The recent U.S. deployment of special operations forces to Syria expands a global U.S. battlefield that is at a historic size. This year, special ops have been sent to a record 147 countries—75 percent of the nations on the planet. It’s a 145 percent increase from the days of George W. Bush. And it means that on any given day elite U.S. forces are on the ground in 70 to 90 countries. Those shocking numbers are revealed by our guest, the journalist Nick Turse. For years, Turse has been tracking the expansion of global U.S. militarism for the website TomDispatch and other outlets. His latest book, “Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa,” focuses on one particular American military battlefield that often goes unnoticed. Turse says the U.S. military is now involved in more than 90 percent of Africa’s 54 nations.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: After announcing the deployment of special operation forces to Syria earlier this month, President Obama denied breaking his pledge not to put U.S. troops on the ground.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Keep in mind that we have run special ops already, and really this is just an extension of what we are continuing to do. We are not putting U.S. troops on the front lines fighting firefights with ISIL. But I’ve been consistent throughout that we are not going to be fighting like we did in Iraq with a—battalions and occupations. That doesn’t solve the problem.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The White House says a team of less than 50 special operations forces is being sent to Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria to help fight the Islamic State. It’s the first sustained U.S. troop presence in Syria since President Obama launched a bombing campaign against ISIL in September 2014. Although 50 might seem like a small number, the deployment adds Syria to a global U.S. battlefield that is at historic size. This year, special operations forces have been sent to a record 147 countries—that’s 75 percent of the nations on the planet. It’s a 145 percent increase from the days of George W. Bush. And it means that on any given day elite U.S. forces are on the ground in 70 to 90 countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Those shocking numbers were revealed last month by our guest, the journalist Nick Turse. For years, Nick has been tracking the expansion of global U.S. militarism for the website TomDispatch and other outlets. His latest book focuses on one particular American military battlefield that often goes unnoticed: Africa. Since 2007, the U.S. has operated AFRICOM, the U.S. Africa Command. U.S. generals have maintained AFRICOM leaves only a “small footprint” on the continent, with just one official base in Djibouti. But Nick Turse says the U.S. military is now involved in more than 90 percent of Africa’s 54 nations. The U.S. presence includes, quote, “construction, military exercises, advisory assignments, security cooperation, or training missions.” According to Turse, AFRICOM carried out 674 missions across the African continent last year—an average of nearly two a day, and a 300 percent jump from previous years. Nick Turse’s new book is called Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. Nick joins us right now.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Nick.
NICK TURSE: Thanks so much for having me on.
AMY GOODMAN: First, comment on the new announcement of special ops forces on the ground in Syria, and then we will move on, well, to the rest of the world.
NICK TURSE: Sure. Well, you know, as we heard from President Obama, he sees this as just a continuation of U.S. special operations in Syria. But I think, you know, that’s basically spin. You know, he said, unequivocally, no boots on the ground. He’s right that there were some short-term missions, night raids that went on, but I think this is a significant departure—talking about 50 boots on the ground to start, and generally U.S. special operations deployments don’t end there. They have a tendency to expand.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the most that Americans know about our government’s activities in Africa might be from the Tom Hanks movie Captain Phillips recently. But what about the expansion throughout the region of what’s happening there?
NICK TURSE: Sure! You know, as I reported at TomDispatch, we’re talking about, you know, an exponential increase in U.S. ops on the continent—674 missions in 2014. These are anything from night raids that have been launched recently in Libya and Somalia. There’s a drone campaign. I worked on a series at The Intercept called “The Drone Papers,” where we outline this proliferation of drone bases now that dot the African continent. There’s a shadow war that’s going on in Somalia. And we also see it elsewhere. There’s just been an announcement of a new drone base being set up in Cameroon to go after militants from Boko Haram, because that force is also spreading across the continent. And the U.S. has seen this, I think, as, in many ways, a growth area for special ops and for U.S. military missions writ large.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us where else these drone bases are in Africa.
NICK TURSE: Sure. You know, I should say, first off, that AFRICOM, U.S. Africa Command, claims that there’s, as you said, only one base on the continent.
AMY GOODMAN: Djibouti.
NICK TURSE: Yes, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. They have actually set up recently a new drone base in Djibouti at Chabelley Airfield. I did a follow-up report for The Intercept on that. They’re running at least—there’s takeoffs or landings of, say, 16 drones per day from Djibouti right now, perhaps more. They’ve—
AMY GOODMAN: Where are they attacking?
NICK TURSE: Well, a lot of these are surveillance drones, but the ones that are armed are generally conducting the war in Yemen and also in Somalia. You know, these attacks sort of ebb and flow over time, but that’s where the armed attacks are. There’s also drone bases that are supposedly set up in Somalia now, two of them; in Chad; Ethiopia; Niger—they’re flying out of the capital, Niamey. And they’re in the process right now of setting up a new drone base at Agadez. So there’s expansion all across the continent, east to west.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn to AFRICOM commander, General David Rodriguez, speaking to Gail McCabe of Soldiers Broadcasting News. When asked about the effects of U.S. training on African militaries, Rodriguez says African partners now better serve their governments and their people.
GEN. DAVID RODRIGUEZ: You can look at all the effectiveness that has been increased in the African partners, so the troop-contributing countries in AMISOM, which we support the Department of State as they prepare those forces. They have had some significant success against al-Shabab. And those troop-contributing countries have performed well.
GAIL McCABE: As I understand it, the idea was to help the African militaries establish themselves so that they could take care of crises on the African continent without our help.
GEN. DAVID RODRIGUEZ: Right. And it’s just—it’s about being a professional force in a democracy. Many of our African partners have increased their abilities as militaries, but also, and probably more importantly, to serve their governments and their people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What about this issue, that this training is helping these African governments modernize and professionalize their military forces?
NICK TURSE: It sounds very good when General Rodriguez says it, but, unfortunately, if you look at the effects on the ground on the continent, it’s been rather dismaying these last years. One example is the case of Mali, where you had a U.S.-trained officer who overthrew the democratically elected government there just two years ago. You know, this was—Mali was supposed to be a bulwark against terrorism. It was supposed to be a stable success story. Instead you have that occurrence. Then, last year, a U.S.-trained officer overthrew the government of Burkina Faso. You know, this is—I think it’s troubling.
And you hear the talk about professionalism of the military and that they’re instilling values, human rights, these sorts of things. But, yeah, in reality, what we’re seeing on the continent is very different. And if you look at the groups that we’re training on the continent, the militaries we’re training, and then you compare them to the State Department’s own list of militaries that are carrying out human rights abuses, that are acting in undemocratic ways, you see that these are the same forces. The U.S. is linked up with forces that are generally seen as repressive, even by our own government.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the U.S. interest in Africa?
NICK TURSE: Well, it’s difficult to say for sure. I think that the U.S. has viewed Africa as a place of weak governance, you know, sort of a zone that’s prone to terrorism, and that there can be a spread of terror groups on the continent if the U.S. doesn’t intervene. So, you know, there’s generally only one tool in the U.S. toolkit, and that’s a hammer. And unfortunately, then, everywhere they see nails.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by in “The Drone Papers” that you got a hold of, a kind of—what’s been described as perhaps a second Edward Snowden, this project of The Intercept that you wrote about, particularly when it came to Africa?
NICK TURSE: Well, I think it’s really just how far the proliferation of drone bases has spread on the continent. You know, I’ve been looking at this for years, but “The Drone Papers” drove home to me just how integral drones have become to the U.S. way of warfare on the continent. You know, I think this feeds into President Obama’s strategy, trying to get away from large-footprint interventions, you know, the disasters that we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s leaned heavily now on special operations forces and on drones. And so, I think that’s probably the most surprising aspect.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the reports that we get here, you basically—there’s either news about Boko Haram or al-Shabab or the disintegration, continuing disintegration, of Libya. To what extent have these Special Operations focused on these areas, and to what extent have they had any success?
NICK TURSE: Well, I think that Libya is actually a—it’s a great example of the best intentions gone awry by the U.S. The U.S. joined a coalition war to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi. And I think that it was seen as a great success. Gaddafi fell, and it seemed like U.S. policies had played out just as they were drawn up in Washington. Instead, though, we saw that Libya has descended into chaos, and it’s been a nightmare for the Libyan people ever since—a complete catastrophe.
