- Jeremy Scahill
national security correspondent for The Nation magazine, Democracy Now! correspondent and author of the new book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. He produced the award-winning documentary film with the same name with Richard Rowley. He is also the author of the bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
As the Senate holds its first-ever public hearing on drones and targeted killings, we turn the second part of our interview with Jeremy Scahill, author of the new book, “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.” Scahill charts the expanding covert wars operated by the CIA and JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, in countries from Somalia to Pakistan. “I called it 'Dirty Wars' because, particularly in this administration, in the Obama administration, I think a lot of people are being led to believe that there is such a thing as a clean war,” Scahill says. He goes on to discuss secret operations in Africa, the targeting of U.S. citizens in Yemen and the key role WikiLeaks played in researching the book. He also reveals imprisoned whistleblower Bradley Manning once tipped him off to a story about the private security company Blackwater. Scahill is the national security correspondent for The Nation magazine and longtime Democracy Now! correspondent. For the past several years, Scahill has been working on the “Dirty Wars” film and book project, which was published on Tuesday. The film, directed by Rick Rowley, will be released in theaters in June. Click here to watch Part 1 of this interview.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: “License to Kill,” the Bob Dylan song performed by the late Richie Havens. He died Monday at the age of 72. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Nermeen Shaikh.
We turn now to Jeremy Scahill, the national security correspondent for The Nation magazine and longtime Democracy Now! correspondent. For the past several years, Jeremy has been working on a book and film project called Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. The book came out on Tuesday. The film, which is directed by Rick Rowley, will be released in theaters in June. The book follows Jeremy to Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and beyond as he chases down the hidden truth behind America’s expanding covert wars operated by the CIA and JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command. We turn now to part two of Amy Goodman’s interview with Jeremy. She began by asking him about the title of his book.
JEREMY SCAHILL: I called it Dirty Wars because, you know, particularly in this administration, in the Obama administration, I think a lot of people are being led to believe that there’s—there is a such thing as a clean war and that the drone and what’s called targeted killing—I mean, I use that term myself, but it’s actually not—if you think about it, it’s actually not a very appropriate term for what’s going on, because it’s—as we know, these strikes are anything but targeted, in many cases, and we don’t know the—we don’t even know the identities of many of the people that we’re killing in intentional strikes. So, I called it Dirty Wars because there is no such thing as a clean war, and drone warfare is not clean, but also as a sort of allusion to how we’ve returned to the kind of 1980s way of waging war, where the U.S. was involved in all these dirty wars in Central and Latin America, in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and beyond. And we’re using—you know, we’re in a world right now where the U.S. is using proxies, that effectively are death squads, in Somalia to hunt down people that the U.S. has determined are enemies. We’re using mercenaries. President Obama continues to use mercenary forces in various wars, declared and undeclared, around the world. You also have the aiding of dictatorships and other, you know, right-wing governments around the world and propping them up. It’s very similar to what Reagan and company were doing in Central America.
And you have an increasingly paramilitarized CIA. You know, the CIA served a major paramilitary function for many decades at the beginning, from the 1950s through the 1970s. And then, because of the scandals of assassinations and the Church Committee hearings and the House Committee on Political Assassinations, you had a generation of CIA people that came up sort of feeling like, “Wow, covert action—we should be careful about getting into this business.” After 9/11, the CIA has been on a constant sort of curve back to paramilitarization. So you have the CIA functioning as a paramilitary organization, and JSOC has become very, very powerful.
And so, to me, the concept of The World Is a Battlefield actually is not something I thought up; it’s a doctrine, actually, a military doctrine called “Operational Preparation of the Battlespace,” which views the world as a battlefield. And what it says is that if there are countries where you predict, where the military predicts that conflicts are likely or that war is a possibility, you can forward deploy troops to those countries to prepare the battlefield. And under both Bush and Obama, the world has been declared the battlefield. You know, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that was passed after 9/11 is technically the law that President Obama and his administration point to when they say they have a right to drone strike in Yemen, because these people are connected to the 9/11 attacks. But in reality, one of the enduring legacies of the Obama presidency is going to be that he solidified this Cheneyesque view of the U.S. government, which says that when it comes to foreign policy, that the executive branch is effectively a dictatorship and that Congress only has a minimal role to play in oversight. I mean, Cheney didn’t want Congress to have any role in it. Obama’s administration plays this game with Congress: Certain people can go into the padded room and look at this one document, but, oh, not this other document, and you’re not allowed to bring in a utensil to write with, and you can’t ever tell anyone what you said. That’s congressional oversight on our assassination program. But they have doubled down on this all-powerful executive branch perspective. And that’s why we see this stuff expanding.
