In fact, when we talked to Mullah Zaeef, who’s under house arrest in Kabul, he has Hamid Karzai’s military forces in front of his house, and when we entered there, they went nuts about Rick’s camera, and they tried to sort of grab his camera from him. And then we entered Mullah Zaeef’s house, and we interviewed him. And what he was saying is, look, if you kill all of the old-school Taliban leaders, people who actually were part of a government that had diplomatic relations with Muslim countries, that knew how to negotiate, you’re not going to like what you create in that, because this new generation — and he said to us, "I know this new generation. They’re more radical." And evidence of this can be found in the fact that when Mullah Mohammed Omar, who — all the Taliban people we talked to — is still running the show, still issuing orders through the shadow governors that the Taliban has — all over the country they have a shadow government, and in many cases, local people go to that shadow government instead of the Karzai government, because they feel that they’re going to get results there. But what they were saying is that within this structure, when they try to give orders to new commanders, sometimes it’s met with hostility from the new generation of Taliban. A few months ago in Paktia province, which is a Taliban area just outside of Kabul, Mullah Omar sent an emissary to a new Taliban commander to try to say that "you’re violating some of the rules of Taliban combat," and they literally murdered his emissary.
So, to give you a sense of what’s happening, what the United States is doing through its night raids, where they’re going into people’s homes, they’re corralling women, which is just anathema to the culture there, into one room, hooding men, zip-tying their arms, helicoptering them to secret prisons — what they’re doing is they’re enraging populations throughout Afghanistan that wouldn’t necessarily support the Taliban. So what you see happening is that the United States says, "We’re here to win hearts and minds," their targeted killing campaign, the reliance on bad information from individuals in Afghanistan who are accusing their neighbors of being Taliban to settle personal grudges. The perception is that the United States government is just on a killing spree there, that they rarely get the right people. The Karzai government is utterly corrupt to the bone and exists only for the purpose of facilitating corruption. When you combine those things and then you look at the rhetoric coming from the Obama administration and the military, that we’re there to win hearts and minds, you realize that the single greatest blows being dealt to the stated US strategy in Afghanistan are being dealt by the US itself through this targeted killing campaign.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Jeremy, you begin the article talking about —- in The Nation, talking about Mullah Sahib Jan, who apparently was offering to turn in his weapons with his fighters as part of the reconciliation campaign, and then you document what happened to him -—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right.
JUAN GONZALEZ: — as an example of the contradictory US policy.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. Well, when Rick and I were traveling down into these areas, we, by chance, one day were escorted by the son of a tribal leader in Logar province, and as we were coming back to Kabul after doing some stories and interviews that day, the driver just sort of said to us in passing — we were discussing, you know, how local people are increasingly supporting the Taliban, even though they wouldn’t be predisposed to do that, and he said, "Well, you know, for instance, there was this imam that was killed in our area, and he had actually reconciled with the government." And, you know, being journalists, Rick and I just — we had never heard this before, and we started asking more questions. And we dropped what we were going to do the next day, and we said, "We want to go to that imam’s house." So we went to the home, and we interviewed the sons of this man.
And the story, Juan, basically is that last March this guy, who was a Taliban imam, Mullah Sahib Jan, entered the process of reconciliation with the Karzai government, brought in fifty Taliban fighters. They brought in a string of weapons that they handed over to the government. And then this mullah, this former Taliban imam, took a position with the local reconciliation council in Logar province. And according to the officials there that Rick and I interviewed, they would send him out into hardcore Taliban areas to try to preach to the Taliban that there were benefits to joining the government. They were offering them housing, jobs and economic support in return for handing in their weapons. Well, ten months later, Mullah Sahib Jan’s bullet-riddled body was found about 500 yards from his house by his sons, who were escorted there by US Special Operations Forces who had raided their home and gunned down Mullah Sahib Jan in the middle of the night. They tied up his sons. They put the women into one room. They kept his sons blindfolded and handcuffed for about six hours, and then a translator came to them and showed them a picture, and they said, "This is the man that we killed." And it was their father.
