Jeremy Scahill on “Dirty Wars” and U.S. National Security: VICE Podcast 009

Jeremy Scahill on “Dirty Wars” and U.S. National Security: VICE Podcast 009

debate we’ve had over the past 12 years about how we as a
society responded to 9/11 has not been fierce enough. And I don’t think we’ve asked
many of the right questions. [MUSIC PLAYING] REIHAN SALAM: Hi. I’m Reihan Salam. And this is the Vice podcast. I’m joined today by Jeremy
Scahill, a correspondent for “The Nation,” an independent
journalist, author of “Dirty Wars,” and also figures
prominently in “Dirty Wars,” a new film that is in
theaters now. It is riveting. It is disturbing. You will watch it. You might enjoy it. You will certainly
learn something. Jeremy, thanks very much
for joining me. JEREMY SCAHILL: Hey,
thanks, man. It’s great to be with you. REIHAN SALAM: Jeremy, you
have worn many hats in your young life. And independent journalist
is not the first of them. So as you were coming of age,
is it issues surrounding terrorism, national security,
and war that first motivated you? Or was it something entirely
different? JEREMY SCAHILL: No. I mean, actually, I wanted
to be a teacher. I discovered I wasn’t very
good student myself. So I had some bumps
in the road there. But I’m from Wisconsin. And I got involved at the
University of Wisconsin Madison with a social justice
struggle in the mid-’90s over the rights of homeless
people on the campus. And decided that I wanted
to leave school. My plan was to come back. But I hitchhiked from
Wisconsin out to DC. And I moved into this big
homeless shelter called the Community for Creative
Non-violence. And a lot of what I was doing
there was taking care of veterans, trying to help them
apply for benefits and fill out paperwork. And I ended up hearing this
radio show with this woman Amy Goodman, who’s the host of
“Democracy Now.” I used to write her letters saying,
I’ll walk your dog if you have a dog. Or I’ll get you coffee or
clean your windows. I wanted to do anything
to be a part of it. And I never thought about being
a journalist before. But the idea that there was
someone who was a journalist who also seemed to care deeply
about the impact of our policies, domestically and
abroad, for some reason really resonated strongly with me. And I really felt like, wow. I mean I’d seen the light. I wanted to be a journalist. REIHAN SALAM: So the University
of Wisconsin, it’s a big campus. You’ve got thousands of
students, most of whom are not seized with a passion
about homelessness. But of course, there were
a few other kids. And what was it about you and
those other students who were taken with this that drew you
to these folks who were marginal, who were
mostly neglected? JEREMY SCAHILL: Part of
it is how I grew up. I grew up in Milwaukee in
Jeffrey Dahmer’s neighborhood. And both my parents
are nurses. My dad had been at the Catholic
Worker, the Catholic Pacifists’ lay movement in the
late ’60s, early ’70s. He lived with Dorothy Day, the
founder of that movement, and had traveled to Cuba in the
Venceremos Brigade. And I wouldn’t say that my
parents were activists. But we definitely grew up
in a household with a social-justice mission. And my dad is a very
religious guy. REIHAN SALAM: And you didn’t
rebel against it by wanting to carry a briefcase as a
ten-year-old and [INAUDIBLE]. JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. I was not Alex P. Keaton
or anything like that. I don’t recall ever wearing a
bow tie, except maybe in a weird Halloween thing
with my brother. But I mean, we grew up in a
place where I knew early on who Malcolm X was, and
Martin Luther King. And James Baldwin was really
influential on my thinking and the way that I saw the world. And there were books that
were around the house. But no, I didn’t rebel
in that sense. But I definitely think my views
of the world and what it means to be in community with
other people was shaped by who my parents are. REIHAN SALAM: So you mentioned
that several of the homeless people on campus had
been veterans. And that’s something you knew. You got to know their
stories, I assume. Did you find that affecting
at the time? And was that a thing
you explored a lot? JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah,
definitely. I mean, I remember going to the
Vietnam War memorial when I was living in Washington DC
and seeing all the stuff that people would leave there. And I don’t come from
a military family. That’s not my background
at all. But I remember being profoundly
impacted by the idea that these people had been
abroad in these wars. And that there are guys that
are alcoholics, that are living on the street. I mean, to be in a homeless
shelter with a substantial portion of veterans in it– I didn’t know about that
phenomenon at all. And getting to know some of
those guys definitely shaped how I saw the way that our
nation treats people in the military when they come home. I wouldn’t say that that was
some major event my life. But later years later, when
I started doing military reporting, and looking at
situation of the Veterans Administration and how veterans
are treated in our society, I definitely realized
that I had an insight into it that I didn’t understand at the
time how these people were being treated. REIHAN SALAM: You didn’t grow
up in a military family. But your parents had been shaped
by the Vietnam War and the experience of opposing the
Vietnam War [INAUDIBLE] definition. And so that was something that
was a theme when you were growing up that was very
present for you? Would you say that you
were aware of that? JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. I mean, I remember when military
recruiters started coming to our high school. And my dad saying, steer
clear of them. Don’t go anywhere near them. But we definitely
grew up in a– I mean, my dad is a pacifist. And he’s not an armchair
pacifist. He’s a guy who really thought
about these issues, and believed very deeply in them. And we definitely grew
up learning about the pacifist tradition. I’m not a pacifist myself. I used to think that
I was, but I’m not. But I have tremendous respect
for people who stake out that position in life
and live by it. REIHAN SALAM: You used
to think you were. What was the moment
when that changed? JEREMY SCAHILL: Well,
ultimately, I think when I studied struggles for liberation
around the world– I also was impacted by the
writings of David Dellinger, who was one of the Chicago
Eight and was a very famous pacifist. And Dellinger’s writings on
the Cuban revolution are really interesting. Because he talked about how if
you could be an armchair pacifist in the United States,
and you can advocate for people who are rising up
against the US-backed dictatorship to do it
nonviolently, but if you’re not willing to go down there
and stand alongside them without weapons when they’re
fighting against an entrenched military backed by the United
States, then it’s not actually a principle. In other words, if you’re going
to oppose revolutionary violence, or violence of rebels
trying to overthrow an oppressive government, then you
have to have a solution for how they should be resisting
it that also includes you putting some
skin in the game. And so it was looking at
specific examples of people in revolt around the world and
saying, how can I advocate being a pacifist, and say that
those people also should not be taking up arms to resist an
oppressive or repressive government? I mean, that’s true. That’s a debate that endures
to this day, I think. REIHAN SALAM: So it’s about
engagement to some degree. The idea is not merely to be
engaged by paying attention and telling these stories, but
also being engaged by, to some extent, celebrating combatants
for defending themselves, as you might see it? JEREMY SCAHILL: It’s more– I would say that I’m reluctantly
not a pacifist. I mean, I personally
don’t like guns. And I don’t like violence as a
solution anything, micro or macro, in the world. But I think one of the things
I’ve learned in traveling around the globe is that people
on the left or the anti-war crowd can also be
extraordinarily arrogant with the way that they view the
struggles of others. And part of what I’ve tried to
do in my journalism is to tell the story of those people who
live on the other side of the barrel of the gun that
is US foreign policy. And I think it’s very easy to
use terms like “collateral damage” to describe people that
are killed in a drone strike somewhere in pursuit
of one or two bad guys. Killing five or six people that
had nothing to do with them other than being related to
them, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Part of our role as journalists
should be to go to those places and put
a human face on it. And I think that we don’t do
enough of that in our media culture the United States. We don’t often go and talk to
the other side, or the other sides, as much as we should. It does a disservice to
the idea that we have a democratic media. If we’re at war, or we’re told
that we’re at war, and some of us are not willing to go to
the other side and get the perspective of the people that
we’re told are the enemy, then that does a disservice to the
media in a democratic society. That that’s one of my main
motivating factors in life, is being someone who will go and
listen to people that, if we don’t go there, their voices
aren’t going to be heard. REIHAN SALAM: I think that
definitely comes through the film, this project and trying
to humanize and trying to complicate some of
these stories. When you think about the story
on Anwar al-Awlaki, the way that it was relayed in much of
the US media is just simply that he’s a figure who is a
leading figure in a military organization. Yet much of his complicated
back story– and we’ll return to that. But the one thing I wanted to
ask you is, in order for you to do your work– and you’re
someone who very publicly, very clearly has views about
the national security state and what have you– you
still need to get people to trust you. And what I find striking
is that, to get them to trust you– I mean, have you thought about
things from the perspective of a front-line operator? From someone who is working
within the NSA, the CIA, who is actually designing targeted
killings and what have you? How are they seeing
this conflict? How do they justify the actions
that they are taking? JEREMY SCAHILL: I’ll tell you
something interesting. I wrote this book about
Blackwater, the mercenary company, or private security
company, depending how you look at it. And no one from that company
would talk to me at all. And it was like there
was an edict issued, don’t talk to Scahill. And then I was doing book tours
and going, traveling, speaking around the country. And in numerous places, I would
have these guys that were clearly special ops guys
that would be lingering around afterwards. And they’d come up to me and
say, listen, man, I don’t agree with almost anything
you say politically. But you were right
about those guys. And I started to meet guys
from within the special operations community who had
very little in common with me. But they didn’t like
Blackwater. And I pride myself on not
being a dick to people. And I think a lot of those guys
thought that I would be an asshole. REIHAN SALAM: That’s
very rare. JEREMY SCAHILL: And so, the way
I responded was, I would say, let’s go get a beer. And I started to get to know
guys from that community. And now I have friends who are
