Dirty Wars: Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley’s New Film Exposes Hidden Truths of Covert U.S. Warfare
Jeremy Scahill, producer and writer of the documentary film Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, which just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival. He is national security correspondent for The Nation, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Richard Rowley, director of the documentary film Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, which just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival. He is an independent journalist with Big Noise Films.
Premiering this week at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, the new documentary “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield” follows investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill to Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen as he chases down the hidden truths behind America’s expanding covert wars. We’re joined by Scahill and the film’s director, Rick Rowley, an independent journalist with Big Noise Films. “We’re looking right now at a reality that President Obama has essentially extended the very policies that many of his supporters once opposed under President Bush,” says Scahill, author of the bestseller “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” and a forthcoming book named after his film. “One of the things that humbles both of us is that when you arrive in a village in Afghanistan and knock on someone’s door, you’re the first American they’ve seen since the Americans that kicked that door in and killed half their family,” Rowley says. “We promised them that we would do everything we could to make their stories be heard in the U.S. … Finally we’re able to keep those promises.” [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We have flown from Washington, D.C., from the inauguration, to Park City, Utah, to cover the Sundance Film Festival. It’s the 10th anniversary of the documentary track. And we’re going to start off by getting response to President Obama’s inaugural address. On Monday, President Obama declared a decade of war is now ending and that lasting peace does not require perpetual war. But he never mentioned the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan by name.
There was also no mention about the secret drone war that’s vastly expanded under President Obama. On the same day he gave his inaugural address, a U.S. drone strike killed three people in Yemen east of the capital, Sana’a. Also Monday, President Obama officially nominated John Brennan to be director of the CIA, succeeding retired Army General David Petraeus, who resigned. Nicknamed the “assassination czar” by some, Brennan was the first Obama administration official to publicly confirm drone attacks overseas and to defend their legality. Four years ago, John Brennan was a rumored pick for the CIA job when Obama was first elected but was forced to withdraw from consideration amidst protests over his role at the CIA under the Bush administration. Obama also officially nominated Chuck Hagel to head defense and John Kerry to become secretary of state on Monday.
Well, joining us here in Park City, Utah, is Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation magazine. He is featured in and co-wrote the new documentary Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. Jeremy’s latest book, with the same title, is due out in April.
We’re also joined by Dirty Wars director Richard Rowley, independent journalist with Big Noise Films. The film premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. documentary competition section. And when we flew into Salt Lake City last night, we went directly to the Salt Lake City Library, where there was a packed, sold-out crowd to see the—a showing of Dirty Wars. We want to congratulate you, Jeremy and Rick, on this absolutely remarkable film.
RICK ROWLEY: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: And I think it’s very appropriate to begin our four days of broadcasting here at Park City, on this day after the inauguration of President Obama, to begin with Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.
Jeremy, talk about President Obama’s first four years and where we’re going now. You got a chance to hear his inaugural address; what you thought of it?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, I think if we look back at the—at the first term of the Obama administration, what we saw was you had this very popular Democratic president that had—who had campaigned, in terms of his broader rhetoric during the presidential campaign against John McCain, on the notion that he was going to transform the way that the U.S. conducted its foreign policy around the world. And, you know, he then proceeded to double down on some of the greatest excesses of the Bush administration. If you look at the use of the state secrets privilege; if you look at the way the Obama administration has expanded the drone wars; has empowered special operations forces, including from JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, to operate in countries where the United States is not at war; if you look at the way in which the Obama administration has essentially boxed Congress out of any effective oversight role of the covert aspects of U.S. foreign policy, what we really have is a president who has normalized, for many, many liberals in the United States, the policies that they once opposed under the Bush administration. And, you know, this really has been a war presidency.