And when we talked to NATO, we talked to the US military, they said they had no record of any operation of that sort. You know, anybody who knows anything about what’s happening right now in Afghanistan knows that these night raids and these targeted killings go down all the time. And pretty much the only time that NATO puts out a release on it is if they’re forced to do it by journalists proving that something took place or if they think it benefits their psychological operations war. So, the point of the story of Mullah Sahib Jan — and this is the takeaway that Rick and I had from this — was that if the United States is killing the very people who are doing what they say they should do, which is to reconcile, then the message that they’re sending to people throughout Afghanistan is, "None of you are safe; even if you leave the Taliban, you could be killed also in a targeted night raid."
JUAN GONZALEZ: Rick, you’ve been to Afghanistan before. Have you — what have you — the biggest change that you noticed in this trip?
RICK ROWLEY: Well, you know, every time that I go to Afghanistan, the situation deteriorates. By every available metric, the US is losing the war on the ground. The insurgency is gaining strength. Every time I go back, roads that were safe the trip before are no longer safe. Every time I go back, there are more, you know, black districts in a province. I mean, those are districts where the Taliban are in control rather than the regional government. And I think because of this, because of the massive failure of the Obama troop surge, the US has found itself caught in this bind where they have a completely self-defeating strategy. I mean, the stated public goal — there’s near unanimity of the consensus inside the leaders of the US military that there is no military solution to this conflict, there’s only a political one, and so it’s a counterinsurgency operation, you know, fighting for hearts and minds. That’s what they say publicly. But privately, I think they know that that’s lost. And so, what’s going on in a parallel track to that is a program of assassination, of air strikes and night raids, where whatever possible political gains were made by the counterinsurgency campaign during the day are erased at night by Special Operations Forces. You know, in ninety days over the summer, JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, conducted 500 operations in Afghanistan and claims to have killed or captured a couple thousand — or, a couple thousand, you know, high-level commanders. Now, I mean, what kind of organization, a guerrilla army, has 5,000 commanders? They’re killing people way down to, you know, minor sort of functionaries. It’s war of attrition by Special Operations raid, and it’s completely undermining the political campaign there.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Just to give you a sense also how this is going to play out at a practical level, you know, when Rick and I were traveling along this major thoroughfare that the US and NATO uses to bring in supplies to Kabul, the whole name of the game there is convoy protection. And we talked to tribal leaders that are right now playing both sides of the fence. They’re getting money from the US and NATO to keep their convoys safe, and part of what they have to do is pay the Taliban not to attack convoys on certain days. So it’s a fundraising operation for the Taliban to be restrained in certain circumstances to not attack the convoys.
But when night raids keep happening in these communities along this highway in the Pashtun heartland, the community leaders who are working with NATO are saying, you know, "We can’t guarantee a year from now or two years from now that we’re going to allow your convoys to pass safely." It’s not that they want to join the Taliban. What they’re saying is, "If you keep disrespecting our women, if you keep killing our people, if you keep doing these night raids and targeted assassinations, if you keep relying on false information, we’re going to withdraw that support for you, because the money is not going to be worth it anymore."
One of those community leaders who is helping to facilitate safe passage of NATO vehicles, a man named Hajji Showkatt, who Rick and I spent a lot of time with, was a former mujahideen commander fighting against the Soviets and has the wounds to prove it on his body. He was saying to us, you know, "You ask anyone during the Soviet occupation era what it was like to try to go through our area. They could not pass." And if you look it up, Logar, this area, was one of the deadliest places for the Soviets, in terms of convoys being ambushed. We interviewed several former mujahideen commanders. These are not Taliban people. These are people that are working with the US now that are saying, "If they don’t stop this, if they don’t stop killing our people, we may actually attack these convoys or allow them to be attacked ourselves."
