I recently had an opportunity to hear Jeremy Scahill, author of the international best-selling book, Blackwater speak about his new book. Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield has also been made into a documentary directed by Rick Rowley and is scheduled for release across the US in June.
In his presentation to a packed audience in Oakland, California, Scahill mentioned the Reagan’s CIA wars and their attempts to recolonize parts of Latin America. He then showed how these Dirty Wars from the 80s are back — in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other corners of the world. Under the post-911 ‘counter-terrorism’ meme, this impulse of imperial colonization continues in the Middle East and North Africa.
Scahill’s investigations uncovered the real-world consequences of brutal foreign policy being carried forward by the Obama administration. He noted how the idea of clean wars was sold to the left, by portraying them as smarter, more efficient ways to combat ‘terrorism’ compared with those of his predecessors. After exposing Obama’s secret prisons, night raids, snatch and kill operations and the expansion of CIA paramilitary activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, Scahill made it clear that there is no such thing as a clean war and revealed Obama’s military escalation for what it is.
I walked away from his talk deeply affected by what is being done abroad by the US government in our name. It also made me reflect on the importance of alternative media and on what makes a truly independent journalist.
Jeremy Scahill is regarded as one of America’s foremost independent journalists. He has won several awards, including the prestigious George Polk Award twice. In 2013, he was named one of nine recipients of the Donald Windham – Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize at Yale University. He is one of the few investigative journalists who truly goes where the silence is and digs behind the official line to bring out the stories of the victims and the crimes this government is committing in other countries.
In his book, Scahill shed light on America’s lethal shadow army. He discussed how Obama not only continued and legitimized the Bush era secret rendition, torture and black site prison programs, but actually increased the scope of their brutality beyond what Cheney could ever imagine. Following Scahill’s presentation, it became even more clear to me that the policies of this president, a constitutional scholar who received the Nobel Peace Prize, embody the ultimate Orwellian nightmare. Now, War is Peace; people defending their land from invaders are called terrorists and some of the most openly dirty wars of aggression since the Reagan era are portrayed as ‘clean’. These include drones targeting civilians, black ops and open assassination of American citizens without trial – all justified by the increasingly hollow rhetoric of national security.
Scahill spoke of how the American populace is kept within the narrow spectrum of two-party politics and the idea that the US follows the rule of law has become a bipartisan talking point while assassination is normalized. His courage and penetrating clarity in speaking truth to power brings a bright light that cuts through the darkness of government secrecy.
In Orwell’s 1984, “Doublespeak” was used to hide manipulation and control of masses by “Big Brother”. The penetrating behind-the-scenes reporting that Scahill specializes in breaks the spell of Doublespeak that keeps the American public in the dark regarding the criminal role of their government in these wars. What is revealed by the actions behind US government talking points spoon-fed to corporate media draws an uncanny parallel with the vision depicted in Orwell’s novel. In 1984, teams of ‘Thought Police” use total surveillance to uncover and punish people for “thoughtcrime”; those who may someday act against the government for any reason.
Scahill talked specifically about a practice Obama inaugurated called ‘signature strikes’. This is a euphemism for preemptively killing unidentified men who fit the profile of someone that might commit acts of ‘terrorism’ in the future because of their age, gender and other nebulous factors. This is a grotesque form of pre-crime; blatant murder by drone of military aged men, who may or may not be associated with people or groups the US government frowns upon. The practice of the signature strike is as bad and maybe worse than the Orwell’s thoughtcrime. Now, Obama claims executive power to be able to imprison or kill anyone, including Americans, anywhere in the world.
This trend of dictatorial presidential power is embodied in bills such as the AUMF and the NDAA, which authorize military detention of US citizens without charge or constitutional oversight. Blatantly unconstitutional unrestrained surveillance is exploding. Documents made available by FOI request brought to light the monitoring by the FBI of peaceful domestic activists, such as those who protest destruction of the environment, organic and raw food farmers and proponents of the idea of mutual aid.
When the mainstream media is willing to serve as “the Ministry of Truth” for the government, this creeping trend toward a police state would be mostly hidden from the public without the relentless work of independent journalists like Scahill.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a dearth of true investigative journalists like Scahill. In addition to having courage, what makes independent journalists seek the truth behind the government’s blatant Doublespeak? After Obama was elected, Scahill had made a pledge that he would be the same journalist with Obama as how he was with Cheney. On that night in Oakland, he encouraged us to be true to our conscience and move beyond blind party loyalty and the parroted bipartisan talking points. He emphasized how the most horrendous injustices in these covert wars are being carried out as national security policy of a popular Democratic president, whose actions are not critiqued by a majority of Democrats. He reminded the audience that if a Republican were doing the same thing, Democrats would be outraged.
Scahill also pointed out how objectivity in journalism is a myth. His reporting has shown how journalists who follow their conscience can move beyond the false position of neutral observer and side with justice. If one does not do this in this age of corporate media, one inevitably becomes a mouthpiece for those in power. Scahill prefaced his findings on the drone killing of US citizen Anwar al-Awalki and his teenage son by saying that American lives are no more important than others in the world. This is indicative of a deep-seated allegiance to humanity, not to one particular nation or ideology, but holding the ideal that all life is equally sacred. Journalists who act from their conscience are guided by such a moral compass that will always show how the weak and vulnerable need to be defended and that abusers of power must be held accountable.
This commitment to humanity makes it possible for a true journalist to give voice to the invisible and voiceless, and have empathy for those who have been made into enemies. He reminded us that when death becomes personal and victims are as real as our own loved ones, we are no longer able to detach and justify the official narrative promoting these illegal wars and we cannot call innocent men, women and children dying ‘collateral damage’.
In 1984, the Party Slogan read, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” Good investigative journalism reveals the misdeeds of those in government, corporations or any other position of relative power before they are buried by official rewriting of the events. In becoming aware of these crimes, we participate in the present more effectively and can change the course of history as it unfolds. True journalism makes a difference by speaking for the silenced majority.
In a way, Scahill is like a messenger who stands at the crossroads between the present and the future, urging us to awaken to what will likely happen if we don’t act. During the Q and A section, Scahill was asked about possible drone attacks in the US. He responded by saying that he is more concerned about the militarization of the police all over the US and the trend of corporations such as Disney and Monsanto hiring mercenary armies like Blackwater.
There is no denying that Scahill’s exceptional intelligence and uncompromising commitment to telling the stories of the silenced majority makes him a rare journalist. But, what struck me most was how humble and genuine he is. Upon finishing his talk, the audience gave him a standing ovation. He was appreciative but embarrassed by the outpouring of gratitude and respect from the audience. At one point he had shared how he first apologizes to the people whose loved ones were killed by US bombs in places like Yemen before interviewing them, because he is aware that he is likely to be the first American they have encountered and thus represents the nation whose government terrorized them with death from the skies.
Who are these independent journalists who go behind the lines to bring the uncomfortable truth of the moral bankruptcy of war? The depth of Jeremy’s integrity reminds us how the foundation of such a profession must be grounded in one’s identity as an ordinary citizen who responds to others in recognition of our common humanity. Dirty Wars brings us the voices of those who are innocent victims of America’s declared global battlefield. Jeremy Scahill said that journalism needs to speak from the other side of the barrel of the gun. That evening, I saw one of America’s finest journalists do just that.