tv [untitled] April 1, 2011 11:00pm-11:30pm EDT
no i'm john horgan in washington d.c. and here's what's coming up tonight on the big picture it's friday which means we're going to have our conversations with great minds tonight i'm joined by germy scahill seasoned investigative journalist and author of discuss the escalating events in libya and the rest of the middle east as well as the bigger picture about what's wrong with our nation's approach to security these days also since we're on the subject of war is it ok that the war in libya appears to be escalating we'll hash out those details of this issue and others like us panel tonight in tonight's
big picture rumble and fat cat c.e.o.'s have the nerve to complain about their shrinking million dollar salaries the recession seems to be tapering up tell you what i'm tired of hearing about their salary complaints. for tonight's conversations of great minds i'm joined by an award winning investigative journalist and author who's uncovered corporate corruption around the world and the troubling rise of the military industrial complex here at home his work has led him to some of the most troubled spots around the planet from afghanistan to post katrina new orleans his work as lead him to testify in front of the united states congress and along the way he hasn't pulled any punches and literally has changed the world through his reporting he's the author of the book blackwater the rise of the world's most powerful mercenary army and currently is
the path and foundation writing fellow at the nation institute and a correspondent for democracy now right now i'm pleased to welcome from new york jeremy scahill if you're only welcome. thank you so great to have you here with us jeremy the new york times is reporting today that mohamad is male the senior aide to say fell on a colonel gadhafi sons has been talking with british officials this week what's your interpretation of that assuming is true. but i think that you're starting to see the beginning stages of the cracking of the regime for most with and this is something that is very common when when these regimes are put under pressure by airstrikes or by a lot of international attention and they also have this small but significant domestic authorising from a thousand or so rebels and i think that some of these individuals including the libyan foreign minister who recently defected to britain i think we're starting to
see the cracks cracks in the regime and i think many in the in the arab world would rather see khadafi go from some some sort of an internal assassination by some of his people around him or people simply overthrowing him than to see a sustained bombing campaign or multiple countries getting involved in libya's civil war absolutely including us let's start with what's happening today and then work back in time we have right now or uprisings in yemen bahrain and libya among others but the u.s. chose to go to the u.n. and push for military operations exclusively against libya why in your. well i think that in part moammar gadhafi was sort of low hanging fruit and was a pariah that was despised by much of the world and is someone that the united states i think felt going to war against would be easier to get international coalition together on and to sell to the american public particularly and we've
seen this come out as one of the narratives as to why the united states is bombing libya although this was not one of the stated reasons when the u.s. went to the u.n. but the bombing of pan am flight one hundred three you heard everyone from john mccain to progressive t.v. host ed schultz using that as an excuse to justify this u.s. bombing the fact is though that. the u.n. security council resolution one thousand nine hundred three that was passed was very narrowly passed because five very powerful countries china russia brazil india and germany abstained their populations represent a majority of the citizens of the world as represented on the security council so i think that the united states also was engaged in some reactionary politics here and the feeling that we had to do something to show the relevance and i also think the obama administration was probably afraid of having part of its legacy be like that of president clinton's that rwanda was happening and you failed to stop it so i think on the one hand libya was a convenient way to show that the u.s.
