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2011-05-02

Jeremy Scahill on Killing of Bin Laden: Obama Has “Doubled Down on Bush Administration Policy of Targeted Assassination”

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Jeremy Scahill, Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute and the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He blogs at TheNation.com

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The manhunt for Osama bin Laden is over. Nearly 10 years after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, U.S. forces are said to have assassinated the Saudi-born founder of al-Qaeda inside Pakistan. The U.S. operation was reportedly carried out by 25 Navy SEALs under the command of the Joint Special Operations Command. At the time of his death, bin Laden was reportedly living in a heavily fortified mansion just a mile from the Pakistani army’s principal military academy. We speak with Jeremy Scahill, the national security correspondent for The Nation magazine, who has followed the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts closely as well as reported on the covert war inside Pakistan. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In a televised address to the nation last night, President Barack Obama announced al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. Bin Laden was killed on Sunday in a U.S. operation in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, about 60 miles north of the capital, Islamabad.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

AMY GOODMAN: Osama bin Laden was shot in the head and buried at sea. The Saudi-born leader of al-Qaeda is believed to be the mastermind of the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, as well as a number of other attacks around the world.

Osama bin Laden’s death raises questions about the future of the U.S. war on terror and whether U.S. policy in the region will change. Almost 10 years ago, on October 7, 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to capture bin Laden and destroy his al-Qaeda network. The war in Afghanistan has since become the longest in U.S. history and has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. For years, the U.S. has also waged a secret war inside Pakistan.

Despite the killing of Osama bin Laden, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said today the war on terror will continue.

PRIME MINISTER JULIA GILLARD: Can I say, too, about the death of Osama bin Laden, that whilst al-Qaeda has been hurt today, al-Qaeda is not finished. Our war against terrorism must continue. We continue to be engaged in Afghanistan so that that country does not again become a haven for terrorists. That work will need to continue. That work has already cost Australian lives. But that work is vital, and we will continue the mission in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: To discuss the death of Osama bin Laden, we’re joined by a number of guests.

We’ll be speaking with Robert Fisk on the phone in Beirut. Robert Fisk, the longtime Middle East correspondent of The Independent newspaper in London, he was the first Western journalist to interview Osama bin Laden.

We’re also joined in New York by Jeremy Scahill, Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He blogs at thenation.com.

We’re also joined by Allan Nairn, an award-winning investigative journalist and activist.

In London, we’re joined by Tariq Ali, the well-known author, Pakistani-born commentator.

We’re going to start with Jeremy Scahill. Jeremy, tell us what you understand — you have been following JSOC for a long time now — what you understand happened yesterday and in the last months?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, in a way, this operation in Pakistan was the culmination of the life’s work of General Stanley McChrystal, who headed the Joint Special Operations Command from 2003 to 2008, and was the man tasked by the Bush administration with leading a global assassination campaign of people that the administration determined to be high-value targets or terrorist threats or militant threats to the United States. The current commander of JSOC is Admiral William McRaven, who himself is a former Navy SEAL. And this really is the most elite force within the U.S. military.

The individuals who we believe actually killed Osama bin Laden are reportedly members of Navy SEAL Team Six, also known as the Development Group. And those are probably the most elite forces in the world. General Barry McCaffrey said these are the most dangerous people on planet earth. This operation was carried out by a drone that was overhead, 25 SEALs, and then shooters that allegedly stormed this compound. The role of JSOC within the broader U.S. so-called war on terror has been a surgical strike force.

So I think you have the one story playing out, which is how this happened, and it does sound like there was some incredible detective work that took place in tracking this courier, who was Osama bin Laden’s go-to to communicate with the outside world. For five years, they were reportedly tracking the developments at this compound. Interestingly, this compound is a stone’s throw away from a Pakistani military academy. And just days ago, General Kayani, the head of Pakistan’s armed forces, actually was basically a block away from Osama bin Laden, if all of these reports are true.

On the other side of this, though, I think there’s another reaction. I found it quite disgusting to see people chanting, like it was some sort of sporting event, outside of the White House. I think it was idiotic. Let’s remember here, hundreds of thousands of people have died. Iraq was invaded, a country that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, nothing to do with Osama bin Laden. The United States created an al-Qaeda presence in Iraq by invading it, made Iran a far more influential force in Iraq than it ever would have been. We have given a grand motivation to people around the world that want to do harm to Americans in our killing of civilians, our waging of war against countries that have no connection to al-Qaeda, and by staying in these countries long after the mission was accomplished. Al-Qaeda was destroyed in Afghanistan, forced on the run. The Taliban have no chance of retaking power in Afghanistan. And so, I think that this is a somber day where we should be remembering all of the victims, the 3,000 people that died in the United States and then the hundreds of thousands that died afterwards as a result of a U.S. response to this that should have been a law enforcement response and instead was to declare war on the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Jeremy, about what you understand did take place in this —- not place in the frontier -—

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — on the border, the tribal lands between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but in a mansion in a city of 500,000 next to a military academy?

JEREMY SCAHILL: This is a very big problem for Pakistan’s government, because had Osama bin Laden been captured in an area that the Pakistani government didn’t have control of, there would have been a very different narrative that would have unfolded. You already see right-wing commentators, Bush — former Bush officials, really ratcheting up their rhetoric about Pakistan. And the fact that he was captured in what was essentially a town equivalent to Vale, Colorado, a vacation town, really shows that he must have had some sort of protection from the Pakistani state in order to live for so long, at least five years, it seems, in this location, rather than being in a cave somewhere.

The way that this operation went down, if in fact it is confirmed that it was the Joint Special Operations Command coming in from Afghanistan, goes back to an agreement that General McChrystal brokered with then-President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan that allowed what was called a "hot pursuit" clause, which authorized U.S. Special Operations forces to go into Pakistan from Afghanistan if they were in pursuit of Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders. And the agreement was that the U.S. could do those operations as long as the Pakistani government could then deny it. And so, it seems as though this operation was, at least in part, launched from Afghanistan into Pakistan, President Obama chairing five National Security Council meetings about this specific operation.

So, I think that, you know, there’s going to be a lot of celebrating within the Special Ops community for having taken down the man that was identified as the number one target of this operation. And it shows that President Obama has really continued and doubled down on the Bush administration policy of targeted assassination leading the way in terms of America’s response to al-Qaeda and to people it designates as so-called terrorists.

AMY GOODMAN: And the news of how Osama bin Laden died?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, that’s interesting. Allan and I were talking before the show about this, and I’d be interested in hearing what he has to say. The phrasing that President Obama used was very interesting. I mean, we’ll have to see before, I think, we give any detailed commentary on it. They said there was a firefight there. They said someone used a woman as a human shield at some point during the operation. It sounds like Osama bin Laden was shot in the head. Navy SEALs are the most highly trained forces within the U.S. military. It wouldn’t be surprising that they could sniper shoot him from a distance and hit him dead between his eyes. Maybe something else went down. I don’t — we don’t know what happened inside of that compound, but it does sound like he was shot directly in the head.

AMY GOODMAN: And buried at sea.

JEREMY SCAHILL: And then — they say buried at sea. I’m not sure exactly what that means, if they took him down deep into the sea and buried him or if they just dumped his body. I mean, who — we don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and come back, and we’ll be joined by Talat Hamdani. Talat Hamdani lost her son, 9/11. She is the mother of Mohammed Salman Hamdani. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’ll also be joined by Matthew Hoh, highest-level diplomat to have quit amidst the war in Afghanistan. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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