former Navy SEALs or worked as drone pilots. And I find them fascinating
as people. And some of those friendships
turned into source relationships. And they opened– I mean, I spend a lot of my time
telling people, you have to see the humanity in the
victims of US drone strikes, or night raids, or
cruise missiles. That we have to back away from
this idea that American lives are worth more than non-American
lives. And so all this time, I’m
running around and trying to humanize people on the other
side of foreign policy. And I myself had a cartoonish
view of people that work in the special ops community or in
the intelligence community. And when I started to see them
as humans also, and hear some of their real stories, it
changed my perspective, in some ways, on the world
we live in. But it also gave me a much
richer understanding of their stories and why they
do what they do. A lot of those guys, the younger
generation of guys, were motivated by 9/11. And they enlisted. And they became part
of this machine. And what I’ve seen in my years
of friendship with some of these guys is their own
views changing. They understood the objective
early on. They wanted to be a part of the
response that was aimed at bringing the perpetrators
of 9/11 to justice. Many of those same guys who were
all in on that are now saying, I don’t quite understand
what we’re doing in Afghanistan anymore. I know people that have
quietly resigned from positions involving targeting
Yemen, for instance, because they think it’s at cross
purposes to the stated goal of trying to end terrorism. But I also know people
who will give a forceful defense of it. And they will say, you don’t
have access to the information that we do. And you’re right. With a capital-t Truth,
you’re right. But we have to deal with small-t
truths every day. That’s what a CIA targeter
said to me recently. We’re being shown intelligence
on a regular basis that these are dangerous people
that are plotting against the United States. And the options available to us
are, send a SEAL team in to get them– which means
that some of our guys will be killed– or take them out with
a drone strike. And that’s how they see
what they’re doing. It’s not that they’re immune to
the bigger truths of all of these wars. It’s that their job is to target
individuals that are supposedly representing
imminent threat to the United States. And then when you get down to
the granular level, when you talk about what is imminent,
the Justice Department redefined that term in that
white paper that was leaked. And it was a ridiculous
redefining of imminence to the point where anyone who’s ever
been involved with a plot represents a permanent,
enduring, imminent threat to the United States. But I do think that this is
the debate we should be having right now. And I think, to some extent, my
understanding is that it is taking place in some of these
US intelligence agencies and within the military itself. But I don’t think that enough
of us coming from my perspective take the time to
understand how these programs work, or to get to know
people within it. And part of it is that there’s
total mistrust. There’s a huge gap. But I try to be a person
who is consistent. I’m going to be the
same person in private as I am in public. And I will say to people, I know
you and I see the world differently. But I promise to quote
you accurately. And more importantly,
to put your quotes in the proper context. One of my proudest moments after
the book came out was when I got a text message from
one of my sources, who’s someone that I argue
with all the time. And he said, I just read every
reference to me in the book. And I have to say that I am so
pleased that you accurately portrayed my position. To me as a journalist,
that’s a big deal. Because it’s someone who I
don’t agree with who was saying to me, I think you were
fair to me in your book. And I try to be that way whether
I’m talking with a tribal leader in Yemen or
a former Army Ranger. I try to get it right. Even if they disagree with my
analysis, I try to make sure that I’m accurate in how I
portray people and that I’m fair to them. REIHAN SALAM: One thing
I find very striking. There is a debate, as you know,
about whether or not to pursue a surge strategy
in Afghanistan. And it seems to many outside
observers that the president was very ambivalent
about this. And the reporting on the
internal debate was that Vice President Biden and a number
of other figures within the administration felt that, let’s
go for target raids. Let’s rely on special
operators. And let’s do that, rather than
have a heavy footprint. And it seems interesting. Because, OK, so you either have
a very heavy footprint, and send in more troops,
and establish more security in that way. Or you have a very
light footprint. And so one of the debates for
the people who said, we should have a heavy footprint is that
that way we’ll have better intelligence. That we’ll create more real,
enduring security. The other view, the Biden view,
seems to be that, well, gosh, that’s not
really our job. Primarily, our job is to
identify people who are potentially threats
to US interests. We kill them. What’s interesting is,
that’s not exactly a left-right debate. But it was a big versus
small debate. And it seemed as though a lot
of progressives in the national security community– or
what counts as progressives in the national security
community– were people who felt that the
Biden strategy, that’s the better way to go. That’s a lighter way to go. Yet “Dirty Wars” is really about
that lighter strategy, that smaller strategy. JEREMY SCAHILL: I think that the
Biden strategy, if that’s what we’re calling it, won the
day, in terms of what official US policy became. The surge in Afghanistan, I
think it was disastrous. I think it’s subjected a hell of
a lot more American troops to being killed. It gave the perception that
the US was attempting to occupy Afghanistan. And I think that when the US
ends up leaving, the reality is the Taliban are going to be
in control of a significant portion of that country. There are going to be areas
that, because the US went in, are better off. There’s no denying that. As someone was opposed to the US
involvement in Afghanistan, I know that there are parts of
Afghanistan where life is better for people because the
Taliban were expelled from their territories. But there are other areas of
Afghanistan where the Taliban is the indigenous power,
and where they are actually wanted. They don’t exist in a vacuum. So we surged all these
troops there. And I think we ended up making
the situation worse. What’s happening globally is
that President Obama has really doubled down on the
idea that JSOC, the Joint Special Operations
Command, and the targeted killing program– these aren’t just the
implementers of a policy. It’s become the policy. The idea that you have small
teams of special operations forces that can intervene in
countries around the world to conduct, at times, operations
like the Bin Laden raid, or at other times, to join with French
military forces in a campaign in Mali or in Somalia
against Al-Shabab. And that you’re going to rely
on the technology of the drones, you’re going to have
covert operations being run by both the military and the CIA,
that you’re going to work with foreign militaries, gives a much
lighter footprint to a much larger global campaign. And I think that what are the
enduring legacies of Obama’s counterterrorism policy is
that he has streamlined a system where assassination– they don’t like to call this–
but where assassination is a central component of
what is called US national security policy. The idea that you can kill
your way to victory. You can preempt terrorist
attacks. You can engage in pre-crime. And you’re going to try to
minimize the deaths of your own soldiers, or the meaning
of your own personnel. And I think that’s been received
in a very popular way among many liberals. He’s sold them on the idea that
this is a cleaner way of waging war. And it was what Biden was
advocating from very early on. REIHAN SALAM: In a way, I’m
struck by how radical the position you’re advocating is. In the sense that, very simply,
to simply say that we’re going to treat American
lives, we’re going to weigh them the way we’re going
to weigh foreign lives. In a way, it actually addresses
the very foundations of our kind of a nation state,
our kind of a democracy. And I say that because when
you’re talking about this light footprint versus heavy
footprint debate, the obvious question is, well, gosh, what
about the third option? JEREMY SCAHILL: Well,
I’m stating what the positions are. That’s not my position. REIHAN SALAM: No, I
understand that. JEREMY SCAHILL: I have a totally
different position. REIHAN SALAM: And I think that
your position, correct me if I’m wrong, seems to be, perhaps
we shouldn’t be in Afghanistan at all. I mean, rather than debating
about heavy footprint versus light footprint, we’re not
thinking about this third option that we– is that a fair characterization of your view? JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. I think, first of all, when
you’re targeting people whose identities you don’t even know,
against whom you may not even have evidence– these so-called signature
strikes– or the incredibly poor
intelligence that leads to so many botched night raids, if you
don’t step back and say, we need to rethink what we’re
even doing here, you’re the one that’s whistling
past the graveyard. I don’t mean you. I mean those in power. As an American, going to
multiple countries and hearing, in different languages,
the same sentiment, which is that, I used to think
of America in a totally different way until the drone
strikes happened, or until the night raid happened. I really did get a clear sense
that we are making more enemies than we are killing
terrorists. I think we’ve reached a point
with the drone program where there should be a moratorium
on drone strikes. Regardless of if you support
them as a smarter way of waging war or not is
irrelevant to me. Just on the basis that we don’t
know how many people we’ve killed, the identities
of many of the people we’ve killed, and if they even had
a connection to terrorism. If we’re not doing an analysis
of the potential impact to global stability and our own
national security from our own actions, taken in pursuit,
supposedly, of confronting the terrorist threat, then we’re
not participating in the democratic process. We’ve just seeded the conscience
to those in power. REIHAN SALAM: Champions of the
drone strategy will say that, look, the alternative to the
drone strategy are raids and interrogations. [INAUDIBLE] JEREMY SCAHILL: I disagree
with that. I think the alternative
is to stop doing it. We don’t think creatively
in this country about our foreign policy. There’s almost no new
ideas in warfare. There’s just new technology. All the ideas we’ve seen,
counter-insurgency, all this, it’s all been recycled from
different wars and studying of different wars. My position may sound
like a radical one. But I actually think it’s a
sensible, pragmatic one. Which is that I believe that
our own national security policy is degrading our
national security. And I think you could make
a nationalist argument– although I’m not
a nationalist– I think you could make a
nationalist argument as to why this is bad for America. Because if you’re giving
people an incentive– the drone program is tremendous