And it then had a tendency to spread across the continent. Gaddafi had Tuaregs from Mali who worked for him. They were elite troops. As his regime was falling, the Tuaregs raided his weapons stores, and they moved into Mali, into their traditional homeland, to carve out their own nation there. When they did that, the U.S.-backed military in Mali, that we had been training for years, began to disintegrate. That’s when the U.S.-trained officer decided that he could do a better job, overthrew the democratically elected government. But he proved no better at fighting the Tuaregs than the government he overthrew. As a result, Islamist rebels came in and pushed out his forces and the Tuaregs, and were making great gains in the country, looked poised to take it over.
The U.S. decided to intervene again, another military intervention. We backed the French and an African force to go in and stop the Islamists. We were able to, with these proxies—which is the preferred method of warfare on the African continent—arrest the Islamists’ advance, but now Mali has descended into a low-level insurgency. And it’s been like this for several years now. The weapons that the Tuaregs originally had were taken by the Islamists and have now spread across the continent. You can find those weapons in the hands of Boko Haram now, even as far away as Sinai in Egypt. So, now, the U.S. has seen this as a way to stop the spread of militancy, but I think when you look, you see it just has spread it.
AMY GOODMAN: Last month, during the first Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton defended the U.S. military intervention in Libya.
HILLARY CLINTON: I think President Obama made the right decision at the time. And the Libyan people had a free election, the first time since 1951. And you know what? They voted for moderates. They voted with the hope of democracy. Because of the Arab Spring, because of a lot of other things, there was turmoil to be followed. But unless you believe the United States should not send diplomats to any place that is dangerous, which I do not, then when we send them forth, there is always the potential for danger and risk.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could respond to what Hillary Clinton said, and then talk about how Benghazi birthed the new normal in Africa, the secret African mission and an African mission that’s no secret?
NICK TURSE: Sure! You know, again, the idea was that—you know, the best of intentions there in Libya, but things just haven’t worked out that way. And it’s been the case again and again on the African continent that the U.S. has thought that, you know, sort of fighting wars on the cheap, you know, using proxy forces, would work out for them, but again and again, it just hasn’t.
You talked about the “new normal” concept. Because of the tragedy of Benghazi, the loss of life there, the U.S. has used that as, you know, some might say, an excuse to expand its footprint on the continent. As a result, there are now 11 of what they call contingency security locations, CSLs, spread across the continent. These are basically very austere bases that can be ramped up in very—very quickly. The U.S. maintains rapid response forces in Spain and in Italy. And these forces are designed to deploy to these 11 CSLs across the continent so that the U.S. can respond in the event of another Benghazi-type crisis. I think they’re seen as an insurance policy against it. But again, whenever the U.S. puts boots on the ground, whenever it builds bases, these things have a tendency to morph beyond their original—what they were originally set up to do. So I think in the future you’ll probably see them as launching pads for other types of missions.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the situation in the Horn of Africa, specifically Somalia, which has always—now, for years—been a source of problems and concerns for the United States, what’s going on there?
NICK TURSE: Well, just this morning—you know, it’s not something I reported on, just something I’ve been following on the news—we see that Kenyan forces that we’ve been backing have set up extensive smuggling networks in Somalia. They seem to have been putting down roots themselves in bases. I noticed that one of them is Kismayo, where the U.S. is supposedly flying drones out of and has a special operations base. That’s now apparently a smuggling hub for the Kenyan military, in league with the terrorist group al-Shabab. They seem to be working in concert to smuggle sugar. There’s also been charcoal smuggling in the region. So—and this is a force that the U.S. has been backing. And yeah, the U.S. has funded the Kenyans so that we wouldn’t have large numbers of troops on the ground.
AMY GOODMAN: Nick, we haven’t even gotten to the U.S.-Chinese competition over control in Africa, and so I’d like to ask you to stay after the show. We’ll do a post-show and post it online at democracynow.org, as you cover a little-covered story in this country. Nick Turse’s latest book is called Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. We’ll bring you Part 2 at democracynow.org.
This is Democracy Now! But when we come back, we head upstate New York to Ithaca College, where thousands of students and faculty and staff have been protesting, calling for the ouster of Ithaca College’s president. We’ll find out why. Stay with us.
As President Obama deploys special operation forces to Syria, breaking his pledge not to put U.S. troops on the ground, we continue our conversation with journalist Nick Turse, who has been tracking the expansion of global U.S. militarism for the website TomDispatch and The Intercept. Turse also discusses his new book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. “Africa Command claims they only have one base on the continent, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti”, Turse says. “Within a 10-mile radius there is actually another base.” Watch Part 1 of this interview.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Part 2 of our conversation with journalist Nick Turse about his new book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. Nick Turse is a fellow at The Nation Institute and managing editor of TomDispatch.com. But because this is a presidential year, I want to bring in some presidential politics. We want to turn to Ben Carson, comments made by the Republican presidential hopeful, the retired neurosurgeon, earlier this week during the Republican presidential debate. He was asked a question by Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo about Obama’s decision to send special operations forces to Syria.
MARIA BARTIROMO: Dr. Carson, you were against putting troops on the ground in Iraq and against a large military force in Afghanistan. Do you support the president’s decision to now put 50 special ops forces in Syria and leave 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan?
DR. BEN CARSON: Well, putting the special ops people in there is better than not having them there, because they—that’s why they’re called special ops. They’re actually able to guide some of the other things that we’re doing there.
And what we have to recognize is that Putin is trying to really spread his influence throughout the Middle East. This is going to be his base. And we have to oppose him there in an effective way. We also must recognize that it’s a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there.
What we’ve been doing so far is very ineffective, but we can’t give up ground right there. But we have to look at this on a much more global scale. We’re talking about global jihadists. And their desire is to destroy us and to destroy our way of life. So we have to be saying, “How do we make them look like losers?” Because that’s the way that they’re able to gather a lot of influence. And I think in order to make them look like losers, we have to destroy their caliphate. And you look for the easiest place to do that? It would be in Iraq. And if—outside of Anbar in Iraq, there’s a big energy field. Take that from them. Take all of that land from them. We could do that, I believe, fairly easily, I’ve learned from talking to several generals. And then you move on from there. But you have to continue to face them, because our goal is not to contain them, but to destroy them before they destroy us.
Tabacco: Is this guy serious!
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dr. Ben Carson in the recent Republican presidential debate. A number of issues to address there, Nick Turse!
NICK TURSE: Yeah, it’s a—where to start? You know, Dr. Carson claims his own intelligence says that the Chinese are there. There really isn’t any evidence to that effect. He also has the opinion that—I think that many Americans have, that special operations forces are, in some ways, supermen. And we’ve seen this, you know, in mass media over the years, where SEAL Team 6 is lionized. They’re seen as, you know, so capable that just a small number of them placed anywhere in the world can turn the tide. You know, I won’t argue that they aren’t very skilled at what they do. What they haven’t been very skilled at is actually setting the stage for strategic victories. You know, the special operations forces carried out extremely large-scale operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. These were the hunting grounds of Joint Special Operations Command, JSOC, the forces that kick down doors in the middle of the night, conduct night raids. They conducted extensive operations in both countries, but, you know, as we can plainly see, it certainly wasn’t enough to stabilize these countries in any way. Special ops is exceptionally limited. They can do a lot of things tactically, but it doesn’t translate into strategic results.
AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a piece for TomDispatch, “Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Special Ops ‘Successes,’” and Tom Engelhardt wrote an introduction to your piece, where he said, “If journalism was once considered the first rough draft of history, now, when it comes to American military policy at least, it’s often the first rough pass at writing a script for ‘The Daily Show.’ Take, for example, a little inside-the-paper piece that Eric Schmitt of the New York Times penned recently with this headline: ‘New Role for General After Failure of Syria Rebel Plan.’ And here’s the first paragraph:”—this is in The New York Times.
“The Army general in charge of the Pentagon’s failed $500 million program to train and equip Syrian rebels is leaving his job in the next few weeks, but is likely to be promoted and assigned a senior counterterrorism position here, American officials said on Monday.”
That’s from the Times. And Tom writes, “Yes, you read that right. Major General Michael Nagata is indeed ‘likely to be promoted.’ He remains, according to Schmitt, one of ‘the Army’s rising stars’ and is [quote] ‘in line to be awarded a third star, to lieutenant general, and take a senior position at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington.’ Oh, and one of the reasons for his possible upcoming promotion, other than having overseen a program to produce 15,000 American-backed ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels ready to fight the Islamic State that actually only produced a handful of them who fought no one, is according to ‘colleagues’ his ‘bureaucratic acumen in counterterrorism jobs at the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.’”
