Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill

Award-winning investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill weighs in on the impact of Osama bin Laden’s death, including whether it will turn a page in U.S. dealings with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Jeremy Scahill is an award-winning investigative journalist and Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. He's also a correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!—where he started his career as an unpaid intern—and a frequent contributor to The Nation. Scahill, who has reported extensively on national security issues and the military-industrial complex, exposed the presence of Blackwater forces in New Orleans and is the author of the bestselling text Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.


Tavis: For more on the death of Osama bin Laden tonight I’m joined in New York by Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for “The Nation” and author of the best-selling exposé on Blackwater. Jeremy, good to have you back on this program. Thanks for your time, sir.

Jeremy Scahill: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: Let me start with the obvious. I don’t want to color the question so much – so what do you make, first and foremost, of the news that Bin Laden is dead?

Scahill: Well, I think that in a way, this is a very somber occasion because of the tremendous number of people that have died over the last decade – not only the 3,000 people that we lost in this country on 9/11, but also the hundreds of thousands of people that have died in Iraq and Afghanistan and quite frankly in Iraq, people that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.

So I have a very heavy heart as I look at this, and I think that a lot of Americans in justified in feeling a sense of relief that Osama bin Laden is no longer walking planet Earth, but I think that the celebration should also be confronted with a deep sense of sorrow at all that’s been lost over the past 10 years.

Tavis: Does that mean that you had your stomach turned by all the cheering and jubilation outside the White House?

Scahill: Well, I think that quite frankly it’s idiotic to treat these kinds of international events like sporting events, like it’s the World Cup that we’re cheering for here. I think in a way it really is insulting to those who’ve lost loved ones in these wars and who lost loved ones on 9/11, to trivialize it by jumping up and down like that.

If that’s really what moves people in their heart, well, then I guess that’s fine for them, but I think a lot of people who lost loved ones on 9/11, certainly those that I’ve been talking to, are not jumping up and down. I think they feel a sense of sorrow, but they also feel a sense that at least they can have some sort of closure to the idea that this man, Osama bin Laden, who masterminded 9/11, has been brought to some form of justice.

But no, Tavis, I don’t co-sign those kinds of actions. I never do. I don’t think it’s appropriate, and ultimately, I think it sends the world the wrong message. I think that President Obama treated this as a law enforcement operation to try to bring a culprit to justice rather than invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, and I think our response to that should be one of reflection on where we go from here, because this certainly isn’t over.

Tavis: So what does all the cheering and jubilation that we have seen, the flag-waving and the like, what does that, to your point, Jeremy, say to the world?

Scahill: Well, I think that it sends a message that we are a culture that somehow is celebrating death and targeted execution, and haven’t even thought about all of the losses that have come with this, particularly in the case of Iraq, where upwards of a million people have been killed.

I also think it gives an impression of sort of bloodthirstiness that I think is the wrong vibe to be pushing right now in the world. I think that we need to do everything we can to try to reach out to the Muslim world, to try to say that we have a lot more in common than we have that divides us, and I think that this kind of jumping up and down, chanting “USA, USA,” sends a message of almost sort of blood lust. I think we need to be really careful about that.

Tavis: Add to your list that you’ve started now all those lives that have been lost here and abroad, add to that the billions of dollars that have been spent, add to that that we went through three presidencies – Clinton didn’t get him, Bush didn’t get him, Obama has – but three different administrations. But tell me whether or not to your mind it was worth it.

Scahill: Well, no, I don’t think that the trillion, more than trillion dollars that we’ve spent, the American lives that we’ve lost in terms of U.S. military intelligence personnel, the civilians that have been killed, particularly in the case of Iraq, that had nothing to do with 9/11, to kill this one man, if that’s what it boils down to, no, I don’t think that it was worth it.

I think in order to have this kind of serious conversation on American television you need some time to dissect that, otherwise people try to say, “Well, this sound bite represents what that person is saying.”

