DIRTY WARS by Jeremy Scahill

The reemergence of the Benghazi attack as a partisan political issue, the popularity of the film “Zero Dark Thirty” and the recent bombing in Boston have refocused Americans on the issue of terror and its threat. Did the FBI and CIA miss intelligence in dealing with the Tsarnaev brothers and other questions regarding the devastation at the Boston marathon have been discussed repeatedly during our twenty four hour news cycle and the question must be asked are we doing enough in terms of protecting the Homeland. The appearance of Jeremy Scahill’s new book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield is very timely as it posits the argument that after 9/11 the Bush administration implemented numerous policies that aborted many civil rights that Americans cherish and created a new world view that assassinations would be a central part of our national security and the secret operations infrastructure to carry out that mission. According to the author this had tremendous consequences for the United States as our policy decisions created the opposite results in countries like Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq and ostensibly world wide as our counter terrorism decisions allowed our enemies to recruit more followers and became an even greater danger than they were before. Offshoots from the original al-Qaeda in Afghanistan emerged in Yemen under the banner, al-Qaeda Arab Peninsula (AQAP), al-Shabab in Somalia and others. It fostered new spokespersons, even American citizens like Anwar Awlaki. In 2008 when President Obama was campaigning he argued against the tactics that were developed by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, but as Scahill lays out his case, the President not only did not change any of the policies of the Bush administration that argued that “the world is a battlefield,” but the Obama administration has gone even further in implementing an enhanced version of counter terrorism that relies on targeted killing and drone strikes worldwide.
The key domestic political component in the implementation of enhanced interrogation techniques, renditions, black sites, assassinations etc. was to make sure that there would be no Congressional oversight for these policies. This was the goal of the Cheney-Rumsfeld partnership after 9/11 that was accomplished with the creation of a separate counter terror infrastructure in the Pentagon and away from the CIA. Scahill does an excellent job detailing how this was accomplished as Cheney and Rumsfeld were victorious in their “turf battles” within the Bush administration after 9/11. The result was that the Bush administration “asserted the right under US law to kill people it designated as terrorists in any country even if they were US citizens.” (78) Scahill reviews the lead up to the invasion of Iraq that has been detailed in books such as The Dark Side by Janet Mayer, The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq by George Packer, and Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas Ricks and the author reaches the same conclusions concerning Bush administration deception, lies, and a lack of strategy in all areas. The development of “enhanced interrogation” techniques to obtain information is argued pro and con, but what is important is how the Bush Justice Department developed the legal rationale for such techniques. As the separate infrastructure for counter terrorism was developed with the attendant lack of oversight the United States ignored its own laws and the Geneva Convention resulting in what the author describes as a “prophetic backlash” that would cost us dearly.
Scahill provides intricate details of events in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. The reader is brought into US decision-making and the missions that resulted. We see the development of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) as a separate tool apart from the CIA and how it was led, funded, and carried out its killing operations. In fact the “JSOC was free to act as a spy agency and a kill/capture force rolled into one.” (171) Important figures involved in this process are presented from General Stanley McCrystal, Vice Admiral William McRaven and others who implemented counterterrorist policy, to the pseudo allies in foreign countries like General Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, the Ethiopian military, warlords in Somalia, among many others. The victims of American policy are delineated in detail be it the massacre at Gardez in Afghanistan, al Majalah in Yemen, to targeting and killing the likes of Anwar Awlaki, and the persecution of journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye. These policies and negative outcomes did not only take place on the Bush administration watch, but were continued at a new level under the Obama administration.
According to Scahill the Obama National Security team is as guilty as the previous administration no matter how much former Vice President Cheney has “chirped” over the years how weak Obama has been in the war on terror. While Obama was receiving his Nobel Peace Prize the US was targeting AQAP in Yemen and al Shabab in Somalia. The basic difference between the two administrations is that the Obama people wanted to make the war on terror more efficient. All one has do is to look at Obama’s national security team to see that it was not going to change policy. Obama did take more responsibility than President Bush by approving certain operations, but that did not alter the overarching policy goals.
Other topics of importance that Scahill discusses include the outsourcing of the war on terror including an in depth look at the role of Blackwater (which the author has presented in his previous book, Blackwater: the Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army), the strange case of Raymond Davis, the killing of Osama Bin Laden and many others. What is unique in this work has been Scahill’s access to many of the characters he presents, the impeccable research, and the ability to put forth material in a logical and cohesive manner. From my own readings what is presented in Dirty Wars is historically accurate and his conclusions are extremely scary as we continue the war on terror in the future. I recommend this amazing narrative of the history of “targeted killing” and other policies of our government to those who are concerned about America’s reputation in the world and what kind of nation we would like to be in the years to come.

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2 thoughts on “DIRTY WARS by Jeremy Scahill

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