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 his own special-forces career, Col Lang helped to track and kill Che Guevara, then ran US assassination programmes in Vietnam, and later served as a “military attache” in the Middle East. Yet, like many of the old-school soldiers, diplomats and spies cited by Scahill, Lang sees a pragmatic case for restraint: “Is [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] a threat to the United States? Yeah. They could bring down an airliner, kill a couple of hundred people. But are they an existential threat to the United States? Of course not . . . We’ve gone crazy over this. We had this kind of hysterical reaction to danger.”
Yet far from declining with the demise of the Cheney regime (tellingly, Bush seldom comes up in this book), the extrajudicial killings accelerated after Obama’s election. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has placed a special emphasis on drone warfare, a technology that makes warfare cheap, easy and, for those with access to “Kill TV” in JSoc’s “Death Star” facilities at Bagram or Balad (or in the White House and Pentagon), presumably fun.
“It’s the politically advantageous thing to do – low cost, no US casualties, gives the appearance of toughness,” says Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s former director of national intelligence. “It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”
This seems optimistic. Damage to the US, and the world in general, is already starkly evident.
A daring scout of both the corridors of power and the dusty, perilous war zones, Scahill demonstrates how Somalia, Yemen and rural parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan have become hotbeds for al-Qaeda and its vicious anti-western ideology, where before such things hardly existed.
In the process, al-Qaeda and the multibillion-dollar US covert-security establishment (and industry) have come to resemble each other closely, having both renounced all means of advancing their cause other than killing. Human rights and human life have been cheapened across the planet, including in the US itself.
“Don’t think for a moment that we can do these kinds of things without it having a direct effect here at home,” says the former Democrat congressman Dennis Kucinich. “The erosion of integrity, the erosion of democratic values, the erosion of a benevolent intent all augurs a nation in which the basic rights of our own people can no longer be secured. They are up for the auction of the assassin.”
Or the home-grown killers of Boston or Woolwich, alienated and radicalised by the nightly TV news.
Ed O’Loughlin is a former newspaper correspondent in Africa and the Middle East. His new novella, All You Can Eat, a zombie-pulp satire on the Irish economic and political crisis, has just been published on Kindle.