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on 18 May 2013
Journalist, Jeremy Scahill, author of the best selling expose of leading mercenary corporation Blackwater, has in his sights a somewhat larger prey in "Dirty Wars": namely the series of Covert Wars the United States has run in parallel with its more overt ones in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

The book begins by looking at precedents and experiences of U.S. covert operations and wars in the post-Vietnam War era, particular regard is giving to the Reagan administrations attempts to subvert the restrictions congress placed on its ability to act covertly in Central America, during which not a few of the figures in the Bush II administration (eg. John Negroponte) gained experience that would be put to chilling effect in years to come (see Greg Grandin's Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism for a detailed look at the continuity between Reagan's Central/Latin American warriors and the Bush II years). The attacks of September 11th 2001 are of course the turning point - the "Pearl Harbour" moment that the Neo-Cons have waited for arrives with a bang - all sorts of plans are dusted off and put into action: from augmenting the power of the presidency at the expense of congressional oversight (restricted after the debacle of the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration), the curtailing of freedoms (from torture, illegal imprisonment, the right to due process, freedom of information) in the name of national security, to the launching of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (which had approximately zero to do with the on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon). The two personalities in the Bush II administration that Scahill focuses on are Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (see Andrew Cockburn's excellent Rumsfeld: An American Disaster for a fine summary of Rumsfeld's career). Both played a critical role in pushing forward the military solution in response to the attacks of 9/11 - an expansive military response that was eventually to regard the world as a battlefield where U.S. forces can go anywhere, at anytime, to conduct operations, regardless of issues of sovereignty, human rights or international law.

So beyond the disastrous wars in Afghanistan (now well into its thirteenth year) and Iraq the American military and the C.I.A. moved to conducting covert operations in a growing list of countries. The two which Scahill particularly focuses on are Somalia and Yemen. He makes a convincing case that American actions in both countries were destabilising: for example in Somalia the US used Warlords to implement its program of capturing and assassinating alleged al-Qaeda operatives, in reality providing them with the means to create increasing levels murder and mayhem, and the context for a largely indigenous Islamic backlash in the form of the Islamic Courts Union, which the United States - in cahoots with Ethiopia - consequently attacks; this in turn creates space for the most radical elements of the I.C.U. - Al Shahab - who have links with Al Qaeda to come to the fore, thus creating an excuse for more intervention, more drone and special ops forces attacks, and more deaths... This is the disaster of American intervention. It is not only countries but individuals that are radicalised: the case of the American Anwar Awlaki is interwoven with the larger tale of institutions, governments and wars: over the course of "Dirty Wars" he changes from a Muslim who plays the part of an interlocutor between Islam and America, who condemned the attacks of 9/11 in mainstream U.S. media to one who - after spending time in a Yemeni jail at U.S. request - is alleged to have become an active member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (albeit in the realm of propaganda) and is eventually - despite being an American citizen - murdered in a drone attack. Unaccountably and with no explanation, his 16 year old son, along with a number of his young cousins, are murdered in a further drone attack a number of weeks later.

Scahill covers the change from Bush to Obama (see Tariq Ali's The Obama Syndrome: Surrender At Home, War Abroad for an excellent short review of the Obama phenomena towards the end of his first term). His argument that there was a great deal of continuity between the two administrations is convincing, as is his point that the Obama administration carried the logic of covert actions and the doctrine of a world-wide battlefield against "terrorism" further than the Bush II administration, for example there were more drone strikes in the first year of the Obama than in all the years of Bush. Other subjects covered include an account of the assassination of Bin Laden; the formation of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; covert operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (which eventually spread to Pakistan); the infighting and jurisdictional turf wars between different American military/foreign policy institutions such as the CIA/State department and the Special Operations Forces/Defence department; the torture regimes (Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib and so on including the lesser known base at Baghdad airport where special ops forces conducted torture) as well as the extraordinary rendition (polite terms for kidnap followed by outsourced torture) program; and the Night Raids in Afghanistan and Iraq, often the fruit of flawed intelligence which caused the deaths of innocents and further ratcheted up hostility towards the U.S. among the people of both countries.

