- Jeremy Scahillco-founder of The Intercept. He is host of the weekly podcast Intercepted. He is the author of the books Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.
Extended conversation with investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept. Scahill talks about Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Mike Pompeo; Erik Prince’s ties to China; Trump’s ties to Russia; and the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
More from this Interview
- Part 1: Jeremy Scahill: Gina Haspel Should Be Answering for Her Torture Crimes, Not Heading the CIA
- Part 2: Congresswoman Confirms Erik Prince Tied to Intelligence Operation Run Out of Dick Cheney’s Office
- Part 3: Jeremy Scahill on Trump’s Cabinet Shake-up, the Mueller Probe & the Iraq War 15 Years Later
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with Part 2 of our conversation with Jeremy Scahill. Jeremy is the co-founder of The Intercept, the news organization. He is the host of the podcast Intercepted. And he is the author of many award-winning books—Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield—the Oscar-nominated film Dirty Wars, and his new book, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program.
Jeremy, we’ve been talking about the latest developments, just in 24 hours—it was just about this time yesterday that we got the news via Trump tweet that he had fired Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and wanted Mike Pompeo to replace him and Gina Haspel to replace Mike Pompeo—she’s the deputy CIA director, to become CIA director; Pompeo, director of central intelligence, to become secretary of state—and the significance of these three figures. Rex Tillerson, for example, I mean, was a former CEO of ExxonMobil. They also fired his spokesperson, Steve Goldstein, who, before he was at State, was a senior vice president at BP.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, yeah. I mean, we’ve replaced ExxonMobil with a Christian crusader, in Mike Pompeo. And then you replace a radical ideologue Christian crusader, Mike Pompeo, with a dyed-in-the-wool CIA torturer.
And one other thing to add about Mike Pompeo, let’s remember that he is an extreme hawk on a variety of issues, including on Russia. It’s very interesting, because one of the things that seemed to be tension between Trump and Tillerson was that Tillerson wasn’t entirely down with the program of Trump’s policy of basically never saying anything bad about Russia. Now, I’m very skeptical of some of the allegations in this investigation, and I believe we need facts, but, you know, it’s clear that Russia did make efforts to try to penetrate U.S. software companies that were servicing U.S. elections. At a minimum, we know that that is true, because we’ve seen the internal documents on it. But Mike Pompeo called for Edward Snowden to be executed. He basically designated, in his first major speech as CIA director, WikiLeaks as a state terrorist organization, you know, a nonstate terrorist actor. This is a very extreme figure to have as a secretary of state.
Now, Rex Tillerson, I mean, it’s—look, ExxonMobil was basically running the State Department. OK, we’re talking about two different kinds of bad here. But with Mike Pompeo, I think what this represents is a pretty hard tilt to the right in the Trump administration. And, you know, it’s hard to pinpoint what the Trump ideology is. But having an ideologue like Mike Pompeo and then a torturer like Gina Haspel really is sort of a return to the bread and butter of the Dick Cheney way of operating things. So, you know, this is a very, I think, troubling development in an already extremely disturbing situation.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have the timing of everything. This New York Times piece just came out at this moment, as we’re speaking, the news that the British prime minister, Theresa May, has expelled 23 Russian diplomats, blaming Moscow for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and sharply escalating the dispute between the two countries. She said she had agreed with Britain’s National Security Council to suspend all high-level contacts between her country and Russia, and to expel 23 Russian diplomats, who were given one week to leave. She described it as the biggest expulsion in more than 30 years. Now, the timing of Rex Tillerson, while for months it’s been talked about, right? I mean, I suppose ever since he called the president—what was it?—and “f—ing moron”—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —and never took it back.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, and look, when Rex Tillerson yesterday had to give this kind of humiliating press—public statement, he didn’t mention the word “Trump” once in it, which is unheard of if you’re—you know, if you’re sort of departing. Even if you didn’t like your boss, you’re going to say, “Well, I thank Donald Trump for this time.” Nothing, doesn’t mention him at all. And, I mean, I think that Trump made a huge mistake with how he handled this with Rex Tillerson, because Tillerson has a lot of respect in corporate America. I mean, I think the guy is a total scumbag, but in that world he’s a somebody. And Tillerson is not going to let Trump just, you know, destroy him. He’s going to tell quite a tale about this.