And, you know, yesterday, as the—as President Obama’s talking about how we don’t need a state of perpetual war, multiple U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, a country that we’re not at war with, where the U.S. has killed a tremendous number of civilians. Rick and I have spent a lot of time on the ground in Yemen. And, you know, to me, most disturbing about this is John Brennan, who really was the architect of this drone program and the expansion of the drone program—these guys are sitting around on Tuesdays at the White House in “Terror Tuesday” meetings, discussing who’s going to live and who’s going to die across the world. These guys have decided—
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “Terror Tuesday” meetings?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, that’s what they’re referred to. You know, senior—when this first came out, senior White House officials said that they internally refer to them as “Terror Tuesdays,” where they meet and they go over the list of potential targets. And they have them, you know, on baseball cards in some cases. And they’re identifying people that they want to take out and that are on the U.S. kill list. And we have an ever-expanding kill list. You know, after 9/11, there were seven people on the U.S. kill list, and then we had the deck of cards in Iraq and Saddam and his top people. I mean, now there are thousands; it’s unknown how many people are on this kill list. And U.S. citizens—three U.S. citizens were killed in operations ordered by the president in late 2011, including, you know, as we reported on Democracy Now! before, the 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki.
And, you know, so the appointment of Brennan to CIA, to me, is the greatest symbol of how deeply invested in covert war and an expansion of wars around the world and the notion that was popularized under the neocons of “the world is a battlefield,” that notion that the United States can strike in any country across the world, wherever it determines that terrorists or suspected militants may reside. The most disturbing part of this policy, to me—and I think also to people within the intelligence community who are looking at this—is that there are regions of Yemen or Pakistan where President Obama has authorized the U.S. to strike, even if they don’t know the identities of the people that they’re striking, the so-called “signature strike” policy. The idea that being a military-aged male in a certain region of a particular country around the world, that those people become legitimate targets based on their gender and their age and their geographic presence, that those are going to be legitimate targets is—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain that.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, this was something that started under the Bush administration, and when President Obama first took office, he was briefed on this by the then-director—the outgoing director of the CIA, Michael Hayden. And he described to him this policy that they had developed called “signature strikes,” where they were looking at patterns of life. If an individual had contact with certain other individuals, if they were traveling in a certain area at certain times, if they were gathering with a certain number of people, that there was a presumption that they must be up to no good, that they are suspected militants or suspected terrorists and that the U.S. could take preemptive action against those people—and by “preemptive action,” I mean killing them with a missile—that there was authorization to do that. In some cases, the president has actually pre-cleared the CIA to authorize these strikes without being directly notified.
But President Obama, my understanding from sources, you know, within the intelligence and military world, has really sort of micromanaged this process. And, you know, Brennan has been—Brennan is basically the hit man of this administration, except he never has to go out and do the hitting himself. He orders, you know, planes and missile strikes and AC-130 strikes to, you know, hit in Somalia, in Yemen, in Pakistan. You know, we’re looking right now at a reality that President Obama has essentially extended the very policies that many of his supporters once opposed under President Bush. And I think it says something about the bankrupt nature of partisan politics in this country that the way we feel about life-or-death policies around the world is determined by who happens to be in office. I mean, that’s—that, to me, is a very sobering reality.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a first clip of your film, Jeremy and Rick. The story of Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki features prominently in Dirty Wars. His 16-year-old son became the third U.S. citizen to be killed in a drone strike in Yemen in October 2011. President Obama called the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki a, quote, “milestone.”
JEREMY SCAHILL: Aden—Yemen’s ancient port city was nothing like Kabul. In Afghanistan, life was defined by the war. Everything revolved around it. But in Yemen, there was no war, at least not officially. The strikes seem to have come out of the blue, and most Yemenis were going about life as usual. It was difficult to know where to start. The Yemeni government claimed responsibility for the strikes, saying they had killed dozens of al-Qaeda operatives. But it was unclear who the targets really were or who was even responsible.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jeremy Scahill in Yemen in the film that has just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival called Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. Jeremy?
