Dirty Wars

Dirty Wars

2013, NR, 87 min. Directed by Richard Rowley. Narrated by Jeremy Scahill.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 28, 2013

The subject and narrator of this documentary, Jeremy Scahill, is a journalist who’s always on the lookout for unreported or underreported stories. He is the National Security Correspondent for The Nation and the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. While in Kabul, Afghanistan, investigating the war on terror, the growing number of mysterious night raids on civilian targets started to pique his interest. The nightly raids listed in the NATO press releases seemed to him like “a map of a hidden war.” He visited one of the sites in Gardez, outside the relative safety of the Green Zone, and discovered the grieving survivors of a raid which killed women, children, and an Afghan police officer, who told Scahill that their attackers all wore beards, dug out their bullets from the corpses, prevented them from taking their loved ones to the hospital, and then removed the surviving men from the area. The survivors described the soldiers as “American Taliban.” As Scahill pulled at this thread and followed other leads, he discovered the supersecret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a unit formed in 1980 to conduct airstrikes and targeted killing anywhere in the world at the command of the United States president. After the killing of Osama bin Laden, the operations of JSOC became more widely known and scrutinized, but this unit is at the heart of what Scahill describes as our country’s “dirty wars.”

It’s compelling journalism and a fascinating story with which all Americans should familiarize themselves – especially as drones and airstrikes occur with greater frequency and spread to countries such as Somalia, Yemen, and beyond. Also critical to Scahill is President Obama (who has employed JSOC more than any previous administration) and his authorization of JSOC to take out an American citizen, as in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki. There may be a little too much emphasis on Scahill in the film: When director Rowley has no relevant footage to exemplify the points being made, he resorts to shots of Scahill staring through car windows or poking at his laptop, which has the effect of making the journalist more the story than the actual reportage. A score written and performed by the Kronos Quartet heightens the film’s ominous tone. This is a film you skip seeing at your own risk.

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