AMY GOODMAN: Who is in control of the Special Operations Forces? Who are they?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, the commander of JSOC, as Rick mentioned, the Joint Special Operations Command, from 2003 to 2008 was headed by General Stanley McChrystal. And when he came — when he became the ISAF commander in Afghanistan, he really brought this targeted assassination operation into full swing in Afghanistan. His successor is Admiral William McRaven, who is the current commander of JSOC.
And JSOC is the force that operates pretty much — they’re like Trump on The Apprentice: they fire at night. You know, they’re the guys that are out there killing at night and raiding the homes. And so, if you hear about a night raid, it’s almost always a JSOC force doing that. And they oftentimes aren’t even reporting to the rest of the chain of command, you know, what they’re doing. Rick and I traveled to Nangarhar province, which is — and Jalalabad is the major commercial city near the Pakistani border, and Rick had been there before, where he’s covered these night raids from Special Operations Forces, as well. And we returned to some of the areas that Rick had been to initially, where people were so angry that they wouldn’t really talk. And we talked to more people there.
AMY GOODMAN: Rick, if you could describe that.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah. Well, in this one neighborhood, which is not a Taliban stronghold at all, there had been, over the course of a couple months, four Special Operations Forces raids that all appear on the surface to have been conducted on bad intelligence and to have killed innocent people. I mean, these are not — and the only reason we know about these stories is because the families involved were connected, educated families who were participating in the government, not the kind of people who would be part of the Taliban insurgency at all.
So, the one — one compound we visited in Surkh Rod was actually a place that we first reported about on Democracy Now! months ago. We were there the day after the raid happened, where the US claims, to this day, that a man was killed, Qari Shamsuddin, who doesn’t exist — didn’t live in the compound, no one in the village knows who he is. We interviewed the chief of police and says never heard this guy’s name. They killed an entire farm family named Shams-ur-Rahman, I mean, a father and his four sons. They wiped out the male side of a family at night. And an area that was completely peaceful and pro-government erupted after that. There was a violent protest that tried to march to the capital — or to Jalalabad. And when they were blocked, they attacked a police station, tried to burn it down. A protester was killed in the clash after that. Every time there’s been a raid subsequent to that, they’ve cut the highway. They’ve come out and blocked the most important logistical route in the country, which is outside of Jalalabad. So, you know, concrete evidence that these raids are actively undermining the fragile Afghan state.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, we’re in this family’s, you know, mud-brick qala compound. People live in these. They’re like huge, almost small fortresses built up, you know, ten, twelve feet high with mud-brick walls. And then, inside of it, you have multiple generations of families living. And we went there, and we were welcomed into their home. I mean, what really was humbling is, for most people that are targeted in these night raids, the only Americans they’ve ever met are the people that killed their loved ones and me and Rick. And, in fact, one elder in a family that we went to visit, you know, said to our translator — and we found out about this later — you know, "First the Americans kill us, and then they want to put us on camera."
We were in this family’s compound, where this man — you know, eight people were gunned down. And this — and US forces threw a fragmentation grenade into a courtyard where children were sleeping outside because it was hot, and multiple children got hit with fragments of this in the face and the stomach, and we saw the injuries on these children. You know, what crime did they commit? People in these areas thought bandits were coming in the middle of the night. No one comes into the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan at night, except bandits or the Taliban, is how people perceive. So they fight back. And then the US says, "Well, they fired at us."
This little girl comes up to Rick and I, you know, which we had seen her playing in the background when we were interviewing her father. And she came up to us, and she said to our translator, "I have something I want to say to them."
AMY GOODMAN: How old was she?
JEREMY SCAHILL: And she was — I don’t know, maybe four to six. And she actually was the niece of the guy that we were interviewing. And came up to us, and she said, "My daddy wasn’t a Talib, but the Americans killed him anyway." You know, and it wasn’t a staged thing or anything. We had watched her the whole time playing there, and she came up.
