The following is an interview between Muhammed Malik and Jeremy Scahill. Malik is a human rights advocate and social commentator, born and raised in Miami (full bio below). Scahill is national security correspondent for The Nation and the author of the New York Times bestseller ‘Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army’ and ‘Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield’, released in April, which explores the consequences of the global War on Terror. Scahill will be in Miami on Saturday night to field questions following the screening of the ‘Dirty Wars’ documentary at O Cinema’s Miami Shores location.
Malik: Jeremy, first of all, I want to welcome you to Miami. Over five years ago, I read your book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Since that book was released in 2007, the world has experienced “war on terrorism” policies under both the Bush and Obama administrations. What have you observed since then that prompted your new book — and now film — Dirty Wars?
Scahill: Thanks, Muhammed. Great to be here. So, in the first few months of the Obama administration, it became very clear that, on many of the core issues regarding “national security” and “counterterrorism,” the new president was going to continue the course set by Bush and Cheney, albeit wrapped in rhetoric about change. While President Obama did make some changes to US policy, for the most part they were cosmetic or a form of rebranding of old policies as somehow new or different. We saw Obama intensifying U.S. drone strikes, escalating night raids in Afghanistan, and further empowering secretive forces from the U.S. military and the CIA. So, this project started as a look at how little U.S. policy had changed from Bush to Obama on these issues, despite the perception — from both the right and the left — that President Obama was going to dramatically change course.
Malik: And to expose that and to probe deeper, you actually visited various countries, including Yemen and Pakistan, both places where numerous civilians (and even, in certain cases, American citizens) have been killed by drone attacks by the U.S. Could you share with us briefly some perspective from your encounters on the ground?
Scahill: Sure. After years of interviewing people on the ground in a variety of countries that are impacted by U.S. drone strikes, night raids, and covert action, I have come to the conclusion that our own policies are resulting in the creation of more new enemies than they are killing actual terrorists. A tremendous number of innocent civilians have been killed in the name of making America safer or “killing the bad guys before they kill us.” For me, as an American, to hear people in multiple languages in various countries say that they saw our actions as terrorism was very sobering. Revenge is a powerful motivator and our actions around the world are providing it.
Malik: Shifting gears a bit to current events, there’s been lots of media chatter about Edward Snowden, who exposed NSA spying on the American public. And we’ve seen attacks against not just Snowden but also independent journalists, such as Glenn Greenwald, who has written stories critical of government secrecy, surveillance, and drones. Your thoughts?
Scahill: Right. Well, we are living at a moment when the U.S. government is seeking to criminalize real journalism, particularly when it is producing stories that contradict the official line. If the only information that journalists are allowed to print comes from official sources or official leaks, then that is just propaganda. I believe that we need whistle blowers to hold the government accountable. Many of the whistle blowers who have come forward in recent years were motivated by a belief that what they were witnessing in secret was unconstitutional or immoral, even if it had been deemed legal by a rubber stamp from Congress. All of us, as journalists and concerned citizens, have an obligation to defend those who blow the whistle on abuses of our rights.
Malik: Now, fast forwarding to the future. Just one last question. You’ve often commented about “blowback” as something that endangers our lives here at home while creating instability abroad. As Americans, what should we do to push back against it so that we can live in a safer world?
Scahill: Well, I think we need to have a very serious discussion in our society about whether what is called our “national security” policy is actually enhancing or degrading our security. Part of that discussion must include a serious look at the consequences of our hyper-militarized response to crises. We are deluding ourselves if we think we can declare the world a battlefield and conduct bombings or raids in multiple countries and that it won’t come back to hit us.
Malik: Thanks for your insights, Jeremy.
Scahill: You’re very welcome.
Visit O Cinema’s website for full details on Scahill’s appearance following the ‘Dirty Wars’ documentary screening on Saturday, June 29.
Muhammed Malik is a human rights advocate and social commentator, born and raised in Miami. He is the co-producer of the “Let’s Talk About It” weekly radio program, airing every Wednesday night at 7 p.m. on 880am, and a recipient of SAALT’s Changemaker Award and BORDC’s Patriot Award. He was recently recognized as a “Profile in Courage” by loonwatch.com.