What’s also amazing is that Trump had an entire TV empire built around his ability to fire people—to fire people. He can’t seem to fire a single person to their face. He has to send his bodyguard to fire people. He tweets. You know, imagine being Rex Tillerson. And Tillerson, I understand, doesn’t have Twitter. So they had to print out Trump’s tweet and show it to him. I mean, it’s like, “Hey, P.S., you’re fired, you know, and I’m not even going to like say it to your face.” I mean, it’s really kind of remarkable. And you think about it. Like, this guy is in charge.
And what also I think is a contradiction that we may see play out in a very horrifying way, or we may see it play out in a hilariously stupid way, Trump makes this announcement that he’s going to meet with Kim Jong-un. And I’ve been saying that I could see Donald Trump totally going the way of Dennis Rodman. And there was this documentary about Dennis Rodman, the former NBA star, who went to Pyongyang, and he’s now best friends with Kim Jong-un. But there was a documentary called Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang, and it’s just Dennis Rodman getting stinking drunk and hanging out in North Korea and then drunkenly singing “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong-un. I am totally serious, Amy. I could see, with the exception of the drinking, Donald Trump going that exact route and all of a sudden saying, “North Korea is the greatest in the world.”
But you have people like Mike Pompeo, people like James Mattis, people now like Gina Haspel, and they’re different people, but all of them, I think, are very hawkish on North Korea. So you have this kind of instability. And, you know, if we were looking at this in a totally objective way, the United States right now appears as we understand a lot of despotic, chaotic, violent countries around the world, where you have—this is a major reshuffle. The North Koreans must be looking at this and just saying, “What? You just—now there’s going to be a new—you’ve just said you want to meet with us. You’ve said it’s the premier foreign policy issue. And you’re like changing your diplomats and the head of CIA?” I mean, we must seem like a tinpot dictatorship to a lot of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: So you have Rex Tillerson saying, right before he was fired—you had Sarah Huckabee Sanders talking about the poisoning of the Russian spy—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —and his daughter in England. She refused to say the word “Russia”—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —even as reporters pushed her. But at the same time, you had Rex Tillerson, who at the time was secretary of state, saying he supported Theresa May and did believe that Russia was somehow connected. I mean, what May said is either this was a state poisoning or they lost control of their poison.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, and let’s remember, I mean, the Russian response to this—take from it what you will—was that, in fact, this person was a British intelligence asset. So, I mean, I’ll just say, I think it’s important in cases of Russia now, because of the way that this whole story is playing out—
AMY GOODMAN: Right. Well, I mean, didn’t they say he was a double agent?
JEREMY SCAHILL: But you’re—yeah, yeah, yeah, of course. I mean, no, I’m not correcting you. What I’m saying is like, you know, these are spy games, and they’re very deadly. And I think we need to be very careful now. You can throw anything against the wall on Russia, is going to stick right now. So, you know, it does—it appears, and based on Putin’s track record of whacking people and poisoning people around the world, that certainly is a course that we should pursue. I mean, I think that it’s hard—in the context of the cartoonish villainy of this administration and, you know, Trump’s utter refusal to ever say anything about Vladimir Putin, it is curious. At the same time, I think there’s a danger to going so far in the direction of implying that Russia is the Soviet Union rising again, that the Bolsheviks are at the shores of America ready to invade. You know, there is a value to Trump’s position on Russia, which is that this is a major nuclear power. We do not want a war with Russia.