was taking action in the middle east in the midst of all these uprisings on the flip side of it you have tremendous repression going on in yemen you have the u.s. support for the corrupt monarchy in saudi arabia you see protests today in jordan you see syria also increasingly descending into bloodshed and hillary clinton praising bashar al assad recently as a reformer secretary of defense gates saying that the united states didn't want to comment on the internal affairs of yemen despite the fact that there were fifty more than fifty protesters shot dead the day before the u.s. started bombing libya so you do have what appears to be a contradiction but i would say tom that i. actually u.s. policy is is very consistent they are backing up their people despite the fact that repressive dictators and then they're going after moammar gadhafi because he's the low hanging fruit of course no one in the world really likes small market i think. karma lowing for me reagan had his his grenade and bush
sr went after noriega in panama it's it seems like every president has to have a little war in imitation perhaps of margaret thatcher and you know hopefully a short one and george bush is of course didn't turn out that way. do you think that it's possible that that's. what you're describing is that that's the primary motivation here or well he would just just leave it at that is it possible that that's that this is really more a political calculus than than a military one. yeah i mean and i think you know what is sort of ironic is that the the voice of sanity in terms of senior officials within the administration that seems to be emerging here is the outgoing defense secretary robert gates who weeks ago said that he was against a no fly zone has been very un-p.c. asdic in his appearances before the house and the senate in defending this action and has said things like it's not in our national interest to engage in these
operations in libya and one similarity tom that i would draw between the obama administration and the clinton administration when it went to war against yugoslavia in march of one thousand nine hundred nine conducting a seventy eight day bombing campaign is that both clinton and obama have talked about the relevance of the of international institutions like nato and the united nations when in reality only when the united states wants to do these types of military actions does it happen the u.s. is the main driving force behind it there is no such thing as nato without the united states so let's be clear here that the u.s. is running this operation i wouldn't say that it's only about political calculations though i do think that some of the key people within the obama administration are what i would call cruise missile liberals people like susan rice people like samantha power who do believe in sort of a humanitarian bombing or humanitarian war which of course should be just a grotesquely oxymoronic phrase but you do have some pretty key neo liberals that
have pushed for these kinds of wars before susan rice for instance the u.n. the u.s. ambassador to the u.n. before obama was elected was really agitating for similar action taken in sudan calling for airstrikes and aiding rebels on the ground so i think this is part of the kind of cruise missile liberal cut all that permeates some of these more right wing democratic circles that are really driving the agenda here i was in northern on the northern edge of southern sudan the northeast northwestern and right fifteen miles from. from dar for to two and a half years ago as the. bush years people were down there you know literally burning a village. we didn't come to anybody's rescue there was no oil there or what little oil there was in southern sudan was over on the eastern side and been nailed down by the chinese the original name for the bush campaign against iraq was
operation iraqi liberation as i'm sure you remember and though they apparently before they rolled this thing out somebody pointed out to them that's not a really good acronym and so they changed it to operation iraqi freedom or whatever was. it do you think it's no coincidence that libya is sitting on a lot of oil and syria isn't. well i wouldn't place too much emphasis on that when it comes to the u.s. role there i do think that that certainly is a consideration for the french and others in europe because most of the oil that's produced by libya that is exported is actually going to european markets and so certainly we would be wise to question if that's a motive for france but i think that the united states i don't think that oil was a major factor in why the u.s. has gone after. the i do think that's probably one of the reasons why the french have gone after moammar gadhafi but the fact is that just eighteen months ago john mccain and other republican senators were over in tripoli meeting with moammar
gadhafi in his tent and diplomatic cables on that meeting that were released as a result of wiki leaks project show that john mccain was discussing with moammar gadhafi the training of libyan forces so this is quite a turnabout that we've seen but i i do think there are cases where the united states does intervene based on natural resources considerations or geo strategic goals of the united states but in the case of libya i do think that it had to do with the hawkish democratic party cruise missile liberal mentality that was represented also in the kosovo war more than it is about oil iraq was a disaster largely for u.s. oil companies chinese and russian interests really kind of cornered the market there you know this dream of paul wolfowitz that iraq was going to pay for its own occupation and rebuilding through its oil just never came to fruition and i do understand why you asked the question tom i just i don't see it with libya with the united states and libya that's actually good to hear in one thousand nine hundred