Nick Turse, your response?
NICK TURSE: Well, you can’t make this stuff up. I mean, there’s a great tradition in the military of failing upwards. And I think you’ve seen it again and again during the global war on terror. You know, commanders who have overseen, at best, campaigns with checkered results have again and again been promoted to senior positions. You know, this has been endemic of these wars, I think, because we haven’t seen any victories in them. But if you can, you know, fight it out at the Pentagon, if you can win the bureaucratic wars, there’s really the only way to go: up.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what happened in Syria with the training of these rebels.
NICK TURSE: Well, this was another of the special operations forces’ training efforts around the world. This is generally what they do everywhere. And they were tasked to train, quote-unquote, “moderate” Syrian rebels. This was a program worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And it was supposed to produce 5,000 vetted rebels this year and then thousands more in the years to come. They had to fold up this program and just abandon it this year, because while they were supposed to have 5,000, there were really five to 10 rebels that were actually on the ground that hadn’t been—
AMY GOODMAN: Number five, like one hand.
NICK TURSE: Yes, you can count them on one hand. Those that were set down and just sent off into Syria were captured or killed immediately. Then a second batch was sent in, and they’ve promptly turned over their weapons and gear to the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-affiliated terror group that operates in Syria. This is—again, it’s been endemic to special ops training programs that we’ve seen elsewhere around the world—Iraq, Afghanistan. You know, they’ve gone in, they tried to create proxy forces, but they’ve crashed and burned again and again.
AMY GOODMAN: Nick Turse, you have a chapter in your book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, that is—its header, “An East-West Showdown: China, America, and a New Cold War in Africa.” Explain.
NICK TURSE: Well, if you travel anywhere on the African continent, you’ll see that the Chinese have moved in, in a very big way, over the last decade. They’ve pursued a campaign of economic engagement across the continent, and very, very public projects. Everywhere you go, they’re building an airport, they’re building roads, they’re putting up government facilities—tangible projects that Africans can see. This is the strategy they’ve pursued to gain influence in Africa. The U.S. has gone a different route. They’ve pursued an antiterror whack-a-mole strategy, where they send small teams around the continent, they send drones. They try to tamp down terror groups and seem to only spread them around. They’ve also pumped in tremendous amounts of money, but this is to bolster African militaries with rather dubious human rights records.
AMY GOODMAN: Give us examples!
NICK TURSE: Well, you know, you can see this in Kenya. They’ve put a lot of money into training Kenyan force to act as a proxy in Somalia. But this—one, they haven’t been very successful in tamping down violence. Actually, it’s spread the violence into Kenya now. And the Kenyans have been seen by many groups as being exceptionally corrupt, conducting smuggling around the region, and also—you know, they’ve also committed human rights abuses. So—and the same thing has been seen elsewhere in Africa. Chad, we’ve pumped a lot of money into using the Chadians as proxy forces. But if you look at how Chad’s troops have operated abroad—you know, we backed Chad to go into Central African Republic, and they committed a massacre there, machine-gunned a marketplace filled with civilians.
AMY GOODMAN: And why did the U.S. back them?
NICK TURSE: Well, I think that the U.S. doesn’t want to put large numbers of its own forces on the ground, because of what’s happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. They want to fight wars on the cheap. They want to limit American casualties. But the proxies to choose from in Africa are troubling.
AMY GOODMAN: You share some startling figures. Since 2007, the U.S. has operated AFRICOM, the United States Africa Command. U.S. generals have maintained AFRICOM leaves only a “small footprint” on the continent, with just an official base in Djibouti. But you say the U.S. military is now involved in more than 90 percent of Africa’s 54 nations. The U.S. presence includes, you say, “construction, military exercises, advisory assignments, security cooperation, or training missions.” But AFRICOM, you write, carried out 674 missions across the African continent last year—an average of nearly two a day, a 300 percent jump from previous years. Can you explain why these operations have expanded exponentially under President Obama?
NICK TURSE: Well, you know, I think Africa has been seen as a place of ungoverned spaces, a place that’s prone to terror. It’s ironic because when a senior Pentagon official was asked after 9/11 about the presence of transnational terror groups on the continent, he wasn’t able to come up with any. The best he could come up with was that militants in Somalia had saluted Osama bin Laden. That was the extent of it. They hadn’t actually attacked anywhere outside of Somalia. They had local grievances, and they were contained. But the U.S. got into its head that Africa was a place that could be a heartland for terrorism, so it pumped in a tremendous amount of money, sent in forces, conducted all these training operations, set up small bases around the continent—all of it to shore up the continent against terror. Instead, you look anywhere on the continent today, and you see a proliferation of terror groups—ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabab, al-Mourabitoun, Ansaru, over and over. The Pentagon won’t name all the groups that it sees as threats, but it’s somewhere around 50 that it claims are groups on the continent that are opposed to U.S. interests. They’ve just proliferated in all—in these years.
AMY GOODMAN: What about President Obama’s most recent trip to Africa, to the country where his father was born, to Kenya, and to Ethiopia? He also addressed the African Union.
NICK TURSE: Well, you know, I think this has been a focus area for President Obama. I think Africa was a place where he wanted to try and make inroads. You know, another country that he didn’t visit—for good reason—was South Sudan. This was a nation-building project for the United States, its one nation-building effort in Africa. The Obama administration was—followed up on the Bush administration in pushing this breakaway portion of Sudan to become its own independent country, and put a lot of money, time and effort into South Sudan. And then it, you know, exploded into civil war in 2013. This was supposed to be a great American success story, something the Obama administration had pushed as a model for what the United States can do. Now, I think the U.S. has really lost out to China there, in many ways. Somehow, the Chinese have enabled, through the U.N., an infantry battalion of their own to be put into South Sudan to guard the oil fields there. The Chinese have great oil interests in South Sudan. And the United States, because it pays for U.N. troops, peacekeepers around the world, is in effect paying Chinese troops to guard Chinese oil interests in South Sudan.
AMY GOODMAN: Your afterword is “Finding Barack Obama in South Sudan”. You went there!
NICK TURSE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Describe this afterword.
NICK TURSE: Yes, you know, I happened to be in a camp, a U.N. camp for internally displaced people in South Sudan. And, you know, I came across a young boy there who was wearing a Barack Obama T-shirt, and it said “Obama, my dream.” And I asked him about his dream. And at one time he had dreams of maybe being a president, like Barack Obama, about getting a good education. Now he was stranded at a U.N. base, unable to go back home because the military that we had funded and trained in South Sudan had attacked his people, had killed his uncle, had driven tens of thousands of people in South Sudan into what at the time and even today are, in effect, open-air prisons. People are too afraid to go back home. And this is because of the government that we supported for years.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, you reveal so much in Tomorrow’s Battlefield and your writing on Africa. What does the U.S. government actually admit? And what is it that you exposed, both in the book and also, for example, in your piece as part of the big “Drone Paper” project at The Intercept?
NICK TURSE: Well, U.S. Africa Command admits very little. You know, that was the reason why I wrote this book. I wasn’t intending on spending years covering the U.S. in Africa. Basically, I noticed that there were some things going on that told me there was an expansion underway. I saw that the U.S. was putting in a logistics network in Africa a few years ago. And I knew that there’s only one reason for this. You don’t create a network of sea and land routes to transport goods, unless you plan on building bases and putting people there. But when I asked Africa Command what was going on, all they told me was about a very light footprint, almost nothing was happening. And I knew it wasn’t the case. You know, if they had told me anything resembling reality, I think I would have written one piece and moved on. But I knew they were trying to spin me, I knew they weren’t being upfront and honest, so I decided to dig into it. And what I found is something far beyond anything you would find on AFRICOM’s website. They talk about a few humanitarian projects, building schools, donating shoes to orphans, this type of thing. But really, we’re seeing a massive expansion in the form of bases, drone warfare, special ops.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about that? I know you have a forthcoming piece at TomDispatch on this.
NICK TURSE: Yes. You know, Africa Command claims, again, they only have one base on the continent, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Within a 10-mile radius of Camp Lemonnier, there’s actually another base, Chabelley Airfield, where they run all drone operations out of. So, it’s not even true for that one country. I don’t want to steal all my thunder from the piece; it’ll be out at TomDispatch this week, but I can tell you that there are scores of bases on the continent. It’s upwards of 50 U.S. outposts, bases, access sites, spread all across Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you even explain the history of AFRICOM, the fact—how difficult it was to get AFRICOM actually based in Africa?