And, you know, when you—we were talking about Erik Prince earlier. A question that I am astonished that no one in Congress asked when that guy was sitting in front of them is that Erik Prince is in bed right now with the Chinese government. His company, just in the last two weeks, the largest investment arm of the Chinese government, the CITIC Group, increased its shares in Erik Prince’s company to more than 40 percent. They almost control Erik Prince’s security company. What is that company doing? Erik Prince set up a company to help China protect its natural resource extraction operations in Africa. He’s working with the Chinese government, and his top colleague from China is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Erik Prince is in bed with the Chinese and is helping them to escalate their operations in Africa. He goes to the Seychelles and meets with a shady Russian who also is in that business. And no one, including Democrats, says, “Was there anything about that meeting that had to do with the fact that you are, by default, a kind of representative of the Chinese state right now and you’re close to Donald Trump?” You know, it’s like we get so caught up in “Ah! He met with a Russian!” that we’re missing like the obvious thing there, which is that China and Russia are forming now a sort of renewed alliance against U.S. influence around the world, including in Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about that Seychelles meeting. We talked a little about it in Part 2, but so you have Erik Prince, the man you have written extensively about—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, can’t escape the guy, Amy, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —wrote a whole book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Erik Prince, the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Is she still, right now, at this moment?
AMY GOODMAN: Right, it’s just been a few days since the disastrous 60 Minutes interview for her, but—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. She hasn’t been replaced by Glenn Beck yet?
AMY GOODMAN: —though very revealing. But Erik Prince, who was with Donald Trump on election night, who then has a meeting—before going to the Seychelles, they have a meeting at Trump Tower.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Multiple meetings.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain that meeting that had to do with the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, not coming to the United States to see President Obama or officials in the Obama administration, because, remember, in December—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —he was president, but a secret trip to New York to Trump Tower?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. Well, let’s remember that, you know, for the first part of the first term of Obama, Erik Prince was still getting government contracts. And, you know, Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Obama as president, the Blackwater contracts continued on. And Representative Jan Schakowsky, who was very close to Obama personally and remains close to him, was constantly appealing to Obama and Hillary Clinton to end business with Erik Prince. And, you know, she told me at one point that the response that she was given by Hillary Clinton and Obama was that his company is sort of irreplaceable right now. And that shows you how enmeshed in U.S. national security operations at that point in time that Blackwater was.
But when it became clear—and Erik Prince hated Obama. I mean, he participated in the sort of, you know, fantasy of Obama being a secret Muslim. Erik Prince decides to leave the United States. You know, the sort of investigation was closing in on him. The Democrats were still in control of the Congress. So Erik Prince up and moves to Abu Dhabi.
AMY GOODMAN: And they were moving in on him because?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Because of—well, there was a whole slew of things. There was the conduct of Blackwater in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were allegations of weapons smuggling. There was an ATF investigation into Blackwater. There were multiple criminal and congressional investigations. And, you know, I think Erik Prince—I don’t necessarily think he ran away because of those investigations. I think it was more that he was like, “OK, I’m not going to be able to cash in on this administration, and I don’t want to support them anyway, because ideologically I loathe Obama. He’s a secret Muslim.”
So he goes to the United Arab Emirates, you know, where there are actual Muslims running the country. And, you know, he gets this huge mansion there, and he is very close to Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, and very close. And Erik pitches them this idea of a privatized security force that can operate not just in the UAE, but elsewhere. And one of the things that the Emiratis wanted, we understand, was for Erik Prince to provide them with non-Muslim forces that could be used to suppress an Arab Spring-style uprising, so that they didn’t have to have Muslims killing Muslims, that they could get Erik Prince to bring in Christians to kill Muslims. And the two of them—you know, Erik Prince loves killing Muslims, so, you know, it was sort of they met together at the crossroads there.
