Covert war

Sojo Stories: Dirty Wars

Image still from 'Dirty Wars' documentary
Image still from 'Dirty Wars' documentary

Days before President Barack Obama's high-profile speech on drones and U.S. counterterrorism efforts, Sojourners sat down with investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill to take an inside look at U.S.-led covert wars and the drones that have become an integral part of our global “war on terror.”

His thesis?

"After years of traveling in these countries, I really believe that we’re creating more enemies than we’re killing.”

In some respects, drones are simply a new tool of old empire. Scahill, author of Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield and producer of the documentary of the same name, now in theaters, calls this an "unending war ... being legitimized under a popular Democratic president, who is a constitutional lawyer by trade.”

Indeed, within five years, the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq for terrorist attacks the country did not commit has transformed under the Obama administration into pre-emptive assassinations halfway around the world, for crimes citizens have not yet committed. The result, Scahill suggested, is our collective complicity to “unending war.”

VIDEO: Dirty Wars

As part of Sojourners magazine’s July 2013 coverage on drones, we sat down with investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill to take an inside look at the covert wars waged by the United States and the drones that have become an integral part of the unending global “war on terror.”

Read “Peering in the Dark Corners,” by Catherine Woodiwiss, to shed light on how drones have become a tool of permanent war. To learn more about Scahill’s work, watch his new film Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield.

For Sojourners’ continuing coverage on drones and drone warfare, visit Drone Watch.

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Peering in the Dark Corners

JEREMY SCAHILL SPENT years working out his notions of social justice in homeless shelters and conflict zones and among peace activists. In 2007, Scahill’s award-winning investigative reporting made waves when he published Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, a comprehensive exposé on the secret role of private military contractors in the United States’ “war on terror,” which prompted several congressional inquiries. Scahill’s newest book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, digs into the obscure underbelly of U.S. covert wars.

“In one of my trips to Yemen, I traveled in the south of the country where most of the U.S. drone strikes in Yemen have happened,” Scahill said during a recent visit to Sojourners’ Washington, D.C. office. “I was interviewing a number of tribal leaders. This guy from Shabwa province said to me, ‘[Americans] consider al Qaeda [to be] terrorism. We consider your drones [to be] terrorism.’ I heard that over and over in a variety of countries. ... Many people, in Yemen or in Somalia, would not be predisposed to think of al Qaeda as anything positive. Al Qaeda is a reviled organization in Yemen. ... But there are tribal leaders who are saying, ‘You know, you pushed us into a corner where our people are now sympathetic with al Qaeda.’ After years of traveling in these countries, I really believe that we’re creating more enemies than we’re killing.”

In some respects, drones are simply a new tool of old empire. Scahill’s book title, Dirty Wars (and film of the same name), is partly “a macabre tip-of-the-hat to the dirty wars in Central America, fueled by the United States ... targeting people who are insurgents and claiming they were communists. The new version of this is targeting people who are fighting us and claiming they’re al Qaeda.”

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The Permanent War

This week, the Washington Post published a major three-part series, written by three veteran correspondents, titled “The Permanent War.” The series is an in-depth look at U.S. counterterrorism policies, particularly targeted killings.

In part one, Greg Miller focuses on the “kill lists” for drone strikes and other covert operations, and how they have evolved.

Over the past two years, the administration has worked on a “next-generation targeting list called the ‘disposition matrix,’  which is a“single, continually evolving database in which biographies, locations, known associates and affiliated organizations are all catalogued. So are strategies for taking targets down, including extradition requests, capture operations and drone patrols.”

Miller concludes that “Privately, officials acknowledge that the development of the matrix is part of a series of moves, in Washington and overseas, to embed counterterrorism tools into U.S. policy for the long haul. … For an administration that is the first to embrace targeted killing on a wide scale, officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit.

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