If you follow the news, particularly political news, you have probably heard of the name Jeremy Scahill. He’s the reporter who wrote the book on Blackwater, the military contracting firm whose secret mercenaries became the subject of a Congressional inquiry. With Dirty Wars, a new and highly compelling documentary, investigative journalist Scahill turns his attention to the Joint Special Operations Command, or J.S.O.C..
Covert operations is a dirty business. With secret policies that began under the Bush administration, and expanded rather than diminished under the Obama administration, Dirty Wars goes to great lengths to discuss and expose things that are hidden in plain sight. Under the direction of Richard Rowley, the film unfolds like a thriller/mystery and keeps you riveted. It’s not what we want to hear, but to turn away is the equivalent of simply brushing an inconvenient truth under the carpet.
The film takes us around the globe as we follow reporter Scahill in search of the truth behind the rumors of concealed night raids; soldiers, secretly operating with the full co-operation of the White House, conducting clandestine operations, often resulting with locals calling them, and ultimately us, the American Taliban.
In Afghanistan we learn how during the day our military is helping to dig roads, build schools and generally assist the local population get back on its feet after years of war. It’s the reason why we assume we’re still there. But then we learn how during the night, villagers initially thought that they were being raided by the Taliban, but it was, in fact, covert American soldiers conducting raids with the thinnest of evidence and killing many innocents in the process.
Local police are interviewed and talk of secret raids by American soldiers who come into the villages without reporting their activities to local authorities and basically shooting several innocent bystanders in the process. “If Americans do this again,” says one local villager, “We are ready to shed our blood.”
We learn how, in this particular instance, the secret military realized they had shot innocents, so they took moves to cover it up. They proceeded to take the bullets out of the bodies with knives. Once they had cleared the victims of incriminating evidence they allowed the locals to take the remaining survivors to the hospital. The official word was that the Taliban had lead a series of honor executions, but it was not true; it was us. Dirty Wars asks the question, who are these Americans who invaded these homes and why did they go to such great lengths to cover up their actions? When reporters tried to expose the story and report back to the government, Washington wasn’t interested.
The film takes us around the globe as we follow Scahill to Kenya, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Washington. In Yemen we learn how on thin evidence JSOC went on a secret military raid and killed so many women and children that when local reporters tried to investigate they were blocked and made to print an official report that the massacre was really the work of terrorists. In Afghanistan, the soldiers went to great lengths to hide their story, but in Yemen the clues were everywhere to the point where the soldiers didn’t even bother. A respected Yemen reporter tried to publicly report the story, but was arrested by American forces and silenced. When Yemen considered releasing the reporter, the documentary points out that it was President Obama himself who personally called Yemen requesting to keep the reporter arrested.
Dirty Wars is the kind of documentary that should be seen. It makes us uncomfortable, awkward, and perhaps even outraged. But the truth is, we’re rarely treated to real investigative journalism in the way Scahill operates. The film doesn’t take political sides. This is neither a left nor right issue and shouldn’t be seen as such – both parties come off badly; one started it, the other continues it – but if you ever find yourself asking the question, “Why do they hate us so much?” and you’re left wondering why is it that the very people we are trying to protect turn against us, Dirty Wars goes a long way in answering that question.
MPAA Rating: Unrated. Length: 87 minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)