Director: Rick Rowley
Writers: Rick Rowley and Jeremy Scahill
With: Jeremy Scahill
The tagline for Dirty Wars is “A secret army. A war without end. A journalist determined to uncover the truth.” The secret army is the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The war without end is the war on terror. The journalist determined to uncover the truth is Jeremy Hill.
Jeremy Scahill is a war correspondent who works for The Nation magazine and is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He has reported from conflict zones in the former Yugoslav countries, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc. He is most definitely courageous in the pursuit of a story and the truth.
The story he pursues in Dirty Wars starts in a small town in a corner of Afghanistan. There one night US soldiers fly in and perform a raid that leaves numerous Afghanis dead–men, women, and children. In researching those deaths, Scahill learns the assailants removed the bullets from the bodies of the dead and any other evidence of their involvement. When it comes out that Americans were in fact responsible he discovers a video of a US Admiral who came to the town to offer apologies.
But who was this Admiral whose name appeared in no records of military personnel in the area? Later Scahill would learn the identity of the man and the organization he runs, JSOC. An organization setup to “find, fix, and finish” their targets. An organization that was established in 1980 and reports directly to the President of the United States. An organization whose remit and authority has grown significantly with each passing year during the war on terror.
Though Dirty Wars is a documentary, its look is very cinematic–too much so. The color correcting and post production work employed makes you feel as if you are viewing a feature and not a documentary. The obvious danger Scahill is in in Somalia and under fire in war zones is neutered because you feel you are watching a well shot and lit movie.
Also, the story is off-putting because of its heavy handedness. Instead of letting the facts of the story affect the audience, Scahill and the director, Rick Rowley, always seem to show a young child or senior citizen after every US raid (i.e. the US is always bad and the attacked always innocent). The documentary comes across as a propaganda piece that actually causes the opposite reaction. Instead of making you think about what the US is doing across the globe in the name of security, you actually are proud of what they US is accomplishing. These specific events the documentarians are showing come across as just collateral damage the filmmakers are exploiting.
Dirty Wars should have been a documentary that appealed to me. I am a fiscally conservative socially liberal registered Republican who voted for Kerry over Bush only because I was against the President’s use of the “enemy combatant” status on captives or suspected terrorists. I am a person who is absolutely against the ordered killing of American citizens in foreign lands even if they are known terrorist and actively plotting against the country without due process. And with all this, I found Dirty Wars to be too skewed to an agenda it wants to beat you over the head with.
Grade = C-