JEREMY SCAHILL: So what we were seeing there was a scene where we’re first getting into what’s happening on the ground in Yemen, and we learn about these—this series of missile strikes, cruise missile strikes, that had happened in December of 2009, the first time that Yemen had been bombed by the United States in seven years. And in the process of looking at who the targets were, we understood that Anwar al-Awlaki, that there had been an attempt to kill him, and in fact that the—that it had been announced that Awlaki had been killed. And that’s how we discovered that Anwar Awlaki was in fact on the kill list. And, of course, Anwar Awlaki is a U.S. citizen.
The first bombing that happened, on December 17th, 2009, where President Obama directly authorized the strike, was on this village of al-Majalah in southern Yemen, and 46 people were killed, including two dozen women and children, in that strike. And so, what Rick and I did is we went down to the heart of where these strikes were happening, and we met with people on the ground, and we interviewed survivors of these—of these missile strikes. And we gathered evidence, and we actually filmed the cruise missile parts. And the U.S. had—did not claim responsibility for those strikes; in fact, the Yemeni government claimed responsibility for the strikes. And we know from the WikiLeaks cables that were released that General David Petraeus essentially conspired with senior Yemeni officials, including the former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to cover up the U.S. role in what would become a rapidly expanding U.S. bombing campaign inside of Yemen. And, you know, this administration has continued to pummel Yemen.
Today or—I think today, they claimed for probably the dozenth time in the past couple of years to have killed Said al-Shihri, one of the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And, you know, maybe he has been killed this time; maybe he hasn’t. But what we saw on the ground is that the United States and Yemen claim to be killing al-Qaeda leadership—and they’ve killed a handful of them in Yemen—but for the most part, it seems that the drone strikes are hitting in areas where they’re killing civilians. And what it’s doing is it’s turning people in Yemen that might not be disposed, have anything against the United States, into potential enemies that have a legitimate grudge against America. And that’s—we saw that repeatedly.
AMY GOODMAN: Rick Rowley, your filmmaking is truly remarkable, and you’ve shown that in your previous films, for example, Fourth World War. But in Dirty Wars, that you take this one camera, and you and Jeremy travel the world, as you’ve been covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for years, going to places that the entire U.S. press corps—I mean, with their armed guards—has rarely been, if ever at all, to track what has been secret until now. Talk about that journey through Yemen.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, I—the global war on terror is the most important story of our generation, you know, and it’s a story that’s been completely not covered. It remains invisible and hidden from most Americans. I mean, this is a war—this is the longest war in American history. It’s a war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. But it’s happening in the shadows. And so, Dirty Wars — in Dirty Wars, Jeremy and I are trying to make this invisible war that’s being fought in our name, but without our knowledge, visible to the American people. And in order to do that, we had to leave the safety of the Green Zone and go out to where—where the war takes place, talk to the civilians on the ground in places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen about how this war is affecting their lives.
So, in Yemen, as a result of the—all these drone strikes, as the backlash against these drone strikes in the south was huge, when we arrived in Yemen, an entire province in the south had been taken over by an al-Qaeda-affiliated organization because of the massive popular anger over the drone strikes and the government’s complicity in the strikes, which, you know, turned the south of Yemen into a terrifying place. I mean, these missile strikes, these night raids destabilize the countries that they happen in, and they turn them into places where it becomes very dangerous to move and to operate. So, in Yemen—I mean, in Afghanistan, as well, Jeremy and I had to travel—it was only possible for us to work as a crew of two, because we had to keep a low profile and try to travel under the radar. We couldn’t roll—I mean, rolling around with security would only make it more dangerous for us.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Rick had to actually—he had to train one of the—our Afghan colleagues in how to use a second camera, so that we could have someone filming me while Rick was filming, you know, the people that we were interviewing, because we wouldn’t have been safe to bring more people than that. So Rick actually was training people on the fly in multiple countries on how to do other things, because of some of the limitations, for security purposes, of having to travel very lightly.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that humbles both of us is that, you know, when you arrive in a village in Afghanistan and knock on someone’s door, you’re the first American they’ve seen since the Americans that kicked that door in and killed half their family. And yet, time and time again, those families invited us in, welcomed us and shared their stories with us, based on—you know, we promised them that we would do everything we could to make their stories be heard in the U.S. And so, it’s actually really—it’s amazing to be here at Sundance, because finally we’re able to keep those promises.