propaganda value for Al Quaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula. For Tehrik-i-Taliban
in Pakistan. We are effectively aiding the
groups that are organizing terrorist attacks against
the United States. At the end of the day, I think
that policymakers need to step back and look at what the
actual impact has been. I think they’re living in
la-la land when they say things like, only a
small number of civilians have been killed. Those of us who are journalists
working on the ground in those countries just
know that that’s just a fraudulent claims. I don’t think the president
is considering– REIHAN SALAM: It’s partly
a matter of how being a combatant is defined,
to some degree. JEREMY SCAHILL: You’re
absolutely correct. We have a policy now where
anyone who’s a military-age male that’s killed in a drone
strike is just posthumously declared either a militant
or a terrorist. That’s a grotesque from
of pre-crime. REIHAN SALAM: And military age,
that’s between 70 and 15? JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, it
depends on who you ask. Some would limit it and say that
it’s between 18 and 40. There were some reports that
they were doing it anyone above the age of 15 all
the way up to 70. And a part of it is, because
of the way that secrets are kept in this country, we don’t
actually know the extent of the policy when we’re talking
about these signature strikes. We don’t actually know. And in the case of American
citizens, the American people are not aware of what one would
do to end up on a kill list short of being indicted,
charged with a crime. How does someone– what gets
you on the kill list? We don’t actually know
the answer to that. REIHAN SALAM: But to be very
crude about it, if I’m dropping a bomb from an F16– JEREMY SCAHILL: You, be crude? REIHAN SALAM: If I’m dropping
a bomb from an F16, it’s a 500-pound bomb. And the number of potential
civilian casualties is enormous. Now what defenders of the drone
program will say is that, look, this is a
grenade-like weapon. And you can hover. And so you can make more precise
determinations as to who you’re killing. So I take your point about how,
look, another scenario is we just stop intervening
in this way. But can you see the idea that
the drone, by virtue of being a scalpel as opposed to
a machete, that that [INAUDIBLE]– JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, on a
technical level, the blast radius from a missile fired
from a Predator drone or a Reaper drone is much
smaller than, for instance, a cruise missile. And that’s part of the debate
that people have. Is like, which is less likely to
incur huge civilian deaths as a result, or collateral
deaths, whatever they want to call them. But I would turn it around
to you and ask you this. So, if we’re talking about a
declared war that the United States is in against a uniformed
military, and there are bombing raids, that applies
to what you’re saying. You’re dropping that
500-pound bomb. Civilians die in war. We all know that. How would you set the standard,
though, for when the US has the authority
to go in and bomb targets in Yemen or Pakistan? What is the standard that
should be applied there? Is it that the threat
is imminent against the United States? Is it that these are
just bad people? Is it that there’s chatter that
indicates that they’re plotting with someone in the
United States to do an attack? What is the standard that you
would use to say, I believe that the United States of
America has a right to send an F16 over to bomb these people,
or to send a Predator drone to take them out, that’s part of
the debate that I think we’re not actually having
this country. See, what I would assert is
that when we do this in Pakistan or Yemen, and we are
attacking people that are not engaged in imminent plots–
maybe they’re trying to plot against the United States, but
it’s not like a sniper pointing a rifle at a crowd of
civilians, and you say, oh shit, what are we going to do? You don’t run to go get an
indictment of this person and go through the courts to have
permission to take him out. You’ll try to take him alive. And if necessary, you’ll shoot
him to prevent him from killing all these
innocent people. And that’s often the scenario
that’s presented to the American people by Democrats
and Republicans alike. If we don’t do this, they’re
going to hit us. There’s very little evidence
to suggest that many of the people we’ve killed represented
an actual imminent threat to the United States. So for me, the question is,
how do we deal with those people who might be
engaged in a plot? Do we fast forward straight
to the death penalty? Or do we say, let’s try to
indict these people and to bring them to justice. And if that’s not feasible, then
the United States has all sorts of options available. But since when did non-imminent
threats become a trigger for a US drone strike? REIHAN SALAM: Daniel Byman, a
professor at Georgetown who is an advocate of drone strikes
recently observed that in Mali, you had a document that
was passed among Jihadis which said, do not appear
in an open field. Do not engage in any wireless
communications of any kind. JEREMY SCAHILL: Don’t go to
a wedding or a funeral. Right? REIHAN SALAM: So what’s
interesting about that is, and I think that, from the
perspective of the advocates of drone strikes, is that,
well, this means that they are paralyzed. They’re crippled. It’s far more difficult for
them to organize in opposition, to plan terror
strikes, and what have you. Simply because you’ve actually
made them so tentative. You’ve made them so fearful
of death from above. And I think they would see
that as a big win. Because you’re– but you don’t
think that’s necessarily true? JEREMY SCAHILL: Look. I actually think that, if
you look at how 9/11 was organized, a lot of the actual
planning for that happened in Europe and elsewhere. So I think that presumes that
the most devastating plots against the United States are
taking place in rural Pakistan and rural parts of Yemen. I think there are very
sophisticated terror networks that understand how, in general,
and sometimes in specific, how the US national
security apparatus operates. And I think that may
be true to an extent in those countries. But I actually think that we
live in a borderless world right now when it comes
to terrorism and the US response to it. And I think that we have an
outdated strategy for confronting terrorism. So maybe that’s true. But I also know that in Pakistan
and Yemen, mothers are using drones as
the boogieman and saying to children– I mean, think about how
devastating this is– saying to children, if you don’t
behave yourself, we’re going to send the drones. And kids see the drones. And their parents are saying to
them the same way that the parents through history make
these threats against kids about who’s going to snatch
them in the night. That’s devastating. Can you imagine growing up as
a kid, and you’ve got this ominous phantom in
the sky that has this hum like a lawnmower? And you know that it
fires missiles. And your mom is saying, if you
don’t stop beating on your brother, the Predator is going
to come and take you out. REIHAN SALAM: Well, here’s
another way to think about it. So when you were talking about
where are these plots actually hatched, and let’s say they’re
not necessarily hatched in Mali or Yemen. Although that can be debated. But we’re not going to have a
very fine-grained sense of what’s going on inside
people’s brains. But those are countries that
are full of relatively powerless people. And from the perspective of
the United States and its allied countries, which tend to
be very affluent, powerful countries, those people are
irrelevant in your domestic political conversation. Whereas if you were trying to
throw your weight around in the same way in an affluent,
developed country, then you would meet with a lot
of resistance. So to some extent, what we’re
dealing with here is simply the fact that it’s cheaper to
engage in this kind of action in these places. Is that one way to
think about it? JEREMY SCAHILL: I think– most policymakers, I don’t know
if any of them, or senior officials in the White House
would own this, but I do think that part of their strategy
with drones is deterrence. That’s pretty much what you’re
describing there. But my point about this is that,
even if you accept that that has had some success, that
there are people afraid to assemble, or to get on
their phones, or on the internet, for fear that they’re
going to be tracked and taken out in a drone strike,
you still have to examine the impact
of that policy. I told you the story about kids
being afraid of drones and their moms threatening
them. What of this generation that’s
growing up in the drone world in Pakistan and Yemen, what are
they going to make of the world, or of the
United States? What’s going to motivate them? Revenge is a powerful, powerful
force in the world. That really is my fear at
the end of the day. Is that, in destabilizing some
of these countries, and in giving people an actual
incentive to want to strike back at the United States,
we’re undermining our own stated goal of trying to take
out these terror networks. It’s not there aren’t
terrorists plotting. There are very real thugs around
the world who would love nothing more than
to blow up a plane full of American citizens. We’ve seen evidence
of those plots. I’ve been in areas controlled
by Al Qaeda in Yemen. I know these people exist. For me, the question is, how
do you deal with them? And I think that we totally
abandoned any notion that terrorism is a crime. And it is. Terrorism is a crime. So how do you deal
with a crime? Do you just start
bombing people? When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was
taken into custody in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon
bombing, you heard these calls for him to be
treated as an enemy combatant. Some people say he should
be sent to Guantanamo. I think we’re operating out
of fear in our society. And I think it’s
so contagious. And I think we’ve allowed those
in power to get away with tremendous grabs against
our civil liberties, but also our collective morals. And so for me, what I’m trying
to do is to encourage a more sober discussion about what
the real facts are. Which is why I said there needs
to be a moratorium on the drone strikes. It’s not because I don’t think
there are dangerous people around the world. It’s because I think that
we’re running at cross purposes to what we
say the goal is. REIHAN SALAM: So, this is
something I find terrifying. The lethality of our weapons is
going up as the cost of our weapons is going down. And so, when you think about
drone strikes relative to raids, assassinations,
interrogations– Guantanamo. There’s enormous pressure
to reduce the number of detainees, to shut down the
facility, even though that keeps being pushed further and
further into the future. But then it creates a situation
which, well, gosh, it’s cheaper for us to kill
people, or it’s less problematic for us to
kill than to detain. And it seems that this
is driven by technological change. So our drones are
getting better. They’re becoming more
lethal over time. Perhaps they’re becoming
more precise. But again, when they’re
operating in spaces that are generally not seen by American
journalists, they’re not relating to Americans’
way of life. And I wonder, how do you
actually restrain that capacity for violence when it