NICK TURSE: Yeah, you know, for a few years after 9/11, there was a push to have a greater U.S. presence in Africa, and the U.S. looked around for a country that would host its base. And eventually, you know, it looked from top to bottom, east to west in Africa, and decided on Germany. It was because there were no African countries that wanted to own up to having a major U.S. command there. And I think this is one of the reasons why they keep things under wrap. Once in a while, speaking off the cuff, a commander will note that there’s a great resistance to colonialism in Africa, that there is this history of colonialism, so the U.S. wants to maintain the appearances of being lightly engaged on the continent. And I think that if African people knew the extent to which the United States operated there, it might cause real problems.
AMY GOODMAN: You have a piece, “American Monuments to Failure in Africa? How Not to Win Hearts and Minds”.
NICK TURSE: I got a hold of a classified report that was done by a inspector general, taking a look at these humanitarian projects, the only things that Africa Command will really talk about. They say that they’re great successes. The inspector general said otherwise. They looked around and saw, you know, projects that—where the U.S. hadn’t done follow-ups. They hadn’t checked with the community beforehand to see what people needed. They built water well projects that weren’t suited to the community. People didn’t know how to maintain them in any way. They weren’t given any guidance. And within a couple years, these were crumbling. And that quote there, “monuments to failure,” was one of—a U.S. official on the continent saying that he was very afraid that all these projects would, within a couple years, become failures, and they would stand as monuments to U.S. failure on the continent.
AMY GOODMAN: Nick Turse is a fellow at The Nation Institute, managing editor of TomDispatch.com. His most recent book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. And we’ll link to his articles right here at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us!
Journalist Nick Turse talks about his new investigation into secret U.S. drone outposts across Africa. While U.S. Africa Command maintains there is only one U.S. base on the continent — Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti — Turse says there are actually dozens of U.S. military outposts and access points all across Africa. “People on the ground in these countries, they know what’s going on, generally, even if people in the United States are blind to it,” Turse says. “And I think it creates a lot of ill will.”
Tabacco includes all 3-Parts here and now!
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Our guest is Nick Turse, who is managing editor of TomDispatch.com. His most recent book is called Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa.
You’ve just written a new piece in TomDispatch about the bases we don’t know about in Africa. Tell us!
NICK TURSE: Right! If you listen to U.S. Africa Command, AFRICOM, what they say is that there’s one U.S. base on the continent: Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. And for years they’ve held to this. Earlier this year, the commander of AFRICOM, General David Rodriguez, admitted that there are also 11 what he calls CSLs, contingency security locations, on the continent. AFRICOM will not call these bases. They’re basically staging areas, in their mindset. And they’re prime for a rapid expansion. But beyond, you know, these sites, Africa Command says that there’s no other permanent U.S. presence on the continent. You know, for the last year, basically, I’ve dug into this. It’s something I’ve covered in the past, and I wanted to see exactly what the U.S. footprint in Africa looks like today. And what I was able to come up with was a list of a little more than 60 sites, outposts, access points, that have been set up all across the continent, north to south, east to west. We’re talking about small special ops bases, austere airfields that are used to fly drones out of, staging areas so that the U.S. can send rapid response forces from Europe onto the African continent. And, you know, this is going on all over.
AMY GOODMAN: Where are they?
Tabacco: Does this ‘Advisory’ make Tabacco a Presidential Advisor or at least a CIA Informant?
So glad to be of ASSISTANCE in our Chief Executive’s ‘Thirst For Knowledge’! And, ‘NO!’ you do NOT have to put me on the Payroll! Tabacco works for GRATIS!
However, you might drop a Thank-You Note on Presidential Stationery to Amy Goodman! Please don’t Arrest & Incarcerate her or me as Whistleblowers as you do everybody else! We both know about the
Whistleblower Protection Act!
AMY GOODMAN: How did the U.S. have this—well, the one they say publicly, this base in Djibouti?
NICK TURSE: It was a former French Foreign Legion outpost, actually. And when the U.S. moved in there, shortly after 9/11—it was in 2002—they set up a—you know, a very austere camp, and they said that it would be a temporary facility. Now, it’s expanded to almost 600 acres, from that original 88. They built up a very large special operations compound. Drone operations really outgrew the base, so they were moved elsewhere, but we have manned aircraft there flying out of there on a constant basis, surveillance aircraft, fighter jets, F-15s.
AMY GOODMAN: What are your concerns with U.S. presence in Africa, as it stands now?
Tabacco: Haven’t the Africans suffered enough under Bush, who refused to issue LETTERS OF COMITY when GOLDFINGER and his ilk bought up African World Bank Debt for 10-cents on the Dollar, obtained legal Sanction in England, then got U.S. Courts to impound those 3rd World African Countries’ American ASSETS, while George W. Bush played the lyre, the lute, the harp or some instrument and his BIGGE$T DONOR cleaned up on AFRICAN DEBT!
Where is Kate Smith when America really needs her!
Tabacco: Is Muslim Terrorism beginning to make sense to you, Folks?
AMY GOODMAN: So do you think it causes—it is a—the U.S. presence is a threat to U.S. national security?
NICK TURSE: I think it is, because we’ve seen a proliferation of transnational terror groups on the continent at the very time that the United States is trying to combat that, that we put in the money, put in the bases, we’ve put in the troops, all to stop the spread of terror, but, you know, at the very same time, we’ve seen terror groups spread all over the continent. Now, you know, correlation doesn’t mean causation, but it’s something that we really have to think about.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you also see a U.S. presence as a threat to these countries’ national security?
NICK TURSE: I think so, because, you know, people on the ground in these countries, they know what’s going on, generally, even if people in the United States are blind to it. And I think it creates a lot of ill will. If you look at the place where we have an avowed base, Djibouti, which is a Muslim nation, one reason that the drone operations were moved out of Camp Lemonnier to another site was that Djiboutian air traffic controllers controlled the airfield there, because it’s a civilian airport and a military airport. It’s the same runway. They were so incensed by the drone operations that were going on there, they were creating unsafe conditions for the U.S. military and for international flights that were coming in. So there are all these unseen repercussions that go on all around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: How would the U.S. win hearts and minds? What is an alternative strategy in Africa, if you believe that the U.S. should be there at all?
AMY GOODMAN: Nick Turse is a fellow at The Nation Institute, managing editor of TomDispatch.com. His most recent book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. And we’ll link to his articles right here at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us!
Among the issues tackled in the new documentary film “Drone” is the connection between video games and military recruitment. We air a clip from the film and speak to its director, Tonje Hessen Schei, as well as drone war whistleblower Brandon Bryant. “I think gamers should be offended that the military and the government are using [video games] to manipulate and recruit”, Bryant says. “We’re more interconnected now than at any time in human history — and that’s being exploited to help people kill one another.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn to a clip from the film Drone about the connection between video games and military recruitment. This clip features Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Callahan and former U.S. Navy pilot Missy Cummings. But first, P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War.
P. W. SINGER: There’s always been a connection between the world of war and the world of entertainment. And I call this phenomenon “militainment”, where the military world is actually now pulling tools from the world of entertainment to do its job better. The military has invested in creating video games that they’re using as recruiting tools.
LT. COL. BRYAN CALLAHAN: How do we find our 18X pilots? There’s been a lot of different theories. If you can answer that question or I can answer that question, you can make a lot of money for the Air Force right now, because we don’t know. We’re trying to get our arms around what really does make the best candidate for unmanned airplanes and how do we identify these people early.
MISSY CUMMINGS: Video gamers do have a skill set that is very important and actually enhances the skill set of drone operators. So, when I talk to people about this, I say, “We don’t need Top Gun pilots anymore. We need Revenge of the Nerds.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We’re also joined by Tonje Hessen Schei, the director of the film, of Drone.
Tonje, welcome to Democracy Now! Could you talk about this whole issue of the recruitment of gamers by the military?
TONJE HESSEN SCHEI: Yeah, the gamers have been incredibly important for the U.S. military, and they have been targeting gamers in their recruiting strategies for the last decade. And this has been very successful, and it is now also spreading around the world. It is done in Germany and in Sweden and also in Norway. You know, gamers, their brains are pretty much wired to handle the challenges in modern warfare. And, you know, their eye-thumb coordination, their multitasking, their team fighting, the target shooting—they are basically perfect for the drone war.
