Jeremy Scahill is the journalist whose new documentary Dirty Wars uncovers some of the unpleasant things that the US government and their allies – including the UK – get up to in the name of the War on Terror. The film was four years in the making and is powerful viewing.
No doubt a thorn in the side of the establishment, Scahill is an extremely dogged reporter whose investigations for this film took him to Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, as well as the complacent precincts of Washington DC. Having just flown in from New York where he lives, we met Scahill in the BritDoc offices in London in the middle of a morning he spent being grilled by various journalists. A man of tremendous conviction, he is fast thinking and fast talking; never hesitating or needing to search for the best way to put his point across.
Although we had less than 12 minutes with the man (seconds count when you’re talking to someone so full of opinion and insight), it felt like we covered an enormous amount. We could have gone on all morning, but as the interview is so interesting – and important – we thought we’d give you as close as possible to a verbatim transcript.
The Film Review: The night time raids, drone attacks and other US military tactics you document in your film seem to kill many innocent people, as well as obviously killing the militants who are the real targets of the US and their allies. Do you think this is military incompetence, a deliberate attempt to instil fear in populations, or possibly even an attempt to kill of the next generation of radicals, as your film suggests at the end?
Jeremy Scahill: Maybe there is perhaps some aspect of this from war planners where there is an attempt to give the impression that if you come anywhere near the people involved in terrorist activities we have absolutely no problem killing you. Even just by just being in the proximate area with them. But I don’t think it’s some kind of grand conspiracy or that it’s been thought through that we want to make everyone terrified. I think there’s a degree of that in some areas of Pakistan and Yemen, where anyone killed there is going to be declared a terrorist.
It is more indicative of the massive overreaction that Western governments, particularly the US and British governments, have had over the issue of terrorism. It’s not that there isn’t a very real threat from terrorism, it’s that we’re breeding the very threat we aim to be fighting. Part of the US strategy is that politicians believe you can kill your way to victory. So they are engaging in a pre-emptive war, when you engage in a pre-emptive war that means you are going to be killing people that you think have the possibility of being terrorists one day. It’s a sort of pre-crime, like in Minority Report. So, it’s more that they want to take any action to ensure that there won’t be another attack and in the process they’re killing an enormous number of innocent people, along with a very small number of radicals who are intent on blowing up our airplanes or embassies, or killing tourists from America, Britain or elsewhere.