becomes so attractive to people in power? JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, the
discussion you’re trying to have is impossible to have in
this country because of secrecy, because of
hyper-classification. If we have a president,
a popular, democratic, president, Nobel Peace Prize
winner, constitutional lawyer by trade, who is asserting
that he doesn’t have to provide any evidence whatsoever
that an American citizen was involved with an
actual, active plot against the United States before
ordering his execution by drone, to me, that’s
outrageous. We have a right, as citizens
of this country, to be presented with evidence against
us before we are given the death penalty. And that has not happened
in several cases. But I also think it applies
to non-Americans too. What you’re saying, or what
those in power are saying, presumes that all these people
actually are engaged in imminent threats against the
United States, and that the only choice we really have is
to take them out by zapping them from the sky. I reject that fundamentally. I am open to the idea
that I’m wrong about some of these cases. But I want to see the evidence REIHAN SALAM: Well, part of what
I’m saying is also this. So– JEREMY SCAHILL: But
you’re right about the technology issue. Drones make it easier. You can have someone sitting in
a trailer in the Southwest of the United States operating
a craft with missiles on it that bombs Pakistan or Yemen,
occasionally Somalia, certainly Afghanistan. And they get in their car at the
end of the day and drive off that base past a sign
that says, buckle up. This is the most dangerous
part of your day. It makes it far easier. The toys have become
somewhat cheaper. The toys of war. And you don’t have to
risk American lives. Of course it makes it much
easier to say, yeah, I’ll authorize that, when you aren’t
going to have to call the families of the Navy SEALs
who got killed trying to take down someone in Kandahar. REIHAN SALAM: And I think
that that’s what I find interesting. Because, look at it this way. If I’m– and I’m sure you’ve
heard this from some of your erstwhile friends and allies. You’re President Obama. You come into power. Let’s say you decide we are
going to make some kind of radical revision to
our policies. You leave Afghanistan in large
numbers, et cetera. And then something happens
somewhere. Some Americans die somewhere
in a way that can be plausibly, or even semi-possibly
connected to something that happened
in Afghanistan. To some degree, I think we’re
dealing with the kind of cover-your-ass dynamic, in
which you’ve made a large commitment. And then the idea of changing
that commitment in a visible, meaningful way suddenly
opens up this enormous political risk. Any society in which, I would
argue, there are very few people who would want to
increase their risk even ever so slightly of death
by terrorism. As opposed to doing this thing
that’s actually having these very long-term effects. Or as opposed to killing people
who are, frankly, who can’t even be understood, whose
lives are so radically different– I mean, you were traveling
in Afghanistan. You were traveling in
Somalia and Yemen– these lives are unrecognizable
to Americans and other people. And so it’s hard. So when you say, gosh,
you are in danger. And that danger will increase. Maybe it will increase by
an imperceptible amount. JEREMY SCAHILL: I would reject
that we know that to be true. I think you made a brilliant
point a moment ago about the political consideration. I think Rahm Emanuel and all
those guys early on, the president’s political advisers
in the first term, the first couple of years of the first
term, I think the way that they saw was this, Obama had
very limited foreign policy experience. No military experience. He’s being briefed by Admiral
William McGraven, the commander of JSOC. Stanley McCrystal, who ran JSOC
for the entire duration of the Bush era, and then became
the head of the war in Afghanistan. David Petraeus, one of the most
powerful military figures in modern American history. And then all of the heads of
the various intelligence agencies in the US. All saying, there are hundreds,
if not thousands, of concurrent threats against
the United States on any given day. People who want to blow up
airplanes, attack embassies, poison water supplies, blow up
public transportation systems. And if we don’t hit them before
they hit us, there will be an attack on American soil
against the American homeland. And I think that the president
and his national security team basically bought into the idea
that we need to kill these people before they kill us. Rahm Emanuel and those guys,
I think, were looking at a one-term presidency if any of
those things came true. And so I think that that’s
part of what shaped the policy, was political
considerations. But to the second part– REIHAN SALAM: And of course,
they would say, look, we have important domestic missions
to accomplish. There are new frontiers
in social justice we want to advance. We are definitely better
than the other guys. And so, because of that– and
that’s obviously their view. So to some extent, they will
consider this entirely justifiable if it actually
redounds to their political benefit. JEREMY SCAHILL: Look at how
pathetic Mitt Romney looked in the foreign-policy debate
with Obama. I almost felt bad
for the dude. Except, because of what he did
to his dog Seamus, I could never feel bad for him. But Romney basically just had
to say, oh, well, I would be like Obama, except more
Obamaish than Obama on foreign policy. I mean, they had to go into
dingbat Christmas to find stuff about him not being
a citizen, and the dog-whistling, and all that. Because he’s better at their
game than they are. Somewhere, I imagine Cheney,
between shooting friends in the face and fly fishing,
chuckling about the Obama presidency, and saying, Obama
actually cleaned this up so that it can continue. And I think at the end
of the day, that really was the reality. The next time a Republican is
in office, many of the key parts of the program from the
Bush-Cheney era are going to be kept in place. REIHAN SALAM: So, do you imagine
that any president– any imaginable president,
let’s say Hillary Clinton wins in 2016– will any imaginable president
say, you know what? I’m actually going to take
the political hit. Because I think that this will
redound to the long-term benefit of America’s
image in the world. Because this will reduce the
number of civilian casualties of the children of shepherds
in the Fatah, in Pakistan, in Yemen. This will be a little
bit easier then. They’ll be a little bit less
fearful of the United States. And this will have some– can you imagine any– JEREMY SCAHILL: No. No. They wouldn’t win. First of all, they
wouldn’t win. And it wouldn’t be allowed. And I don’t mean it wouldn’t be
allowed because there’s a cabal of people pulling
the strings behind it. I just think that it would be
out of sync with the majority of Americans’ view
of the world. First of all, it wouldn’t
be a viable campaign. Even though I do think there’s
legitimacy to those ideas. To me, at the end of the day,
if we don’t get huge corporations out of our
electoral process, nothing is fundamentally going to change
in our society. We’re always going to produce
candidates that are in some way or another bought
and paid for by big corporate interests. REIHAN SALAM: But this
issue in particular– JEREMY SCAHILL: I’m talking
about this issue in particular. REIHAN SALAM: But one thing
about this issue in particular, it does seem to
flow from the fact that emapthy across international
borders is kind of limited. Whether or not– JEREMY SCAHILL: It’s
almost nonexistent. It’s almost nonexistent. REIHAN SALAM: But it’s not
corporations that are response for that. JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I was
answering your question about would a candidate rise up. I think, look, at the end of
the day, you have to be an American exceptionalist
to win the presidency of the United States. And Obama– REIHAN SALAM: And how
do you define that? How would you define an American
exceptionalist? JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I think
at its core is the idea that American lives are worth more
than the lives of others around the world. And that the United States, at
the end of the day, is not bound by any international
laws or conventions if it believes that it is defending
its own interests. And US interests under various
presidents can be defined very broadly. And I think we saw this
adventuristic presidency of Bush, where US interests were
stretched beyond imagination. The idea the United States
had to go into Iraq. First of all, the fraudulent
claims about the idea of WMDs. But then they tried to make
the case that US interests were at stake because
of Saddam Hussein remaining in power. And so I think American
exceptionalism means that the United States is not held the
same standards as other nations around the world when
it comes to international rules of law and order. The United States refuses to
ratify basic conventions on the kinds of munitions that
can be used in warfare. We continue to use cluster
bombs, which almost every nation on earth has agreed
should be banned. The United States continues
to use cluster bombs. And they’re horrible
anti-personnel weapons. So the idea that you would have
an American president that would stand up and
say, you know what? When US forces engage in war
crimes, we’ll allow them to be prosecuted at the Hague, good
luck with that campaign. When that was proposed, when the
idea was proposed in the ’90s, when Clinton was
president, that the US would actually recognize an
international criminal court, there were lawmakers on Capitol
Hill who discussed putting forward a bill– the
Hague Invasion Act– that would authorize US military
forces to go in and snatch US personnel who were being
prosecuted for war crimes if that ever happened. REIHAN SALAM: You’re sounding
very fatalistic. So do you see the work that
you’re doing to persuade people, do you see this as
a generational project? Do you see this as something
where, over a very long period of time– JEREMY SCAHILL: It’s
a long war. I think if you and I were
sitting down five or 10 years ago, I may have thought or
pretended that I actually had a set of solutions as to
how to change this. What I’m hoping for in the
projects I’m working on right now is to make a dent
in the debate. I think we have a rare opening
right now because the president gave his address
on counterterrorism and targeted killing. Because of the Rand Paul
filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination. This is out in the open in a
way that it hasn’t been for quite some time. And so I see it as one of those
rare moments where we actually can have a real
discussion in this country. To me, the debate we’ve had over
the past 12 years about how we as a society responded
to 9/11 has not been fierce enough. And I don’t think we’ve asked
many of the right questions. The core question for me– and
I keep coming back to it because I do think it’s
an essential one– is our national security policy
making us safer or is it degrading our security? That, to me, is a starting
point on this. Because from that stems all
sorts of investigations. REIHAN SALAM: In a way, though,
when you put it that way, it makes the choice
seem relatively easy. And what I want to
know is this. There are a lot of folks– the political scientist John