AMY GOODMAN: What about this kill list and the elevation of John Brennan, who worked with President Obama in the Oval Office? And how much do you understand about what does take place around defining who will die—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —and who will live?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, I mean, you know, we now know that there’s these things that are called Terror Tuesdays, where they look at rosters of potential targets and present them to the president. And the president, my understanding, is very, very involved with plucking names off and deciding who stays on. And, you know, you have a working group that is—that’s essentially focused around the clock on figuring out who to kill next around the world. And what’s—what I think is really both disturbing and interesting is that there are multiple—I know that there are at least three separate sets of kill lists. There’s the kill list that the CIA has, and then there’s the Joint Special Operations Command, and then there’s another National Security Council list that contains certain high-value individuals that the U.S. wants taken out. And so, in a country like Yemen, you have both the CIA and JSOC conducting operations. In Pakistan, that’s been true for a very long time. In Somalia, JSOC has conducted operations on the ground, the CIA has done drone strikes, and JSOC has also come in by helicopter and launched missiles at people.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, JSOC is extolled because of the killing of Osama bin Laden. It was, what, SEAL Team 6. And where did they get SEAL Team 6, that name?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right, and Disney tried to trademark the name SEAL Team 6 after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and then they lost that battle.
I mean, really, the story of JSOC is in many ways the story of Admiral William McRaven, who I think is one of most powerful military figures in—certainly in modern U.S. history. But McRaven was an original member of SEAL Team 6, which, you know, now is known as the Naval Warfare Development Group, DEVGRU, for short, D-E-V-G-R-U. He was an original member of SEAL Team 6, and at the time there were, I think, only two SEAL teams, but they decided to call it SEAL Team 6 as sort of to throw the Russians off, so that—it was Cold War politics. They wanted the Soviet Union to believe that there were more teams of these elite SEALs than there were. And, you know, SEAL Team 6 is probably the most elite unit that’s ever been trained and brought up in the U.S. military. And for much of its lifetime, since it was created in the early 1980s, SEAL Team 6 has operated discreetly in missions, like the one that killed Osama bin Laden, that never make it into the newspaper, very active in Central and Latin America, in Africa and elsewhere.
And so, McRaven was an original member of SEAL Team 6 and would have been one of the people forward deploying to Afghanistan very early on after 9/11, except that a few weeeks before the September 11th attacks, McRaven had injured his back in a parachuting accident and couldn’t deploy to Afghanistan. So instead, McRaven was tapped by General Wayne Downing—this is very early on after 9/11—to come in and advise the National Security Council, which is basically the president and the secretary of defense and then there’s staffers on the National Security Council, but to be at the center of developing the policy for how the U.S. would hunt down those responsible for 9/11. So, McRaven, because of this back injury, is right there in the front row in the White House and helped to shape the policy that he would later implement as the commander of JSOC.
So he’s there in the NSC, very close. He sees how the political wheels spin inside the White House and has a sort of upfront education to how the White House works, then goes back into the field—McRaven does—and is the guy that led the hunt and eventual capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And he also, along with General Stanley McChrystal—he was McChrystal’s deputy at JSOC at the time, for much of the Iraq War—they ran a Murder Inc. operation in Iraq, where they were—they were hunting down the deck of cards, but they were also—they were using intelligence gained from one raid to lead them to the next raid, and they also were running a secret prison in Baghdad called Camp NAMA, which stood for “Nasty A— Military Area.” I’m not sure that I can say that word on the air, but—and it was effectively a secret prison where high-value detainees were brought. Saddam Hussein was held there originally when he was brought, and McRaven, the night Saddam was arrested, had a cigar with one of the intelligence chiefs of JSOC outside of Saddam’s cell in what was an old Saddam torture chamber that JSOC then turned into its own torture chamber. And they would bring high-value detainees there. And I get into great description about this in my book from people that were working at the prison at the time and other interrogators that had been there.
