book review


Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill Jeremy Scahill begins his book, Dirty Wars, by confirming that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield cherry-picked intelligence to justify their disastrous invasion of Iraq, an intention formed well before 9/11. The infamous attack served only as an excuse for their “imperial” ambitions. Interesting that these three chicken hawks, an almost compulsory resume item for the whole administration, took up an especially macho obsession with war and black ops, secret, usually violent and ethically challenged operations. Their projects involved lawless behavior completely at odds with the smug rhetoric these same actors routinely used for public relations purposes. In fact their behavior is exactly what they claim to be fighting against. Just as their compliant lawyers were tasked with justifying an invasion of Iraq where no justification existed, the same clever dudes were asked to explain how torture and murder are not torture and murder.

What they were justifying was, indeed, indistinguishable from Mafia Inc.’s style of exercising power except in scale, much larger. The cabal that got us into Iraq seems as interested in power and money as their colleagues in organized crime. Neither “team” seems however to ever get enough money or power so we can probably assume an addictive component also.

The macho approach, according to Scahill’s research, may have momentarily titillated top administration officials, but nearly always produced results the opposite of claimed intent. Or the focus was so narrow that outcome was guaran-damned-teed to create chaos and demonstrate the truth of the dictum that violence begets violence. Supporting warlords in Somalia with weapons and funding in exchange for their assassination services was both obviously immoral and ineffective, since they murdered virtually anyone, target-list or not, for the money… they played the U.S. as anyone would expect a gangster to do. So the consequences are there to be seen in Somalia today, a very different place than it might have been. Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism were strengthened rather than defeated by Mafia tactics.

So in Afghanistan, a list of Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders to be captured or killed grew into a list of thousands, most of whom had no previous relationship to either. The ruthless pursuit of this kill list alienated the population such that enemies grew exponentially, both in Afghanistan and Iraq. The world could probably be added to that list, or at least anywhere U.S. forces operated. Early in the book the radicalization of a moderate Islamic leader, a U.S. citizen, is sketched, a radicalization essentially brought about by these same mindless macho tactics.

SOC (Joint Special Operations Command) was special all right, a military unit whose original function was to provide a versatile, small unit for little military incursions for the president. It grew out of the failed Iran hostage rescue operation. A little place in Texas called Waco received a friendly visit from JSOC. This was the core out of which the White House macho team created its secret dark ops, and capture/kill lists, drawing personnel from Army Rangers, Green Berets, British Commandos and Navy Seals. Another unit provided more outlet for bottled up chicken hawk energy, JPRA (Joint Personnel Recovery Agency). Surprisingly they didn’t rename it SS – maybe too much of a tell.

PRA had one handy set of particular skills: they were expert in torture techniques so as to train U.S. troops in resisting them. All that was needed was to reverse engineer the program and voila, back to the middle ages. Now we knew what to do with Sadaam’s torture chambers. Incorporated into JSOC, the unit could now spend 14 hour days capturing and interrogating “suspects”, 70 – 90% of whom they KNEW were completely innocent. Yet they subjected all to the same gruesome medieval horrors practiced, in U.S. mythology, only by bad guys like Stalin or those barbaric Japanese of World War II., Nazis and other official enemies. The credibility of the U.S., to the degree that it had any, was severely undermined by these decisions and by the patently false denial at the highest level. Recall George W Bush’s shameless statement, “The U.S. does not torture.” JSOC commander, General Billy McCrystal contributed also by denying in his memoirs the lawless behavior that he oversaw. Ironically McCrystal was opposed to the invasion of Iraq, seeing what the chicken hawks could or would not. Colin Powell also, though hardly a dove, opposed the macho posturing of the inner circle. Thus JSOC was partially a work-around, reporting directly to Rumsfield-Cheney, avoiding the “softies” in the upper echelons of the military and the need to report to congress had they used the agency normally at home in that world, the CIA.

SOC’s first interrogation center, NAMA, was at a Saddam-era military base outside Baghdad. It became the model for Abu Graib and other “facilities” along with other dark sites around the globe. The model then trickled, in small or greater measure, out to the larger military operations. You may not have a need-to-know what went on in these “camps” and you probably don’t want to know, yet, since it was all done in our name we are implicated and perhaps need to face up to it. We certainly should stop it.

At this point I am 200 pages into a 524 page book so… more to come. The book does not evade the fact that the U.S. has a genuine “enemy” and it does not, so far at least, address the question of why. It makes clear however that the methods used to attempt resolution only exacerbated the problem. These methods are the same ones utilized by previous colonial powers whenever their subjects began to resist occupation. The unsavory was necessary, in the oppressor’s view, to preserve their privileged, inequitable domination.

Can this “enemy” be defeated militarily? Doesn’t look like an affordable project. Can this “enemy” be brought into dialogue for win-win outcome? Not if our goal remains domination.


Feature illustration by the author, Tom Ferguson.

Tom Ferguson

Tom Ferguson

Tom is a painter, a cartoonist, a musician, a thinker and more. View some of his web sites:

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