Muller is one of them. There are many others– who
have, at the margins, and I think slowly, been changing
the conversation by saying things like, hey,
wait a second. Peanut allergies kill
more people than international terrorism. And it’s interesting because,
again, these views, there was a time when they were totally
unacceptable. And you see them creeping
more and more toward the mainstream. And partly that could be
the distance that we have now from 9/11. So what if you were to say, yes,
we have to accept some degree of risk. That is part of living
in a free society. And any politician who’s going
to tell you that we’re going to be able to eliminate these
risks is lying to you. JEREMY SCAHILL: I
agree with you. REIHAN SALAM: So I wonder, would
you be willing to say that, look, we should not engage
in these practices, even if it meant some
increase in risk? JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, first of
all, I think that our current practices are increasing
our risk. That’s part of the point here. I don’t accept that it’s a zero
sum, that we’re sort of starting from a position where
the current policy is keeping us safe, and I’m the one
attacking it, and saying, oh we should be made less safe so
that we don’t do these things. REIHAN SALAM: But that’s why I’m
asking you, for the sake of argument. JEREMY SCAHILL: No,
I know you are. I’m trying to I’m trying
to respond. It’s not you directly. I’m saying, this is something
that people say. So I don’t start from the
position that this is keeping us safer. And so maybe that’s because I’m speaking a different language. But I’ve been to these
countries, on the ground. And I’m not just speaking
from my couch. And I think that, when you
go on the ground, it– REIHAN SALAM: That was a
very polite way to put that, by the way. Thanks. JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. Well, we do have a lot of
people from the 83rd Chairborne division who are
pontificating about the way things should be in the world. And they don’t know Jack. They’re just embedded
on the internet in their living rooms. And so I’m not speaking from
a position of, boy, this is theoretical politics. I actually think that we are
increasing our likelihood of being attacked because
of our policy. But to me, that should be
part of the debate. And I don’t think there are many
people on Capitol Hill that reflect that school
of thinking. In fact, I think that on
issues of US national security, we don’t have
a real debate. The Democrats have been largely
out to lunch during the Obama era. And then the Republicans, with
few exceptions, are basically the crazy parade on this stuff,
where Benghazi was the Second Coming of 9/11. I’m one of the few people on the
left who actually believes that there has not been a
thorough investigation into what happened in Benghazi. But the debate, or the
investigation, has been disserved by the crazy parade
of conspiracy theorists who are harping about Susan Rice. Our ambassador was killed there
in an incredible breach of that consulate. I don’t believe it was just some
loony-bin reaction to a video of the prophet Muhammad. I think that there were covert
actions that were going on in Libya that we are not aware
of, and that there was a low-intensity war happening. And I think it was a
very well-organized attack on that consulate. Not a spontaneous
demonstration. But we can’t have that
real debate. And the White House has been
given cover by the Michele Bachmanns of the world, if you
can get what I’m saying. So I’m all for living in the
real world and having these debates, but we can’t exclude
the possibility that our policy is part of the problem. Or else, it’s a not it’s
not a real debate. It’s not intellectually
honest. REIHAN SALAM: Libya is a
fascinating example because here was a case where you had
Britain and France very keen to intervene. And it seems that the Obama
administration was reluctant to do so. And then, given that its allies
had gone in, entered. And I think that this could
be, from someone who is an Obama defender, could be just
a view that this person is doing his best in an
extraordinarily difficult situation, having gone in there,
wanting to maintain a light footprint. Light footprint, to some degree,
means that there’s going to continue to be chaos. And the reporting now seems to
suggest that in Benghazi, there was some effort to
actually identify various dangerous weapons that
had been there. And so they had personnel. It wasn’t actually a
consulate as such. It was characterized after
the fact in order to– But it seems that, wow. It just seems like an impossible
situation for him to be in, and for his
team to be in. It seems that– what was the other choice
they could have made? Well, first of all, we got
in bed with very unsavory characters in Libya. And Qaddafi was not brought down
in a domestic uprising. That’s often what
the story is. There was a US and NATO air
war that really led to Qaddafi’s downfall. I don’t know that Qaddafi would
have been overthrown had the United States not gotten
involved to the degree that it did. So then that goes back
to the old questions about regime change. And is it the business of
the United States to be intervening in the affairs
of other nations? And you have the Richard
Holbrook school of foreign policy. And Susan Rice is a key
player in this. President Clinton and Hillary
Clinton have been fierce advocates of the idea that the
United States should use a humanitarian basis
for intervention. That was what the Yugoslavia war
was all about, the 78-day air war in 1999. Democrats like to frame things
in terms of humanitarian interventions. There’s a lot of pressure right
now, for instance, on the White House to intervene
more directly in Syria. And I actually give President
Obama lot of credit for not doing that. Because I think that it’s
a fool’s errand. The United States should have
learned a lesson from Afghanistan when it was funding
the Mujahideen and arming them in the battle
against the Soviet Union. And we got involved with
this epic proxy war. And it came back to hit us. I’m more in line with
conservatives about Syria than I am with a lot of my liberal
friends who are pushing for President Obama to intervene. I don’t think the US should
be intervening in Syria. REIHAN SALAM: One of the other
arguments is that, had we intervened earlier on, and not
necessarily intervened militarily, but had we formed
connections with the opposition, what have you,
perhaps we’d know more about the opposition and in
a better position to influence the situation. But you don’t find
that persuasive? JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, look. I think, to put on a more
empire hat, the US intelligence in that region is
almost totally bankrupt. This is a big part
of the problem. It was part of why the 9/11
attacks happened. The United States didn’t have
any operatives that had infiltrated Al Quada
to speak of. In Yemen, our intelligence has
largely been outsourced to a corrupt network of informants
and the Saudis. In countries like Syria or
Libya, the extent of the US relationship with those regimes
had to do with the rendition program, or the
extraordinary rendition program, where both Bashar
Al-Assad and Muammar Al-Qaddafi cooperated with
the CIA and the US. I think that we have relied so
heavily on technology, on signals intercepts, on drone
strikes, and on other governments’ intelligence
agencies, that we don’t have a very clear, independent picture
that allows us to analyze what US interests would
actually be in some of these countries. You’re giving a specific example
about knowing where the rebel groups are. That would be part of it. Often, we’re playing catch up. Or it seems like those in power
are playing catch up. We’re trying to figure out who
the good guys are and who the bad guys are. And in Syria, you have some
pretty thuggish characters that would almost certainly be
on the receiving end of US military or intelligence aid. And so that’s something the
president would have to look at very carefully. John McCain has been cowboyish
about this in his little trips into Syria and elsewhere, in
calling for the US to be more directly involved in arming
these groups. I would suggest that he look
more closely at the history of what the US did in
Afghanistan. I do think it’s a model. REIHAN SALAM: There’s an
interesting dynamic in humanitarian intervention. So you have a group
of people who have historically been oppressed. Let’s say in South Suadn. You have the Janjaweed militia,
and what have you. And then, when you have– JEREMY SCAHILL: Doing
the killing. The Janjaweed were doing
the killing. REIHAN SALAM: Exactly. And then, when you have a group
of people fighting back against those who are killing
and oppressing them, when you have a real conflict, then
suddenly you draw international attention. So you could have– or when you look at Kosovo,
for example. Kosovar Albanians had
been oppressed in a variety of ways. And then when you have the KLA
engaging in armed conflict, then suddenly it becomes
an international issue. JEREMY SCAHILL: I was
there for that. REIHAN SALAM: They suddenly
draw attention. And so it seems like this
perverse dynamic in which the only way to draw attention
is to take up arms. You draw attention. Then you have some outside
intervention. But part of what you seem to be
saying is that the powers that be, the most powerful
states, they need to exercise a certain kind of restraint. Because what happens is that you
have this conflagration. You have this conflict. We go and deal with
the conflict. Then the public turns away. So again, you have slaughter
in Syria. The public is fixed on it. What do we do about this? Because it’s appearing
on the news. And then you do something
about it. Then you turn away. And during that period when
you turn away is when all kinds of chaos is potentially
unleashed. Or you engage in these practices
which, again, using the technological tools at your
disposal, you engage in these practices that engender
more hatred and resentment. So what you’re saying is that,
initially, we need to engage in this restraint to be
able to turn away. Is that a fair characterization? JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, no. Actually, I’m much more
of an isolationist. I would go far beyond that. I don’t think that it’s the
business of the United States to play cop of the world. And I also don’t think that
we’ve proven ourselves to be an honest broker in many
of these conflicts. You bring up Yugoslavia. I was there. I covered that war. It was a 78-day bombing
campaign. There was covert and overt
assistance to the Kosovo Liberation Army. And the way that it was
portrayed was that there was genocide against the Kosovo
Albanian population. When I was on the ground, I
think a tremendous amount of the killing by Serbian
paramilitaries and Serbian forces in Kosovo happened after
we started bombing. It gave Milosevic’s forces
air cover to go in. So part of that story hasn’t
fully been written Milosevic was a murderous
thug. So were the leaders of the
Kosovo Liberation Army. One of the heads of it, Agim
Ceku, was a war criminal who was supported by the United
States in the previous war in the Balkans. The whole thing is a big mess. And it’s complicated. But the reason I’m bringing
this up is because when President Clinton was making the
case for why the US should be involved on a humanitarian
military level– military humanism– in Bosnia, that same period,