And that became the sort of model for—that took hold and spread around. You know, you had torture happening at Guantánamo. You had torture happening at Abu Ghraib. You had this sort of spread of these torture tactics. But a lot of it was because JSOC implemented torture techniques at Camp NAMA in Iraq that were developed from something called the SERE training, which is Survival—it’s a survival program that all special operators go through. And it’s effectively—they are tortured themselves. They’re waterboarded. The guys have had their ribs broken and other limbs broken. Sometimes you’re abducted. The curriculum was developed based on studying the torture techniques of communist China, the North Vietnamese, going all the way back to the Civil War. They have all this institutional knowledge in the U.S. military of torture techniques of the enemy. And they train U.S. soldiers to prepare to endure those torture techniques if—
AMY GOODMAN: Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, right. Right, that’s the SERE, S-E-R-E, program. So, this is this training program where it’s to prepare U.S. soldiers for it. What they did is they reverse-engineered it, and they said, “We’re going to start using the tactics that we’ve taught you to endure against our enemy.” So, in effect, they became the lawless enemy. And they would use these—that’s where waterboarding came from. They would use these techniques on detainees. And that just—that spread. And so, the standard operating procedures, the SOPs that were used at Camp NAMA, were also used then at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. And there were dissidents within the interrogator community who would try to stand up to this, and then they would have their lives threatened, or they would be blackballed. You know, and no one was allowed to access these prisons.
And to this day, the U.S. military is operating what they call filtration sites, because they’re not categorizing them as prisoners. They’re categorizing them as people who have intelligence that could lead to saving of lives. So they hold them incommunicado and say, “Oh, no, no, they’re not prisoners. These are people that we’re interrogating.” And they do it sometimes for months. Under President Obama, people have been held on Navy brigs in ships in the Indian Ocean for months at a time incommunicado while they’re being interrogated. So, you know, these stories, you know, some of them have been out in the press, but we haven’t even been able—started to come to terms with all that has taken place in sort of the world that’s been created over these two administrations, Bush and Obama.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, you did original reporting. You discovered a secret prison, U.S. prison, in Somalia.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, it wasn’t a U.S. prison. It was—when I flew into Aden Adde Airport in Mogadishu in the summer of 2011, when we landed, Rick Rowley and I, we saw this large—I don’t know how to describe it other than it looked like a forward operating base that you would see in Afghanistan, but it had this sort of pink paint on it, and Somalis call it the “pink house.” And we discovered that it was a new counterterrorism center that the CIA and military intelligence were running in Somalia, and they were training and preparing a Somali task force to go down and hunt members of the radical group Al Shabab, which pledged its allegiance to al-Qaeda. And they were paying the Somalis $200 in cash each month to work on this task force.
And so, as I started to investigate that, I met people who were working with the CIA that were Somalis, and they described for me a prison that’s in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Service, which is funded and backed by the United States. And in this basement, high-value prisoners are held in a bedbug-infested hellhole, and they are interrogated at times by CIA interrogators and French and other foreign interrogators. And I also met journalists that were put into that prison and saw the U.S. interrogators there, and they were put in that prison for filming things that the U.S.-backed Somali government didn’t want filmed. And so, when we—when I did that reporting, and I called a—you know, we’re not allowed to say who we call—I called a U.S. official, I guess I have to say, and the first thing he said to me is, “Yeah, that sounds right,” and, you know, that we’re doing that. And eventually they released a statement to me saying, you know, it makes perfect sense that we would partner with them, and admitted that they were doing interrogations there, but said it was very limited and that they sit in on debriefings with Somali agents.