nine president clinton without the u.n. in fact my recollection is that the u.n. had turned him down and he went to the nato instead ordered bombing of serbia we ended up accidentally bombing the chinese embassy in belgrade we covered the area with depleted uranium we cluster bomb the marketplace. i think there was a train that got bombed and we pretty much proved that for the us this was a democratic administration that. i invent fact i believe that this is your a quote from you the empire is a bipartisan thing what were the lessons that you took away from our bosnian adventure and the subsequent recognition of kosovo. well i spent years there on the ground and i was i was in serbia and in kosovo for much of the duration of the seventy eight bombing campaign and saw exactly what you're
describing general wesley clark was the supreme allied commander at the time of that operation and when i interviewed him when he was running for president in two thousand and four and i asked him to respond to the charges from amnesty international that he was a war crime a war criminal for having authorized the bombing of radio television serbia killing sixteen media workers that had nothing to do with propaganda for the regime they were makeup artists and engineers and others and and debated wesley clark on that issue the fact is that when the and this is an inconvenient truth to talk about when the united states began bombing serbia ostensibly to protect the albanian majority in the southern serbian province of kosovo what happened on the ground was that milosevic's forces escalated their killing campaign and actually engaged in in much greater than tallahassee acts of brutality against the kosovo albanians than they had been in the months leading up to the u.s. bombing the other thing that happened as a result of the u.s. going into yugoslavia in one thousand nine hundred nine and essentially putting in
power. war criminals from the kosovo liberation army is that an ethnic cleansing campaign was carried out by the u.s. backed kosovo liberation army expelling a quarter of a million serbs and other minorities from kosovo so we if we want to hold that up as some kind of a success story let's look at the facts on the ground i'm not so sure that what the united states did there in the name of stopping the humanitarian catastrophe or genocide actually have that impact it just shifted who was doing the killing. and also if my recollection is right at that time before we began the bar of the bombing there was a pretty aggressive pro-democracy for lack of a better phrase movement it was evolving. in that country and of course our bombing put into that i'm curious your thoughts on how our bombing of libya and our airstrikes against libya are going to cause we already i'm hearing bashir is you
know he was yelling before that the people revolted against him were al qaeda so try to now he's going oh is it serious cia i mean is this is this did that in in serbia and we will there in gaza or will and will this in the middle east make it more difficult frankly for democracy movements to emerge. i think that's a difficult question to answer i'll give you my two cents on where i see things stand as they stand right now in egypt i think where the u.s. speculator ship of hosni mubarak was brought down by this popular uprising there's a real risk that there that the that egypt will enter a sustained period of mubarak after mubarak where some of his thugs and henchmen and apparatchiks and up essentially running the country in the same way that mubarak was running it and i think that it really is up to primarily the young people in that country to really stay consistent and energetic in trying to say no
that's not what we fought for but that revolution could very well go the way of returning to the status quo of the mubarak era without mubarak and i think there's a real risk for that in libya. i think that one of the scariest things from a u.s. perspective is that the u.s. doesn't actually seem to know who the rebels are that are fighting against moammar gadhafi what we do know from the great reporting of people like jon lee anderson of the new yorker and others is that they are very very skilled warriors that they're wasting a lot of ammo shooting their bullets in the air but they are trained fighting force that they are not engaging in anything even vaguely resembling proven guerrilla tactics or military tactic its tactics against the gadhafi regime and the fact is that president obama stuck his neck out very far by saying that gadhafi had to go it could be that a civil war rages on in libya for years with khadafi on one end and then these sort of cia backed rebels on the on the other side of it the fact that the cia had to go
in there to figure out who the rebels even are indicates how bankrupt u.s. intelligence was on libya before this started it's very similar to what happened in iraq at the time where they chose to back be someone who had a greater constituency along the potomac river than he did along the tigris and euphrates so i think that you know while i like many people around the world would welcome the fall of the coffee regime i think we have. to be very very careful about who we get into bed with and who we start backing and particular we're talking about a civil war khadafy does have supporters there is a lot of supporters and that's a reality that you don't hear often on television this is a civil war and it's a dangerous game u.s. is playing libya absolute greenup and saying that for some time and with cholla being we not only supported we're paying him three hundred thousand dollars a month i'd like to get into a conversation move the conversation into your book blackwater and we're you know where your thoughts are on about that right after this break germany stick around
the conversations of great minds after the break with jeremy scahill. fit. for. you know sometimes you see a story and it seems so you think you understand it and then you glimpse something else you hear see some other part of it and realized everything you thought you know. i'm sorry for the big picture.