the US was dumping weapons into Turkey. Selling the Turkish government
weapons and providing them military assistance that was
being directly used to mass-slaughter Kurds. Just systematically murdering
Kurds with US weapons. So how can we on the one hand
say, well, we’re going to intervene here to stop
this mass slaughter. And then at the same time, we’re
going to be providing weapons to a government that
is using our munitions to murder ethnic minorities within
their own country? Our credibility is nil
in the Arab world right now on this issue. Look at Syria’s neighbor,
Iraq. That is a country that we helped
to utterly destroy with the invasion and occupation. We caused a mass exodus of Iraqi
refugees into Syria, which is part of the
story there. So how are we now going to be
the people that come in and say, oh, let’s end this by
giving these rebel groups weapons so they can overthrow
a guy that we support when it’s convenient for
our interests? I simply think we have nothing
in the bank of credibility on a military level around
the world anymore. It’s not saying anything about
the men and women in the US military, or even the people
that are looking at counter-terrorism as
their primary goal. But it’s the policy makers who
have engaged in a series of disastrous interventions
over several decades. But let’s just talk about
in the post-9/11 world. That I think it really made it
difficult for us to appear to be an honest broker
in any of this. I’m sure that I’m driving
you nuts right now. REIHAN SALAM: But what I want
to find interesting is that you’re someone who clearly has
very deep empathy for the people in these zones
of conflict. And I imagine that empathy is
not just about the fact that they might be the victims of
American military strikes. And what’s confusing here, and I
don’t mean just because what you’re saying is confusing as
such, but you have Americans who have this humanitarian
impulse. The trouble is that
this humanitarian impulse doesn’t last. It’s there during this focused
moment when you see hunger or deprivation or violence on
the television news. JEREMY SCAHILL: I wish we had
the credibility to be viewed as an honest broker. When we talked about Yugoslavia,
Yugoslavia is such a complicated history that it’s
almost impossible to have a serious debate about it. Because you either sound like
you’re an apologist for one side in that civil war. Or you come up as a naive
interventionist who just believes that with the United
States does is going in to stop genocide. And somewhere in the mix of this
is the reality of what does it mean when the US
intervenes for humanitarian purposes in another country? In Syria my concern would be
that if the US intervenes, it actually would make it worse. And that it would accelerate
killing. Or that by giving weapons
to these groups, it will create blowback. I want the horror in Syria
to come to an end. But ultimately, it’s
a civil war. REIHAN SALAM: Ben Emerson,
the UN ranconteur who has addressed terrorism and related
issues, and he’s condemned the US drone program,
he’s talked about how what we ought to address. What the affluent countries
ought to address in these zones of conflict is poverty and
authoritarianism and other sources of desperation. Is that where you think
we ought to wind up? Rather than, don’t intervene
militarily, but are there other steps that we, as citizens
of wealthy and powerful democracies? JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. It would require reimagining
our role in the world. I would love to be a citizen of
a nation that was actually perceived around the world, for
credible reasons, to be about using the force of our
mortals to undermine despots and dictators. I just don’t think that we are
in that position right now. I think President Obama had a
real opportunity when he first came into office to
not fully reset– it’s such a cliche to say,
hit the reset button– but to tilt the policy in
a different direction. Or at least the rhetoric
emanating from the United States. And to a degree, he did that. But largely, I think, the
message that’s been sent by his presidency is that it
doesn’t matter much who is in power in the US. The US military policy is
going to remain static. I’ll give you a concrete
example. When I was in southern Yemen
talking to tribal leaders and asking them about various
leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they
were saying, look. We see these guys
all the time. They go to restaurants. They go to the mosque. We see them all the time. Your drones can’t
ever find them. They seem to find all sorts
of villagers to hit. But they don’t find the leaders
of Al Quaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And I said, what would it take
for you guys, if the United States demanded their
extradition, to hand them over? And almost all of the tribal
leaders I talked to said, if you stopped sending the drones,
and you actually started funding projects in
our areas that were about schools or water purification,
helping us with our civilian infrastructure, you would give
an incentive to local people to say, we don’t want these
parasites in our community. I think we’ve undermined our
own possibility of bringing people to justice because
we fast-forwarded to the military response. So those kinds of direct
contact, whether it’s tribes in Yemen, or Pakistan, or, in a
good-faith gesture, saying, we’re going to give these
nations a chance to hand these individuals over who we’ve
indicted, because we have evidence about terrorist
plots. And if they don’t, then you
can go back to the drawing board with this stuff. We haven’t even tried
it since 9/11. It’s almost nonexistent, the law-enforcement approach to it. But yes, I do think that those
kinds of people-to-people ties would be far more profound in
their impact than going straight to the military
solution, or arming of rebel groups. REIHAN SALAM: Jeremy, you’ve
written very movingly about the targeting of journalists
around the world in the course of the War on Terror. Can you tell us a
bit about that? JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. Record numbers of journalists
have been killed in the past few years. And most of them are un-famous
journalists. They’re not Americans. We all know about the targeting
of the Associated Press’s phone records. And what happened with James
Rosen, Fox News reporter. And of course, the prosecution
of whistleblowers under President Obama. In our film, one of the stories
that we tell is about a journalist named Abdulelah
Haider Shaye, who was a Yemeni journalist that had gone to the
scene of the first missile strike that President Obama
authorized against Yemen in December of ’09. And at the time, the United
States was concealing its role in that bombing. And the Yemeni government
had taken responsibility for this strike. And they said that they had
taken out an Al Qaeda camp. And this Yemeni journalist
goes there and takes photographs of women and
children being pulled out of the rubble, and photographs the
US cruise missile parts, and sends them around the world
to media outlets and to Amnesty International. Amnesty International then has
a munitions expert look at it and determines that it was
a US missile attack. So we knew now that under
President Obama, Yemen was being bombed. And this journalist was going
on prominent networks around the world talking about how
America was now bombing Yemen. He, shortly after he started
blowing the whistle on this, was abducted by Yemen’s
US-backed security forces, taken to a political security
prison, beaten, and told, if you don’t stop talking about
this, we’re going to put you back in here for good. He went straight that night to
Al Jazeera, and went on the air, and said, I was
just threatened. I was beaten. And he continued to
report on this. And he was interviewing leaders
of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was doing real journalism. I’ve extensively reviewed
his work. And he was a really serious
independent-minded journalist who puts to shame many people
sitting in the front row at the White House press briefings
in terms of the kinds of questions he would
ask jihadist leaders. He was a truly remarkable guy. Anyway, long story short,
he keeps reporting this. And eventually his
house is raided. He’s taken to prison and
disappeared for 30 days. He then is hauled into a
specialized criminal tribunal that was set up, in part, to
prosecute journalists in Yemen who had committed crimes
against the Yemeni dictatorship. And they charged him with being
an Al Qaeda facilitator. And he was sentenced to
five years in prison. His trial was condemned by every
major human rights and media freedom organization in
the world as a sham trial in a kangaroo court. He gets sentenced to five
years in prison. There is such outcry in Yemen
over his imprisonment from civic society groups, from
tribal leaders, that the dictator of Yemen, Ali Abdullah
Saleh, decides to pardon him. And word leaks in the Yemeni
media that he’s going to pardon Abdulelah Haider Shaye. And that day he gets a phone
call from the White House. Not from some undersecretary
of blah blah blah. From the president himself. And President Obama says that
the United States is deeply concerned about reports that
you’re going to release Abdulelah Haider Shaye,
this journalist. And the pardon is ripped up. And he remains in prison
to this day. And in early June– REIHAN SALAM: I’m sure the
back story behind this is fascinating. JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. I can tell you part of it. In early June, this year, he
smuggled a note out of prison and said, there’s only one
person responsible for keeping me in this jail, and it’s
president Barack Obama. Now, what’s the back story? Well, first of all, you don’t
need to take my word for it. The readout of that phone call
is on the White House website. And they don’t deny that they
did it, that they called and said, we don’t want
him released. They claim that he is connected
to Al Qaeda. And that he’s involved
with terrorist plots. I don’t know a single journalist
that has worked with him, I haven’t found any
one that could produce a single shred of evidence to
suggest that this guy was anything other than a journalist
who was covering the Al Qaeda beat. And my personal belief is that
the White House did not want him interviewing Al Qaeda
figures and did not want him exposing the aftermath
of US drone strikes and missile strikes. And I think that’s why
the White House is keeping him in prison. And to me, it’s just
utterly shameful. This was a guy who did work
for the Washington Post, ABC News, NBC. We know that Anwar Al-Alwaki,
the American citizen who was an Imam that was killed in Yemen
during a drone strike in 2011, some of his most
outrageous statements that we know of came because Abdulelah
Haider Shaye interviewed him and asked him tough questions. About his phrasing of Nidal
Hassan’s shooting of his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood. About praising the underwear
bomber in the attempt to blow up a civilian airplane
over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009. Because he asked tough
questions. And so at my belief is that he’s
in prison because he was a good journalist in Yemen. And I think it’s just
utterly shameful that he’s still there. REIHAN SALAM: Thanks
very much, Jeremy. I really appreciate your time. JEREMY SCAHILL: Thank you. It was good to talk to you.