And the relationship between the military and the entertainment industry, I think, is very, very important to take a close look at here. Our children are basically growing up playing real war scenarios from a very young age. And this game fight, you know, strange perception of war, has a big impact on them. To them, war is made to look fun, killing is made to look cool. And it really shapes them. And I think this “militainment” has a huge cost. And working with the drone operators, too, just seeing, you know, how the gaming attitude maybe is bleeding into how the drone program is operating, has been very disturbing to me.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, you guys know, in your own experience, that you’re involved in a war where you never actually meet or see the people you’re killing. You have no direct relationship—no real relationship to the war that you’re actually playing such a critical role in. I’m wondering what you—your thoughts on that?
BRANDON BRYANT: Well, I think that one of the big things that we should address is, like, there’s a lot of gamers that have been offended by stuff that we’ve talked about. And there’s a lot of gamers that are offended by, you know, talking about the correlation between violence and video games. And there’s a lot of studies that are out there that say that only certain video games cause certain aspects of this violence. And, you know, I’m an avid gamer—or I was, at least. I’m trying to get back into it. And I love this medium. It’s just the drone program destroyed my love of this medium, as well.
And I think gamers should be offended that the military and the government are using this type of thing to manipulate and recruit these guys. It’s a blatant misuse of power, abuse of power. It shouldn’t be something along the lines of, like, “Yeah, I want to play this game with my friends,” or even people that you don’t—you don’t see them face to face. You meet a lot of people instantaneously all over the world. We’re so interconnected. We’re more interconnected now than we’ve ever been in the entirety of human history. And that’s being exploited to help people kill one another.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Michael Haas, as we wrap up, what you want people to be left with today? And there’s a large military audience here, too. What you have to say to your fellow servicemen and women?
MICHAEL HAAS: On the other side of that screen, they’re very real. It feels like a video game, and it looks like a video game, but it’s very, very real. And to keep that in mind and not become disconnected from your own humanity and not to take away theirs—that’s what I’d want to leave them with.
AMY GOODMAN: Cian Westmoreland?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: We should all take responsibility for what we do at all times. I have a cell phone in my pocket. It has metals in there that were extracted from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there’s been a war for 15 years and 4 million—I think 4.4 million people have died. I know that, and that bothers me.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve all left the military. Were you—did they request you re-enlist?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you offered a bonus to re-enlist?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: We all were.
AMY GOODMAN: How much?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: $50,000.
AMY GOODMAN: How much, Michael?
MICHAEL HAAS: $80,000.
AMY GOODMAN: Stephen?
STEPHEN LEWIS: Over $100,000.
BRANDON BRYANT: $109,000, plus a step promotion and safety evaluation upgrader.
AMY GOODMAN: What did you say?
BRANDON BRYANT: I said, “F— that. I’m getting out!”
AMY GOODMAN: Stephen?
STEPHEN LEWIS: “I’m done!”
AMY GOODMAN: Michael?
MICHAEL HAAS: I made my decision to get out long before that re-enlistment became even an option.
AMY GOODMAN: Cian?
CIAN WESTMORELAND: I burned my uniform in my boss’s grill, and I hitchhiked around the world.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But for so many young people, that’s a lot of money, and they’re tempted. I guess—and they’re going to keep increasing the bonuses, obviously, as the situation in the war on terror continues.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us, very important what you had to say today. Brandon Bryant, Cian Westmoreland, Stephen Lewis and Michael Haas, thank you so much. Tonje Hessen Schei, director of the film, Drone, as well, and Jesselyn Radack, with the Whistleblower & Source Protection Program, known as WHISPeR, at ExposeFacts.
And that does it for our show. An update right now on what’s happening in Mali as we speak, the ongoing hostage situation in Bamako, the capital: The U.S. military says U.S. special operations troops are working with Malian special operation forces to free the more than 140 hostages still inside the Radisson Blu Hotel right there in Bamako, which was seized by suspected Islamist gunmen this morning.
And that does it for our broadcast. For the whole show today, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. The video is there, the audio is there, the podcast and the transcript of our broadcast. We are hiring a director of development to lead our fundraising efforts. You can find out more at democracynow.org.
Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, has spent the last few months in the Balkans and Greece speaking to refugees coming mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Posting messages on Twitter, Bouckaert has helped expose the realities of life for refugees fleeing violence at home. He was one of the first people to share images of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy, who drowned off a Turkish beach.
ATTENTION, REPUBLICAN PARTY: REFUGEES ARE NOT TERRORISTS!
Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris have set off a storm of calls to close borders and reject refugees fleeing Syria, where over 4 million people have already left the war-torn country. President Obama said any attempts to block entry of Syrian refugees to the United States is “offensive and contrary to American values”. “When individuals say that we should have a religious test and that only Christians—proven Christians—should be admitted, that’s offensive and contrary to American values,” Obama said. “I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate.” We speak to Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director. He has spent the last few months in the Balkans and Greece speaking to refugees coming mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris have set off a storm of calls to close borders and reject refugees fleeing Syria, where over 4 million people have already fled the war-torn country. Less than 24 hours after the Paris attacks, Poland’s incoming European affairs minister said Poland would pull back from a European Union-wide commitment to relocate refugees. The anti-refugee sentiment was quickly echoed by other right-wing leaders across Europe. In France, Marine Le Pen, the head of the National Front party, demanded a, quote, “immediate halt of all intake of migrants in France.” In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, the head of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, called on the country’s prime minister to close the borders entirely.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile in the United States, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have called for a pause in the U.S. program accepting Syrian refugees, and governors of at least 27 U.S. states have said they will not accept Syrian refugees. A Syrian passport, which appears to be fake, was found near the body of one of the Paris attackers, whose fingerprints matched someone who passed through Greece and the Balkans. But all the attackers identified so far are European nationals.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Speaking in the Philippines, President Obama said any attempts to block entry of Syrian refugees to the United States is, quote, “offensive and contrary to American values”.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks. And I think the refugee debate is an example of us not being well served by some of the commentary that’s been taking place by officials back home and in the media. …
We’re welcome—we’re open to hearing actual ideas, but that’s not really what’s been going on in this debate. When candidates say we wouldn’t admit three-year-old orphans, that’s political posturing. When individuals say that we should have a religious test and that only Christians—proven Christians—should be admitted, that’s offensive and contrary to American values. I cannot think of a more—more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama speaking in the Philippines.
For more, we’re joined by Peter Bouckaert. He is Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, just back from months in the Balkans and Greece speaking to refugees coming mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Posting messages on Twitter, Peter Bouckaert has helped expose the realities of life for refugees fleeing violence at home, was one of the first people to share images of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned off a Turkish beach.
Peter Bouckaert, welcome back to Democracy Now!
PETER BOUCKAERT: Thank you!
AMY GOODMAN: As you come back, just in the last two days, dealing with the refugees, documenting what’s happening on the ground, your response to what’s being said in the United States about not accepting refugees?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, it’s both morally reprehensible and factually wrong to equate these people with terrorists. They’re actually fleeing from the terrorists, and they’ve faced horrors of war in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan. Many of them are coming with their families, trying to bring them to safety and a better future in Europe. And they should be welcomed. They will contribute to our society, and they have a right to asylum. They should not be having to risk their lives and face all of this humiliation on this journey just to get what is legally their right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about—you’ve interviewed many of the refugees. Could you talk about some of their experiences and what they’ve told you about their fleeing? Some of them actually fled after being subjected to bombings from Western powers, as well.
PETER BOUCKAERT: Yes, many of them have come directly from Syria. They’ve tried to stay in Syria for as long as possible. It’s not like this was their first choice. They really love their country. They’ve faced bombing from the West and from Russia, as well, especially by the Assad regime. And many of them have lost family members to those bombings. I’ve also met a lot of young men and women who have lost their legs and other limbs to these bombing raids and who have been carried this whole journey to safety in Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to comments made by House Speaker Paul Ryan regarding admitting Syrian refugees here in the United States.
SPEAKER PAUL RYAN: The national defense bill that I will sign later today requires the president to come up with a plan for defeating ISIS—not just containing, but defeating ISIS. A containment plan is not enough. That has failed. In addition, the majority leader and our committee chairs are developing a plan to address the Syrian refugee crisis. Our nation has always been welcoming, but we cannot let terrorists take advantage of our compassion. This is a moment where it’s better to be safe than to be sorry. So we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program, in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population. In the end, the ultimate solution to this crisis is a strategy to defeat ISIS. All of this rises above politics. This is not about politics. This is about national security. And so, we will invite all of our colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, to work with us quickly to address the urgent nature of this situation.