We went to another place in Paktia province, where this little girl was sort of weaving back and forth and saying — repeating this thing. And Rick was filming her, and we were thinking that she was just playing and we were filming a kid playing in a courtyard. And our translator had a tear going down his face. And we said, "What did she say?" And he said she was reciting all the members of her family that were killed in the night raid. "They killed my mommy. They killed my aunt. They killed my uncle." You know, and she was a kid playing. This is a kid who’s three or four years old.
We met a kid who had been shot in the stomach and in another place by US Special Operations Forces. They literally shot the speech out of him. He couldn’t speak. And we didn’t know this until — you know, we’re documenting these things in a sort of forensic way, going through each person that was killed, how were they killed, interviewing all of the eyewitnesses. No one has ever done a thorough investigation. So what Rick and I were trying to do is piece together all these targeted killings. So we’re in this place in Paktia province, and we’re interviewing all these people, and there’s this kid. And we see this gaping wound in his stomach. And so, we bring the camera over to interview him. And the translator asked him a question, and he’s just kind of going like this. And then, someone says that he can’t speak. And he just puts his hand in front of his face and just starts wailing in front of our camera, going "Aaaaah!" He wasn’t like that before this incident. He is so traumatized — he got shot in his stomach — that he can’t — he literally can’t speak anymore. And so, when you think about the collective punishment that’s being meted out against people, based largely on false intelligence, you understand why the US is failing in Afghanistan. The insurgency is spreading.
AMY GOODMAN: Were any of those attacks documented? Had NATO ever talked about these? Had the US?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, in the case of the one that — well, maybe Rick could answer that question about Surkh Rod.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, so, in Surkh Rod in Nangarhar, we got the most information that we usually get, which is three lines in a press release: "A Taliban commander was killed. No civilian casualties." Then, in Logar, where they killed the imam, no recognition at all that anything had ever happened. In the Paktia case, there was — enough pressure was brought to bear that finally they admitted that they had killed innocent people, and they attempted to apologize. But basically, you get no information. You only get the information that you happen to be in a position to demand from them. And even then, things are covered up.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. Our guests are Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley, investigative journalists who have just returned from Afghanistan. And when we come back, we’re going to ask you about being unembedded, which is very rare for journalists in Afghanistan, Western journalists. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: A shout out to the students at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom School from the Bronx, who are all here watching today’s show, learning about journalism. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez. I can’t think of a better time to learn about journalism than today, with two investigative reporters, Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley. Jeremy just wrote a piece in The Nation called "Killing Reconciliation." Learning about journalism from unembedded journalists.
Rick, talk about your experience being unembedded, going out of Kabul.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been — this is my fourth trip to Afghanistan. I’ve been both embedded and unembedded on different trips. And, you know, in the first forty-eight hours we were in country, Jeremy had already spent more time unembedded outside of Kabul than 90 percent of the US media that goes there. I mean, it’s just — it’s night and day, the kind of difference of what you get when you’re embedded with American troops and when you’re outside. I mean, inside, of course, when you’re embedded with troops, you see the war from the perspective of our soldiers. And that is, you know, a tiny fraction of the story, about the human story of what the war is on the ground. I mean, there have been — this has been the worst year for NATO and for the US in terms of casualties in the war, but those numbers pale next to the civilian toll that this war takes. So, yeah, I mean, if you’re embedded with troops, you’re getting, you know, a tenth of the story that needs to be told there.
