Title: Dirty Wars
Director: Rick Rowley
Screenwriter: David Riker, Jeremy Scahill
Cast: Jeremy Scahill, Nasser Al Aulaqi, Saleha Al Aulaqi, Muqbal Al Kazemi, Abdul Rahman Barman, Andrew Exum
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 5/15/13
Opens: June 7, 2013
Documentarians are generally to the left of center politically. Think of Michael Moore, who has attacked corporations like General Motors and the Congress for refusing to insure our medical health as do European nations. Think of Morgan Spurlock, who attacked McDonald’s, using himself as a guinea pig to demonstrate the lack of nutrition in that food corporation’s fare. Along comes Rick Rowley who in “Dirty Wars” focuses on Jeremy Scahill, author of the best-selling “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” As a reporter for Nation magazine, perhaps the most popular hard left periodical in the U.S., Scahill takes on the U.S. government for its support of JSOC, or Joint Special Operations Command, which has conducted 1700 raids on America’s so-called enemies. And that means not just our adversaries in Afghanistan but those in countries in which we have no declared wars, Somalia and Yemen being prime examples.
As a war correspondent Scahill is anything but the kind of journalist who hangs out with others of his ilk in four-star hotels. He’s out there in the field, risking his neck by accompanying Somali warlords in Mogadishu who are loyal to the U.S. and sitting in circles in Kabul and out in far more dangerous Afghan areas to hear the complaints of Afghans who have lost their families through JSOC raids. JSOC, no longer a military secret, is an elite group of soldiers in an organization that reports directly to the White House and whose very existence was heretofore denied.
In what may well be the most hard-hitting documentary critical of U.S. military actions around the world, “Dirty Wars” does not find interviewers sitting around a table in some hotel gassing about vague philosophies. Instead we see Scahill—who appears to live in a one of the less hip areas of Wiliamsburg, Brooklyn (when he is at home or working on his laptop in an unfashionable coffee house)—drinking mint tea with Afghan people who, were they less rational than they are, would feel justified in killing any American in their sights. One particular band of locals speaks of the raid in which a pregnant woman and children in Gardez village were killed by JSOC. No explanation is provided, no apology is given by the U.S. This looks to us like a collateral damage, but who knows? We may conclude that the U.S. is turning people into terrorists by targeting innocents. One Afghan even calls these JSOC people The American Taliban.
In the most controversial execution at the hands of JSOC, U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki is targeted as “the next Osama bin Laden,” though he had been a loyal American until he became radicalized, thereafter spending his energy denouncing the U.S. and encouraging jihad. There is no evidence that he planned violence against our soldiers as did bin Laden, and what’s more, putting salt on the wound, his 16-year-old son was killed in a drone strike as if to say that we believed he was capable of filling his dad’s shoes. Remember that Americans are supposed to be brought home for trial, whether military or civilian, and not simply taken out by a covert operation albeit one that gets its authority directly from the U.S. President.
There you have it: our country is committing crimes that could be compared to Mai Lai in Vietnam where innocent villagers were gunned down in cold blood. Yet, have we put a dent in the potency of our enemies? On the contrary, the film implies: new antagonists will ensure that the wars in which we are involved and in which we are not supposed to be involved become endless.
Archival film taken from infrared instruments is solid and is the soundtrack provided by a string quartet.
Unrated. 87 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-