The reality is that there were wars based on lies that were waged in the name of avenging the 9/11 attacks, and they were wars that were indeed based on lies. The fact is that the Bush administration, which launched that illegal, immoral war on Iraq, didn’t even win that war in their own terms. The Russian and Chinese oil companies came in and swooped up the oil, Iran is tremendously influential now in Iraq when they weren’t before. There is an Al Qaeda presence in countries where there wasn’t one before, largely inspired by the actions taken by the Bush administration.

So being a New Yorker, Tavis, and speaking to you tonight from New York, my response to this is that much of what happened over the past 10 years militarily should not have happened. It should have been treated like a law enforcement action from the beginning.

I think that in that sense, President Obama is to be given credit because he did make a priority trying to bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice and not trying to invade countries that had nothing to do with 9/11.

Tavis: Will Bin Laden become a martyr to followers, whoever those followers are these days?

Scahill: I think he will to some. What I’m more concerned about, Tavis, I was just recently in Afghanistan reporting from deep in the heart of Taliban and Haqqani network territory, and what I saw there was a new generation of radicals and militants that are rising up that really don’t see themselves as connected to Osama bin Laden or loyal to the old Taliban leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar that have become radicalized over seeing what they perceive as unquestioning U.S. support for Israel in their campaign against the Palestinians, waging war against Iraq, bombing countries like Yemen and then trying to cover it up, and working with all these corrupt dictatorships in the region.

If there’s a real threat now that we have to look at, it’s the blow-back that could be caused from our own actions and policies over this past decade on the one hand in waging these wars against people that had nothing to do with 9/11; on the other hand, supporting these dictators that have been toppled in nonviolent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

Those are the things, Tavis, that concern me going forward, of what is the message we’ve sent to the world and how is that going to impact us? What blow-back are we going to experience as a result of that? Because 9/11 also was a form of blow-back that stemmed from various U.S. policies over the years, not just Osama bin Laden’s fanaticism and his being hell-bent on trying to destroy Americans and American interest.

Tavis: Do I take, Jeremy, from your last comment that you believe, then, that this will or will not turn the page in our relationship, our dealings with Afghanistan?

Scahill: Well, I would hope that President Obama would have the wisdom to see that this is an opportunity to say that America has won some form of victory against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and that it’s time to start substantially withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

We had some indication before we came on the air that Senator Carl Levin, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is predicting that there will be a robust draw-down of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

If that’s true, I would welcome that and think it would be a very positive move. But I have to say, having been on the ground in these places, Tavis, that you really need to see it to believe it, and I’ll believe it once we actually see troops start coming home. Right now, the policy that we’re pursuing seems to be one of escalation rather than de-escalation, and I think that’s the wrong direction to go.

Tavis: What’s your sense, Jeremy, of what this is going to do to our relationship with Pakistan?

Scahill: Well, that really is the billion-dollar question. The fact is that there are serious questions the Pakistanis have to answer about what on Earth Osama bin Laden was doing living, we understand, for years 1,000 feet away from a Pakistani military installation.

The idea that Osama bin Laden was living in a resort vacation-type town in Pakistan, home to three large military installations, not in some cave somewhere, really indicates that he must have had some support from the Pakistani government or at least elements of the Pakistani government, military or intelligence services.

So I think that the Obama administration has really been downplaying that part of the story, instead emphasizing that the Pakistanis had contributed some intelligence that in some way helped this. But the fact is that relations between the U.S. and Pakistan are at an all-time low right now.

U.S. CIA operative, Raymond Davis, killed two Pakistanis in Lahore earlier this year, that caused a huge international uproar. Eventually he was taken out of the country after the U.S. and other governments paid money to the victims. Then you have this incident, where Bin Laden was just living, apparently in plain sight, near the Pakistani military.

I think it’s going to be a very serious crisis that’s going to unfold in the coming months. General Petraeus does not have a good relationship with the Pakistanis. He’s going to be taking over the CIA if he’s confirmed.

So I think that really – you’re focusing in on something that’s going to be the key question moving forward, what is the dynamic going to be between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Tavis: Jeremy, as always, thank you for your work, thank you for your insights and thank you for coming on this program.

Scahill: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: Jeremy Scahill of “The Nation.”

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Last modified: May 4, 2011 at 11:22 am