Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jeremy Scahill on Bill Moyers Journal



JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I think what we're seeing, under President Barack Obama, is sort of old wine in a new bottle. Obama is sending one message to the world, but the reality on the ground, particularly when it comes to private military contractors, is that the status quo remains from the Bush era. Right now there are 250 thousand contractors fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's about 50 percent of the total US fighting force. Which is very similar to what it was under Bush. In Iraq, President Obama has 130 thousand contractors. And we just saw a 23 percent increase in the number of armed contractors in Iraq. In Afghanistan there's been a 29 percent increase in armed contractors. So the radical privatization of war continues unabated under Barack Obama.

Having said that, when Barack Obama was in the Senate he was one of the only people that was willing to take up this issue. And he put forward what became the leading legislation on the part of the Democrats to reform the contracting industry. And I give him credit for doing that. Because he saw this as an important issue before a lot of other political figures. And spoke up at a time when a lot of people were deafeningly silent on this issue. I've been critical of Obama's position on this because I think that he accepts what I think is a fundamental lie. That we should have a system where corporations are allowed to benefit off of warfare. And President Obama has carried on a policy where he has tried to implement greater accountability structures. We now know, in a much clearer way than we did under Bush, how many contractors we have on the battlefield. He's attempted to implement some form of rules governing contractors. And it has suggested that there should be greater accountability when they do commit crimes.

All of these things are a step in the right direction. But, ultimately, I think that we have to look to what Jan Schakowsky, the congresswoman from Illinois, says. We can no longer allow these individuals to perform what are inherently governmental functions. And that includes carrying a weapon on U.S. battlefields. And that's certainly not where President Obama is right now.


BILL MOYERS: You know, you talk about military contractors. Do you think the American people have any idea how their tax dollars are being used in Afghanistan?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Absolutely no idea whatsoever. We've spent 190 million dollars. Excuse me, $190 billion on the war in Afghanistan. And some estimates say that, within a few short years, it could it could end up at a half a trillion dollars. The fact is that I think most Americans are not aware that their dollars being spent in Afghanistan are, in fact, going to for-profit corporations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These are companies that are simultaneously working for profit and for the U.S. government. That is the intricate linking of corporate profits to an escalation of war that President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address. We live in amidst the most radical privatization agenda in the history of our country. And it cuts across every aspect of our society.

BILL MOYERS: You recently wrote about how the Department of Defense paid the former Halliburton subsidiary KBR more than $80 million in bonuses for contracts to install what proved to be very defective electrical wiring in Iraq. Senator Byron Dorgan himself, called that wiring in hearings, shoddy and unprofessional. So my question is why did the Pentagon pay for it when it was so inferior?

JEREMY SCAHILL: This is perhaps one of the greatest corporate scandals of the past decade. The fact that this Halliburton corporation, which was once headed by former Vice President Dick Cheney, was essentially given keys to the city of U.S. foreign policy. And allowed to do things that were dangerous for U.S. troops. Provide then with unclean drinking water. They were the premier company responsible for servicing the US military occupation of Iraq. In fact, they were deployed alongside the U.S. military in the build up to the war. This was a politically connected company that won its contracts because of its political connections. And the fact is that it was a behemoth that was there. It was it was the girl at the dance, and they danced with her.


BILL MOYERS: Do you get discouraged writing about corruption that never gets cured?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I don't believe that it necessarily doesn't get cured. I think that I'm very heartened by the fact that we have a very vibrant independent media landscape that's developing right now. You know, to me, I once put on the tagline of an article that I wrote early on in the Obama administration that I pledge to be the same journalist under Barack Obama that I was under President Bush. And the reason I felt that it was necessary to say that is that I feel like we have a sort of blue-state-Fox culture in the media. Where people are willing to go above and beyond the call of partisan politics to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. This is a man- it's time to take off the Obama t-shirts. This is a man who's in charge of the most powerful country on earth. The media in this country, we have an obligation to treat him the way we treated Bush in terms of being critical of him. And, yet, I feel like many Democrats have had their spines surgically removed these days, as have a lot of journalists. The fact is that this man is governing over a policy that is killing a tremendous number of civilians.


JEREMY SCAHILL: I think that what we're doing in Afghanistan increases the likelihood that there's going to be another attack.


JEREMY SCAHILL: Because we're killing innocent civilians regularly. When the United States goes in and bombs Farah province in Afghanistan, on May 4th, and kills civilians, according to the Red Cross and other sources, 13 members of one family, that has a ricochet impact. The relatives of those people are going to say maybe they did trust the United States. Maybe they viewed the United States as a beacon of freedom in the world. But you just took you just took that guy's daughter. You just killed that guy's wife. That's one more person that's going to line up and say, "We're going to fight the United States." We are indiscriminately killing civilians, according to the UN Human Rights Council. A report that was just released this week by the UN says that the United States is indiscriminately killing civilians in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. That should be a collective shame that we feel in this society. And yet we have people calling it the good war.


Often, the most professional news segments of any week are aired during Bill Moyers Journal. Yes, there are other good sources for information - but Moyers really stands out over a very long period of time. I respect his work enormously even if I don't agree with his religious views.

Scahill presents a frightening vision of what the U.S. is becoming: the PR arm of a fascist/corporatist state in which profit is king. We are literally talking about blood money. The weapons get built and need to be deployed somewhere for the sake of profit. If weapons are not spent in war there is no need to buy more weapons. And that's the whole point: to sell more weapons. All the time, year in and year out.

Look in the mirror and ask yourself this: aren't our "enemies" correct to hate us? Look what we allow to happen in our collective names. Perhaps you feel powerless to stop the moving juggernaut that is the U.S. oligarchy. I know that I often feel powerless.

But if we can't stop it, who can?