But I wrote about the case of one man who was snatched in Nairobi, Kenya, from his home, taken to Wilson Airport in Nairobi, and then flown to Somalia, where he was then held in that prison. And he was a guy that was believed to be the right-hand man of one of the leaders of al-Qaeda in East Africa. But the U.S. told the Kenyans, “Go pick him up.” This is under Obama. “Go pick this guy up.” They go pick him up. They render him to this prison, where then U.S. agents interrogate him.
So, how far have we come? Well, under Bush, they were running secret prisons in Poland and Thailand and elsewhere, these so-called black sites, where they were torturing people. Under President Obama, you have the U.S. directing another government to snatch the person, so it’s not U.S. agents that are doing it, but you say, “We want you to go and take them,” and put them in this prison in a third country, where they don’t live, and then they’re going to be put into this hellish prison, the conditions of which constitute, I think, torture, when you don’t give anyone access to sunlight ever and you have them in a bedbug-infested, you know, filthy circumstances. And then U.S. agents can go in and interrogate them. How huge of a difference are those two things? Because, you know, we tend to think that—or I think the collective wisdom is that President Obama rolled back all of these Bush-era policies with his initial executive orders. In reality, there’s been cosmetic changes to a lot of this. And there’s—
AMY GOODMAN: And he said he wanted to close secret prisons.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, he—in fact, there was an order to close the secret prisons. And I believe it was in April of 2009, Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, said that we’re out of the business of secret prisons. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but what I do know is true is that we’re using other people’s secret prisons, other countries’ secret prisons, to do the same kind of dirty deeds that liberals were so rightly outraged about when President Bush was doing it around the world. So, you know, I think that because—because it’s a popular Democratic president, I think people have been convinced that things have really radically shifted, and in reality, they haven’t. And I think a lot of the Bush people stand in awe of what President Obama has been able to do, because they know that they probably wouldn’t have been able to get it done themselves. So, you know, there are ways in which Obama pushed the Cheney agenda far beyond what a President McCain or a President Romney would have been able to do, because he had his base of supporters.
AMY GOODMAN: And to those who say you have to fight lawless terrorists without using the constraints of law?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, then we’re a different nation. I mean, if that’s true, then we have to—we have to step back. I mean, if the majority of Americans believe that, which I don’t believe they do, then we’re a different nation. Then we should go back and write a new constitution, and we should have a totally different concept of what it means to have a justice system or have a judiciary that’s supposed to give access to due process, where you’re allowed to face your accusers.
I mean, one of the things that was most fascinating to me in researching this book was to read about the Clinton era. I cut my teeth in journalism, as you know, Amy, because I started working for you, in the '90s when Clinton was president. And I went back, and I read some of the memos that have been declassified, when the Clinton people were first looking at this question of assassination. And Richard Clarke, you know, who was a counterterrorism adviser in many administrations, Democratic or Republican, said that it was almost like a Talmudic sort of system with how detailed they were in if this, then this, then this, you know, in order to justify an assassination, that you had to have like—know what kind of lock was on the door in the house that you wanted the SEALs to go in and raid to take the person down. The Clinton people look like pacifists, basically, compared to what's happening under this administration, where on Tuesday you get together and decide who’s going to live or die around the world.
But, you know, so this has evolved so radically from one Democratic president, Clinton, to the next, in President Obama. I mean, President Obama looks like a ferocious hawk compared to Clinton or Jimmy Carter or any of these other presidents, which makes it so hilariously ironic the sort of line that a lot of these right-wingers have about Obama, that he’s like a Kenyan Mau Mau socialist or whatever. You know, President Obama is a very hawkish, hard-hitting president when it comes to counterterrorism policies, when it comes to assassination, when it comes to the U.S. reserving the right to bomb countries that it’s not at war with, and, most importantly, when it comes to convincing the American people that these things are all lawful and right and are smarter than the Bush-era big wars.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Jeremy Scahill, author of the new book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. We’ll air more of Amy Goodman’s interview with him in a minute.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Music from the Somali musician K’naan. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Nermeen Shaikh. We return now to Amy Goodman’s interview with Jeremy Scahill, author of the newly released book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.