So, you have these questions about Jared Kushner and the Emiratis, Erik Prince and the Emiratis. And then this meeting happens—
AMY GOODMAN: Just very quickly, say Jared Kushner and the Emiratis.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, I have to be careful to not get ahead of some of the reporting that we’re working on, but there are—there is a course of investigation that indicates that Jared Kushner also was secretly negotiating with the Emiratis and that there were—you know, look, put it this way: Steve Bannon, in the book Fire and Fury, said all roads on this Russia thing lead to money laundering. And, you know, Steve Bannon is a pathological liar, but he also occasionally is incredibly prescient and, you know, has a record of calling things—you know, look, he was an early backer of Trump. He said, “This guy is going to win.” No one believed it. So, you know, I always read what Steve Bannon says, but I take it with a grain of salt.
On this one, I suspect that Bannon is probably right. I don’t think we’re going to—you know, maybe the pee tape exists. Maybe there’s some kompromat on Trump. I don’t—you know, I’m not like saying it’s out of the realm of possibility. But I do think that we’re talking about, you know, kind of crooks here. And Trump is kind of a low-brow crook in a way. And Jared Kushner, you know, his father went to prison for corruption. And so, Jared Kushner and the Emiratis, stories are going to start coming out about that.
AMY GOODMAN: And there was this meeting with Jared Kushner, Erik Prince, the crown prince of—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —the United Arab Emirates in December, right after Trump was elected.
JEREMY SCAHILL: And it’s sort of—right, and it’s sort of portrayed as though like, you know, the Emiratis were introduced to Prince. People are missing the big picture in the story. Erik Prince is incredibly close to the Emiratis, and that was a big part of what he could offer the Trump people, was making introductions to these people.
The guy, George Nader, who now is popping up—by the way, he was charged on child pornography allegations in the '80s. You know, he beat that case. But if you read that case, it's pretty questionable what this guy was alleged to have been involved with. But George Nader was an envoy to Syria secretly—he’s a Lebanese-American businessman—under the Bill Clinton administration. Then, under Bush-Cheney, he’s working with Erik Prince in Iraq to try to win contracts. Then he starts working with the Emiratis. And he was a frequent visitor to the Trump White House.
So, Erik Prince goes to the Seychelles, and everybody’s like, “Oh, the whole point was just to meet with this Russian.” I think there’s a much bigger story here that has to do with big money, that involves Emiratis, Jared Kushner, Erik Prince, Donald Trump and the 2016 election. Also, dig into who paid and gave a lot of money for Trump’s inauguration. I mean, there’s—we are not even—we’re not even like at phase two yet of what should be the investigation here. And I think, in a way—I think there is a legit line of inquiry about Russia. In a way, it’s a red herring, because I think that the big story here is going to come down to old-fashioned corruption, money laundering, perhaps bribery. And, you know, Erik Prince is the kind of guy who is used to operating in the shadows and in very kind of squishy situations.
AMY GOODMAN: Who did give the money for the inauguration?
JEREMY SCAHILL: There’s a whole list of people. I mean, as an example, the Venezuelan government gave money. I mean, paying for inaugural festivities is a way that—it’s a legalized or legitimized form of bribery, essentially. You pour money into this lavish celebration, and it’s really just kind of the American way of legitimizing bribery. So, you know, and there’s questions about how much money certain Emiratis gave.
And Kushner, I think, is truly an idiot. And I think he—and I think that the—one of the most lethal combinations in politics is ignorance and arrogance together. And, you know, this—Jared Kushner was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He knows nothing about the real world. He seems incapable of even speaking and having sounds come out of his mouth. And this is the guy—he can’t get a top-secret security clearance legitimately. He has been tasked with solving Middle East peace. And he still is conducting business in his companies, as is Ivanka Trump, as is, let’s be clear, Donald Trump. I mean, this whole thing is one huge money-laundering operation. That’s what this White House looks like.
