Tag Archives: Jeremy Scahill

Don’t mention Western intervention! Yemen, Somalia and the Guardian

Don’t mention Western intervention! Yemen, Somalia and the Guardian
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
29 March 2017

Earlier this month Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned the world was facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Speaking to the UN Security Council, O’Brien said more than 20 million people in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria were facing starvation and famine.

Following up on this, on 17 March 2017 the Guardian published a report on Yemen, noting that aid agencies have warned the country is “at the point of no return”. UN figures show 17 million people facing severe food insecurity, the Guardian noted, including nearly seven million people deemed to be in a state of emergency. With the article relegated to page 29 of the newspaper, there was just one oblique mention of the US and UK, which the report explained “have influence over the Saudi-led coalition” currently attacking Yemen and blocking aid entering the country.

Here are the basic facts the Guardian chose not to highlight. Since March 2015 Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of countries in a bombing campaign to overthrow the Houthi government in Yemen (which itself overthrew the previous government). According to the United Nations there have been over 10,000 civilian casualties, with the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes responsible for the majority of casualties. In 2016 the Yemen Data Project – a group of academics, human rights organisers and activists – reported that one third of Saudi-led air raids have hit civilian sites such as school buildings, hospitals, markets and mosques. Martha Mundy, emeritus professor at the London School of Economics, believes “that in some regions, the Saudis are deliberately striking at agricultural infrastructure in order to destroy the civil society.”

The US and UK have been closely collaborating with Saudi Arabia in Yemen. “We’ll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat… political support, of course, logistical and technical support”, the then UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond announced a month into the bombardment. Speaking to me last year, activist Medea Benjamin, author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection, explained Saudi Arabia is “getting munitions from the West… The US is even refuelling their planes in the air”. President Obama – described as “the reluctant interventionist” by senior Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland – sold $115bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia during his eight years in office. This makes the 44th president of the United States “the most enthusiastic arms salesman to Saudi Arabia in American history”, according to Senior Brookings Institution Fellow Bruce Riedel.

Speaking in January 2017, O’Brien was crystal clear about the main cause of the ongoing humanitarian crisis: “The conflict in Yemen is now the primary driver of the largest food security emergency in the world.”

The Guardian has form when it comes to (not) reporting the causes of the deepening humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Surveying the newspaper’s coverage of Yemen between June 2016 and mid-January 2017, Peace News Editor Milan Rai concluded “The critical role of the Saudi blockade in creating these conditions in Yemen has been effectively suppressed by the British media, including Britain’s most liberal mainstream newspaper, the Guardian.” According to Rai there were 70 stories or editorials about Yemen on the Guardian website during this period: “Most of those 70 items (42 stories, 60 per cent of the total) do not mention the humanitarian crisis – or the role of the Saudi blockade – in any way at all.” And though the other 28 articles did refer to the humanitarian crisis “most did so only in a way that effectively suppressed the information”, Rai notes.

Unsurprisingly a recent YouGov/Independent poll found more than half of British people were unaware of the war in Yemen, with just 37 percent of 18-24 year olds aware of the conflict.

Turning to Somalia, on 13 March 2017 the Guardian published a full page article on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in east Africa. “As many as 6.2 million Somalis – more than half the population – need urgent food assistance”, noted the Guardian, including “some districts… under the control of Islamist rebels al-Shahaab, making [aid] access complicated.” There is one mention of the US – “The US government says it has spent more than $110m on humanitarian assistance in Somalia in 2017.”

In reality, the US has been heavily involved in Somali affairs since the 1990s. These interventions, noted BBC journalist Mary Harper in her 2012 book Getting Somalia Wrong?, are viewed by “a growing number of experts” as having “contributed towards [Somalia’s] destruction as a viable nation-state.”

