Letter to Jeremy Scahill

Because I sat, utterly voiceless, like almost 300,000,000 other Americans, while the brutal farce of the preordained 51-49 Kavanaugh confirmation was grinding on like a sloppily drunk schoolboy against a girl two years younger, writing this long contemplated proposal to Jeremy Scahill is more urgent than ever.  I had to listen to the likes of David Brooks and Alan Dershowitz insisting that the credible testimony of Blasey Ford and the frustrated, emotional pouting of Kavanaugh was essentially a wash.   A handful of people read my thousands of spewed words on the subject and silently yawned.  

A person is not a writer because he or she writes for hours every day. Being able to occasionally move people with your words is touching, but ultimately, that doesn’t make you a writer.  A person is a writer only if he or she gets paid for writing and the writing is publicly disseminated.   Those are the rules and I understand that more and more clearly as the years go by.

Jeremy Scahill is a co-founding editor and the senior investigative reporter at The Intercept, a publication that describes itself this way:  

The Intercept gives its journalists the editorial freedom and legal support they need to pursue investigations that expose corruption and injustice wherever they find it and hold the powerful accountable.  source

A theme Scahill returns to again and again is historical context.  I salute him for this, and will propose writing a piece from time to time providing historical context, legal context.  Jeremy recently gave an excellent contextual introduction to a discussion of Trump’s repudiation of the Obama-era deal with Iran.   Iran’s distrust for America has direct and hideous historical roots dating back to the CIA directed coup, during the Eisenhower administration, that removed the democratically elected president of Iran and helped install a militarily backed monarchy.   The monarch, the Shah, ruled as Persian monarchs of old did, but with an infamous modern secret police force to ensure obedience to his will.  The Shah was very reasonable about sharing his oil wealth with American oil corporations, in a way that his predecessor, who planned to nationalize Iran’s oil reserves, was not.

Scahill laid this out recently and I was grateful for the primer.  The background is important, it is the only way we can ever see things in perspective, from another point of view, and we so rarely get any background on anything.   The reasons for this are fairly obvious, nuance only complicates things for most people.    The reasons for the long war in Iraq, for example, complicated, complicated!  All you need to know is that freedom is on the march and a modern day Hitler is finally being taken out. 

I’ve been intending to contact Jeremy for a long time to confirm what I recall from his book Dirty Wars— namely, that not only were no charges ever brought against American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki before his execution by drone (this I have independently confirmed), but no evidence of any connection to Al Qu’eada or any other terrorist organization was ever produced, let alone evidence that he was involved in planning terrorist attacks, as alleged by President Obama after Al-Awlaki was executed.  

This story contrasts sharply with the unanimous public knowledge and information available about Al-Awlaki.  Every reference to Al-Awlaki to be found anywhere in print or on the internet (outside of Scahill’s excellent book), including recently at the Intercept (to my surprise and shock), identifies him as connected to Islamic terrorism, a highly placed, influential Al Qu’aeda propagandist, most sources also stating that he was directly involved in planning terrorist attacks.

Truth and context matter, particularly when the execution, without trial or even charges, of an American citizen is authorized by a Democratic president.   The current president, using the identical rationale, and citing bi-partisan precedent, can, entirely at his discretion, place any person, American or otherwise, on the enemy combatants list, the kill list, authorize the secret extrajudicial execution– charges optional.  It would be as easy for him, and, one presumes, as politically inconsequential, as shooting somebody on Fifth Avenue with the added bonus of being completely legal to do, based entirely on his say so under the bipartisan rules for our borderless, timeless War on Terrorism.   The only question is why he hasn’t used this extraordinary power against Amy Goodman and Jeremy Scahill yet (or Stephen Colbert, for that matter, though Colbert’s vast popularity might be a restraining factor).  He’s probably just too busy mocking women who’ve been sexually assaulted and attacking black athletes who protest the ongoing killing of unarmed blacks by police at the moment.  There will presumably be time to take care of his more able enemies during his second term, when all squishiness has been pressed out of American democracy.

Instead of the whole truth we are subjected to a cascade of justifications and bullshit everywhere we turn.   Lying attacks from the president are now too common to and too frequent to take note of, the partisan mendacity of the party Trump leads is the new normal.  The best hope for our survival as a democracy is fearless journalism that exposes the details of the widespread corruption in our government.  It may not be a robust hope, in a nation that rarely reads anything but the screen of their phones, while being taught to chant “lying media” at Nuremberg style rallies, but it’s our best hope.  It may be a quaint and naive notion, in our day of ‘alternative fact’, but the truth of what actually happened matters, even as the untruthful version often prevails.  It would be better, of course, if integrity was a real issue in public life, but, of course, that is hoping for a lot in a superficial, celebrity culture like ours.  So we have fearless journalism.

 Scahill’s investigative journalism has taken him to places like Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen where he did the hard, dangerous work of talking to a variety of sources, in the government and on the ground, in his search for the truth about American foreign policy.  It turns out “freedom is on the march” is only a tiny sliver of the real story.   I want to ask him if he got additional information after Dirty Wars was published that supports the contention that Al-Awlaki was a terrorist.    

His reporting on Al-Awlaki’s long ordeal at the hands of the FBI was thorough.   The FBI’s repeated interviews found nothing about terrorism, but they turned up personally compromising material they threatened to blackmail him with if he didn’t become an FBI asset.   The FBI blackmail threat was the final straw that made him decide to leave the US.  After his arrival in Yemen he was arrested and spent a long stretch in solitary in a Yemeni prison (extended at America’s behest).   In the end his transformation from moderate American Muslim imam, the go-to Muslim for American TV interviews,  to America’s deadliest enemy who required immediate extrajudicial killing was complete.   Scahill makes the case that Al-Awlaki was strenuously exercising his First Amendment rights as an outraged American citizen and was no planner of terrorist attacks, nor did he have any known connection to that or any other terrorist group.  Still, history remembers his execution as entirely right and proper, up there with the killing of Osama Bin Laden among the triumphs of Barack Obama.

History remembers, curious phrase, particularly in an increasingly distracted nation with a rapidly shrinking attention span, driven more and more by strictly partisan rage.  We are living now in the age when the preservation of human “liberty” trumps everything else.  You are free to be very, very rich and you are free to die of malnutrition based on your poor food choices, your choice.  It’s all about liberty, so choose wisely what to do with your vast inherited fortune.

And with that, I’m pretty sure I’ve exhausted your attention span, dear reader, and so, onwards and upwards!  I’ve just noticed a link at the Intercept for submissions and proposals, I’m going to read up on what I need to do to have something considered for publication there.  (Alas, it is merely an email address– on the other hand, it gives me free rein, like the FBI recently had investigating the charges against Kavanaugh, to make my pitch!)


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