AMY GOODMAN: Afghanistan, Gardez, Jeremy, talk about one of the central focuses of Dirty Wars.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, you know, we—when we began working on this film, it was a very different film. And, you know, I mean, Amy, we—both Rick and I have been on Democracy Now! I mean, I feel like I grew up at Democracy Now! On my Facebook page, I list Democracy Now! as my university, and really, really view it that way. And you know, because we were talking to you at the time, that we had started on a very different journey. And we had read about this raid that happened in Gardez, in Paktia province, because a very, very brave reporter named Jerome Starkey, who’s a correspondent for The Times of London, who now is in Africa covering the latest sort of expansion of the not-so-covert war in Mali—
AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll talk about that in a minute.
JEREMY SCAHILL: And we’ll talk about that, yeah. So we had read about this night raid that took place, and it was a horrible massacre. And what happened in Gardez was that U.S. special operations forces had intelligence that there were—you know, a Taliban cell was in a—was having some sort of a meeting to prepare a suicide bomber. And they raid this house in the middle of the night, and they end up killing five people, including three women, two of whom were pregnant, and another person that they killed in the house, Mohammed Daoud, turned out to be a senior Afghan police commander who had been trained by the U.S., including by the mercenary—or the private security company MPRI, Military Professional Resources Incorporated. They weren’t even Pashtun, the dominant—the almost exclusive ethnicity of the Taliban. They spoke Dari. And they’re—and what was happening that night was not preparing a suicide bomber; they were celebrating the birth of a child. And they were dancing and had music, and they had women without head covers on.
And they—and so the soldiers raid this house, and they kill these people. And instead of realizing that they had made a horrible mistake and that the intelligence was wrong and it resulted in these people being killed, they actually covered up the killings. And we interview the survivors of this raid, including a man who watched, while he was zip-cuffed, soldiers, American soldiers, digging bullets out of his wife’s dead body. And they then tried to—
AMY GOODMAN: And they did that because?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, so just to finish this part of it, they kill the people, they dig the bullets our of the bodies, then they take into custody all of the men of the house, including a man who has just watched his sister and his wife and his niece killed, and they fly them to a different province, and they’re interrogating them, trying to get them to give up some information that would indicate that the Taliban had a connection to that family. I mean, it shows you how horrid the intelligence is. I mean, these people weren’t even Pashtun. You have a senior police commander. They’re dancing, playing loud music, and they have women without head cover in the house. And what happened is that NATO then issues a press release and made statements anonymously in the media where they said that the U.S. forces had stumbled upon the aftermath of a Taliban honor killing, and they implied that the family—that the women were killed by their own murderous families.
And so, in the course of the film, we investigate that night raid, and we learn that the individuals who did that raid were members of the Joint Special Operations Command. And we know that because the then-head of the Joint Special Operations Command, Vice Admiral William McRaven, showed up in this village with scores of Afghan soldiers and U.S. forces. And they—there’s a scene, and we show this in the film, where they offload a sheep, and they offer to sacrifice the sheep to say—you know, ask for forgiveness. It’s an Afghan cultural tradition, and it was meant to be a gesture of reconciliation. And they offload the sheep, and they’re offering to sacrifice it in the very place where the raid had taken place. And then Admiral McRaven goes into the home and says his men were responsible for killing the women and the police commander, and he asks for forgiveness from the head of the family, Haji Sharabuddin. Had a brave photographer named Jeremy Kelly not been there to snap the photographs that you see in our film of Admiral McRaven in Gardez, we may never have known who the actual killers were that day.
