The task of exposing the stark truth has always been the job of the independent journalist. With his new book Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, Jeremy Scahill renews this tradition by bringing the last decade of clandestine war making by the American government into the clearest possible focus.
I use the words “clearest possible” because where governments are concerned, the ugliest and most important truths are always buried by those who are responsible for them. The availability of unprecedented communication technology in the age of Internet has driven officials to unprecedented lengths to keep secret the unnecessary killing of thousands of innocents and alleged militants abroad, a handful of whom are U.S. citizens. Failure to keep the public confused about these matters would risk a popular backlash and the possible loss of political power. As a result, the populace (and the publishing industry’s many desk editors) is dependent on reporters who are compelled by conscience to risk their lives and reputations to show the rest of us what the world’s executioners would rather keep hidden.
It is because of investigative journalists like Scahill that we have unauthorized, behind-the-scenes details of American war in the 21st century. We saw evidence of this in 2007 with Scahill’s first book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. With Dirty Wars the fact is confirmed. In the trailer (available below) of an upcoming documentary based on the book, Scahill recounts his realization that the official front lines in the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq were only part of the story. “There was another war, hidden in the shadows,” he says.
Both the film and the book offer accounts of America’s covert wars in places to which many Americans never give a thought: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The soldiers in these battles, drawn from the ranks of the U.S. military, mercenary forces such as Academi (formerly known as Blackwater), and foreign troops, “operate globally and inside the United States with orders from the White House to do whatever is necessary to hunt down, capture, or kill individuals designated by the president as enemies.” There is no weapon or tactic that is unavailable to them. They “engage in targeted killings, snatch and grab individuals, and direct drone, AC-130, and cruise missile strikes” today with a legitimacy that only a smiling Democratic president can confer.
Besides the particulars it offers, the greatest value of Scahill’s book may lie in its confirmation that the war on terror isn’t about ending terrorism; its true purpose is to maintain and expand it. There is no question that American military intervention has created far more jihadis ready to give their lives for the chance to strike back at the evil empire than ever existed before the attacks of 9/11. As previous Truthdigger of the Week Tom Engelhardt wrote in a TomDispatch review of Scahill’s book, immediately after those attacks, the Bush administration dispatched its soldiers and agents “to collect intelligence, train foreign forces … and especially hunt and kill terrorists.” They were, Engelhardt cites, “going out to ‘prepare the battlefield.’ ” The strange thing though, he continues, is that the battlefield was “remarkably, eerily empty.”