Speaking to Democracy Now! in 2013, journalist Jeremy Scahill explained that in the early years of the ‘war on terror’ the Bush Administration “made a disastrous decision to put [Somali] warlords on the CIA payroll” and “basically had them acting as an assassination squad.” A relative stability was created for a brief period when the Islamic Courts Union took control in 2006 – quickly shattered by the December 2006 US-supported Ethiopian invasion and occupation. The occupation, as occupations often tend to do, energised extremists, with Somali journalist Jamal Osman explaining “al-Shabaab was born when Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 and some still see the group as a resistance movement.”

Since then the US has been trying to destroy the group its actions helped create. In 2012 the Los Angeles Times reported “The US has been quietly equipping and training thousands of African soldiers to wage a widening proxy war against the Shabaab”.

“Officially, the troops are under the auspices of the African Union”, the report explained. “But in truth, according to interviews by US and African officials and senior military officers and budget documents, the 15,000-strong force pulled from five African countries is largely a creation of the State Department and Pentagon”. The US government “is trying to achieve US military goals with minimal risk of American deaths and scant public debate”, the Los Angeles Times noted. Since then the US has intensified its clandestine war in Somalia “using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants”, according to the New York Times last year.

Like Yemen, the US military involvement in Somalia has negatively affected the country’s ability to deal with humanitarian crises. For example, though the Financial Times explains the looming famine in Somalia is primarily the result of regional drought, it goes on to note “The lack of effective government and an insurgency by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda linked jihadi group, have not helped.”

This quick survey of the Guardian’s recent coverage of Yemen and Somalia puts the lie to Guardian regular Polly Toynbee’s claim the newspaper is “always free to hold power to account: to take on politicians, global corporations, the secret security state or great vested interests.” The Guardian may well be free to hold power to account but it’s currently missing some huge open goals when it comes to Western foreign policy.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Guardian never mentions Western interference in Yemen and Somalia or links this to the growing humanitarian crises – I’m arguing the newspaper’s coverage does not match the importance of the issue. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky argue in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent “That the media provide some information about an issue… proves absolutely nothing about the adequacy or accuracy of media coverage… More important is the way they present a particular fact – its placement, tone, and frequency of repetition – and the framework of analysis in which it is placed.”

Indeed, by downplaying of US intervention in Yemen and Somalia the Guardian have helped to keep the large swatches of the general public ignorant of Western foreign policy (see the YouGov/Independent poll) – a state of affairs that suits the US government’s interests, as the Los Angeles Times report above makes clear.

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Jeremy Scahill interview

Jeremy Scahill interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
21 May 2013

Within days of 9/11 it was clear the Bush Administration would exploit the terrorist attacks to push for war on Afghanistan and Iraq. What is less well known is the huge transformation that occurred at the heart of the US Government in those dark days – the topic of US journalist Jeremy Scahill’s new book Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield.

With the nation in a state of collective hysteria, the neo-conservatives led by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rewrote the rules of the game, instituting a huge expansion of covert US wars. In London earlier this month on a promotional tour, Scahill spoke to me about how covert action, secret prisons, drone strikes and assassination all began to be deployed on an unprecedented scale. Having reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, the 38-year old National Security Correspondent for The Nation magazine is one of the most knowledgeable observers of the so-called ‘war on terror’.

According to Scahill, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was sidelined after 9/11, with Cheney and Rumsfeld viewing “the CIA as a worthless, liberal thinktank.” Instead they massively increased the funding and power of the elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) – “the most closely guarded secret force in the US national security apparatus”, writes Scahill in his book. Formed in the 1980s and modelled on the British SAS, President Clinton had muzzled the force following their disastrous involvement in the Black Hawk Down episode in Somalia in 1993. What the Bush Administration did after 9/11, says Scahill, was let JSOC “off the leash”. Or as Cofer Black, the Head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, put it: “All you need to know is that there was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves came off.”