AMY GOODMAN: What about JSOC and the covert wars on the African continent?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, I mean, this is a—this is an interesting story that’s only starting to come out into light right now. I mean, JSOC, for some years, has been involved in Mali in fighting against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and you have actions going on in Mali and Mauritania and, you know, very small-scale, discreet presence, working alongside French special operations forces. And, you know, the U.S. has been looking at doing drone strikes also in Africa.
But JSOC has a base in Kenya, and in fact that was where the operation to take down the pirates in April of 2009 took place, when the Somali pirates had taken the Maersk Alabama, which was a defense contractor ship, which seldom gets mentioned, that part of it. And the SEAL Team 6 was deployed from, you know, Kenya, and they went, and they sniper-shot the Somalis, and they rescued the captain. And that was one of the first times that Obama really understood the full power of JSOC, like the kind of force that he had, and, you know, had McRaven into the White House after that, and they had this whole sort of solidification of their relationship.
But a lot of the activity in Africa for the first part of the Obama administration centered in East Africa. And under President Obama, a number of leading al-Qaeda figures were assassinated. You had Saleh Ali Nabhan, was killed in September of 2009. President Obama authorized JSOC to actually go into Somalia in helicopters, and they went in, and they gunned him down, and then they landed. And they took Nabhan’s body—and I tell this whole story in the book. They took Nabhan’s body, and they flew it out to the sea, and they buried him at sea. We know that that’s the story about what happened with Osama bin Laden’s body.
They did that—actually, Obama and company did that in September of '09 with the head of al-Qaeda in East Africa. He was then succeeded by a fascinating guy whose story would take too long to tell, but it's in the book, Fazul Mohammed, who was this sort of brilliant con artist/master of disguise, who was one of the main plotters of the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, then goes on to become the head of al-Qaeda in Somalia and had a serious battle going on between him and the local Somali jihadists. And when I was in East Africa in 2011, he was killed at a checkpoint in Somalia by a random militia. This was a guy who was a leading al-Qaeda figure, who had eluded—or had evaded CIA and JSOC capture or killing for his entire adult life, from 1998 to the present, and is killed at a random checkpoint.
And it was interesting because it was a huge sort of benefit—I mean, the U.S. was very happy about it. Hillary Clinton made this big statement about how amazing it was. But the U.S. didn’t even kill him. He was killed by—I met the guys who killed him. Rick and I—Rick Rowley and I went and met these guys at a—and had lunch with them and talked to the guys that killed him. And they were just militia guys. And they had stolen all of this leading al-Qaeda figure’s computer equipment and took it back to their village. And so, when the Somali intelligence service realized that this, you know, very important guy, who was traveling on a South African passport under the name Daniel Robinson—and he’s actually from Comoros, the Comoros—they realized that they’ve killed Fazul, this internationally wanted terrorist going back to the Clinton administration. And they said, “Well, where’s all of his stuff in his car?” And they’re like, “Well, the militia guys looted it.” So then they had to go back and not tell the guys, “Hey, you know, you have this intelligence stuff.” They had to go and say, “We’re looking for computers,” and they go into their village, and they paid them, you know, thousands of dollars just to buy back the computers and the memory sticks and the cellphones.
And then they downloaded all of this information that showed the communications between Fazul and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor to Osama bin Laden, the number two man in al-Qaeda. And in the book, I talk about what these documents said. And none of these, you know, have really been published. But Fazul was advocating that the Al Shabab stop trying to take control of Somalia and engage in targeted assassinations and to give the appearance of total instability around the country. And they’re all subscribers to this document that is one of the sort of main manifestos of al-Qaeda called “The Management of Savagery.” And the actual author of it is unknown, but it’s basically the al-Qaeda manual. And Fazul wanted to implement “The Management of Savagery” in Somalia.
