On June 3, Jeremy Scahill’s bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army was released in fully revised and updated paperback form. The new edition includes reporting on the now-famous Nisour Square massacre on Sept. 16 of last year, in which Blackwater mercenaries opened fire in a Baghdad neighborhood, brutally murdering 17 Iraqi civilians. The killing spree, which the U.S. Army would label a “criminal event,” would reveal the extent of the lawlessnewss enjoyed by private contractors abroad and the lengths the Bush administration will go to protect its private army of choice.
Antonia Juhasz caught up with Scahill on the phone the day the new edition was released. A fellow at Oil Change International and author of The Bush Agenda, Juhasz is also the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry, and What We Must Do to Stop It. Juhasz and Scahill discussed, among other topics, the story behind Blackwater, congressional inaction, radical privatization, Barack Obama, corporate vs. independent media, GI resistance in the age of private mercenaries, getting real about challenging corporations and the power of dissent.
Antonia Juhasz: I first have to admit that, until now, I had not read Blackwater and that, as someone who had been reading your Nation articles, I had quite erroneously assumed that I knew what you had to say about this company. I could not have been more wrong. This is a fantastic, informative, insightful and critically important book.
Jeremy Scahill: Thank you. I started writing this book by accident. I’d been writing about Blackwater when my [Nation] editors Katrina vanden Heuvel and Betsy Reed sat me down and said, “We’ve published ten articles about one company and you’re doing great work, but you either need to write a book or get a new beat.” Once I began researching the company in the context of a book, I realized that, in many ways, it was a metaphor for so much that was happening with the country, particularly with the privatization agenda of the war machine. So, while there are some parts of the book that are based on reporting I did for the Nation, the vast majority is new investigative research.
AJ: What drew you to Blackwater?
JS: I was in Yugoslavia during the 1999 NATO bombing that Bill Clinton prosecuted … Halliburton and other war contractors, like Dyncorp, were very much present on the ground during the Yugoslavian civil war, primarily in Bosnia. And so that was really my first direct interaction with this sort of parallel army of contractors.
Then the [U.S. attack on] Iraqis in Falluja was very important to me as a reporter, because I had been there many times and had friends inside of Falluja. I remember watching on March 31, 2004, when those four Blackwater contractors were ambushed and killed inside Falluja, and my immediate response after seeing the way it was covered in the press — that they were “civilians” [or] “civilian contractors” — was “Oh my god, Bush is going to destroy that city.”
I began my reporting on Blackwater [in April 2004] based on a very simple question: “How were the deaths of these not-active-duty U.S. soldiers — not civilians, but four corporate personnel working for Blackwater, a mercenary company — how do their deaths warrant the destruction of an entire city?”
I realized that it was a story that spoke volumes to what we were seeing happening in this country with the export of this incredibly violent foreign policy, the connections of political allies of the president to the war industry… [So I began] an in-depth investigation of Blackwater: Who runs the company? What are their connections to the Bush administration and the national security apparatus of the U.S., etc.?
AJ: What did you hope that writing the book would accomplish — and has it?
JS: When I was writing, I wasn’t thinking of it in terms of what I hoped to accomplish. What I was looking at was: Here is this company that was on no one’s map, basically, before March 31, 2004, and even in the weeks and months after that, was really just a blip on the media radar screen. I was hoping to expose this company as something much bigger than just its boots on the ground in Iraq, or its role in Falluja, Najaf and elsewhere — but to explain, in a readable way, that this is a very dangerous trend that has been put on a radical fast track almost overnight.
Once we started to realize just how deeply embedded in the occupation of Iraq Blackwater has been, and its connection to the Bush administration, then the point of the book (became) raising hell in Congress and in the public — saying to people, “We have to wake up and do something about this!”