In "Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield" Jeremy Scahill has shown himself to an accomplished journalist and writer, he has collated his own original work along with a great deal of work from other writers, to create what must surely be the best single volume of material on the American Global War on "Terror". It has some limitations despite 520 pages of text, in particular geographically where coverage is concentrated on Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan with occasional forays into neighbouring countries but no coverage of for example American actions in the Philippines, or other locations in the far east. Otherwise this is a fantastic book, that sheds a great deal of light on the murderous and murky world of Covert Actions as conducted by the United States in the post 9/11 era that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.
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In Jeremy Scahill's new book a Somalia WarLord financed by the US to interrogate and kill suspected terrorists considered America, a War Master, a great educator in the art of War and killing. Not what we had in mind for the US's PR, is it?

"Dirty Wars" is Jeremy Scahill's book and film that investigates American strikes that killed civilians with no ties to terrorist groups, beginning with a raid in Afghanistan, that killed several members of a family. An Afghan police chief, taught and financed in the ways of War by the US and three women, two of whom were pregnant, were among the dead. This one series of killings by bearded men from the US, flown in at night and striking wherever they want, leads to many more such strikes. They are all denied and kept secret until a BBC journalist provides evidence. What we learn is that these killings of innocents that are adding up to the thousands , may be radicalizing Muslims. The American cleric-turned-Qaeda, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by drones in September 2011, was put on the kill list. No capture nor charges, nor judge or jury, only assassination. Mr. Scahill said. "We are making more new enemies than we are killing actual terrorists."

We have long heard of secret, covert groups of military who answer only to the President, who kill and assassinate, capture and torture, but now we are doing this with our own Americans. The secret group is called JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command. JSOC's mission, is identifying and destroying terrorists and terror cells worldwide. Personnel are often exchanged between JSOC and CIA. By the early 1980s, CIA and military veterans were running counter-insurgency and counter-terror ops worldwide. General Paul Gorman, who commanded U.S. forces in Central America in the mid-1980′s, defined this advanced form of Dirty War as "a form of warfare repugnant to Americans, a conflict which involves innocents, in which non-combatant casualties may be an explicitobject."

JSOC now operates in over 70 countries, killing thousands, many of them innocents. Drones are flying in many countries. Is this how we want our country to operate? Jeremy Scahill has also been an outspoken critic of President Obama. He disapproves of what the administration's efforts to "normalize and legitimize" targeted assassinations -- drone-executed and otherwise -- Special Operations raids and other covert military practices that blur the battle lines of the war on terrorism.

This is a very thought provoking book, filled with interviews from informants and those who cannot give their names. Today, there was a raid in Yemen, and it was associated with JSOC. Frightening, what have we wrought.

Recommended. prisrob 12-16-13
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on 16 September 2013
Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, who also wrote the excellent book Blackwater: the rise of the world's most powerful mercenary army, has produced a brilliant survey of the USA's current covert wars. Donald Rumsfeld said, "the entire world is the `battlespace'." This has become a global kill campaign.

The US government uses covert action, black operations, snatch squads, and an assassination programme. US personnel break international treaties and conventions and violate other nations' sovereignty and laws. Yet US law requires the US military to respect international law, the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions.

Scahill points out that jihads in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Bosnia in the 1990s served US aims. 2002 saw the USA's first lethal drone attack, in Yemen. In Somalia, the US bought, armed (despite the UN arms embargo) and ran warlords, in a war just like the US-Contra dirty war in Nicaragua. The result? Militant Islamist forces grew stronger.

From 2004 on, the US built up Shiite death squads in Iraq. In December 2006, the USA backed, fuelled and funded Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia. The Ethiopian occupation killed 6,000 civilians. 335,000 fled Somalia. In 2007 Yemeni military found a crashed US spy drone; the Yemeni government said it was an Iranian `spy plane'. In December 2009, a US attack on Malajah in Yemen killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children.

Scahill observes, "political and economic forces were drawing up plans for a neoliberal restructuring of Yemen's economy. Organized under the banner of `Friends of Yemen', the US and British governments joined with the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and some of Yemen's neighbours. ... A declaration from the `Friends' openly acknowledged that `necessary economic reforms would have an adverse impact on the poor.'"

