Chapter 5 - Advice From a Caterpillar
We’ve been exploring the idea that little is as it seems in the discussion of private security companies (PSC’s) or, if you will, mercenaries. In this public policy debate, the world is downside up and outside in, and many are sworn certain that their view is the only one just and correct—if only because they heard someone else express it so vehemently that it has to be right.
So far, we have been digging into the facts behind the soundbites on Blackwater in Katrina. Chapter 1 laid the ground rules for this exploration. In chapter 2, we did some photographic examination of the truth of Blackwater “paramilitary fighters, heavily armed and wearing their trademark black uniforms, patrolling the streets of
These posts covered most aspects of the Blackwater in Katrina story. Admittedly, though, chapter 4 largely proved more boring than watching the bumper rust on a ‘72 Matador Coupe in the front yard of your average central Pennsylvania doublewide. (Which is, incidentally, the most bone-searingly ugly car known to humankind—all you can do is stare blankly, stupefied and incredulous, at the horror. It takes months to fully comprehend its awful majesty and menacing force.)
One last factor deserves consideration in our Katrina discussion. There is a single source for almost all of the sensational reporting on Blackwater and Katrina: one Mr. Jeremy Scahill. As the self-appointed watchdog/caviler of Blackwater, he has made many strong assertions about Katrina. Consideration of his other investigative reporting might prove helpful in understanding his Katrina reporting. Indeed, one might ask “Who are you?”
Before we even go there, however, we should be crystal clear on one point: every citizen has the right to express their opinion. Whatever the political, religious, sexual, ethical or any other persuasion, no one’s view should be censored from the marketplace of ideas, so long as they do not slander or endanger others. Not that he needs any permission from the staff here at the Rabbit, but Mr. Scahill is encouraged to contribute as much constructive input to the public debate as he can. In the interim, let’s see how he came to have such interesting things to say about Blackwater in Katrina.
Jeremy Scahill was raised in
After dropping out of college, Mr. Scahill spent the next two years in various East Coast homeless shelters, at one point turning up at a
It was during Mr. Scahill’s stint at the Berrigan compound that he launched his writing career, regularly appearing in a monthly newspaper on social justice issues. For example, after Cuban fighter jets shot down two private planes owned by a Miami-based Cuban refugee support group, the
Scahill vigorously attacked the
The reader should evaluate that argument on its merits, but it is an interesting one, given how things were humming along so nicely at the time in other countries built on that model … like the
By 1997, Jeremy Scahill had moved on to
In mid-1998, Mr. Scahill was headed to
He also spent part of 1998 in
Meanwhile, what had been
By 1999, the focus of Milosevic’s “cleansing” had turned to ethnic Albanians, and NATO sought to end it via a bombing campaign. It was during this time that Mr. Scahill traveled extensively in the Balkans, meeting his future wife, a Serbian translator, and welcoming the birth of their first child. It was also where he reported frequently on the ongoing war crimes—the
Sorry, I simply don’t have a snarky comment to follow that. Even the flippant windbaggery we enjoy here at the Rabbit is not up to it.
Scahill continued to report on socialist, pacifist and Serb-related issues, living and working in Belgrade into 2001. On 9/11, he was on strike against his regular independent radio network, but participated in coverage of the week’s events with an independent, independent network of journalists (are we correct in saying that two independents don’t make them Right?) that interviewed, among others, a former airplane hijacker and the family of a Palestinian “activist” imprisoned for three years under the Clinton administration.
Scahill then reported for a period on anti-Taliban battles in
For example, here is his description of Blackwater’s domestic activities: “After last week, no one should call [this organization] a police force. It's a paramilitary group. Thousands of soldiers, dressed in khaki uniforms with full black body armor and gas masks, marching in unison through the streets, banging batons against their shields, chanting, ‘back back back.’ There were armored personnel carriers and helicopters.” Scary, huh? Oh, wait, that’s right, it wasn’t Blackwater—he was describing the Miami police department.
On the foreign news front, he covered the conduct of
Finally, we arrive at August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina arrives at the
If you are reading the Rabbit, you have no doubt already read much of Mr. Scahill's colorful reporting on Blackwater (and other PSC's) in Katrina, including this, this, this, and these. He also has a string of boilerplate statements which are rolled out for book promo events and pro forma NPR appearances. If you have not heard these canned talking points, here is Mr. Scahill trying to share them with Jon Stewart:
What follows is some additional Katrina reporting by Mr. Scahill that you may have missed. It may be instructive in your reasoned analysis of assertions made regarding Blackwater in Katrina.
While describing visits to both
Of course, the mercenaries were the gravest threat. As Mr. Scahill put it, they were “the most feared forces here right now actually because they are the ones really going after people in a brutal and violent way.” No, wait, that wasn’t Blackwater, that was his description of the
Mr. Scahill’s allegations of thuggery do not end there, however. He accuses the Chicago Fire Department of looting a bar as part of a program of “official looting.” Meanwhile, he denies that there was any meaningful looting by civilians, saying “stories of looting and violence are just not true.” In his words, “no one was taking TV’s, stereos, or Nike shoes” they were only taking “food, diapers, and medicine.”
On another occasion he asserted, “We know there were thirteen
Heaven knows our fellow humans were in dire straits after Katrina. But even if Mr. Scahill is defining taking food, water or medicine because you were unprepared for the storm as not being looting, which can be argued, this statement nonetheless reflects an interesting view of events. Just by way of example, there are some who would consider the “liberation” of clothing, more clothing, Nikes, beer, liquor—or eventually the entire contents of the Tchoupitoulas Street Wal-mart—to be looting. (Note: We can understand the logic behind stealing a gun or a bike in the midst of societal breakdown and utter chaos, but what in the world compelled the white guy in this pic to make a purse his first order of business? To compound the failure of judgment, the bag doesn’t begin to match his shoes.)
That’s about all we’ve got for this week. We leave it to you to decide how much of the Blackwater in Katrina reporting is truth … and how much is truthiness.
We do have to admit, though, that we’re not fully clear on exactly what would constitute “compelling footage.”
Next week: We leave Katrina and move to a more timely topic, which should be more exciting than Scrabble night at the annual Moose Lodge grammar jamboree.