Tabacco: I warned Americans in the prior Post that we cannot defeat ISIS or TERRORISM! That is Republican PROPAGANDA, intended to mobilize their troops in the 2016 Election. Korea, Vietnam & Iraq are PROOFS that the USA’s Military Superiority in a Nation-Nation Conflict does NOT carryover in Asymmetrical War against angry, exploited & oppressed Terrorists!
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what Paul Ryan is calling for?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, I think it’s absolutely misguided. Yes, there is a struggle to defeat ISIS, but that is not just a military struggle. It’s a struggle for the hearts and minds of the people of the Middle East. And that struggle for the hearts and minds is actually the most important component of what we have to accomplish. And by shutting the door on the refugees fleeing from ISIS and from the horrors of the war in Syria, we’re doing no favor in terms of winning the hearts and minds of these people.
The reality is that any Syrian refugee coming to the United States already goes through four different levels of security review by different U.S. agencies, so the danger of anybody coming in under the guise of refugee status and being actually a terrorist is absolutely minuscule. We admit 70,000 people already every year, many of them from Iraq and Somalia, and there has not been a single incident of a person turning out to be a terrorist.
Tabacco: Sophists like Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and those 29 Republican Governors and 1 Democrat, can say this stuff because the American Public is so misinformed and undereducated – that’s why they get away with BS! But if you are reading this or have already seen the Democracy Now! broadcast, you know better!
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about the reaction in Europe to the refugees, both before the attacks in Paris and now, subsequently, afterward?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, I think one of the reasons why these two crises—the Paris attack and the refugee crisis—have become conflated is because Europe has not felt in charge of this crisis, because they have not had clear and coherent policies towards these refugees. It has been chaos in Europe. And it’s really important, instead of shutting the door on these people, that we come up with coherent policies, which allow people to claim asylum in a way, which is safe and legal and protects their rights.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Why has it been so chaotic, given the fact that this has now been going on for at least a year or more?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, the reality is that still on the beaches of Europe, two Alan Kurdis are still drowning every day. And many of the humanitarian needs of these desperate people are being met by volunteers and not by EU institutions, because there are no EU policies towards these people. The EU cannot agree to a common policy on how to accommodate these people, and that’s why we have chaos. It’s really important that Europe and the world take charge of this crisis, or otherwise the crisis will take charge of Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking Tuesday, the Czech president, Milos Zeman, said the young men fleeing war zones should be, quote, “fighting for their country against the Islamic State.”
PRESIDENT MILOSZEMAN: [translated] The majority of these illegal migrants are young, well-supported men. And I’m asking why these men are not fighting for the freedom of their country against the Islamic State. Why are they not working for their country and its improvement, so that their country overcomes its current state of underdevelopment?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Czech president speaking Tuesday. Peter Bouckaert, your response?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, a lot of these men are fleeing because they do not want to fight for Assad. They do not want to be part of the killing machine. And a lot of Afghans are fleeing from Iran, because they do not want to be forced by Iran to go fight for Assad in Syria. I think that’s a noble reason to flee, to not want to be a killer. But it is important, on the other hand, that these people are accommodated, that their children can be educated. There are 400,000 children, Syrian children, out of school in Turkey alone. If we do not provide them with an education, there is no future for Syria, because nobody will be able to run the country in the future.
Tabacco: Would that there were more young American military volunteers, who were sufficiently educated and informed to know they are NOT defending their country, but they are defending the PROFITS OF WAR PROFITEERS IN AMERICA!
AMY GOODMAN: What is the U.S.’s responsibility for these refugees, in the original cause?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, we are faced with a generational crisis in the Middle East. These conflicts really are a challenge to our generation. And we need a global response. We all need to do our part, including the U.S. and Canada and Australia, to accommodate these refugees, to provide them with safe refuge, to help educate their children, and ultimately to help resolve the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, because the roots—
AMY GOODMAN: How did the crisis get started?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Yes, it’s absolutely true that Afghanistan was invaded by the United States in 2001 and Iraq was invaded in 2003. Many mistakes were made in terms of the policies adopted. And so we do also have a moral responsibility towards these people fleeing the consequences of our actions, to some degree.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, then come back and play a report by Human Rights Watch, the refugees on the ground. Then Barbara Lee will also be joining us, Congress member Barbara Lee. And we’ll go to Paris to talk with climate activists. Will marches be allowed after the Paris attacks? Stay with us!
Tabacco: Could it be that Republicans are AFRAID of
ALL IMMIGRANTS, who might become American Voters and Join the DEMOCRATIC PARTY? For the GOP, it’s
JUST POLITICS AFTERALL!
This is Just One More Republican EXCUSE to Obfuscate more Machiavellian Motives! I wonder what Abraham Lincoln would think of his 21st Century Republican Party! Would Abe still be a GOPer today? He’s had 150-years to think it over!
WATCH MORE OF PETER BOUCKAERT INTERVIEW
Refugees are Not Terrorists: HRW Decries Efforts to Reject People Fleeing Wars in Syria & Iraq
Peter Bouckaert of HRW: Shutting the Door on Refugees Would Be Propaganda Victory for Islamic State
Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, has spent the last few months in the Balkans and Greece speaking to refugees coming mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Posting messages on Twitter, Bouckaert has helped expose the realities of life for refugees fleeing violence at home. He was one of the first people to share images of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned off a Turkish beach.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Part 2 of our conversation on refugees with Peter Bouckaert, who is the Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, has spent the last few months in the Balkans and Greece speaking to refugees coming mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s in New York for two days, headed right back to the front lines of where refugees are coming in and what is happening to them.
It’s great to have you with us in Part 2 of this conversation. Tell us the stories of people. I don’t think people care about refugees when you say 1 million, when you say 1,000, until you hear the story of one person.
PETER BOUCKAERT: Yeah, I’ve met so many people with their own tragic, and at times inspiring, stories. I’ve met many Syrians who made this boat journey and then actually stayed in Greece to help their fellow Syrians when they arrived. But one person who touched me quite a bit is a doctor from Syria, Dr. Ali Jabbour [phon.]. He made this journey, and I met him about two months ago in Hungary, where he was sleeping on the streets. And just imagine you’ve spent four years in Syria, digging people out of the rubble and saving their lives at the hospital—you’re a hero, really—and you end up on this journey of utter humiliation. I wrote about him, and my last line of the piece I wrote said he’s now in Austria, one step closer to achieving his dream of continuing his medical studies in Germany. And he contacted me from Germany and said, “Actually, the last line is not right, because my dream is to be back in Syria”.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us the journey he took! Explain how people go from Syria!
PETER BOUCKAERT: So, for most of these people, they have to sell their land and their house and borrow very heavily from neighbors and from family to make this journey, because they have to pay smugglers incredible amounts of money. Then, they have to cross the border into Turkey, often illegally, over razor wire fences, and then they have to make their way to the smugglers, who they pay about $1,200 at least, sometimes much more, to be pushed onto these boats. And all of them are being told the journey will be safe, there will be 30, 35 people on the boat. But when they arrive on the coast, up to 55, 60 people are pushed onto these boats. And the smugglers have guns to force people to take off. There’s nobody to guide these boats. One of the refugees is given the handle of the engine on this rubber boat, and then they set out at sea. Many of the boats break down at sea and drift for hours. We’ve talked to people who have been at sea for as long as two days. Sometimes the boats are attacked by vigilantes.
AMY GOODMAN: And where do they go in this boat journey?
PETER BOUCKAERT: They go from Turkey, from the Turkish coast, to the Greek islands. And the numbers have been growing exponentially. In July, 24,000 people arrived on the island of Lesbos. In August, it was up to 50,000. And by September, it was 111,000.
AMY GOODMAN: So how many a day?
PETER BOUCKAERT: It can be up to 5,000, 8,000 people a day. So that means a hundred boats.
AMY GOODMAN: A hundred boats!
PETER BOUCKAERT: And you just do the math! I did the math, and the smugglers are making over $100 million off the plight of these people.
AMY GOODMAN: And then what happens when they end up in Lesbos? What happens then?
PETER BOUCKAERT: You know, for many, they think that their journey—the worst part of their journey is over when they arrive in Lesbos. But actually, their suffering is just about to begin. When they get on the beach, wet and often cold, they’re helped by the volunteers. They are given dry clothes, if dry clothes are available. And then they end up in these horrible camps, completely overcrowded with very little shelter and food, where they have to wait for days just to get a registration paper to get onto the boat to Athens. And then they continue, sleeping out in the open with their children—it’s stunning to see how many babies are on this journey, and toddlers—for day after day after day, until they ultimately reach Germany.
