Keith Olbermann talked to the Nation's Jeremy Scahill about the recently released WikiLeaks documents that confirmed what those of us paying attention already knew about the death toll and the torture going on in Iraq. Sadly, the chances of the Obama administration or the Congress doing anything about these war crimes is somewhere between slim and none.
OLBERMANN: Thousands of American lives lost, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives lost, trillions of dollars down the drain. We were led to war in Iraq based on lies. And as the largest classified military leak in American history proves, the falsehoods did not end there. Our third story, the Bush administration knew exactly how bad the situation was in Iraq and repeatedly lied about it.
The website WikiLeaks releasing nearly 400,000 documents detailing the war and occupation of Iraq as reported by American soldiers, putting the amount of Iraqi civilians killed at 66,000, even though many of those deaths went unreported by the U.S. military. Such as in the aftermath of the bombing of a Shia shrine in Samara in February, 2006, "the Washington Post" reported 1,300 dead based on counts on the ground, in the morgues, while the Pentagon put its estimate at about 350 people.
But as the documents from WikiLeaks show, the Pentagon knew the number of deaths was much higher than that. And so Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld chose a different tack: lie and blame the media.
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DONALD RUMSFELD, FMR. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side. It isn`t as though there simply have been a series of random errors on both sides of the issues. On the contrary, the steady stream of errors all seem to be in -- of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq.
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OLBERMANN: In fact, he was claiming there had not been any lying done by the American media. For his part, General Casey claimed that the country was not awash in sectarian violence. In fact --
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GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: We look at this very closely, and I do not believe, one, that we are in a civil war right now. Two, nor do I believe that a civil war is imminent or necessarily inevitable.
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OLBERMANN: Which brings us, then, to the highly regarded surge. The Bush administration crediting the strategy with essentially ending the war. Its apologists still do. But again, the documents show otherwise. While additional troops did provide increased security, sectarian violence was already dropping before the surge was in place, thanks to internal dynamics already in play.
The documents also showed that the Pentagon knew Iraqi security forces were killing and torturing detainees. The "New York Times" summarizing that part: "the six years of reports include references to the deaths of at least six prisoners in Iraqi custody, most of them in recent years. Beatings, burnings and lashings surfaced in hundreds of reports, giving the impression that such treatment was not an exception."
However, such torture was merely noted, thanks to an operational order called Frago-242. Only alleged detainee abuse involving coalition forces would be investigated. The Pentagon also knew that security contractors, working on behalf of the United States, like the mercenary group Blackwater, were killing civilians. The contractors adding to the chaos on the ground, shooting first, asking questions later.
And even so, the U.S. government continues to back them, like in Afghanistan. Today there are more contractors there than there are members of the American military.
Joining me now from Kabul in Afghanistan, the national security reporter of "The Nation," author of "Blackwater, the Rise of the World`s Most Powerful Mercenary Army," Jeremy Scahill. Jeremy, let me start with President Karzai of Afghanistan. He wants these contractors gone. The U.S. continues to support them. Why are these lessons, so freshly underscored from the WikiLeaks from Iraq, not going to be applied in Afghanistan?
JEREMY SCAHILL, "THE NATION": Well, Keith, greetings from Kabul, Afghanistan, where the U.S. Ambassador Carl Eikenberry at this very moment is being guarded by Blackwater, the mercenary firm that became infamous for killing civilians in Iraq. So if there is a lesson to be learned here, it`s actually for the Obama administration -- or more a question: why continue to use a firm with such a criminal track record, a record of shooting civilians? Why use them now in Afghanistan when the U.S. says it is trying to win hearts and minds?
I mean, the reality is that what the WikiLeaks documents show about Blackwater is that the State Department knew that Blackwater was killing civilians while guarding U.S. government personnel, and actually didn`t do anything to discipline them or punish them because, according to an internal document, the State Department believed that it would hurt morale of Blackwater.
What about hurting morale of the Iraqi people that were being targeted by these people? So Hamid Karzai is under the misimpression that he is in charge here. The U.S. is calling the shots and that means that Blackwater stays.
OLBERMANN: Let`s work backwards on some of this. Based on the reporting at the time, many of us believe that the Bush administration was lying about the situation on the ground in Iraq daily, repeatedly, in manifold ways. Is there criminality involved in what we know about this, what`s been confirmed about this so far?
SCAHILL: Well, first of all, the entirely operation was a criminal enterprise because it was a war based on lies. There were scores of war crimes that have gone unprosecuted. But it goes much further than just lying or misleading. Donald Rumsfeld, when he was secretary of defense, beginning in 2005, implemented a policy in Iraq known as the Salvador Option, named after the dirty wars in El Salvador that the U.S. fueled in the 1980s. And What Rumsfeld and his cohorts were doing was supporting what were effectively Shiite death squads, known by the names Wolf Brigade, Scorpion Brigade.
What they did was ethnically cleanse Baghdad. They targeted the Sunnis. So when they talk about the surge being a success, what actually happened is that Rumsfeld and his cronies had supported death squad activity that essentially Balkanized Baghdad. And so when the surge troops came in, they didn`t even go to Anbar Province, which was the heart of the violence. They went to Baghdad.
The entire thing is a lie, but the criminality here is that the U.S., under Rumsfeld, was supporting and creating death squads, Keith.
OLBERMANN: To Frago-242 and I guess the Iraqi death squads; even though this bizarre thing allowed torturing and murdering of Iraqis by Iraqis and those would simply be noted and not investigated because they did not involve coalition troops directly -- did anyone have a legal duty to stop those that were noted abusing detainees?
SCAHILL: Of course they had a responsibility, especially if they were aware of it or they witnessed it. But let`s remember that the Bush administration policy was to outsource torture across the globe with its extraordinary rendition program. But I think what`s important to remember here as we talk about Iraqi forces abusing detainees is that U.S. forces were systematically abusing and torturing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, at the JSOC facility -- that was the Joint Special Operations Command Facility called Camp Nama, which was a classified facility where prisoners were being tortured.
So the whole operation was one of shielding this torture that was going on by the Iraqi forces, while at the same time U.S. forces were torturing themselves. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has intervened to stop lawsuits against Donald Rumsfeld and the command authority who actually gave the orders to torture these detainees.
OLBERMANN: Last point; give me your headline out of everything in this latest WikiLeaks thing. Is it the destruction of the myth of the success of the surge or something else?
SCAHILL: Well, I think that`s a big part of it. The fact that they were systematically lying, that they were supporting death squads, that they were turning a blind eye to torture and torturing at the same time. But really I think the headline here is that those people who were against this war from the beginning, said it was a war based on lies, who said that civilians were paying the heaviest price, they`ve been vindicated here, Keith.
There are serious war crimes. They need to be held accountable by the Obama administration. And that is I think where Congress needs to really put the pressure on this administration.
OLBERMANN: Jeremy Scahill, national security reporter for "The Nation," thanks greatly for getting up pre-dawn for us in Kabul.
SCAHILL: My pleasure, Keith.