AMY GOODMAN: And the House Intelligence Committee suspending any investigation?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. I mean, this was predictable, in a way. Devin Nunes, quote-unquote, “recused” himself, but he constantly was all over this. They say, “We’re done interviewing our witnesses. We found no evidence of collusion.” There are several people that testified in front of that committee that are going to have to answer questions about things that appear not to be true. We talked about Erik Prince. Now, I don’t know if Erik Prince lied, but I know that there’s a lot of evidence to suggest he may have. That’s a crime. That’s not like some slap on the hand. It’s a pretty serious crime, too. And Erik—you can be prosecuted even if you weren’t under oath. But Prince was under oath. And so, you know, more can come out of this.
The Senate investigation seems quite a bit more bipartisan in nature. You know, Jan Schakowsky, who was on Intel Committee when Mike Rogers was the chair—you know, he’s now a CNN pundit, but, you know, the Michigan Republican Mike Rogers—she said, “Even Mike Rogers, who’s a pretty partisan Republican, was allowing Democrats to call witnesses and to actually ask some questions.” In this case, this was, you know, a show trial, basically, that the Republicans were engaged in.
The Mueller investigation, I think, is going to be really fascinating to watch, not just for the obvious, but because I think that the road that Mueller seems to be going down is more of a classic financial crimes route. And that’s part of why—you know, a lot of people attack The Intercept and say, “Oh, it’s The Putincept, or, you know, Glenn Greenwald is denying.” If you actually read this, the general position has been: Let’s see the evidence in these things. Let’s also not go crazy with this new Cold War rhetoric. But also, there’s a value to everyone yelling “Russia! Russia! Russia!” all the time, if the real issue is financial crimes, because it’s going to kind of lessen it. Financial crimes aren’t as sexy, you know. And so, short of like the public seeing the pee tape, MSNBC and a lot of liberals have gone way out of their way to sort of portray this as a Russian invasion, and they’ve set the standard so high that anything less than that is going to be underwhelming.
But I do think there is a legitimate, serious investigation into corruption here. And I think that arrogance and ignorance has fueled it. I think these guys came in thinking they could get away with it. I think it’s why Mike Flynn was taking the phone calls he was, even though he knew he was being surveilled. I think it’s why they’ve brought in some of the people that they know can’t get security clearance. They just feel like they can—
AMY GOODMAN: Why? Why he was taking the calls?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I think—let’s, first of all, talk about, well, who was Mike Flynn talking to. When Mike Flynn was talking to Ambassador Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time to the United States, Flynn knew, because he had been the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and was the head of intelligence for the Joint Special Operations Command under General Stanley McChrystal for years—Flynn knew how surveillance of foreign diplomats and spies works. So he knows, as soon as he picks up an unencrypted phone line and he’s talking to the Russian ambassador, that those calls are going to be intercepted. And I think that Flynn is not a stupid guy, as much as he’s a buffoon with how he talks about Islam and “lock her up” and all of that stuff. He’s been around a long time. He knew that they were going to pick it up. I think he just thought, “We’re in power now. They’re not going to—they’re not going to mess with us. I’m the national—you know, I’m going to be the national security adviser.”
But what no one talks about, what was Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador about? He wasn’t talking about “Let’s collude with Vladimir Putin.” He was trying to convince the Russians to back Israel’s position against Barack Obama, in the waning days of his presidency, at the United Nations, when Obama was saying he was going to abstain on a vote about Palestine and Israel, which, you know, of course, enraged Israel and Netanyahu. So, the story with Flynn, the real story with Flynn, was one of Israeli collusion and advocating that the Russians, who normally would be on the opposite side, come on board with the incoming administration’s position on Israel.