JSOC’s primary role was established during the occupation of Iraq. “The myth was that ‘The Surge’ created this relatively stable couple of years in Iraq”, that US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus instituted a brilliant counter-insurgency campaign, Scahill says. However, he points out “everyone in the US military knows this is just a fraudulent portrayal.” Rather “it had everything to do with JSOC creating a kind of Murder, Inc. operation where they went down and just killed a tremendous number of people”. Bluntly, he says “there was no one left to kill at one point. JSOC had killed its way through every Mom and Pop resistance operation all the through to Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.” This, along with the US paying the Sunni tribes – the Awakening Councils – not to kill US soldiers was what was responsible for the lull in fighting, according to Scahill.

In the run up to the Iraq War, the UK general public was often told that one of the reasons Tony Blair was supporting President Bush so closely was that he would be able to influence, and hopefully constrain, US policy. Scahill laughs when I raise this argument: “The notion that Tony Blair was going to reign in Bush or Cheney is laughable. If anything Britain was used as a cover by the United States to give legitimacy to the Iraq War.” In actual fact UK forces were “deeply involved” in the assassination campaigns waged by JSOC in Iraq, with British units heading up JSOC operations, he explains.

Scahill is also very critical of President Obama’s record in office, noting how the first Black president came under intense pressure from the US military establishment to massively expand the covert wars in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. “And elsewhere – they were asking for authority in the Philippines and Indonesia and certain cases in Latin America, they wanted covert action inside Iran”, he notes. Enamoured by the generals and admirals the Obama Administration caved in and “start hitting in Pakistan at a rate 3-4 times what Bush was authorising.” Similar upswings in drone strikes – and the inevitable civilian casualties – occurred in Yemen and Somalia.

“Obama was trying to find a way to continue some of these policies by simply tweaking them, or adjusting them in a small way”, Scahill says. “He ended extraordinary rendition by the CIA and closed CIA black sites. Instead what he is doing is working with human rights abusing forces around the world to do it for the United States. So it’s by proxy now.” More broadly Scahill believes “Obama has tried to find a way to legitimise the core of the Bush-Cheney programme while defending the system itself from attack both internally and externally. And it’s been pitched that this is a cleaner, more legal way of waging war.”

“I think he has largely been effective in selling that idea to liberals”, he adds.

Turning to his objections to the US policies, Scahill says he isn’t a pacifist and that a state has the right to defend itself. “I just think it is self-defeating”, he says. “My fear, and I believe this to the case, is that we are actually creating more new enemies than we are killing actual terrorists.” He is keen to stress his concerns are of a long-term, strategic nature. “What’s our security going to look like ten years from now as a result of killing innocent people in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan?” he asks. “If you and I sit down a decade from now I’m sure we will be talking about attacks that took place as a result of policy implemented right now.”

A key reason so many US citizens either actively support or are ignorant about these damaging actions is arguably the media’s inability to hold the US Government to account since 9/11. “I don’t believe there is a conspiracy with fat white guys smoking cigars in a back room and deciding how they are going to screw the little people”, Scahill says. “It’s unnecessary.”

“Powerful people in Government are close friends with powerful people in the media”, he explains. “They are part of the same class of people. They hang out together at weekends. They have their little parties like the White House Correspondents’ Dinner where the President jokes about drones and the powerful media barons chuckle at his jokes, and their kids go to the same elite private schools.” He also argues that in the US “the default position is that power is right, that power is telling the truth, that the powerful are to be trusted.”

“I think the opposite should be true – that you should always assume that what they are saying is manipulative”, he counters. “You have to be sceptical as a journalist.”

As Amy Goodman, his former colleague at news programme Democracy Now!, once said “The role of journalism is to go where the silences are”. By shining a light on the darkest parts of US foreign policy, Dirty Wars is a brilliant example of this noble aim. With a senior US defence official recently testifying that the ‘war on terror’ will continue for another 10-20 years muckraking, investigative journalists like Scahill are needed now more than ever.

Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield is published by Serpant’s Tail, priced £15.99. A documentary based on the book will be released later this year. For more information see www.dirtywars.org.