Obama embraces the Joint Special Operations Command, and has refocused it from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The US government is waging covert offensives in Somalia, Yemen, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Sudan. It has Special Operations Forces in more than 100 countries, including Iran, Georgia and Ukraine.

Scahill remarks, "Within weeks of assuming office in early 2009, Obama would send a clear message that he intended to keep intact many of the most aggressive counterterrorism policies of the Bush era. Among these were targeted killings, warrantless wiretapping, the use of secret prisons, a crackdown on habeas corpus rights for prisoners, indefinite detention, CIA rendition flights, drone bombings, the deployment of mercenaries in US wars and reliance on the `State Secrets privilege'. In some cases, Obama would expand Bush-era programs he had once blasted as hallmarks of an unaccountable executive branch. ... Obama would guarantee that many of those policies would become entrenched, bipartisan institutions in US national security policy for many years to come. Whether these policies have kept Americans safe - or have made them less safe - is another question."

NATO operations in Afghanistan killed more than 90 civilians in the first few months of 2010, a 75 per cent increase from 2009. More than 30 were killed at checkpoints after General McChrystal took charge. He admitted, "In the nine-plus months I've been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it. We've shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat."

After General David Petraeus replaced McChrystal, as Scahill notes, "Almost as soon as Petraeus took command of the war, the pace of night raids increased and air strikes resumed. As the civilian death toll mounted, the Afghan insurgency intensified. The US `targeted' killing program was fueling the very threat it claimed to be fighting."

By June 2010, Afghanistan had become the longest war in US history. More than 1,000 American soldiers had been killed. From June 2009 to May 2010, the number of improvised explosive device attacks rose from 250 a month to more than 900.

A report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluded in 2010, "Al Qaeda is now a more sophisticated and dangerous organization in Africa [whose] foothold in Somalia has probably been facilitated by the involvement of Western powers and their allies."
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on 25 August 2015
Excellent read, really great book. I loved reading this it opened up my thinking and understanding of international affairs.
I highly recommend. 5 Stars

A long read that you can pick up and put down. Thank goodness for investigative journalism. We tend to accept the news as it is spoon fed to us. Always challenge the dominant paradigm and question further. This book puts meat onto the bones of a conflict that should be grasped beyond the headlines.
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on 12 May 2013
Scahill's Dirty Wars will stand alongside Philip Agee's CIA Diary Inside the Company: CIA Diary for the harsh light it shines on US official hypocrisy. Historically it should prove to be a test of where every public figure's moral compass stands today - and on which side they may stand in the changing battles for a future which looks set to get increasingly nasty, before we see any new light. With no disrespect to Agee - Scahill's writing is a pleasure to read - even when covering such terrible material.
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on 23 June 2015
Following on from his book on the mercenary force Blackwater, Jeremy Scahill delves into the Dirty Wars of the Bush and Obama era in the War on Terror. The main theatres covered include Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Scahill writes about the excesses of the Bush administration, in particular the detainee programs and he deals with how Obama has ratcheted up the campaign against terrorists with the heavy use of drones and targetted killings. There is a focus on American citizen Anwar Awlaki and his rise within the terrorist ranks and how his targetting by the US raised all kinds of legal dilemmas in terms of assassination by his own government. The Osama Bin Laden death is covered in detail, and perhaps extremely relevant, in light of the Kenya bombings this week, the book analyses the rise of Al Shebab in Somalia and also Al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. The book is very well researched, although I feel that the author is somewhat sympathetic towards the Jihadists and critical of the US government measures to contain them. Obviously, the killing of civilians is wrong from whatever side, and some of the US actions can be compared with those of the terrorists. It is frightening to witness how clandestine operations are from the White House down and the way in which the JSOC has been totally unleashed over the years to a status where it has virtually no oversight, is a scary fact. Since September 11th 2001, the War On Terror has been a real issue to most citizens of the world. Dirty Wars is a book which details this struggle in a very readable, interesting and enlightening manner. I highly recommend this book and believe it is a step up from the Blackwater predecessor. I look forward to future work from the author.
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on 14 March 2016
Jeremy Scahill is a fearsome investigative journalist and this is a powerful offering. A very poignant book.
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on 18 January 2014
This book charts how after 9/11 American policy makers decided that they did not want to be "all lawyered up" and declared 'the world a battlefield' that thereby 'legitimized' them unleashing a blizzard of quasi military acronyms against their Islamist enemies and anyone else who was in the vicinity or might 'usefully' be declared complicit.

