Jeremy Scahill, National Security correspondent for The Nation magazine, joined Tuesday’s NOW With Alex Wagner panel to discuss his upcoming documentary, “Dirty Wars,” which focuses on the hidden world of U.S. covert military operations in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.
The film explores the rising use of Special Forces during the Obama administration, which operate under the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
JSOC, established in 1980, has been transformed under the last two presidents from a rarely used hostage rescue team to the country’s most elite fighting force. It now conducts covert operations in over 75 countries and numbers approximately 25,000.
Under President Obama, “JSOC became the counterterrorism policy–not just the implementers of it, but the policy itself,” Scahill said. “These are guys that are used to operating in the shadows with very little or minimal effective congressional oversight and they also have a streamlined pipe right to the commander-in-chief.”
Scahill said the president started to embrace JSOC following the use of SEAL Team Six in the 2009 rescue of the Maersk Alabama after it was hijacked by Somali pirates.
“I’m told by my sources that after that happened, Obama really embraced JSOC and was sort of in awe of their capacity and really started to give them broad authorization to conduct what is called kinetic operations in a variety of countries, particularly in Yemen.”
The same group was later famously used to assassinate al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The film explores the darker side of Special Forces operations, including a night raid in Gardez, Afghanistan, which resulted in the deaths of five innocent Afghan civilians.
Alex Wagner asked Scahill what he thought President Obama’s legacy would be when it came to balancing national security and civil liberties.
“I think the net result of the Obama presidency on the counterterrorism front is that he’s going to go down in history as the president who legitimized and systematized a process by which the United States asserts the right to conduct assassination operations around the world,” Scahill said.
“Dirty Wars” opens in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles June 7 and is available on iTunes June 14.