And both Jerome Starkey and I have filed Freedom of Information Act requests. We’ve tried to get information out of the U.S. military. My requests have been bounced all around the military. And the most current update I have is months old from them. They said that it’s in an unnamed agency awaiting review. We don’t know if anyone was disciplined for the action. We don’t know if anyone was ever held accountable for the action. All we know is that Admiral McRaven and a bunch of soldiers showed up with a sheep and said, “We did this, and we’re sorry.”
AMY GOODMAN: And tried to destroy Jerome Starkey’s reputation, meanwhile, back in Kabul in a news conference.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, I mean, Jerome Starkey—there’s a couple of journalists in our film who really emerge as the heroes of the story that we’re telling. Another one is currently in jail in Yemen right now, and we can maybe talk about him, named Abdulelah Haider Shaye—and we’ve talked about him on the show before—in jail because President Obama intervened, when he was about to be pardoned, to keep him in jail after he exposed the role, U.S. role, in certain missile strikes.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean he intervened, if you could just say for a moment?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, there was—the journalist who first exposed the missile strike I was talking about earlier in al-Majalah, Yemen, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, had taken photographs of the U.S. missile parts, and that’s how we first learned that it was in fact U.S. cruise missiles. And Yemen doesn’t have cruise missiles. And so, after he did his reporting and continued to report on the expanding U.S. air war in Yemen, he was snatched from his home by the U.S.-backed Yemeni counterterrorism units and then was put on trial for allegedly being an al-Qaeda facilitator or propagandist and was sentenced to five years in prison. There was huge protests as his trial was denounced as a sham by international human rights and media organizations. And he was about to be pardoned by the Yemeni president, because there was tremendous pressure in the country, and then President Obama called President Ali Abdullah Saleh and expressed his concern over the release of Abdulelah Haider Shaye.
AMY GOODMAN: The reporter.
JEREMY SCAHILL: The reporter. And then the pardon was ripped up after that. And his lawyers say, clearly, that he’s in jail because of Obama’s intervention, that he would have been released. And lest you think this is some kind of a conspiracy theory, you can hop onto the White House website and see the readout of the phone call from that day. The White House put it openly. When I called the State Department to ask them about the case, they said, “We stand by President Obama’s position on—initial position on this,” regarding this journalist. They don’t even refer to him as a journalist, “regarding this individual.” He had worked with ABC News, The Washington Post — you know, very small, unknown media outlets. And I heard from a very—someone inside of a very prominent news organization in the U.S. told me that they had been called by the administration when they were working with Abdulelah Haider Shaye and told that “You should stop working with him, because he takes his paychecks and gives them to al-Qaeda.” I mean, they tried to slander this journalist behind the scenes and in front.
But you asked about Jerome Starkey. When Jerome Starkey first exposed the cover-up of Gardez, NATO publicly attacked him by name and accused him of lying. And then, when more information started to come out about who did it, then they changed their story, but they never apologized to Jerome Starkey.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Rick Rowley, you have this remarkable footage. Aside from you both going to Gardez and interviewing survivors, talk about the video footage you retrieve there and the hands of the U.S. soldiers that you see.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, one of incredible things in Gardez, the family gave us cellphone videos that they had taken the night of the raid. And there was one clip in particular. It was early in the morning. It’s a shaky video. And we just thought it was just another sort of shaky video of the bodies. But then you can hear voices come over it, and they’re American-accented voices speaking about piecing together their version of the night’s killings, getting their story straight. And, I mean, you hear them trying to concoct a story about how this was something other than a massacre.
AMY GOODMAN: And you see their hands.
RICK ROWLEY: And you see their hands moving the corpses around and photographing the bullet holes. But we never get to see their faces. All we have are their voices. We spent a long time actually trying to analyze the audio to figure out, because a name is mentioned in one part of it, but it’s too thin and distorted on the cellphone to find out. I mean, these are the—these are the scraps and pieces that we have to use to reconstruct the story of these wars, because everything is systematically hidden from us. I mean, all we had to go on were these pictures that Jeremy Kelly took, this cellphone video, and that—
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Kelly is the photographer, videographer for Jerome Starkey.
