Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, by Jeremy Scahill
An investigation into extrajudicial killings by US special forces could be the defining account of a slide into high-tech, legally leveraged savagery
Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield
In 1974, following the Birmingham pub bombings, SAS troops in Co Armagh used a guided missile to destroy a car carrying suspected members of an IRA active service unit. No warning was given. The British struck again when the men were being buried, directing a volley of high-explosive missiles into the funeral procession. Up to 45 mourners were killed.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Or at least, not in Ireland. But in June 2009 US special forces did exactly that in northern Pakistan. Such atrocities have become so commonplace in the “global war on terror” that we no longer notice them.
What would Ireland be like today if the British had used the US playbook? What would Britain be like? Not only illegal assaults, Bloody Sunday, shoot to kill, collusion with loyalist death squads and brutal interrogations, not only internment without trial, but a full-on free-fire campaign of officially sanctioned torture, disappearances, assassination, cross-Border raids and aerial bombardment, directed against anyone who it was thought might even potentially become a “terrorist” and anyone else who was standing nearby?
As Jeremy Scahill puts it in the final line of Dirty Wars, his towering new investigation into the secret anatomy of the so-called war on terror, “how does a war like this ever end?”
Scahill, whose previous book was Blackwater, an award-winning probe into the murky world of private US military contractors, has written what could prove to be the defining account of the 21st century’s slide into high-tech, legally leveraged savagery.
At the heart of his narrative are the muscle-bound warriors, spooks and torturers of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSoc), a secretive organisation originally founded to co-ordinate the special-forces units operated by the US military. That role changed in the wake of the September 11th attacks, when Vice-President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pulled off what amounted to a secret coup in Washington. To bypass legal oversight by Congress, the joint chiefs of staff, the State Department and the CIA, Cheney and his neoconservative cronies handed the lead role in their new war to JSoc.
The “Big, Bad, Weightlifting Guys” from Fort Bragg were hugely reinforced by new recruits, weapons and money, and even given their own private intelligence service to find targets for them. (The CIA, with its political and developmental analysts, was too hippy to be in the loop.)
Instead of supporting the more conventional counterinsurgency operations of the “vanilla” US military and its allies, the bicep-fixated special forces had only one aim. Under the direct control of Cheney and Rumsfeld, they were to kill as many “bad guys” as possible, wherever they could find them, employing commando raids, cruise missiles, air strikes and drone attacks, with little regard for evidence or the welfare of the general population.
“They had their own idea how to do things, which is much like the way the Israelis do things,” recalls Col Patrick Lang. “You know, the famous ‘Cheney 1 per cent thing’ – if there’s any doubt, you kill ’em.”