And you’ve seen, Al Shabab has been weakened. They’ve been pushed out of Mogadishu. But they’re able to strike at the heart of the government in Mogadishu, blowing up buildings, attacking courtrooms, killing dozens of people at times. And, you know, it’s—to me, Somalia is, in a way, a window into the future of warfare, because you have mercenaries, drone strikes, special ops, U.S. on the ground working with proxies, but trying to not have a major U.S. footprint, and then you have an enemy that’s engaged in asymmetric warfare. And so, the United States has—is increasingly engaged in this kind of warfare where it’s going to be not large-scale military deployments; it’s going to be bin Laden raid-type operations that you’ll never hear about, in countries that most people probably can’t point out on a map.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, you wrote Blackwater before you wrote Dirty Wars. Jeremy Scahill is the author of the international bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. You focused on Erik Prince and, overall, the whole issue of the rise of mercenary armies. Can you talk about how that informs what you’re reporting on today? For example, Blackwater in—in Africa, but larger than that, these private contractors in Africa?
JEREMY SCAHILL: I mean, studying the Blackwater, you know, history and then doing reporting on Blackwater was really my gateway into looking at the world of Joint Special Operations Command and CIA paramilitaries, because a lot of the guys that worked for Blackwater in their earlier life were doing the similar things for the U.S. government or were Navy SEALs or Army Rangers or Delta Force guys. And I actually met several people that, as a result of my reporting on Blackwater, that are from the actual U.S. military and had served and despise Blackwater and feel like they’ve cheapened the image of the American soldier by turning it into a for-profit entity and by taking—cashing in on all of the training they received in the U.S. military. So, actually, some people that really helped to inform me and are in this book—and some of them I can’t name—because I’ve gotten to know them, are people that have serious political disagreements with me but really cannot stand mercenaries and, for that reason, decided to reach out to me or to agree to talk to me.
AMY GOODMAN: Blackwater called now Academi?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, they’ve gone through many name changes. They were Blackwater, then Academi—or then Xe, then Academi. And who knows what it will be? The, you know, Fluffy Bunny Brigade next week. They’re constantly rebranding.
AMY GOODMAN: And where is Erik Prince today?
JEREMY SCAHILL: I actually think—I heard a rumor that Erik Prince is supposed to be coming to the Tribeca Film Festival because of a movie about Somali piracy, the anti-piracy force that he has been involved with operating. But I don’t—you know, I don’t know. I mean, you know, he’s not under any indictment that we know of, although the top five people under him all were indicted on conspiracy charges and weapons charges and got—
AMY GOODMAN: And he did leave the country.
JEREMY SCAHILL: —and got house arrests. And Erik Prince left the country in—I think it was 2010. He left the United States. In fact, I’ll tell you a story that I’ve never—I’ve never told publicly before. The way I found out about Erik Prince—you know, he was the head of Blackwater. His company was being investigated by multiple entities for all sorts of reasons, and they had conducted the Nisoor Square massacre in Baghdad in September of 2007, where they gunned down more than a dozen Iraqis, including a nine-year-old boy. And so, there was all this pressure. There were congressional hearings, and there was a firestorm about Blackwater being involved with the assassination program, running parts of the assassination program. And so Erik Prince decides to leave the United States and goes to Abu Dhabi.
Well, I found out about that before I even—before it was ever public, because I got an email from a young man, from a guy, who said, you know, “I’ve read your book, and I’ve seen you on TV, and I really respect your work, and I have a personal connection to someone who is—because of what he does, has information about the Prince family.” And I can’t say more than that about it, but just—so this person says to me, “I have information about that, and I think the two of you should be in touch.” And through that contact, I learned that Erik Prince was preparing to leave the United States.
And the person that wrote me that email was Bradley Manning, who is of course now being prosecuted for allegedly leaking all of the diplomatic cables and the “Collateral Murder” to WikiLeaks. Bradley Manning was the person that sent me that email. It wasn’t based on any classified information. He wasn’t sending me a document. It was a personal friend of his that had some attachment to—had some knowledge, because of what he does, of the Prince family’s movements. And it was because of Bradley Manning that I found out about that. And then The New York Times had, you know, followed up on the story after I wrote it in The Nation some weeks later and confirmed that Erik Prince had in fact left the United States. So, win-win.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about Erik Prince in Africa?