JEREMY SCAHILL: And the thing is, too, you know, when we would travel to a place, we were often traveling — we would go and meet with tribal leaders before we were going to go into an area to seek permission to go in there. And part of the reason that we did that is we wanted to be able to speak to people away from any version of a threat or intimidation, and we wanted to be able to speak to them clearly about what they believed. Many journalists won’t do that without security. And often what you get is — you know, journalists will be with soldiers, and then they’ll kind of take a slight segue over to the side and interview an Afghan civilian, and then that civilian is in their piece. But meanwhile, what you don’t see is, on the other side of the camera, all of the US forces that are there. So, most media outlets in this country are portraying the war entirely from the perspective of embedded troops and Afghans who are being interviewed with the perception that if they say the wrong thing, the troops are going to arrest them or come back and get them. So I think that that’s part of why there’s such a major disconnect from what people are saying on the ground and what we see represented on corporate television here in the US.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, speaking of a disconnect, there’s been a lot of attention in recent days in the US commercial press to this money that Iran was sending to Afghanistan, as if this is an enormous shock. But I mean, I think of it this way. Here is Iran with US troops occupying Iraq on one border and with US troops occupying Afghanistan on its other border. So Iran, if anything, would feel surrounded by US troops and would have some interest in what happens there. But what is your sense of how the Afghanis regard Iran or its involvement, in any way, in terms of what’s going on in Afghanistan?
RICK ROWLEY: Well, I mean, frankly, a few bags of cash from — delivered by Iranians pale in comparison to the — we palletize the money that we bring into the airport to give to the Afghan government. So, to say that the problem of foreign intervention in domestic politics in Afghanistan is a problem of Iran is just — is laughable. I mean, and Afghans understand that, as well. The Afghans don’t talk about — or no Afghans that we talked to talked about problems with Iran in meddling in their politics. They’re worried about the US, and they’re worried about Pakistan. I mean, so, yeah, this is, you know, clearly a diversion.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about — this is from McClatchy — US claims of Afghan peace talks a 'psychological operation,' says an official. New doubts are being raised over reports the Obama administration is backing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. US officials have claimed they’ve allowed senior Taliban leaders to enter Afghanistan for meetings with Afghan leaders, with some even flying aboard a NATO aircraft. But McClatchy Newspapers reports several US officials and experts see the claims as part of an "information strategy" to sow division within the Taliban and that no significant talks are underway. One US official said, "This is a psychological operation, plain and simple."
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, look, I mean, you know, General David Petraeus is like, you know, living in Oz, when he’s speaking — you know, holds these press conferences about how they’re clearing out Kandahar, they’re — you know, they’re taking the battle to the heart of the Taliban. The Taliban are winning. They’re winning. Their numbers are growing. They don’t need to go to the negotiation table with the United States. They’re defeating the United States military in Afghanistan right now. When we talk to Mullah Zaeef, when we talk to a Taliban commander on the ground, they’re saying, you know, "We’re different from you. We have ideology. You can’t figure out how to define victory. Victory for us is two things: freedom or martyrdom. And if we die in the cause of freedom, we’ve won." So, the point is that these guys are saying, "We’ve never heard of something called the Quetta Shura," as Mullah Zaeef said to us. "That’s something that you created in the American media. We have shuras, or meetings, all the time, in Peshawar, in Quetta. Maybe Mullah Omar is walking around Afghanistan. You have no idea. We’re ghosts to you." And that’s what this Taliban commander from Kunduz that we interviewed said. He’s like, "We’re like ghosts. You can never see us. And then, all of a sudden, boom, your vehicle is blown up."
I mean, the reality is, the Taliban are not in a position where they’re being forced to the negotiating table. If anything, it’s the US that’s being forced to try to find a way out of Afghanistan, because the Taliban are gaining strength. And there’s other groups rising up that aren’t even under the control of Mullah Omar. The insurgency is spreading. We talked to the former foreign minister for the Taliban, Muttawakil, and he said, what you’re seeing is classic guerrilla insurgency right now in Afghanistan. It’s starting in the rural areas. It’s spreading to the smaller cities. It’s going into the district centers. And eventually it’s going to hit the capital city. And he was saying that this is all the making of the Americans. The Taliban will negotiate with the Afghan government, if the US leaves. That’s what we heard.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about WikiLeaks, because it’s come under criticism from the Pentagon for releasing the nearly 400,000 classified military documents on the war in Afghanistan. This is what General Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, who also ran special operations during the surge in Iraq, had to say about the Iraq war logs on the eve of their release.