all the back to conversations with great minds i'm joined by jeremy scahill the award winning investigative journalist and author of the book blackwater the rise of the world's most powerful mercenary army germy welcome back you've done brilliant reporting particularly in your book blackwater it's spellbinding out america's addiction of mercenaries prince went from being basically a spoiled rich kid with a shooting range to a multimillionaire private are fugitive now private army leader what's the status of blackwater now rebranded is he and or prince and the whole bunch right now and how long before we can expect to see them well. well i mean one thing i'll say in general about mercenaries right now is i find it very rich that the obama
administration is condemning fee's alleged use of mercenaries because what the message to the obama administration is and the world is that when our enemies use private soldiers or private forces they're mercenaries and it's illegal and and should be confronted but when the united states uses them as it has for the entire duration of the so-called war on terror and whatever obama wants to call it now they're private security contractors and you know blackwater would fall into that category so it's once again it's a case of when when we do it it's right when other countries do it they should be punished for doing that it should be illegal under international law international law of course is always conveniently invoked by the united states for other countries but fought against when it comes to applying it to u.s. officials or personnel on the issue of blackwater specifically the owner of blackwater erik prince has fled the united states has relocated in a muslim country in the united arab emirates where he lives under the protection of
the the monarchs there and has been essential he trying to get himself contracts in really old fashioned mercenary business on the continent of africa recently a source of mine in mogadishu told me that he saw erik prince in the v.i.p. lounge at the mogadishu airport and that was then subsequently confirmed in the new york times that prince had been doing business in somalia with a french mercenary company called seris and that was going to was being investigated by the u.n. for violating the arms embargo there the company blackwater which was renamed z. and then renamed again u.s. training center has a new sort of management that's been brought in to give it a different kind of a public face and a former admiral is now going to be men who actually present. clinton had nominated him to take over as defense secretary after les aspin passed away he now is officially running the board of blackwater and they're continuing to win u.s.
government contracts but they've taken quite a serious hit what's more interesting i think than following what's going to happen with blackwater is what is going to happen with the programs they were instrumental to creating the cia assassination program in pakistan relied heavily on blackwater the drone bombing campaign in pakistan relied heavily on blackwater blackwater is still in afghanistan as we speak and they're training afghan forces and they control the forward operating bases on their own inside of afghanistan so the legacy of blackwater and what erik prince himself is going to be doing going forward i think are really the fascinating part of that story but what they did time in short is they really change the way that the u.s. wages its wars and turn the u.s. from a country that thought against mercenaries the hessians into the greatest employer of mercenaries on the globe. and this is quite an experience is it time for for a. second edition of your book or a perhaps an ad on a follow on book of
a role and. you have so put your finger on this that that literally all of this changed and it seems also that it was serious that some of the came out of the bush reagan theory that government can do no good used to be except for the military but now it's even the military and so therefore we've got to privatized much as possible. right and i think you know it's been interesting under the obama administration because there's been a lot of rhetoric about transparency and a lot of rhetoric about accountability but obama is just as addicted to using these private forces as bush was in fact in afghanistan he relies on them much more heavily and i think that you know it's it i think was inspired by the kind of reagan economic doctrine and also under the clinton administration you know people would say oh well bill clinton is cutting the military budget and he's closing military bases and he's cutting the training budgets well that was partly true what
he was actually doing was supporting a pretty radical privatization agenda you know we talk about dick cheney and have running how laverton in the one nine hundred ninety s. and everyone on the left talks about all those dick cheney halliburton there's insider stuff we think gave dick cheney all those contracts when he was running however it was the clinton administration so you know this is a bipartisan game very much so tom you know i'm curious jeremy what quite your interest with regard to black his blackwater and erik prince what led you to write that book. well you know i started going to iraq in the one nine hundred ninety s. and really cut my teeth as a reporter working for democracy now and writing for common dreams and counterpunch and other independent websites and not getting paid for any of it but i was i was in iraq for a lot of the ninety's all the way into the early two thousand and just by chance one of the places that i had spent a lot of time during my time in iraq before the u.s. invasion was in the iraqi city of fallujah and i knew people there and i had