JEREMY SCAHILL: And Erik Prince in Africa, he—so, when he left the United States, he—well, first of all, he had—even when he was at Blackwater, he had bought this ship that he called “The McArthur,” and he envisioned it as this sort of counter-piracy vessel that could be used to protect shipping companies as they moved in and out of—you know, around the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. And that didn’t end up materializing and didn’t end up going operational. But then Prince got involved with this company called Saracen, which was a mercenary force that was working in various parts of Somalia. And Prince’s latest venture also is targeting Africa, includes, my understanding from his own—from reporting that happened in the Chinese press, is that he he has some wealthy Chinese investors that have—that are working with him on a project. And, you know, they’re looking at counter-piracy. They’re looking at counterterrorism.
You know, Africa is a major story, going forward, in everything that we’re discussing right now. You’re going to—I predict that you’re going to see a real uptick in covert operations in Africa, which is also why—part of why, when I write about it, it’s “dirty wars.” I mean, look at what happened in Africa, you know, with the anti-colonialist struggles and the CIA’s involvement with killing people like Patrice Lumumba and the dirty business that went on in South Africa and the Rhodesian mercenaries. I mean, there’s a real history of the CIA and the U.S. military in Africa that I think is important to study as we look into the future of what the U.S. program is in Africa. AFRICOM, which was created in 2007, is a combatant command now. It’s its own area of operations based in Djibouti, which is this tiny African nation, you know, right next to Somalia. And drone strikes are launched out of Djibouti. Special operations teams are in Djibouti. The CIA is in Djibouti. And they took over an old French base called Camp Lemonnier. And that’s where a lot of the covert actions on the African continent are based out of now.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, you mentioned Bradley Manning. And in your extensive footnotes, you do cite WikiLeaks documents. The significance in your covering dirty wars, covert wars, JSOC, of the information that’s come out from WikiLeaks?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Impossible to even like quantify how significant WikiLeaks has been to our understanding of overt and covert U.S. actions. I mean, when I was preparing initially to go to Somalia, we went through and researched on the WikiLeaks cables and found various warlords identified in the cables as being on the U.S. payroll or that the U.S. was working with, and then we went and tracked them down and found them. And, you know, you see that in our film. Two of those warlords were people that we discovered through the WikiLeaks cables.
And also, on the Somalia cables that were released, you know, there is a recognition that the U.S. was using these warlords to hunt down people and that it had caused great problems within the State Department, that they—you had internal debates going on where the CIA and the special operations forces were doing things that U.S. diplomats didn’t want them to be doing and that were counter to what the intelligence available to the U.S. government at the time indicated the threats were and the level of the threat.
But just in terms of our understanding of how the covert apparatus works, I mean, WikiLeaks was indispensable. And I think it’s—we’re going to look back decades from now and realize that because of the release of those documents, there was a huge shift in how we understand some of the more hidden aspects of U.S. policy.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, as we begin to wrap up, what most surprised you in your investigation of these covert wars, and particularly looking at JSOC? And what do you want people to understand from your book?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, I mean, I think that we have rolled back the clock, in some ways, to an era where you have multiple covert paramilitary forces that are operating in secret away from—largely away from journalists or congressional oversight, and they’re engaged in actions that are going to cause blowback. This is going to boomerang back around to us. You can’t launch these so-called signature strikes, killing people in pre-crime, you know, in countries around the world, and think that we’re not going to create a whole new generation of enemies that have an actual grievance against us—not that want to kill us for our McDonald’s or our freedom, but have an actual score to settle. I mean, a lot of the al-Qaeda leadership—you know, Obama likes to talk about how he—you know, “Ask the top 20 leaders of al-Qaeda that I’ve taken down, you know, if I have resolve,” was something that he said during the campaign. And fair enough, they’ve—you know, they killed Osama bin Laden. They’ve killed heads of al-Qaeda in East Africa twice. They’ve killed the number three man in al-Qaeda, you know, probably a dozen times. All that’s very true. But, to me, they’re—out of the ashes of all of this could rise a force that is much more difficult to deal with, and that is disparate groups of people that have actual scores to settle with the United States. And I think we’re going to see more asymmetric war on our own—in our own country. And I think some of it is going to be inspired by what we’ve done over these past 10, 12 years.
