Transcript: Jeremy Scahill– Obama’s Legacy; to legitimize assassination as an essential Component of US foreign Policy
The O’Leary: Obama, a disaster.
By Rob Kall (about the author)
June 16, 2013
By Rob Kall
In a riveting interview, I talk with Scahill about Obama’s murders, his assassination diplomacy, Training troops for repression in foreign lands, Murder Inc., the more dangerous aspect of the Obama presidency, Liberals on shaky ground, being killed for what you might become– a “grotesque form of pre-crime.
“I interviewed Jeremy Scahill on June 11th.. Here’s a link to the audio podcast.
Thanks to Don Caldarazzo for doing the transcript.
Rob Kall: And welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM. My guest tonight is Jeremy Scahill. He is National Security Correspondent for The Nation Magazine, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow with the Nation Institute, and the author of the New York Times Bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He’s got a new book out: Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, and a movie – a documentary – that is a gripping, intense documentary that is a must see. Welcome to the show, Jeremy.
Jeremy Scahill: Hey. Thanks for having me.
Rob Kall: What is the message that you want to get across from this combination of book and movie?
Jeremy Scahill: In the past twelve years in this post-911 world that we’re in, there have been so many lines that have been crossed under both the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration on a domestic and international front, that I think we haven’t really confronted how far we’ve gone in the creation of the National Security State, but also in this aggressive, targeted killing program around the globe. At the end of the day, I think that many of our policies are, on the one hand, internationally making us less safe, because I think they’re creating more new enemies than they are killing actual terrorists; and then on a domestic front, I think this fear of a terror attack has resulted in giving up some of our liberties in the name of security. I think we’re going to look back decades from now and realize this was a very key moment, and that a lot of us were asleep at the wheel. So it’s intended to contribute to a debate that is just starting in our country, but should have happened long ago, about what kind of National Security Policy we want.
Rob Kall: You say in your book that this movie and the book basically gets us thinking about the future of American Democracy. What does that mean?
Jeremy Scahill: Well, look: if you have a popular Democratic President who is a constitutional lawyer by trade, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and is asserting the right of the United States to conduct what are effectively assassination operations around the world – including killing American citizens who have not been charged with a crime, and are not on an active battlefield shooting at US forces – and you have a President that had campaigned on a pledge to reverse the excesses of his predecessor, but instead is creating systems to legitimatize or systematize some of the more egregious aspects of the Bush/Cheney program, then I think we are indeed looking at a perpetual state of war, because it is being co-signed by Democrats and Republicans alike.
For me, when you take our foreign policy – the drones strikes, the “Night Raid” policy in Afghanistan – and then look at what’s happening at home with the crackdown of whistle-blowers, with the targeting of phone records of journalists, with the revelations that have come out in Glen Greenwald’s reporting from this NSA whistle-blower about the National Security State, I think that we’re looking at an erosion of some of our basic freedoms. An undermining of not only a Democratic Press, but the ability of whistle-blowers within government to speak out about abuses, or waste, or frauds that are happening in secret. For me that comes to the heart of some of the most pressing debates we should be having about the undermining of Democratic principles in our country in the name of security.
Rob Kall: Seymour Hersh, in a very positive interview, says that what you talked about is, “What has been done in the name of America since 9/11.” Could you comment on that?
Jeremy Scahill: Well, remember that within days of 9/11, Congress passed this bill, The Authorization for the Use of Military Force,” that was very swiftly signed into law by president Bush. And basically, that gave the Bush Administration a blank check to declare the world a battlefield. It was really the legal architecture for operations outside of the stated battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, and led to the boosting up of paramilitary forces from the CIA. It’s not that the CIA hadn’t always been in the paramilitary game; it’s that it resulted in an expansion of it’s operations and the operations of it’s elite military unit, the “Joint Special Operations Command.” There was only one member of Congress that actually voted against that in the entire Congress (both houses), and that was Representative Barbara Lee of California.
She said in her speech, “We can’t live in a state of perpetual war, and I fear that this law will insure that we do.” I think she was largely right; but we what we saw then under Bush and Cheney, of course, was “Murder Inc.,” where these guys are setting up black sites around the world; where they are rendering people (in some cases) to third countries, in other cases to the CIA black sites in Poland, and Thailand, and elsewhere. They start reverse engineering torture tactics that had been used to train American soldiers on how to resist lawless enemies’ torture — we started using those very same tactics against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, the black sites, Guantanamo – and this goes on for both terms of the Bush Administration.
Then President Obama comes into office; and he is briefed on the various threats around the world, hundreds of concurrent terrorist threats around the world, and basically buys into this idea that America is going to need to kill it’s way to victory and engage in preemptive war. So he starts to tweak the Bush/Cheney machine so that he can keep his campaign pledge. He says, “I’m going to ban torture, we’re going to shut down the black sites, and I’m going to close Guantanamo.” Well, of course Guantanamo is not closed for a combination of reasons; part of it has to do with the Republicans blocking it, part of it is because Obama hasn’t really made this a priority for much of his time in office.