And, you know, I think the real scandal is that we’re now five months, a year into this crisis, that keeps growing, but there still is no organized EU response, both in terms of coherent refugee policies, but also in terms of saving lives at sea and meeting the humanitarian needs of these people. This is not an insurmountable task. I mean, OK, we’re talking about a maximum of 8,000 people a day, which seems like a huge number, but we handle those kind of crowds every day at rock concerts, at soccer matches. We do have the capacity to address these people’s needs and to make this journey a lot more humane, but we’re not.
AMY GOODMAN: How have the Paris attacks complicated this whole situation, the horror for refugees? I wanted to turn just in the United States to Donald Trump, the—one of the leading presidential candidates, Republican candidates, speaking Monday after the Paris attacks.
DONALD TRUMP: [And then we have a president,] with all of the problems—and you probably heard that at least one, and probably more, of the killers, the animals, that did what they did in Paris, came out of the migration, right? They came out of the migration. So we have a president that wants to take hundreds of thousands—hundreds of thousands—of people and move them into our country. And we don’t—you know, think of it. And we don’t even know who they are. There’s no paperwork. There’s no anything.
Tabacco: That’s the one “good thing” about Donald Trump – WE KNOW WHO HE IS!
AMYGOODMAN: That’s Donald Trump. Peter Bouckaert?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, I normally make a policy not to respond to such idiotic statements. But in reality, every Syrian refugee who reaches the United States has gone through four levels of security review. These are the most carefully screened refugees anywhere in the world. And there have been no incidents with the hundreds of thousands of refugees that the U.S. has taken in over the years.
The United States’ values are built about being welcoming to refugees. And it’s our most powerful tool in the war against Islamic extremism, are our values. It’s not our military planes and our bombs. The only way we can fight against this brutality, this barbarism, is with our values. And if we’re going to shut the door on these refugees, we’re giving a propaganda victory to ISIS. And I think that’s exactly why they left a fake Syrian passport at the scene of their attacks, because they would love it if we shut the door on the people who are fleeing their so-called Islamic caliphate.
AMY GOODMAN: What happens to Afghan refugees?
PETER BOUCKAERT: You know, I think a lot of the focus has been on the Syrian refugees and their plight, but as one Afghan refugee told me, “The Syrians have had four years of war, now coming onto five. We’ve had 40.” And we should not ignore the plight of the people fleeing Afghanistan. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan. The Islamic State is also targeting people there. And there’s many abuses being committed by the Northern Alliance.
But the Afghan refugees also are fleeing from Iran. There’s millions of Afghans who live in Iran, and one of the reasons they’re fleeing from Iran, which is a very little known fact, is that Iran is actually forcibly recruiting them to go fight in Syria. They’re rounding up Afghan refugees and giving them the choice between being deported back to Afghanistan, a country many have not lived in for decades and fear, or being forced to go fight for Assad in Syria.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to continue on this track, this idea of what has caused people to flee and what our responsibility is, not just as human beings that are not attached except that we’re humans and care about other human beings, but our responsibility for the cause of the refugee crisis.
PETER BOUCKAERT: You know, I do think it’s important for people to understand that the 2003 Iraq invasion, and especially the very irresponsible policies which were put in place by the Bush administration, played a very direct role in creating the Islamic State. It ripped apart the Iraqi state and allowed for the rise of Islamic extremism. The only way we can respond to that is not just with a military strategy, and certainly not with brutality. I mean, we’ve seen that the kind of brutal policies pursued by the Bush administration and Rumsfeld and Cheney utterly failed. They failed on the ground. They achieved nothing in terms of stabilizing Iraq or dealing with the threat of Islamic extremism. So, you know, I certainly understand that in the aftermath of the Paris attacks people want to respond, they want to go strike against the Islamic State, but we have to be smart and learn from our own history. And actually, our values, respect for human rights and welcoming refugees is an important part of fighting against the kind of Islamic extremism that the Islamic State represents.
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Bouckaert, you were one of the first to tweet the picture of the three-year-old boy. Talk about his case, Alan Kurdi.
PETER BOUCKAERT: You know, Alan Kurdi came from the city of Kobani, which is completely destroyed, partly by the Islamic State, but also by U.S. airstrikes in response to their takeover of the city. He set off—
AMY GOODMAN: The city of Kobani—
PETER BOUCKAERT: Of Kobani.
AMY GOODMAN: —in Syria.
PETER BOUCKAERT: In Syria! And he set off on one of these rubber boats and drowned alongside his mother and his brother. Every day, two Alan Kurdis die on this journey. And, you know, the picture of Alan Kurdi certainly drew a lot of attention. It horrified us all. And for a brief moment, it united us in a sense that we have to do something about this crisis. Well, we still have to do something about this crisis. And part of what we need to do about this crisis, the most important part, is making safe and legal ways for people to seek asylum, to get out of the horrors of war, to provide them with the opportunity to educate their children, because those children represent the future of Syria. And there—just in Turkey, there are 400,000 children, Syrian children, out of school—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain!
PETER BOUCKAERT: —missing out on an education, having fled from Syria. So, we need to address this real crisis in the region. You know, even with the projections of the European Union for 2015, 2016 and 2017, the refugees reaching Europe would represent 0.4 percent of the population of Europe. That’s one out of 250 people. You know, in Lebanon, one out of four people is a refugee, a Syrian refugee. So, Europe is not being flooded by refugees, and certainly the world is not being flooded by Syrian refugees. We can—this is not a capacity problem. It’s a political problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the U.S. should do! What are the numbers of refugees the U.S. has taken and should take?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, the U.S. takes 70,000 refugees a year, and many of them come from places like Syria and Somalia and Iraq. President Obama has now promised to take 10,000 more Syrian refugees a year. Those people will be carefully screened, and I am certain that they will contribute to American society. You know, I’ve been stunned by the number of doctors and engineers and business leaders that I’ve met on this journey. These people are not coming to take welfare. They want to come and contribute to our societies. They want to build a new future for themselves and for their children. And even in Germany today, the people in the camps, the one thing they ask me for is language books. They want to learn the German language, get out of these camps and start their new lives.
AMY GOODMAN: More than two-dozen U.S. state governors have refused to accept Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks. This is one of them. This is Texas Governor, Greg Abbott.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT: The database on the Syrian side simply does not exist. As a result, to the extent any Syrian refugee is allowed into the country, we are playing the same game of risk that Europe played, with regard to the individual, who entered Europe, who then participated in the terroristic bombing of Paris. As governor of the state of Texas, I will not roll the dice and take the risk on allowing a few refugees in simply to expose Texans to that danger.
Tabacco: Even without Syrians, Texas has the MOST CAPITAL EXECUTIONS of any State! That says More about Texas than it does about its Death Row Prisoners!
With or Without Syrians, if you do NOT LIVE IN TEXAS, you should consider yourself extremely CEREBRAL! I love the Texas Landscape; I abhor Texas’ POLITICIANS & LEGAL SYSTEM!
The Proof of the Pudding is in the EATING – Texans don’t ‘Eat’ well!
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Governor Abbott of Texas. Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, I think the facts speak for themselves. There’s 70,000 refugees coming to the United States every year, and not a single one has been involved in a terrorist incident. The situation in Europe is different. There is chaos right now in terms of the procedures, and Europe does need to put together a coherent refugee policy to deal with these people and to screen them for security reasons. But the reality is that the U.S. has screening procedures in place and a coherent refugee policy, and that these people present no threat to the United States.
Tabacco: Republican Politicos always use this convoluted, irrational and anti-statistical ‘reasoning’! Instead of reiterating USA History with Immigrants, Abbott uses current ‘European’ history with Immigrants, and then transposes that history to us as if it were ‘OUR’ history! And those GOPer MORONS in Texas never even NOTICE the Transposition!
If you are looking for LOGIC, you should never listen to Republican Politicos – they NEVER give you LOGIC!
AMY GOODMAN: This is Governor Bentley of Alabama.
GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY: And I think the thing that I want to do as governor is to make sure the people of Alabama are safe. And if there is any—if there’s even the slightest risk that the people who are coming in from Syria are not the types of people that we would want them to be, then we can’t take that chance.
