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Dirty Wars – Review

Dirty Wars is an 2013 documentary by Jeremy Scahill and directed by Rick Rowley concerning the activities of the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

This is a guest post by David Durham.

Dirty Wars: Logline

When journalist Jeremy Scahill investigates a raid in Afghanistan that has been blamed on the Taliban, he discovers it was actually carried out by a secretive US special force. He tries to peel back the layers of secrecy that the US government have placed around the process that authorises the “kill list” for assassination.

Dirty Wars: Summary

In a darkened theater a man sits speaking to Jeremy Scahill, an investigative reporter.  The man’s identity is unknown, but what is known is that he comes from somewhere deep within the United State’s security apparatus.  His voice is a hushed whisper of a thing, but his words send chills down your spine.

“We’ve created one hell of a hammer and for the rest of our lives we’ll be looking for nails.”

The hammer he refers to is our intelligence network, a network with tentacles that span the globe.  We’ve spent billions creating this shadowy thing and it has become increasingly powerful with very little notice.  Jeremy Scahill attempts to shed some light on this hidden entity in his documentary Dirty Wars.

Dirty Wars begins with Mr. Scahill investigating an incident in Afghanistan.  In a small Afghan village called Gardez several people attending a wedding have been gunned down.  The family says it was Americans who did the shooting, but NATO claims the dead are victims of a Taliban ‘Honor Killing’.

As Scahill digs it becomes increasingly clear that US forces carried out a ‘Night Raid’ in Gardez.  Night raids were/are common in both Iraq and Afghanistan during our wars in those countries.  Though the tactical approach to these raids was backed up with state of the art equipment used by highly trained individuals the strategic impact of these actions hasn’t been terribly positive.  In the ever present effort to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of civilian populations the raids appear to have been highly counterproductive.  In the case of Gardez it looks like our forces created there a pocket of the population in Afghanistan that will hate Americans for the rest of their lives.

And the big picture problem is that Gardez was just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of such actions.  This tiny village was a nail upon which one hell of a hammer fell.

The action in Gardez was apparently the work of a shadowy arm of our military called JSOC.  Some light fell on JSOC when Osama Bin Laden was killed and in this light it sparkled like a diamond.  But like a diamond all its facets are not easily seen.  For quite some time the killings at Gardez were denied, then admitted with rather crass rationalizations.  JSOC’s role in the operation is now acknowledged, as well as its role in the elimination of the men in the famous ‘Deck of Cards’ exercises in Iraq.

And boy does it have gadgets, enough to make ‘Q’ of James Bond fame green with envy. Because JSOC is a secret army with a license to kill.  Its targets are on lists sitting in a file somewhere in the White House, what it does is largely unknown, and it does its work with little oversight.

Dirty Wars raises questions Americans need to ask.  Where’s the balance between security and freedom?  When is secrecy appropriate?  And is the War on Terror really making us safer?

Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill

Dirty Wars: Analysis

As a citizen of the United States I’m conflicted.  I want to think of those who serve in our armed forces as heroes, more or less, and it’s very difficult to criticize our military on any level.  But atrocities have occurred in the past decade in our overseas military operations, and our drone program has killed many innocent people.

Worse, the tactical efficiency of our actions isn’t matched by strategic success.  It appears that killing terrorists isn’t bringing their numbers down, in fact, it seems like every death labeled ‘collateral damage’ spawns more hatred of America than it eliminates.

Dirty Wars is about real spying.  John Le Carre himself called it ‘totally convincing’.  The film is thought provoking in the right way.  It shows a journalist doing his job.  That job is to dig up facts related to a story and go where the facts take him.  It’s not a hatchet job, and I didn’t come away from the film thinking our leaders are a bunch of evil bastards. Our national security is more complicated than that.

Dirty Wars: My Verdict

Perhaps most importantly, Dirty Wars asks whether we, as American citizens, can and should take responsibility for the hammer being wielded in our name.

Want to Watch it?

Here’s the trailer:

Dirty Wars is available on Netflix here.

The book it is based on, called Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, is available on Amazon US here and Amazon UK here.

Agree? Disagree?

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