Media,  Your View

Scahill’s heyday

Cross-posted from Lerterland

[Previous post on Jeremy Scahill here.]

Given the troubling involvement of Blackwater in the current Afpak campaign, we’ll probably be hearing a lot more from Jeremy Scahill, described by Spencer Ackerman as Blackwater’s “most dogged journalistic pursuer.”

One thing to keep in mind about Scahill is that he’s actually quite sympathetic toward gun-toting, unaccountable thugs who threaten civilians as part of doing business.

As long as those thugs are from Somalia.

Scahill puts the word “pirates” in scare quotes throughout this piece from April 2009. Drawing in part from the often admirable Johann Hari (who is out to lunch on this particular topic), Scahill tries to portray the pirates as noble protectors of a sort. They’ve been driven to this lifestyle, we’re told, by Somalia’s political and economic collapse and the consequent exploitation of Somalia’s waters.

In two important respects, Scahill’s case has merit. Back in April, right-wing nuts in the U.S. called for the one captured pirate from the Maersk Alabama incident to be imprisoned at Guantanamo, in keeping with the previous administration’s approach. Such calls should be answered with ridicule. Also, yes, the piracy epidemic can’t be fully understood outside the context of Somalia’s collapse.

But piracy is still crime, and these men are not environmentalists, concerned more than anything with “Western ships allegedly dumping waste off the Somali coast and devastating the Somali fishing industry….” They are kidnappers and extortionists who keep their hostages — men and women of all nationalities — in a state of torment, with price tags on their very lives.

Scahill writes: “Remember, some Somalis — and other international observers — do not exactly see the ‘pirates’ as being 100% unjustified in their actions.” A rather vague statement and a curious one from a reporter who begins his piece by thundering against recent U.S. legal abuses. What if we were to say: “Remember, some Americans do not exactly see the Bush administration as being 100% unjustified in its actions.” That would be an understatement, and needless to say it would not carry any weight with Scahill, nor should it. It’s well and good to note that some Somalis support the pirates — no kidding, as Somalis back on land usually receive shares of ransom payments. But this has no moral or legal bearing on the issue whatsoever.

Scahill is nuanced in his pirate apologetics compared to others, like New York City Councilman Charles Barron, who recently declared: “And how dare you, Barack Obama, how dare you go to Africa, kill three Somalians for trying to protect their water when an American boat went into Somalian waters.” But at bottom, the argument is essentially the same.

More than most advocacy journalists of the far left, Scahill has had a lot of success mainstreaming himself, enough to appear on Bill Maher and Olbermann and Maddow. This is of course because his work on Blackwater is of genuine value. But on his Rebel Reports site, Scahill still announces his ties to the likes of Counterpunch, which retails blatantly antisemitic conspiracy theories, and Socialist Worker, the rag of the International Socialist Organization, a sub-mental Marxist sect which recently printed an extensive, laughably ill-informed and morally repugnant reader comment openly supporting the Taliban. Make of it what you will.