Tabacco: If that were the Guiding Principle we observed when deciding who was allowed to enter the USA, the Immigration Total every year would be ZERO!
And if that were the Guiding Principle, nobody would ever get married or adopt a child or vote for a Politician such as Robert Bentley! Although when it comes to voting for Politicians such as Bentley, I find it hard to oppose his ‘principle’!
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. Peter Bouckaert?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Look, I can assure the governor that the people, who are going to come from Syria to the United States, are exactly the kind of people that we will want to welcome to the United States. I’ve met many people on this journey who I would have loved to have as neighbors. They’re people who are fleeing from conflict. And it’s part of a long-standing U.S. tradition to welcome people who need refuge.
AMY GOODMAN: Peter, I was wondering if you can talk about your own work. Just a few of the media descriptions of you, from ABC in Australia, saying, “Many argue [that] Bouckaert is single handedly changing the face of human rights. Traditionally NGOs went into a country after a war, but Bouckaert is one of the first to arrive on the scene, often even before the journalists.” And The Intercept says, “Bouckaert has reported on just about every major war and conflict in the past 20 years. He represents a new type of human rights worker—part journalist, part researcher, full-time producer of the images and words that tell us what’s happening in the stricken places we’d rather not look at.” Tell us what you do.
PETER BOUCKAERT: You know, my job at Human Rights Watch is to draw attention to some of the most ignored crises in the world, in places like the Central African Republic and also now on the refugee crisis. I’m blessed working for an organization which has incredible people dedicated to this work. It’s never done alone. And we do make a difference. I mean, it’s really important that we humanize these stories, that we give the people affected by these crises a voice, whether they’re in the Central African Republic or in the refugee crisis in Europe right now. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. I’m an activist, and my job is about saving lives and protecting people, not just about writing about their deaths later on.
AMY GOODMAN: Martin Luther King used the quote—he was quoting someone else [Theodore Parker]: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. Do you think it’s bending toward justice now in any way in the long run?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Well, I think we are living through very difficult times, in the Middle East and many other parts of the world. But we cannot give up on the struggle for justice and human rights. The many, many people around the world depend on us carrying on the struggle, even in the darkest of times, and we have to stand with them. We have to tell their stories and to continue to fight the struggle.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you say that war is the cause of this surge in refugees?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Certainly war is one of the major causes, why so many people are fleeing, but also repression and corruption. You know, I think it’s important to link these different concepts. You know, the situation in places like Eritrea and Egypt and Syria and Libya also has a lot to do with corruption and the fact that some people are profiting from the suffering of others.
Tabacco: Sorry to burst Refugees’ ‘Bubble’, but if they want to escape Repression and Corruption, the USA is the last place on Earth they should come!
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Bouckaert, you are from Brussels, from Belgium. That has been under intense scrutiny now with the Paris attackers. Explain Brussels to us!
PETER BOUCKAERT: You know, several of the attackers have come from a marginalized suburb of Brussels called Molenbeek, where the attack appears to have been planned and where many other prior terrorist attacks were also planned. It’s also a weapons shipment—a place where weapons are very easily available.
And I think there’s two lessons to be drawn from this aspect. The first is that it’s—and that’s an important lesson for the United States. When we do take refugees—or migrants, for that matter—it’s very important to integrate them into our societies, to give them the language skills and the support they need to become productive members of our societies. And one of the gravest mistakes that Europe has made, several decades ago, is to put people in these marginalized ghettos, basically, where extremism has built. So that’s why it’s so dangerous, the policies that U.S. governors are adopting, because they cannot stop these refugees from coming to their states—that’s a federal decision—but they can stop them from having the support they need to be integrated into their communities, and that could actually present a threat in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about Molenbeek.
PETER BOUCKAERT: So, it is a neighborhood where weapons are easily available.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Because Belgium has been a center for the illegal weapons trade for decades. It’s where shipments to conflicts like Angola traditionally have taken off. And that commerce has led to the easy availability of weapons. And that is a very dangerous development, because for just a few thousand dollars, you can buy Kalashnikovs and other weapons of war on the black market in Belgium.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised when you heard about this connection between the Paris attackers, some of them, and Molenbeek in Brussels, Belgium?
PETER BOUCKAERT: I was not really surprised, because I’ve been working on the Syrian conflict for many years, and we have seen many people from these areas of Belgium and France heading to fight in Syria. And, you know, there’s been this focus on this fake passport, when Europe really should be focusing more on the marginalized Muslim communities at home and try to better meet their needs, make sure that young people are educated and have jobs available, because the reality is that the majority of these people who carried out the Paris attacks were French citizens—some of them resident in Molenbeek—who have been living in France all of their lives.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the solution to the conflict in Syria?
PETER BOUCKAERT: You know, the conflict in Syria is a very difficult conflict to resolve. It ultimately needs a political solution. And one of the aspects which is really important is to reassure various minority communities, including the Christians and the Assyrians and the Yazidis, as well as the Alawites, who are the power base of President Bashar al-Assad, that there is a future for them in Syria, because many of them are supporting the Syrian government not because they like the policies of Assad, but because they’re fearful for the future. And they have every reason to be, because if we look at what happened in Iraq, many of these communities were wiped out. The Yazidis and the Christians just in the last year lost most of their villages.
But there’s other aspects, as well. You know, two years ago, I helped organize a conference for women from Syria in Geneva, together with women’s rights activist Madeleine Rees. And it was really the first time that women had had a voice in the peace process. You know, we brought this proposal to the diplomats, and they were like, “That’s a great idea”.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was the proposal?
PETER BOUCKAERT: It was to have a conference of women to talk about what their vision was for the future of—
AMY GOODMAN: And what was their vision?
PETER BOUCKAERT: Their vision was that women had to be around the table, that we could not just have men with guns around the table. But up to that stage, 50 percent of the population of Syria, their voice had been completely ignored in the peace process for Syria. And that happens time and time again. We need to make sure that not just the people with guns are around the table, that they don’t just buy their chair at the table with blood, but that the moral voices from the community and women, civil society leaders, who have such much more of a vision for the future of Syria—and the Congo and all of these other conflicts—are around the table with a voice.
AMY GOODMAN: You have said that you believe that this fake passport that was planted next to one of the gunmen in Paris, that said they were from Syria but in fact they weren’t, was actually, you believe, a plan of ISIS to make the link.
PETER BOUCKAERT: Yes! You know, ISIS wants people to flock towards its Islamic caliphate. So, it really is a rejection of the ideology of ISIS when people are fleeing from the Islamic caliphate. And I’ve met many people from Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa and Mosul who are fleeing the terror of ISIS. So ISIS does want to get Europe to shut the door in the face of these refugees. It really helps ISIS a lot when Muslims are being seen humiliated on the streets of Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: And the response of France and the United States to bomb Raqqa after the Paris attacks, the incessant now bombing, and now Russia is joining in bombing, after the Russian jetliner, it’s been shown, had a bomb on board. Raqqa, hundreds of thousands of civilians live there still.
PETER BOUCKAERT: Yes! You know, there certainly, unfortunately, has to be probably a military component to confronting ISIS. But I think we constantly need to remind ourselves that we have a lot more in our arsenal than just planes and bombs. And it’s very important to understand that our values as a society, values which are radically opposed to the barbarity of ISIS, values of human rights and respect for people’s dignity and their lives, are our most important tool to fight against this kind of extremism. And what concerns me is that there’s been so much focus on a military response, when actually this is a fight for the hearts and minds of people. And respect for human rights and dignity are fundamental to that.
AMY GOODMAN: Peter Bouckaert, I want to thank you for being with us, Human Rights Watch’s emergencies director, has spent the last few months in the Balkans and Greece speaking to refugees, documenting their plight, refugees coming in from places like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, is here in New York for a day and then headed back out. We thank you for gracing our studios. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us!
Tabacco: I consider myself both a funnel and a filter. I funnel information, not readily available on the Mass Media, which is ignored and/or suppressed. I filter out the irrelevancies and trivialities to save both the time and effort of my Readers and bring consternation to the enemies of Truth & Fairness! When you read Tabacco, if you don’t learn something NEW, I’ve wasted your time.
Tabacco is not a blogger, who thinks; I am a Thinker, who blogs. Speaking Truth to Power!
In 1981′s ‘Body Heat’, Kathleen Turner said, “Knowledge is power”.
T.A.B.A.C.C.O. (Truth About Business And Congressional Crimes Organization) – Think Tank For Other 95% Of World: WTP = We The People