You know, I haven’t seen much evidence of active conspiracy. You have a lot of lying. You have a lot of questions that, obviously, should be answered. But I would just caution that if you go so far down the line of this Trump-is-in-bed-with-Putin thing, that it’s going to undermine what I think is going to be the thing that could bring this down. I think it’s more likely Trump gets indicted than impeached, criminally.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the Trump administration shake-up is not done. They’re talking about—
JEREMY SCAHILL: H.R. McMaster is going to be gone sooner rather than later.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what about General H.R. McMaster?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, there is—McMaster is—you know, everybody talks about “adult in the room,” “adult in the room.” I hate that phrase. I think McMaster is the realist in that administration, more so than anyone else. I mean, yes, he’s a hawkish guy. You know, there are questions we can ask about McMaster’s positions. But, in general, McMaster is considered a kind of military man. He’s not bombastic like General Mattis, who, you know, speaks in terms about how we’re—you know, “We’re going to destroy you, blah, blah, blah.”
Once you remove McMaster from that equation, who do you replace him with? Remember this, Amy. National security adviser doesn’t need to be confirmed by the Senate. That’s a freebie for any administration. So you usually choose someone that you know is going to be controversial, if that’s your thing, to be national security adviser. Who comes in after McMaster? Who is the guy that even—that Bush couldn’t get confirmed as U.N. ambassador so they appointed him during recess? John Bolton. You bring in John Bolton to that administration—
AMY GOODMAN: Who wanted to blow the top 10 floors off the United Nations.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Off the United Nations, while he was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But John Bolton is one of the most vile, hawkish neocons to ever walk the planet. He—
AMY GOODMAN: You don’t think it’ll be Erik Prince?
JEREMY SCAHILL: I don’t think Erik Prince—I think Erik Prince wanted to basically purchase the Afghanistan War and go there, because the long—
AMY GOODMAN: He made the suggestion to be the viceroy—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Oh, yeah, he wanted to—
AMY GOODMAN: —and have a private mercenary army there.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, yeah, he wanted to privatize it. But what is this about? Is it really about American defense? Everything Erik Prince does now is about minerals and natural resources. He wants to be paid in minerals and natural resources. He wants to extract them. He owns a refinery in South Sudan, Erik Prince does. He’s working with the Chinese. It’s not that Erik Prince has any love for China. It’s that the U.S. won’t do what he wants done, which is let’s go and escalate the stealing of resources.
AMY GOODMAN: But let’s go back to John Bolton. Then we have to wrap up.
JEREMY SCAHILL: So, you have—so, if you replace H.R. McMaster, who is a measured realist—again, I’m not endorsing McMaster, but I’m saying, in the context of this administration, much more of a traditional conservative. You replace the national security adviser, McMaster, with John Bolton, who is a radical ideologue, and the whole thing shifts. So, you have Pompeo at State—rabid ideologue. Then you would have Haspel at CIA—torturer. Then you have John Bolton national security adviser, who wants to go to war simultaneously with Iran and North Korea. You think things can’t get worse? Things can get much worse in this administration. We’ll be longing for the days of Tillerson and McMaster. And I say that as someone thinking that those two are very problematic individuals to have in government.
AMY GOODMAN: We are now—March 19th, March 20th is the 15th anniversary of the Iraq War. You’ve spent a good deal of time in Iraq. Your thoughts?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, and I often remember the kinds of stories that we did for Democracy Now! when Jacquie Soohen and I were on the ground there as—reporting for Democracy Now! And we had to figure out a way to essentially hack Iraq’s firewall at the time to smuggle videos out of Iraq, because everything was subjected to censors. That was coming from CNN and Sky News and BBC. And, you know, looking back on it, what did we do? We interviewed a lot of ordinary people.
I’ll never forget the profile we did of the sculptor Mohammad Ghani, who made those famous huge hands of Saddam Hussein that were on the parade grounds holding the swords. But he was forced to do that. What his passion was, was realizing the stories of A Thousand and One Nights and Scheherazade. And he had flying carpets that they elevated over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. And we did this profile, weeks before the United States invasion and shock and awe, of Mohammad Ghani, who can’t say on camera what he believes about Saddam Hussein, but instead points to a birdcage that he kept in his studio, and it had a little sculpted bird inside of it. And he says, “I always keep the door open on this cage, because the bird wants to be free, but he can’t be free yet.” The kind of reporting we did here was so—I mean, I feel blessed to have been able to talk to so many people before Iraq was utterly destroyed, who were connected to some sense of secularism, some sense of contact with the outside world.
