Film Review: Dirty Wars

ALI MUSTAFA | August 21st 2013

Canadian Dimension

In Dirty Wars, acclaimed investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill takes on what is likely the most important story of his career. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Rick Rowley, the film follows Scahill to Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond to reveal a new kind of frontline in the global ‘war on terror’—one led by a secret army in the shadows where the basic rules of war do not apply. According to Scahill, “this is a story about the seen and unseen, and about things hidden in plain sight.”

Scahill first takes us to Gardez, Afghanistan, a small village a world away from the safety and comfort of the ‘Green Zone’ in Kabul. There he interviews a man whose home was targeted in a mysterious night raid that left five of his family members dead, including three women, two of them pregnant. A grainy cell phone video taken at the scene reveals that the bullets in the corpses were carefully removed in an attempt to cover up the incident. Clearly, this was not the work of amateurs.

Who could have possibly carried out this incredibly sophisticated military operation, and why did they go to such horrifying lengths to cover it up?

The investigation takes Scahill all the way to the top of the White House military chain of command, leading him directly to the US President’s own elite force: Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Gardez, it appears, was only one small piece of a far larger story. Outside of any officially declared warzone, US drone strikes, targeted assassinations, and covert military operations are taking place in countries all over the world with total impunity. As Scahill reminds us, “The world has become America’s battlefield, and we can go everywhere.”

Perhaps the most powerful part of the film focuses on the story of radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011. Targeted for his fiery sermons against the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he became the first American to be placed on President Obama’s secret ‘kill list’ and assassinated without due process. Two weeks later his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also an American, suffered the same fate in a separate US drone strike. “Not for who he was,” argues Scahill, “but for who he might one day become.”

Osama bin Laden’s assassination did not spell the end of the global ‘war on terror’ but merely opened a new chapter—one that has dramatically expanded since President Obama came into office in 2009. In a war without defined frontlines, winnable objectives, or end in sight, the echoes of Gardez can be heard everywhere. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, for every ‘terrorist’ the US kills, it only helps create dozens more.

Dirty Wars provides a raw and gripping exposé on the dark side of US foreign policy in the post-9/11 era. Relying on key eyewitness accounts, interviews with US military insiders, and Scahill’s own personal narrative, the film is a haunting journey into the heart of the global ‘war on terror’. The result is a critical and timely reminder on the fundamental dangers of unchecked government power.

Ali Mustafa is a freelance writer, photographer, and multimedia journalist. His work can be found at: Follow him on Twitter at: @_fbtm