100 thoughts on “Jeremy Scahill on “Dirty Wars” and U.S. National Security: VICE Podcast 009

  1. Agreed, there's lots more to talk about, thankfully there is also lots more good material about this stuff on youtube with Jeremy and others on these wars.

  2. I really want to know if his Navy SEAL friends are really Navy SEALS. I had a guy pretending to be a SEAL come to my high school and give a big speech and he had been doing it for years. I finally investigated it and it turns out he was a huge phony. There are so many people who claim to be Navy SEALS. I guess I'll just have to trust Scahill on this. The dude is a damn good journalist.

  3. I'm not ignorant about my paranoia or the process of video editing since I'm a video editor for decades in the television industry! The podcast is not meant to be edited tho since it's a long form of an hour! Vice only cuts out what my be liable or slanderous! Why does it not seem to be edited any where else in this podcast or any other but at the 19:45 minute mark? THEY always have clean smooth edits but that one is the sketchiest one ever and I've watched every Vice video THEY have made!

  4. "I'm not ignorant about my paranoia" lol.
    well, they edited it for whatever reason they saw fit. it's their show, they can edit whatever they want.

  5. VICE is not a hacky little operation THEY know what THEY are doing & all their stuff is professionally done! It's just to odd that THEY would let such a bad edit pass by! Unless it's meant to catch your attention to get you thinking & asking question like you should be on topics like 911 being an inside job false flag op as well as what really happened in Waco Texas, Aurora Colorado, Sandy Hook Connecticut, The Boston Massacre Marathon Bombings & where do are taxes go if it's a fake lie?

  6. It's good to see another Progressive questioning the Benghazi story. Why did we have a CIA Annex there to begin with? hmmm.

  7. The kind of debate that they are proposing is just not possible outside of the intellectual elites. This is just sad but true. No Flag Loving/Tea Party member is ever going to accept rational and critical thinking in any sort of debate. I love Scahill,and what he stands for, but what he wants is just ridiculous when considering the people you are actually dealing with.

  8. That's one thing, and it finally seems to have crossed the minds of the bosses at Vice when they hired this guy instead of yet another flaky manchild.

  9. Blackwater? Lots of unread conservative old white men (ex-military and otherwise) living in The Philippines loved that group circa 2003-2007. One guy who killed in Iraq and Afghanistan used to show up at Subic and blow $600-900 per night on the whores out of his $200,000 per annum payload and drank himself silly and sulked and cried and fought, apparently trying to forget what he had done.

  10. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jeremy Scahill and I would love for there to be many more TRUE journalists like him in the world. Keep up the great work, Jeremy!

  11. Yeah. Holy shit man. i pause and realize theirs 40 seconds left, normally the last minute is blah blah here is my books nice to talk to you. this whole thing was incredible.

  12. He is but this has been the American way for a long time, it's just getting much worse, and whoever is elected next in the present system will probably just keep continuing.

  13. When exactly was Bush convicted and where? He may have been accused but that's about it (Cheney, Rumsfeld, all top admin officials deserve to be jailed or executed for what they did, as does Obama and his admin). I mean pretty much all US presidents have been war criminals one way or another, if you follow the principles set in place after WW2.

  14. 3w(dot)commondreams(dot)org/headline/2012/05/13
    bush was convicted twice, one for crimes against peace other of conspiracy to commit war crimes; by the kuala lumpur war crimes commission. they have submitted their report to the international court of justice.
    wikipedia: /wiki/Kuala_Lumpur_War_Crimes_Commission.

  15. You are mad for the wrong reasons. Joe six pack is running the country and that is what happens when that happens. As for being war criminals… I think you're over-reaching to make an argument. The tea party must first be pushed out of the picture before the country can have an actual intellectual debate. With so many idiots still praying to God there is no surprise that this is happening.

  16. "Dirty Wars" is absolutely ridiculous!!! This guy goes to Afghanistan and talks to an Afghan and thinks he has the whole story. You can never trust an Afghan…especially the national police! They are the most crooked entity in that country. I have been there 5 times…lived and fought alongside the Afghans and I would never trust one of them with my life. I have seen them run and hide when the first shot is fired. I have seen the ANA and ANP shoot their own people for no reason…..

  17. I have seen them extort money from their own people. This is not just one or two isolated incidents. I have been to bases all over that country and it is the same everywhere. Have NATO forces killed innocents? Yes, innocents always die during war. It's called the "fog of war", you can't control it and you can't for see it. Also, JSOC isn't under the command of NATO. The Task Force is its' own entity…the way it should be!

  18. Cheers.

    Well said to you as well. This guy is the model that anyone who wants to go into journalism should mold themselves around.