This is one of the most horrifying crimes in modern history, what the United States has done—and actually continues to do—in Iraq, starting in the 1950s. The U.S. backed the rise of Saddam Hussein, the mass murderer of communists and other dissidents—as it did in Indonesia and Iran and elsewhere. And then you had, when Saddam was at the height of his brutality in the '80s, Donald Rumsfeld going and shaking Saddam's hand, selling the helicopters to Iraq that was used to drop chemical weapons on Kurds in the north of Iraq, helping Iran and Iraq to, quote, “kill each other off” during the 1980s. And then you had the Gulf War, where the civilian infrastructure of Iraq was brutally attacked. And then you have the U.S. decision to keep Saddam Hussein in power and then this decade-plus of sanctions, largely administered by the Clinton administration. Bill Clinton conducted the longest sustained bombing campaign since Vietnam that the U.S. was involved with, bombing Iraq once every three days under the guise of the so-called no-fly zones. And then, at the end of Clinton, the U.S. Congress passes the Iraq Liberation Act, which was endorsed by all of these people. It was written by the neocons. Bernie Sanders even voted for it, for regime change in Iraq. That codified it as the law of the land. 9/11 happens. The next day—in fact, the same day, Rumsfeld and company and Cheney say, “This is our chance. Let’s go back into Iraq and finish the job.” And then you have this bloodbath that ensues. Upwards of a million Iraqis have been killed. And, you know, as I look back, having spent so much time in Iraq and studied the country over the course of the post-World War II era, the U.S. policy in Iraq has been consistent: It’s been consistently anti-Iraqi civilian.
And I think that—I’ve said this before on the show, but I often think about what Tariq Aziz, who was sort of the face of the regime to the outside world for years—he was a Christian in Saddam’s government. You know, he had the big glasses and the mustache. He was sort of an iconic character. But I had interviewed him many times for Democracy Now!, and he always would sort of say, “Oh, Saddam and the Baath Party are the strongest.” And the last time I met with him, he said, “You can overthrow Saddam, you can destroy Arab nationalism,” which is really what the United States did, secular nationalism, “but you’re going to open a Pandora’s box in the Middle East that you’ll never be able to close.” And what he was talking about was the utility of these dictators, who were keeping these Islamic movements, with brutal force, at bay. And that’s what—you know, the people like Brent Scowcroft and George H.W. Bush, they actually understood that. It has its own thuggish logic to it. “Let’s have a—we want an SOB there, but he’s our SOB.” Then the neocons came in, and they said, “Let’s redraw the maps.” And so, what was the end result in Iraq? They opened that Pandora’s box, and they won’t be able to close it.
And I think that the premier—and this is the last thing I’ll say on this. The premier issue that we, as a society, should be studying, but no one ever talks about, is the consequence of destroying secular Arab nationalist movements and governments throughout the region. Muammar Gaddafi, brutal, horrible dictator. Was it better under Gaddafi than it is now in Libya? Saddam Hussein has never been more popular than he is right now in Iraq. People say, “I want him back.” This was a guy who was a mass murderer, who cut out people’s tongues. But, as long as you kept your mouth shut and you didn’t say anything bad about the Baath Party, you could walk down the street without somebody blowing you up. So, the legacy of the United States in the whole region, post-World War II, Democrat and Republican, is a legacy drenched in blood, in the blood of Iraqi civilians and Arab civilians.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jeremy Scahill, I want to thank you so much for being with us. To see Part 1 of our conversation, go to democracynow.org. Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept, host of the terrific weekly podcast Intercepted. He’s the author of many books—Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield—the Oscar-nominated film Dirty Wars—and The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.