interviewed people there because it was the site of one of the worst cases of civilian deaths caused by the u.s. bombing of iraq during the ninety one gulf war so i spent a lot of time in fallujah i knew people there i had connections there on march thirty first two thousand and four almost seven years ago to this day. it was seven years ago yesterday for blackwater operatives were in for and they were ambushed and killed and their bodies were burned it became a very. iconic moment of the iraq war and their bodies were strung up from this bridge and what happened after those four men were killed was that it was reported in the u.s. press that they were civilian contractors some reports that they were aid workers other press reports that they were american support american civilians butchered and the way the bush administration responded was to level falloon in a in a merciless revenge attack and swearing at his commanders over
a video teleconference saying this is not going to be another vietnam and so the essent these u.s. forces and destroy the city so i started to dig into who are those four guys whose deaths were worth the destruction of an entire city and inflaming of the iraqi resistance that really was the day the war turned and the ensuing mass insurrection against the u.s. really kicked off and that investigation took me. to the streets of new orleans in the aftermath. of hurricane katrina where blackwater sent in initially one hundred eighty four men with helicopters for assault rifles to fan out into the night of new orleans and i never forget it and i was i was standing on the street corner in the french quarter a few days after the flooding of the city began in two thousand and five and i was talking to two new york city police officers that had come down to volunteer to help it was immune credible all these volunteers that came to new orleans when the
government was systematically neglecting them the bush administration and these guys pull up in a car and mark car they get out and they have wraparound sunglasses and they're wearing flak jackets and they have the assault rifles glock nine strapped to their legs and they come up to the to the new york police officers outside and they said where the rest of the blackwater guys and without skipping a beat the cops told him oh you know they're such and such location so the guys get into their car and they drive away and i my head was kind of spinning and i said to the police officer black or even like the guys in iraq and afghanistan and he said yeah they're all over the place down here and i said. i would like to talk to them where where are they and so we can go either way on the street and climb that they were everywhere sure enough i walk two blocks down strike up a conversation with the blackwater guys and started interviewing them and they said that they were they were there to help they said that they had been authorized to use lethal force if they deemed it necessary one of them flashed a gold badge at me and said he'd been deputized by the governor of the state of louisiana and when i pushed the issue and started to investigate it it turns out
that for a week blackwater was operating with no permission from any government entity whatsoever in new orleans and god only knows what they were doing there on the eighth day that they were there they were hired on a no bid contract by the bush administration through the department of homeland security to be the official security force for fema i don't know if e.m.i. has arrived yet in new orleans but blackwater certainly was there and then operating with the legitimacy of the stamp of approval of the department of homeland security after those two things the fluid ambush and the. destruction of the city and then seeing them in new orleans i needed to know who ran that company and i start to look into it and realize that it's run by a bush pioneer who comes from a very powerful family goes a shadow broker and radical right wing politics in the united states fueled unfunded the rise of the radical religious right. and that this was a company that in many ways captured the essence of what was happening domestically in the united states because new orleans had turned into baghdad on the by you with
all these war companies doing disaster profiteering but also the radical outsourcing of foreign policy to unaccountable companies that wouldn't be held liable for their actions abroad and to me it wasn't just about blackwater it was the story of an era the story of a of a moment in time in the history of our country where a fundamental principle of this country changed dramatically and was thrown out the window and that principle being that we don't hire mercenaries we have some semblance of accountability in our system of laws we believe in the constitution what happened a posse comitatus that forbids military forces from engaging in militia type activity in the united states why is it any different if you have former navy seals doing a current navy seals in some ways you could make an argument that navy seals that are new uniforms would be more accountable than the blackwater men that were in new orleans so i think i felt like i needed to put that information out in a way that was accessible to people and try to empower people with information that
they could use to to change things and we shut down blackwater their attempt to open up in california they had to pull out of illinois erik prince had to flee the country a lot of that is because of grassroots pressure activism lawsuits by lawyers who wouldn't give up trying to fight for justice for people that were killed and let me out a lot of it came as a consequence of your book jeremy scahill great work that you've been doing all these years thank you so much for being with us tonight. tom congrats on the t.v. show thanks thank you very much when we come back it's time for tonight's big picture rumble a panel of political commentators will stake out positions on the war in libya the government shutdown and the rise and fall of the tea party.