GEN. STANLEY McCHRYSTAL: I think, first, the decision by anybody to leak classified information is something that — not only is it illegal, it’s also something that that individual is making judgments about the value of that information and the threat to comrades that almost nobody is qualified to make that judgment. So, if somebody leaks information that puts me or one of my soldiers at risk, I think that’s a level of irresponsibility that’s very upsetting. Then there’s the decision to release them widely. I also am not comfortable with that, either. I think that a level of responsibility towards our people needs to be balanced with any argument for a need or right to know. I can’t judge every single piece of information — I wouldn’t try to — but I would say that there has to be that balance, and there has to that level of maturity, because it’s likely that the leak of some of that information could cause death of our own people or some of our allies.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the General, Stanley McChrystal, talking about the 400,000 documents that have been leaked by WikiLeaks, on Iraq this time. The last batch, the 76,000 or so, were on Afghanistan. And this was on the eve of this release, the largest release of military documents in the US in US history. Jeremy Scahill, Rick Rowley, you guys were in Afghanistan when this happened. What is your response? A lot of this — of these documents show the privatization of the military in what’s happening.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, first of all, regarding Blackwater and other military companies, these documents show that the State Department was fully aware that Blackwater was killing civilians while guarding US diplomats. And actually, one of the documents indicates that the State Department chose not to discipline or go after Blackwater, because they said it would hurt Blackwater’s morale, which just gives you a sense of the calculus that was being done while the Bush administration was running things in Iraq.
In the bigger picture, a lot of focus has been put on did the US know that Iraqis were torturing detainees? The US was torturing detainees. The entire policy of the Bush administration under Rumsfeld was to outsource torture — the extraordinary rendition, the secret prisons, Camp Nama in Iraq, which was a secret prison where people were mercilessly and systematically tortured.
The other thing that was revealed — and Rick has done a lot of work on this and can speak to it — is the whole myth that the surge is what stabilized Iraq, when in reality it was a death squad policy that the US was implementing there.
AMY GOODMAN: Rick Rowley.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the — as with the Afghan leaks, the Iraq leaks don’t tell us crazy new things that weren’t being reported by good unembedded journalists who were doing investigative work on the ground. But they reinforce that work, and they show that the military was actively lying, that the military knew what was going on and was actively lying about it and deliberately misleading the media, so that while the truth might have been out there in some sort of alternative outlets like Democracy Now!, it was systematically undermined in the mainstream media. So, the surge is a kind of prime example of this.
The key sort of takeaway points are that violence was already declining, due to the, you know, sort of the ending of the civil war in Iraq before the surge troops arrived. The place where the US was facing major — the majority of its casualties up to that point was in Anbar province. None of the surge troops went to Anbar province. They all went to the capital. What happened was, at the end of an exhausting civil — sectarian civil war, where the Shia had basically purged the Sunni out of Baghdad, the US brings its surge in at a point where there are no longer any mixed neighborhoods left in Baghdad. It’s all pure Sunni and pure Shiite. They’ve turned into armed enclaves and ghettos inside a city that are fighting against each other. And the surge troops went and reinforced the boundaries between those communities. They were patrolling the borders, putting concrete walls around, walling people in. I mean, that was the energy behind the decrease in violence.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for being with us and raising this issue on the eve of the midterm elections, an issue that is hardly raised in any debate on any of the agenda-setting talk shows on television, the issue of war, when this country is engaged in at least two of them.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, the Democrats have no credibility on the Afghanistan war. They’ve continued to fund it. They support it with rhetoric about women’s rights and pulling the burqa off. They could have gone to town on the fiscal irresponsibility of this war and captured some of the energy that permeates the Tea Party movement, but they have no credibility on it. And that’s — I think that’s one of the reasons why you see so little energy from Democrats right now.
AMY GOODMAN: And for folks who want to see our coverage on the midterm elections from 8:00 until, oh, 2:00 in the morning Eastern time, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute. Thank you very much, Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley. Jeremy’s piece, we will link to at The Nation website. It’s called "Killing Reconciliation." His book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.