How the US made the whole world a battlefield

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield
Jeremy Scahill
Serpent’s Tail, 2013
642 pages

With his first drone strike in Pakistan just a few days after settling into the White House in 2009, the freshly minted Democratic President, Barak Obama, not only authorised the assassination of a handful of probable terrorists but killed up to two dozen innocent civilians.

It was, says Jeremy Scahill in Dirty Wars, a foretaste of things to come by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate as he expanded and institutionalised the “national security” policies of his Republican predecessor, George W Bush.

Opportunities for messy error increased with an enlarged assassination arsenal.

The Predator drone, the Tomahawk Cruise missile and the night raid by the highly secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) with its elite commandos were given free rein in an “ambitious global kidnapping and assassination” program set up by the neo-conservative extremists of the Bush administration.

Civilian deaths by JSOC far outnumber those of the suspected jihadist militants. Amnesty International has condemned this “deliberate killing of suspects in lieu of arrest in circumstances where they did not pose an immediate threat” as “extra-judicial executions in violation of international human rights law”.

Obama has warmly embraced JSOC as the president’s own private army, “answering to no one but the president and his inner circle”, unburdened by congressional oversight or any semblance of democratic accountability.

Iraq was the laboratory for a newly empowered JSOC to carry out abductions, executions and interrogations of the Iraqi resistance in JSOC’s secret detention facility, Camp NAMA, specialising in torture that even the CIA objected to as too extreme.

Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq freed up JSOC resources from one brutal warzone to the entire globe, a vision of “the world as battlefield” first articulated by Bush.

This bipartisan view on “counter-terrorism”, says Scahill, continues a broader, decades-long shared covert war agenda dating from at least the start of the CIA when that counter-democracy body “orchestrated the overthrow of populist governments in Latin America and the Middle East, backed death squads throughout Central America … and propped up military juntas and dictatorships”.

Constitutional legality aside, the effectiveness of the global assassination campaign is questionable, says Scahill.

In countries such s Yemen and Somalia, al Qaeda terrorist affiliates and imitators recruit from a population angered by images of dead and disfigured children from strikes gone awry by an imperialist power in cahoots with local warlords and other pro-Western regional puppets.

The US assassination program may be “breeding new generations of Muslim enemies” overseas, but domestically it plays well because its purported targets are grossly unsympathetic characters, US casualties are absent and the price tag runs much cheaper than big wars like Afghanistan or Iraq.

Ironically, says Scahill, “President Obama’s credentials as a popular, liberal Democrat and a constitutional lawyer who pledged to end the excesses of the Bush war machine” are of “tremendous value in selling the cause” of summary execution by assassination.

Scahill’s journalistic strength (his access to insider sources) outweighs his tendency to bog down in the bureaucratic turf wars between the CIA, FBI and the Pentagon.

His book amply demonstrates that, although presidents and rhetoric may change, the game remains the same ― protecting US strategic influence and economic interests across the globe, by whatever means, at whatever the cost in human lives.