  19. I never said that SOF forces have never killed an innocent…in fact I said that they have. It's called the fog of war, you can't control it…innocents die during war. I have seen it up close and personal. What I said was you can't trust an Afghan to tell you the truth. Don't put racist words in my mouth…it turns you into the "painfully stupid fucktard". Thanks for sounding like an uneducated asshole on the internet.

  20. 24:00 It's not as if Jihads just quit because they get a memo about staying well hidden…. That's such an ignorant question. "We can't go to funerals anymore… well, this is where I part ways boys." I know it's more complex than that, but tightening the halliard only arouses contempt and ambition.

  21. Jeremy Scahill is an anti American Terrorist that would sell out his own country just to get attention! He has gotten Soldiers killed because of his LIES! I agree with Jay Leno when he said "why are you still alive?" Jeremy Scahill please give up your American citizenship and go and take up arms with the Taliban because that is what you are doing now with your LIES! Your a traitor and a terrorist!

  22. Stupidity is frightening bdf70. Quoting Jay Leno, now that's a good one. Though, even Jay meant something very different than what you're implying. Jay was making reference to dealing with such a deadly group of people, paid assassins, Though, Jay, like yourself, is an arrogant American who knows absolutely nothing about international politics, so would never use such terms. Again, stupidity and ignorance is a dangerous mix.

  23. RIGHT ON as to the content of commentary. Everyone is a terrorist under the current rule of law. That is the problem. Excuse me, but isn't this nation founded upon the basis of telling truth to authority?

    Fear is the enemy. we are the people. should we the people be motivated by the fear implied by our government or should our government be motivated by the fear of our displeasure of their behavior?

    do not be motivated by fear.

    Do right. Accept no leaders that do not do right.

  24. who among you have real interest in the Caspian sea region energy resources? Just to be preemptive as to those of you bold enough to comment.

  25. Great interview, while I'm far from Jeremy politically, I highly recommend Dirty Wars. Both documentary and book, extremely eye opening. On a side note Vice has another documentary about Afghanistan and what that shit show looks like today right before we pull out and hand it back to the Taliban. Shocking, but I guess that's what happens when you invade a country for a pretext to overthrow a different countries dictator.

  26. Excellent interview. I don't agree with some of Scahill's further left leaning political views, but he has a very agreeable position with regards to drone strike policy and war tactics, pre crime extra judicial actions.  

  27. What a load of crappolla.  On and on, this and that.  Neo-libertarian enlightened liberal overly dramatized portrayal of approximated problem areas in the geo-politcal farce heavily indulged in by zombie poof radicals spewing quasi intellectual compassion gore and the liberal masses sucking it down like gmo tofu.  No talk of the criminal banking mafia family cartels etc.  For Goddess sake, go eat some grass fed raw liver and get a life!

  28. Jeremy Scahill is a liberate left gate keeper…..He and Amy Goodman are financed by the ford foundation.
    You will never hear him about 9/11, Kennnedy assanination, Arab spring, or ohter big globalist operations. 

  29. I bet wireman was standing on his chair yelling at his computer as he was typing. that rant sounds like a hippie tongue twister.

  30. To the point of technology making it easier to murder folks instead of imprison we see the establishment institutions/corporations/military industrial complex, use of technology to benefit themselves. We could also use technology to rid almost all of the worlds mundane jobs and house and feed everyone and free humans up for self development and real human gains. It's not opted for because of our monetary system based on greed and competition. We need a whole new way of looking at things. If you can't get with that you support the status quo that will take us toward the end of this species.

  31. He really brushes off the "better than bombs" question… I want to know about that. Is it a "better" practice? Are there more or less drone strikes than bombings from the US? Total collateral of both?  Procedures to use both? Circumstances under which to use both? Are drones cutting back on bomb droppings? Should we even relate the two….

  32. Interviewer always has his head up wall st and corporations asses.always.dude your supposed to wait til you have some power and they buy you.Your just selling out for free

  33. This is one of the rare, sane Americans that is exposing the governments corrupt and mutinous ways, read the book and it is really exposing..This guy is the truth!

  34. Would love to see Jeremy Scahill and Michael Scheuer debate the War on Terror, moderated by Reihan Salam(sp?).

  35. Just watched the documentary DIRTY WARS. Incredibly powerful, all the time backed up by proof and evidence. Just when you suspected that America are the world's terrorists, this documentary single-handedly proves it. And while that monster Obama is busy smiling for 'selfies' with his media buddies, he's busy dropping bombs all over the fucking world, on top of innocent men, women and children.
    I think to watch this documentary solidifies why America's 'War on Terror' can NEVER be won…every single action they perform creates a massive multiplication of their enemies…. Unless that's something they actually want?

  36. The thing about Exceptionalism is that I expect from other countries. I expect other countries to say, "The lives of my civilians mean more to me than your civilians. My interest outweigh yours. I protect my own against you." If people saw things from that perspective, we'd have a different world.  

  37. I guess this interview was done before we found out that the Syrian rebels are a bunch of mercenaries? A faked revolution, like Libya?

  38. The point of J Scahill is interesting " by doing drones assasinations NSA push a huge amount of people against america – potentialy turning into "terrorists" pert of them – so a nationalist point of vue could very well contend this policy for threatening the country instead of defending it. In Europe these drones attacks have definitly built a debate just against usa, criticizing EU governments backing nato, for instance

  39. very good interview, strange it came from reihan salam  who is editor of the national review and who advocated for the Iraq war, is a libertarian or fiscal conservative so quite a contrast to the social justice/impartial human rights advocate of Jeremy scahill. regardless great interview. Jeremy Scahill one of the finest muckrakers of her time along with Dahr Jamail, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, Matt Taibbi, Max Blumenthal, Nafeez Ahmed, Jonathan Cook, and Chris Graham, all young I might add, who really are inspiring to a new generation of young people who want to dedicate their lives to real watchdog journalism and mythbusting that puts power into account.

  40. This interview is nothing but pure, unfettered, unadulterated logic. What he said at 6:50 in the video is what sold me. It's a great acknowledgement made by Jeremy that people on the left-side of the political spectrum who are very anti-war can also be quite brash and condescending when dealing with those opposed to their viewpoints. The whole problem is most people (on the left and right of the political spectrum) don't want objectivity. It's always easier to scapegoat others than to critically examine oneself. Yes, the rich and powerful elites definitely have a lot of blood on their hands, but us members of society who work for their corporations, buy their products, sit silently while watching Youtube are by our very actions tacitly condoning the subversion of our democratic rights and freedoms. For those reading this; yes, I include myself in this guilt.

  41. Re Jeff T. I agree with your post regarding the inability of people who adopt hard left right positions and are unable to look at issues logically if they do not sit within their left or right paradigm. You may enjoy the following quote from JK Galbraith.Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

  42. the world is on hypocrisy and it seems like the majority of the world have some form of hypocrisy me myself unfortunately at the most Ă­f I try to spin a yarn it won't have any substance so I wouldnt waste my time on the other hand while I sit here awkwardly Ă­ realise in all my confusion load noises bright lights bright colours strong smells tastes textures textile senses don't want to be touched can't cope with the meaning of conversation, autistic people are usually effected with one or two sensitivities or non sensitivities we'll look at me . it any wonder I've had a problem with slightly conflicting things I don't know my own mind at the moment and I've had my meds raised twice I don't know my arse from my elbow at the moment but is anyone listening? does anyone really take on board the things I'm saying because I'm desperate and becoming I'll.

  43. Jeremy scarhill do you care enough to believe in me i want you to see I'm expecting an Alien baby don't take my word for it but I could die trying to give birth I've already lost one.believe have nothing to fear.

  44. Now that we know that these terrorist groups are NATO/US/UK created and funded and Israel acts as their air force, this conversation is silly… We can beat terrorism by not being a state sponsor of terror, we can cut off the funding, and we can kill our own terrorists… America is the largest terrorist country, and NATO is the largest terrorist nation ever known…

  45. Amy Simon launched a lot of journalism careers. I'm not sure what Democracy Now has gotten seriously dissed from other alt-left outlets.

  46. People are too quick to criticize . I saw someone say oh Jeremy didn’t point at military industrial complex , well jeremey talked about them many other interview . He is answering the topics at hand . That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know about particular force or player or he is ignorant of their ignorant . Stop being so judge mental people . Analyze things in their context .

  47. Jeremy Scahill embodies the tone and intellect of the next generation of Noam Chomsky-like thinkers, sorry Jeremy there is only one Chomsky!


  49. jeremy the girl next door im afraid has connected with glen greenwald on youtube glen said i could contact him at least i think but this girl is good at spreading slaunder and i dont want her to do that to me i have not long since recovered from two breakdowns because of these families either side and they go to great lengths to descredit me and my family


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