“Don’t just say something, stand for something,” said award-winning investigative journalist and author Jeremy Scahill as he encouraged civic participation and discussed the privatization of security forces with an audience of nearly 250 people Tuesday at UCF.
Scahill’s presentation, “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” attempted to untangle complex issues of U.S. military involvement abroad, the use of security forces that operate outside the law, and conflicting policy stances and outcomes. This combination of factors, he said, is particularly dangerous because it is bipartisan, rarely discussed in the news media and erodes U.S. credibility abroad.
The event, organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office, occurred just after the ninth anniversary of the United States-led intervention in Iraq. It is also part of the 2011-2012 themes of “People Power, Politics and Global Change” and “Covering Global Crises from the Frontlines.”
Scahill’s talk drew upon his frequent foreign travel, most recently to Yemen, and his previous congressional testimonies. “The future of asymmetric warfare is in Yemen and Somalia,” he said as he criticized the lack of congressional oversight regarding increased United States reliance on targeted drone attacks around the world. He indicated that the most notable example would be the selective targeting of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen killed in Yemen in 2011.
Scahill’s main focus was what he called the lack of oversight as the United States transitions from conventional warfare to a murky world of clandestine operations. As he said these transitions progress, he is concerned about the “outsourcing” of United States military forces to private security companies such as Blackwater.
Despite some initial hope for policy change that accompanied the new Obama administration, Scahill drew upon several examples that he said depict the continuation or even expansion of controversial Bush administration policies.
Drawing upon Chalmers Johnson’s book, Blowback, Scahill suggested that the United States has not learned from recent history and is severely in danger of reaping unintended consequences from policies that often alienate other populations around the world. For example, he said, the practice of selective targeting and using private security firms undercuts the image of the United States as a supporter of freedom.
When asked why the news media are not more proactive in exposing this disconnect, Scahill blamed the short-term nature of both journalistic interest and the desires of the intended audience, which is obsessed with pop culture.
Responding to another question regarding student involvement, Scahill encouraged education both inside and outside the classroom. He further mentioned the importance of an open mind, adding that he has learned “infinitely more from those with an opposing world view” and urging audience members to listen to those with differing opinions.
In addition to the Global Perspectives Office, sponsors and partners include the UCF Global Peace and Security Studies Program, Sibille H. Pritchard Global Peace Fellowship Program, UCF Kurdish Political Studies Initiative, Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, LarsonAllen LLP, UCF Nicholson School of Communication, UCF Diplomacy Program, UCF Middle Eastern Studies Program, UCF Book Festival 2012 in association with the Morgridge International Reading Center, UCF Political Science Department, UCF International Services Center, UCF LIFE and the Global Connections Foundation.