And I’m—I mean, as a New Yorker, too, I mean, I think that you can’t be paralyzed by the fear of an explosion happening. I mean, we’ve all of course watched, you know, with great horror what happened at the Boston Marathon. And, you know, I haven’t said anything about it, because I don’t think—I think it’s not right to comment on motivations of people until you actually know. And I think that there was a lot of racism in the response that happened after Boston, and I think there was a real rush to judgment, and I think there’s still a rush to judgment that’s going on. We need to understand all of the facts. But separate from that, I think we’re living in a world where we are not going to be immune to the payback for some of the things that we’ve done. And unless—unless we, as a society, completely re-imagine what an actual national security policy would look like, one that recognizes the dignity of other people around the world or the rights of people to practice their religion or determine their form of government, unless we’re willing to re-imagine how we approach the world, we’re doomed to have a repeat of a 9/11-type attack or something that’s smaller-scale but constant.
You asked me about what surprised me. The depth and texture of so many of the characters that populate the landscape of this story over the past 10 years—I mean, from Admiral McRaven and General McChrystal to Mohamed Qanyare, a warlord in Somalia, to Emile Nakhleh, who was one of the people running the CIA’s political Islam division, who’s a character in my book—you know, the way that their lives intersect at various points is incredible. And, you know, the story of the Awlaki family is the one that I think I was invested in most, because I felt like it was a—we only know about the last three years of Anwar al-Awlaki’s life, and it was a watershed moment. The two-week period when the U.S. killed three U.S. citizens, to me, we crossed a—you know, we sort of crossed a line there, and you can’t turn back on it. And I think it was important to understand who was this guy whose death was so important that the Obama administration was willing to cross such a serious line to end his life. Who was that man, and why was he so significant that he needed to be taken out?
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Robert Gibbs. In October, the former White House press secretary and then Obama campaign adviser, Robert Gibbs, was asked about the U.S. killing of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the U.S. teenage son of Anwar al-Awlaki. In response, Gibbs blamed the elder Awlaki for his son’s assassination by U.S. drones. He was questioned by reporter Sierra Adamson.
SIERRA ADAMSON: Do you think that the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, who was an American citizen, is justifiable?
ROBERT GIBBS: I’m not going to get into Anwar al-Awlaki’s son. I know that Anwar al-Awlaki renounced his citizenship—
SIERRA ADAMSON: His son was still an American citizen.
ROBERT GIBBS: —did great harm to people in this country and was a regional al-Qaeda commander hoping to inflict harm and destruction on people that share his religion and others in this country. And—
SIERRA ADAMSON: That’s an American citizen that’s being targeted without due process of law, without trial.
ROBERT GIBBS: And again—
SIERRA ADAMSON: And he’s underage. He’s a minor.
ROBERT GIBBS: I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father. If they’re truly concerned about the well-being of their children, I don’t think becoming an al-Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.
AMY GOODMAN: He “should have a far more responsible father.” Those are the words of Robert Gibbs as a surrogate for President Obama when he was running for president in October. Jeremy Scahill?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, he should be—he should be ashamed of himself for what he said. I mean, first of all, Awlaki had left his son in the care of his grandparents, who were—did not share his worldviews at all. He actually had—didn’t have his family on the run with him. He did exactly what Gibbs said he should have done. He was responsible. He left him with his grandparents, who are prominent, upstanding citizens who had great affection for the United States, actually. They were raising that kid, and their dream was for him to go to the United States and go to college in the United States. And to say that a child can pay for the sins of their parents is this old tragedy of history. It’s the worst, most despicable justification that you could ever put forward for killing a child, to say that it’s because of who their parent was. And, I mean, I—to me, and I am not going to stop working on this until we get an answer from this administration—the fact that they will not come out and say why that young man was killed should be viewed with a collective sense of shame in our country, because it shows just how far this has gone. And there are very legitimate questions that are being—that need to be raised about this, and too few people are raising them, particularly in Congress.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Jeremy Scahill, author of the new book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield . Please visit democracynow.org to hear part one of Amy Goodman’s interview with Jeremy.
On Saturday, Amy will be moderating a discussion with Jeremy and Noam Chomsky at Harvard University at 2:00 p.m.