RICK ROWLEY: For Jerome, yes, who is now the Kabul bureau chief—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Afghan correspondent.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah. All we had were these tiny little scraps of clues that weren’t even supposed to exist, and pictures of a person who was unknown at the time. I mean, Admiral William McRaven, you know, no one knew who he was. I mean, that was the first sort of shock here—looked at him, see his rank, read his name. But he’s not—he wasn’t from the NATO command. He wasn’t from the Eastern Regional Command that owns that battle space. He was not even—I mean, why was this elite force operating, kicking in the doors on farmers? I mean, that is the sort of the—the mystery that begins the investigation.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you take this forward, Jeremy, back to the United States and show McRaven a photograph.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. And so, you know, after—after we learn that this figure, William McRaven, was the leader of this raid, it sort of—our film was sort of in the—this journey was sort of like pulling on the tail of an elephant that’s behind a hidden wall. And you’re pulling on it, and you’re pulling on it, and the cracks start to show this behemoth that’s behind a wall, and you realize that this is part of a much bigger story. And really, that kicked off a journey that took us to Yemen and Somalia and elsewhere.
And, you know, for us, I mean, the sort of—just this incredible looking-glass moment happened when Osama bin Laden was killed. And all of a sudden, everyone is talking about JSOC. It’s everywhere. I mean, we had spent so much time embedded in this story, where there was very little being written about it, except for a small circle of journalists. And all of a sudden, the people that—whose journey we’d been tracking had become national heroes. And Disney tried to trademark SEAL Team 6, and, you know, the Hollywood producers got in bed with the CIA to make their version of the—you know, the events, the sort of official history.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re saying that’s the film…?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Oh, Zero Dark Thirty. I mean, it’s—and we can talk about that film later. But, I mean, the relationship between the CIA and Hollywood over this issue is one that I think needs to be very, very thoroughly debated. And I’m thankful that we are debating it. And, you know, one great thing that has happened as a result of Zero Dark Thirty is that people are actually talking about torture and what has happened in the past. But for us to see, you know, McRaven sitting in front of Congress and JSOC being talked about publicly was really an incredible experience, because we had seen this other side. Our film is about all these things that these same units did that almost never get talked about. What Americans know about JSOC is overwhelmingly limited to what happened in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. And, you know, Rick often points out sort of the irony of the way that that’s covered versus the role these forces play around the world.
RICK ROWLEY: Yeah, I mean, we’re flooded with details about one raid, the—on May 2nd, 2011. We know everything about it. We know how many SEALs were in the helicopters. We know what kind of helicopters they were. We know what kind of rifles they were carrying. We know that they had a dog with them that was a Belgian Malinois named Cairo. We know everything about this raid. But that same year, there were 30,000 other night raids in Afghanistan. So, we know everything about this, but those—those are all hidden from us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to a pair of remarkable investigative journalists, whose investigations are now a film, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, that has just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival in its 10th year. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: The great Somali Canadian, K’naan, singing “Somalia,” his home country. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, and we’re with two great journalists: Rick Rowley and Jeremy Scahill. Jeremy, a longtime Democracy Now! correspondent and national security correspondent for The Nation. Rick Rowley, videographer, filmmaker, who has been in Iraq and Afghanistan for many years. They have now put together this film, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. And it has premiered here. In fact, K’naan was here celebrating the first night. And I want to talk about Somalia and Mali, but let’s start with a clip of this film in Somalia. Jeremy, can you introduce it?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, we—what we discovered in Somalia was that the U.S. had been for years outsourcing its kill list in Somalia to local warlords. And in our film, you meet two of those warlords: Mohamed Qanyare and Indha Adde. And Indha Adde at one time was protecting people who were on the U.S. kill list, and he was an ally of the al-Qaeda and al-Shabab figures within Somalia. And he has been flipped and is now working with the U.S. So, here we meet Indha Adde, this notorious warlord who’s working on the side of the U.S.
