When Jeremy Scahill, National Security Correspondent for The Nation magazine decided to investigate a night-time raid in Afghanistan which killed 7 people (including a police commander and 2 pregnant women) he tugged on a very long and tangled piece of string, which lead right to the heart of the United State’s covert war operations. Review of Dirty Wars after the jump.
Jeremy Scahill is no stranger to controversy. A war correspondent for more than a decade, he has covered countless overseas conflicts, and uncovered some rather revealing information about the operations of the United States government and associated bodies. In 2007 his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Arm, exposed the actions of Blackwater, and their activities surrounding the growth in security contracting in the so-called War on Terror. So when he had a hunch that something was amiss with night-time raids that were being conducted in Afghanistan, it was a safe bet he was onto something. What Scahill discovered is far bigger, and goes far deeper, than he could have imagined.
At the time very little was known about the Joint Security Operations Command [JSOC] and their directive. Through painstaking investigations over a considerable time period, Scahill discovered that this is a unit that operates without boundaries, outside the rules of war and often at the directive of those at the top of the US Defence Department, including the President himself. When Bin Laden was captured and killed in May 2011, the world was introduced to JSOC as national heroes, the finest soldiers there were. While the organisation was now publicly acknowledged, the extent of their operations was still shrouded in secrecy. To call this documentary shocking would be an understatement. What Scahill has discovered goes beyond a rogue mission, or a solider acting inappropriately. He has in fact discovered an organisation which is funded by billions of tax payer dollars to commit assassinations outside of the rules of war, and without any accountability to the public. This includes the targeted killings of US citizens in foreign nations.
In Dirty Wars we see the personal price that Scahill has paid to tug the end of string. He put himself in considerable danger, travelling to some of the world’s most volatile places and meeting with some incredibly dangerous men. The lengths he went to in search of the truth are truly astounding. When you see him ducking behind a Sudanese warlord while his men exchange gunfire over a wall in front of him, you know this is no joke. He also meets with victim’s families, local leaders and others who either witnesses the attacks, or have extensive knowledge about the local areas and people. It’s an emotional journey, with an unfathomable number of disturbing truths being uncovered along the way. I it found refreshing that Scahill admitted that there could be more to it. At times he was making calculated assessments based on his experience and evidence had assembled. There are always two sides to every story, but if even only 1/10 of the side Scahill presents is the true, it is still truly disturbing.
Dirty Wars won the Cinematography Award (U.S. Documentary) at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and it’s easy to see why. The photography in this film is stunning. Gorgeous landscapes, harsh environments, broken people, bullet-ridden bodies – we see it all. I liked how the film played with exposure, using softer colours when the subject called for a gentler approach, and over exposing some of the more confronting scenes. The sparse use of music was also extremely effective – the story was enough, it didn’t need anything else to make an impact.
Dirty Wars is gritty, hardcore investigative journalism at its most pure. Scahill had a hunch, and he followed it right to the heart of the US Administration.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Rick Rowley
Writer(s): David Riker, Jeremy Scahill
Runtime: 90 minutes