Activist-journalist Jeremy Scahill latest speaker in Daniel Berrigan Lecture Series
by luke eggleston
SUN staff writer
Tuesday, April 1, Le Moyne College hosted the most recent installment of the Daniel Berrigan Lecture Series, which featured activist-journalist Jeremy Scahill.
Scahill has spent the last four years tracking Blackwater USA, a security contractor employed by the U.S. State Department. Blackwater is one of over 170 such independent contractors complementing U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The company also had a presence in New Orleans where private security contractors were used to assist in maintaining order in the chaos following Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, Nation Books published Scahill’s book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Scahill is an investigative journalist and an activist. He is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute and a contributor to The Nation magazine.
Scahill and Amy Goodman were co-recipients of the 1998 George Polk Award for a radio documentary entitled “Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria’s Oil Dictatorship.”
Scahill is deeply rooted in the peace movement and in the Catholic Worker tradition in particular. For one year, in fact, Scahill worked with Phil Berrigan painting houses when he lived at Jonah House in Baltimore. Phil Berrigan’s brother, noted activist Jerry Berrigan, and his wife, Carol, attended the presentation.
“I’m deeply honored and humbled to be in the presence of Jerry and Carol Berrigan,” Scahill noted shortly after taking the podium.
Scahill said that he spent a considerable amount of time in the Iraqi city of Fallujah prior to the Iraq war. On March 31, 2004, four Blackwater employees were killed in Fallujah and the city became notorious as a locus for the insurgency. According to The Guardian, the subsequent crackdown led to the destruction of roughly 36,000 homes, 60 schools and 65 mosques.
“I had spent quite a bit of time in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. The last time I had been there before the war started was in the summer of 2002 when I camped out there. The four Blackwater guys were killed there and the Bush administration ordered the destruction of the city,” Scahill said. “They were killed March 31, 2004, and so I started investigating into whom those individuals were that were killed and why their lives were worth the death of an entire city and that’s how I started in on it. When I went to New Orleans I decided to pursue it as basically the only story I was working on.”
During his presentation in Le Moyne’s Panasci Family Chapel, Scahill discussed Blackwater as his main topic, but he also used the occasion to call attention to Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
“I stress them heavily because they have about 850 to 900 – it’s growing every day – soldiers who have served since 9-11 who have signed on to what I think is the clearest plan to end the war in Iraq. That is immediate and unconditional withdrawal and payment of reparations to the people of Iraq,” Scahill said.
Scahill believes the first-hand experiences of IVAW’s members in Iraq gives them authority on the subject. Nevertheless, mainstream media have shied away from giving anti-war veterans any sort of spotlight.
“I think that it is important that it’s coming from veterans who have served in Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and I think it’s disturbing that they’ve gotten very little corporate media attention,” Scahill continued. “I think they’re some of the most credible media analysts that we have on the Iraq war. I’m saddened but I’m not shocked that they’re not interviewed regularly in the media in this country.”
After discussing IVAW at length, Scahill introduced the main subject by narrating an infamous Sept. 16 incident in Baghdad in which Blackwater mercenaries opened fire and killed 17 Iraqis.
Blackwater is only the most famous of many independent contractors on the U.S. payroll operating in Iraq, Scahill noted. The Pentagon alone employs 182,000 corporate personnel deployed in Iraq, a figure that does not include Blackwater, which is employed by the State Department. By contrast, there were roughly 160,000 U.S. military personnel deployed last year.
“The U.S. military is now a junior partner in the occupation of Iraq,” Scahill said.
Scahill believes privatization represents a dangerous trend in both the military and in general.
“We’re in the midst of the most radical privatization agenda in the history of our country. We’re seeing it in schools, healthcare, we’re seeing it certainly in prisons and now we’re seeing it in a very Frankenstein manner inside the U.S. war machine,” he said.
Without the supervision of a public authority, corporations such as Blackwater are accountable to no one. Since corporations need to maintain a bottom line, public welfare is secondary.
“It boils down to this: the more power the corporations have, the less oversight we have; the less accountability we have, the less guarantee we have that social services or any services are going to be available to poor working people,” Scahill said. “The depletion of public budgets for social services by these corporations using it for war or to build up their private infrastructure I think ultimately damages the fabric of a democratic society. Iraq has certainly shown in a very vivid way that there is no effective accountability or oversight when private corporations are given this kind of power.”
At the close of his presentation, Scahill returned to the subject of IVAW and to resistance to the war in general.
“The thing I want to leave you with tonight is to support the efforts of IVAW and to press like hell these politicians to take a stance against the war in Iraq,” Scahill said.