But what I’ve seen, Rob, in my travels around the world, is that in many cases, what the Obama administration has done is slightly tweak the program to try to make it seem more legitimate, and I’ll just give you one concrete example: I believe that Obama did shut down the CIA’s black sites. But instead, we’re using other countries’ black sites to have prisoners interrogated – at times, with the participation of CIA personnel, or military intelligence personnel. What this allows the White House to do is say, “We’re not torturing people, we’re not holding them at black sites; but what we’re doing is directing allied countries to snatch them for us and take them to prison, and then our interrogators can come in after they’ve been softened up and then talk to them.” So it’s not that there’s no difference between Bush and Obama; it’s that the difference is largely a re-branding of the program in many ways.
Rob Kall: And that was going to be a question. It seems like Obama has continued, intensified, and worsened some of Bush’s worst programs.
Jeremy Scahill: Right. I mean: I want to be clear, because I covered all of this abuse and murder that happened under the Bush Administration. I mean, these guys were uniquely bloodthirsty characters. I think we have to be careful. I agree with everything that you’ve said, I do think Obama has done all of that; but I also want to just be clear that (laughs) we are looking at Murder, Inc. under those guys, so.
For me, the really interesting part of this is: President Obama started an air war in Yemen very early on in this administration. December of 2009 was the first airstrike that he ordered there, and had these teams of Special Operations Forces running around Yemen. They’re doing not only drone strikes, and cruise missile strikes, they’re training units in Yemen that have been used not just by Al Qaeda, but for domestic repression purposes. In Somalia, the US has a counter-terrorism base at Aden Adde Airport, and they’ve been putting Somalis on the payroll to engage in outsourced kill campaigns.
For me, the enduring legacy of Obama is not going to be in any one drone strike, or any one aspect of his policy. I think it’s going to be that he helped to legitimize and streamline assassination as an essential component of US foreign policy. It’s not that the US hasn’t always engaged in some form of assassination despite the ban; it has. It’s that Obama is selling this idea that it’s a smarter way of waging war, and a lot of Liberal have bought into that idea. To me, the more dangerous aspect of the Obama presidency is this idea that you lay the groundwork to make it permanent. The next time a Republican is in office, Liberals are going to have very shaky ground to stand on if they try to confront assertions that American citizens can be killed without a trial, or that the US can wage war anywhere around the world without Congressional authority.
Rob Kall: You talk in the book and in the movie extensively about Abdulrahman al-Awlaki , the son of the leader in Yemen. He was killed by a drone strike a few weeks after his father was killed, and you say, “He was killed for what he may become.” This is like the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report! Can you talk a little bit more about that whole mentality?
Jeremy Scahill: Yeah. First of all, Anwar al-Awlaki — I mean, I won’t get into the story of him. I think most people are familiar with the images of him in the camouflage jacket calling for armed Jihad against the United States. I’m willing for the sake of argument to concede that everything that the White House had leaked about him is true: that he directed the underwear bomb plot, that he was engaged in plots against the United States. For me the question with him is, “How do we handle citizens like that, that are reprehensible?” And the idea that we just sentence them to death without even presenting any evidence, just having assertions made by officials, is really disturbing and I think something that all of us should be looking at.
But then two weeks after they kill Anwar-Alaki in this drone strike, his son, [who] is sixteen years old, hadn’t seen his father in years, is sitting in an outdoor restaurant with one of his cousins, another teenager, and some friends, and they get blown up by a drone; and the White House has never explained why he was killed. In the film, I say that maybe it was that he was killed for who he might one day become. What I meant by that is, I suspect that it’s possible he was killed in what is called a “Signature Strike,” where you have a group of military age males, and maybe someone within that group is being tracked by the US for some reason, and because this person has been determined to be dangerous, the mission planners decide that it’s acceptable to take all of the people out if they’re military age males. It is this grotesque form of pre-crime.
Whether he was specifically targeted in this operation or he was killed in some form of signature strike, I don’t know; but I think that the answer to that question says a lot about who we are as a society, and I’ve continued to try to press the White House to be transparent. What they said, actually, was that “He was not specifically targeted.” They didn’t say he wasn’t targeted, they said he was not specifically targeted – which raises questions for me, about “Who was the target, then?” Because the guy that they initially said they killed in that operation, a man named Ibrahim al Banna, to my knowledge is still alive. So who were they trying to kill there? Part of why we raised that question in the film is that, if you start killing people based on their associations with others, or because their father happened to be a guy that you believe was an enemy of the United States, then we’re crossing into very dangerous territory.
Rob Kall: OK. Another question (we’re down near the end of the interview here): You report in your discussion of Gardez that JSOC does twenty killing raids a night. That’s thousands per year, and /
Jeremy Scahill: Yeah.