The controversies of Guantanamo Bay under George Bush are well known - he wanted to detain people without legalistic oversight - but less well understood is how Nobel Peace Prize winning president Barack Obama decided to extend the policy direction to killing people without legal oversight. So let's spell it out. A new covert military organisation was formed (JSOC: Joint Special Operations Command) whose primary job was to draw up kill lists that were pursued with the might and coordination facilities of American power - on 'terror Tuesdays' Obama personally over saw the authorizations to kill. Moreover, this has created a streamlined process by which future American presidents can - in case you have a soft spot for Obama - personally authorise the non-judicial killing of America's perceived enemies.

Reading this book entails trying to get your head round over 100 acronyms as American bureaucracy confronts Islamist factions that are spreading virus like across parts of the developing (or disintegrating) world. The chosen Islamacists weapons are IED's and suicide bombers, the chosen American weapons are drone strikes and covert assassination/renditions. America is successfully killing those on its 'list' (with attendant 'collateral damage') but it is also appears to be alienating and radicalising many more. The pertinent question the author asks is "how does a war like this ever end?"
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on 6 August 2013
This is an astonishing well written book of reportage, and I think a must-read about the Obama version of the war on terror (or whatever words cover it now). Scahill also has a particular viewpoint, which I disagree with, but the reportage seems first rate.

First the excellent stuff - there are reports of special forces and CIA operations in Somalia and Yemen, which I had not been aware of. Scahill updates our usual view that the war on Terror involves operations in Afghanistan or Pakistan, though these are covered also. He covers the operation which killed Osama Bin Laden, but he also highlights other operations which went disastrously wrong - the shooting dead of seven people, including two pregnant women in Gardez in 2009; the bombing of al Majalah in Yemen which stirred great local resentment of the US; the killing of Anwar al Awlaki's sixteen year-old son, a week after this father was killed. By taking us through eye witness accounts, Scahill forces us to recognize that the drone war on terror is not the clinical, decisive strike imagined.

Scahill's message is that the drone strikes, targeted killings etc are spreading more disaffection and recruiting more terrorists than they are removing. It seems that some of the Yemeni and Somali strikes were based on information from one rival wishing to destroy another rival - in particular the Yemeni president wishing to dispose of people who might displace him. There is reportage of the justification fro the al Majalah bombing being rushed through whatever (non-accountable) White House targeting process in just 45 minutes, based on the need to use the `actionable intelligence'. The book also mentions, via un-attributable sources, that the President was unhappy with and called for a review of the targeting information that led to the death of Al-Awaki's son and three of his teenage cousins.

What I definitely take from the book is that there needs to be accountability for these mistakes - which officially are not happening, up to quite recently the President did not acknowledge US responsibility for some drone strikes. This is incredible power the US is taking to itself - for instance if you take the sentence "US kills Al Queda terrorist cell in village in remote Yeman" and substitute China, Tibetan, India in the sentence, I'm sure there would be international outrage.

Scahill charts the course of Anwar Al Awlaki's progression from moderate, US based muslim cleric - even invited to a Pentagon focus group, post 9-11, to supported (maybe leader) of Al Queda in Yeman through the decade. Scahill asserts that Al Awlaki had not case made against him, had no way of answering any charges that US might put to him and, as a US citizen was executed by the executive branch of the US government without due process. Scahill makes a big deal about Al Awlaki's US citizenship. I don't really buy any of this, the citizenship issue, to me, neither makes Al Awlaki more or less special. I can only presume there was clear intelligence linking him to terrorism, and there was no reliable way to apprehend him without risking US lives.

One point on style, which may be revealing. From my reading, I think Scahill uses the word `bold' only to describe insurgent attacks in the various countries he visits. I think this might reveal a worrying lack of objectivity.
Nonetheless an excellent read.
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on 27 November 2015
A very thorough and well researched book. I learnt much from it.
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