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The Forum to present award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill

RELEASED: Oct. 26, 2010

Jeremy Scahill photo
Jeremy Scahill

EAU CLAIRE — Award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," will speak Nov. 9 for The Forum lecture series at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Widely viewed as one of the world's leading experts on the phenomenon of privatized warfare and the increasing involvement of the private sector in the support and waging of U.S. wars, Scahill will begin his presentation at 7:30 p.m. in Zorn Arena.

Scahill has testified before Congress on the use of mercenary forces in U.S. war zones, and his reporting has been used in numerous Congressional investigations. He is a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute and a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine, reporting and blogging on war contractors — particularly the North Carolina-based mercenary company formerly named Blackwater.

His 2007 book on the company, rebranded Xe Services in 2009 after public and legal scrutiny of its private military work in Iraq and Afghanistan, was called "a crackling exposé" by The New York Times Book Review. "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army" received the prestigious George Polk Award and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. The New York Times bestseller was revised and updated for its 2008 soft-cover release, after the infamous 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisour Square, in which Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians.

In 2009 Scahill published dozens of stories detailing Blackwater's covert operations in Pakistan and its alleged complicity in arms smuggling, tax evasion, manslaughter, murder and war crimes. In April 2010, for his continuous reporting on military contractor abuses and human rights abuses, Scahill received the Izzy Award from Ithaca College's Park Center for Independent Media. Cited were his "persistence, independence and journalistic courage" and "his relentless efforts in 2009 to push these issues into mainstream debate."

"I think part of our role as independent journalists is not only to confront those in power, but to give voice to the voiceless," Scahill said. "We are constantly fighting that uphill battle to pursue these stories that no one else is looking at, against the odds and against a network of individuals that have a vested interest in not having those stories come out."

In recent months Scahill has written about the expansion of the private security force in Iraq under the U.S. Department of State, the expanding U.S. war in Pakistan, and Blackwater's use of shell companies and subsidiaries to obtain contracts for intelligence, training and security services from private corporations and government agencies.

"What I've learned from doing this story is that if you go around the country, if you keep at it, if you beat the drum, if your facts are all in order, and you just keep going, you can have an impact," Scahill has said. "But you can't give up."

On Oct. 14 Scahill began an unembedded trip to Afghanistan, posting on Twitter from Jalalabad and Kabul and appearing live on the Oct. 25 broadcast of MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." Scahill's appearance for The Forum coincides with a torrent of revelations about private security contractors in recent weeks, including the following:

  • In a scathing Oct.7 report the Senate Armed Services Committee found that private contractors hired warlords, Taliban commanders and Iranian spies to provide security at U.S. military outposts in Afghanistan. Detailing "squandered resources and dangerous failures in contractor performance," the report concluded that "the proliferation of private security personnel in Afghanistan is inconsistent with the counterinsurgency strategy."
  • The Oct. 22 release of nearly 400,000 secret field reports from Iraq by WikiLeaks illuminates, wrote The New York Times, that "the war in Iraq spawned a reliance on private contractors on a scale not well recognized at the time and previously unknown in American wars. The documents describe an outsourcing of combat and other duties once performed by soldiers that grew and spread to Afghanistan to the point that there are more contractors there than soldiers."
  • At the beginning of October the government of Afghanistan began to act on its pledge to ban private security companies — including Blackwater — from operating within its borders by the end of the year. On Oct. 25 Scahill tweeted from Afghanistan: "I predict private security firms will be in Afghanistan longer than Karzai's administration."

Based in Brooklyn, N.Y., Scahill was a longtime senior producer and correspondent for the nationally syndicated radio and TV show "Democracy Now!" He reported extensively from Iraq through both the Clinton and Bush administrations, from Yugoslavia during the 1999 NATO bombing and spent years covering the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic's government. He has also reported from Nigeria, where he and colleague Amy Goodman exposed the role of the Chevron oil corporation in the killing of protesting villagers in the oil-rich Niger Delta. Goodman and Scahill shared a George Polk Award for radio reporting.

Traveling around the hurricane zone in the wake of Katrina in 2005, Scahill exposed the presence of Blackwater mercenaries in New Orleans and his reporting sparked a congressional inquiry and an internal Department of Homeland Security investigation.

Scahill was among the only Western reporters to gain access to the Abu Ghraib prison when Saddam Hussein was in power, and his story on the emptying of the prison won a Golden Reel Award for Best National Radio News Story. He also worked in 2000 as a producer for Michael Moore's TV series "The Awful Truth" on the Bravo network.

Established in 1942, The Forum presents the world's greatest minds and imaginations. A typical Forum includes a 60-minute lecture, a 30-minute question-and-answer session, and an open reception. The program will be signed for the deaf and hard of hearing. Assisted listening devices and large print programs are also available upon request.

Tickets are $8 for the public; $6 for those 62 and older and UW System or Chippewa Valley Technical College faculty and staff; and $4 for those 17 and younger and UW System or CVTC students. Student tickets are half price, $2, until the day of the event. On the day of the event, students must pay the full student ticket price.

Patrons also may charge their tickets to Discover, MasterCard or Visa when ordering by phone. Call 715-836-3727 or, outside the immediate Eau Claire area, call toll-free 800-949-UWEC. A $3 handling fee will be added to all telephone charge orders.

Wisconsin Public Radio and Community Television have contributed generous promotional support for The Forum. The Forum is also funded in part by Visit Eau Claire ... The Unexpected Wisconsin. Best Western Trail Lodge Hotel & Suites (715-838-9989), 3340 Mondovi Road, is The Forum's exclusive accommodations partner.

The Forum is funded by the students of UW-Eau Claire and administered by the Activities and Programs office of the University Centers.

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JS/DW

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