co-founder of the The Intercept. His new book is The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program. He’s also the author of the best-selling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. His film Dirty Wars was nominated for an Academy Award.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden wrote the foreword for the new book by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept, "The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program," which is based on leaked government documents provided by a whistleblower. Snowden writes, "These disclosures about the Obama administration’s killing program reveal that there’s a part of the American character that is deeply concerned with the unrestrained, unchecked exercise of power. And there is no greater or clearer manifestation of unchecked power than assuming for oneself the authority to execute an individual outside of a battlefield context and without the involvement of any sort of judicial process." We speak with Scahill, who says the Obama administration has targeted Snowden for being a whistleblower, while allowing others to leak information that benefits it.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, another whistleblower, Edward Snowden, who wrote the foreword for The Assassination Complex, Snowden writes, quote, "These disclosures about the Obama administration’s killing program reveal that there’s a part of the American character that is deeply concerned with the unrestrained, unchecked exercise of power. And there is no greater or clearer manifestation of unchecked power than assuming for oneself the authority to execute an individual outside of a battlefield context and without the involvement of any sort of judicial process." That’s Edward Snowden. Jeremy Scahill, take it from there.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, and one of the things that Ed Snowden also addresses, and this—by the way, this is a very substantive essay that Ed Snowden wrote, that is both personal and political in nature. And he writes about how there’s a difference between whistleblowing and leaking. And he talks about the difference between the authorized leaks in Washington and the sharing of classified information with mistresses, as David Petraeus did, and then people like Daniel Ellsberg or Chelsea Manning and others. And Snowden says that, you know, it’s an act of political resistance when you are engaged in that kind of whistleblowing, and, of course, states what now has become painfully obvious, that the Obama administration is engaged in a war, not against leakers, but against whistleblowers.
There was just these—the CIA was live-tweeting, you know, their version of what happened in the compound in Abbottobad, Pakistan, the night that Osama bin Laden was killed. And, you know, the Central Intelligence Agency was basically a sieve in the immediate aftermath of that operation. But more, the political people in the White House, the people that were closest to President Obama, were deliberately feeding journalists and media a completely false narrative about what took place in that raid. And none of them were held accountable for—or even viewed as having done something wrong by releasing all of the information that turned out to be false that they did, about a firefight happening, about bin Laden putting one of his wives in front of him. I mean, almost everything that John Brennan and his buddies said in the immediate aftermath, because they were rushing to plant the flag of victory on Osama bin Laden’s dead corpse, turned out to be propaganda or just wrong.
And so, when you have people of courage who leak, who provide documents, classified documents, of the nature that Edward Snowden did to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, that the source for The Assassination Complex book did in providing these documents to us, these are people motivated by conscience who understand that their lives will never be the same as a result of what they’ve done. They are not people like Sandy Berger, who can go in and stuff classified documents down his pants and then walk away from it. They’re not David Petraeus, who gets a slap on the hand. These are people that know that they are going to be in the target sights of the most powerful institution in world history. And that is the U.S. empire.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re talking to Jeremy Scahill, The Intercept co-founder with Glenn Greenwald, who is also with us, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The book is The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program. It’s out today. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: "Homenagem ao Malandro," "A Tribute to the Trickster," by Leny Andrade, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re on the road in Sarasota, Florida. But in New York, Jeremy Scahill is with us; in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Glenn Greenwald. The new book by The Intercept, led by Jeremy Scahill, this book titled The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program, you talk about the—you say at the beginning of the book, Jeremy, that "Drones are a tool, not a policy. The policy is assassination." Talk about the documents that you got that back this up and how exactly you got them.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, first of all, what I mean by that is that the United States, throughout its history, has always engaged in assassination. But as a result of the global scandals of the—you know, involving the CIA, with the overthrow of—beginning with the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala, the overthrow of Mosaddegh, the overthrow of Salvador Allende, and then the political assassinations that were taking place in the United States in the 1960s with JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, COINTELPRO—all of this sort of sparked, you know, congressional action, and there were committees formed to investigate this. And basically, the short version of the history is that President Gerald Ford issued an executive order that said that the United States would not conduct assassinations. And he used the term "political assassinations." And, you know, people think, "Oh, well, the U.S. has a ban on assassination." Every president since Ford, including Obama, has upheld that executive order that says that the U.S. doesn’t engage in assassinations. Jimmy Carter edited it at one point to take out the word "political" and to add, you know, contractors and other people working for the U.S. government.
But the U.S. Congress has stealthily avoided ever legislating the issue of assassination, because if it were to do so, it would call to question on one of the centerpieces of American doctrine around the world, that we can kill whomever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want, because—because we are America. And if Congress actually had to, say, define what an assassination was, which attempts to do that have just been clobbered by the permanent establishment, then you would have to look at things like the bombing—Reagan’s bombing of—an attempt to kill Gaddafi. You would have to look at the bombings that Bill Clinton did in the early stages of his presidency that were aimed at killing Saddam Hussein, but instead killed the famous Iraqi painter Layla Al-Attar and other civilians. You would have to look at the Obama administration’s targeting of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was never charged with a crime—and I think should have been charged with a crime and brought to justice, but instead he and another young American, Samir Khan, were executed by drone strike, authorized and ordered by the president of the United States. And so, if you’re going to say that that is not an assassination, then we live on a different planet. And so, the documents that we’ve obtained sort of show the banality of the immoral notion that we can kill people anywhere around the world without consequence and kill our way to victory.