JEREMY SCAHILL: In an earlier life, Indha Adde had been America’s enemy, offering protection to people on the U.S. kill list. But the warlord had since changed sides. He was now on the U.S. payroll and assumed the title of general.
So he’s saying that the fiercest fighting that they’re doing right now is happening right here.
The men fired across the rooftops, but it didn’t make sense to me what we were doing here—or what the Americans were doing here in Somalia, arming this warlord-turned-general for what seemed like a senseless war.
UNIDENTIFIED: We’ve got to move.
JEREMY SCAHILL: So these were Shabab fighters you buried here.
GEN. INDHA ADDE: [translated] If we capture fighters alive, we give them medical care, unless they are foreigners. The foreigners, we execute.
JEREMY SCAHILL: If you capture a foreigner alive, you execute them on the battlefield?
GEN. INDHA ADDE: [translated] Yes. The others should feel no mercy.
AMY GOODMAN: The U.S.-backed Somali warlord Indha Adde. Journalist Jeremy Scahill there in Somalia, Rick Rowley filming. Jeremy, talk about Somalia and Mali, as we—the world learns about Mali now, with the French attacks on Mali and what’s happened in Algeria, and how that ties into the central theme of your film about JSOC.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. I mean, one thing that’s interesting, you know, we have some people from within the JSOC community whose identities we protect in the film, and we’re talking to them. And we actually, you know, two years ago, were considering going to Mali, because we were hearing from our sources that there were covert operations that were happening inside of Mali tracking these—the spread of these al-Qaeda affiliates. And, you know, this is something that we’re seeing throughout the Horn of Africa and in places throughout the Sahel and North Africa, where these groups are getting stronger and stronger. And so, you know, the U.S. is increasingly getting itself involved in these dirty wars in Africa. And, you know, we could have easily gone to Uganda or Somalia or Mali and reported on this, but there’s—you know, since AFRICOM was created as a full free-standing command, like Southern Command and Central Command, AFRICOM has been expanding these wars.
AMY GOODMAN: And McRaven, where he is now?
JEREMY SCAHILL: McRaven is the commander of the Special Operations Command. He is—William McRaven is the most powerful figure in the United States military. He is an incredibly brilliant man. He is very shrewd. He understands media. And he is in charge of the most elite force the U.S. has ever produced, and he has been given carte blanche to do what he believes is right around the world, empowered much more under President Obama than they were under President Bush. In fact, you see someone who has worked within JSOC saying that to us in our film. And out of Camp Lemonnier, which is in Djibouti, the U.S. has been expanding these covert wars in Africa. And most of what—most Americans, what they know about Somalia is Black Hawk Down. And I think in our film you’re going to see a very different reality, and you’re going to see the hellscape that has been built by a decade of covert war.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it too cynical to say—I mean, this is the fourth anniversary of President Obama promising to close Guantánamo. It hasn’t happened. There’s still scores of men there, 166 men. Something—more than 80 of them have been cleared, yet they’re still there. Is it too cynical to say that this “dirty war,” as you call it, the targeted killings, are a way to end all of these prisons? Because you don’t detain prisoners, you simply kill them.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, that’s what people like Jack Goldsmith and other, you know, former Bush legal advisers and national security team—I mean, the irony of these guys, who have no moral standing to talk about these issues, are saying, “Well, Obama is just killing these people. At least we stuck them in some sort of a prison.” I mean, it’s devastating that this is what these Bush people are saying about Obama. That’s what they’re alleging.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, devastating is your film, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. It has premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival, has just been picked up IFC, Sundance Selects, which means it will go out to scores of movie theaters around the country. This is just the beginning. And I congratulate you both, Jeremy Scahill, Rick Rowley, of Big Noise Films and The Nation magazine and Democracy Now! What an amazing film. This is our first day at the Sundance Film Festival. I thank all for all the work they’ve done.