BILL MOYERS: How do explain this spike in private contractors in both Iraq and Afghanistan?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I think what we’re seeing, under President Barack Obama, is sort of old wine in a new bottle. Obama is sending one message to the world, but the reality on the ground, particularly when it comes to private military contractors, is that the status quo remains from the Bush era. Right now there are 250 thousand contractors fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s about 50 percent of the total US fighting force. Which is very similar to what it was under Bush. In Iraq, President Obama has 130 thousand contractors. And we just saw a 23 percent increase in the number of armed contractors in Iraq. In Afghanistan there’s been a 29 percent increase in armed contractors. So the radical privatization of war continues unabated under Barack Obama.
Having said that, when Barack Obama was in the Senate he was one of the only people that was willing to take up this issue. And he put forward what became the leading legislation on the part of the Democrats to reform the contracting industry. And I give him credit for doing that. Because he saw this as an important issue before a lot of other political figures. And spoke up at a time when a lot of people were deafeningly silent on this issue. I’ve been critical of Obama’s position on this because I think that he accepts what I think is a fundamental lie. That we should have a system where corporations are allowed to benefit off of warfare. And President Obama has carried on a policy where he has tried to implement greater accountability structures. We now know, in a much clearer way than we did under Bush, how many contractors we have on the battlefield. He’s attempted to implement some form of rules governing contractors. And it has suggested that there should be greater accountability when they do commit crimes.
All of these things are a step in the right direction. But, ultimately, I think that we have to look to what Jan Schakowsky, the congresswoman from Illinois, says. We can no longer allow these individuals to perform what are inherently governmental functions. And that includes carrying a weapon on U.S. battlefields. And that’s certainly not where President Obama is right now.
BILL MOYERS: But many people will say of course, the truth, which is he inherited a quagmire from the Bush administration. What’s he to do?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, there’s no question that Obama inherited an absolute mess from President Bush. But the reality is that Obama is escalating the war in Afghanistan right now. And is maintaining the occupation of Iraq. If Obama was serious about fully ending the occupation of Iraq, he wouldn’t allow the U.S. to have a colonial fortress that they’re passing off as an embassy in Baghdad. Bill, this place is the size of 80 football fields. Who do you think is going to run the security operation for this 80 football field sized embassy? Well, it’s mercenary contractors.
BILL MOYERS: Do you get discouraged writing about corruption that never gets cured?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I don’t believe that it necessarily doesn’t get cured. I think that I’m very heartened by the fact that we have a very vibrant independent media landscape that’s developing right now. You know, to me, I once put on the tagline of an article that I wrote early on in the Obama administration that I pledge to be the same journalist under Barack Obama that I was under President Bush. And the reason I felt that it was necessary to say that is that I feel like we have a sort of blue-state-Fox culture in the media. Where people are willing to go above and beyond the call of partisan politics to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. This is a man- it’s time to take off the Obama t-shirts. This is a man who’s in charge of the most powerful country on earth. The media in this country, we have an obligation to treat him the way we treated Bush in terms of being critical of him. And, yet, I feel like many Democrats have had their spines surgically removed these days, as have a lot of journalists. The fact is that this man is governing over a policy that is killing a tremendous number of civilians.