They say that ignorance is bliss. But if you care about the truth, as Georgetown students usually do, Dirty Wars, which opens only in select theaters, is a must-see. A documentary that follows investigative journalist JeremyScahill on a truth-seeking journey into America’s shadowy warfare in the name of counter-terrorism, Dirty Wars will leave you dazed and doubtful about the way you used to view the world.
Dirty Wars opens with Scahill’s venture beyond the boundaries set up by NATO in Kabul, Afghanistan. Within the confines of the “safe zone” in Kabul, everything goes on peacefully, and U.S. soldiers drink tea with tribal leaders. “But I knew I was missing the story,” says Scahillin voiceover. He finds his story in Gardez, just 60 miles south of Kabul, but in what seems to be another world. A remote village known by few, Gardez becomes a dangerous place when night falls, as the Taliban seizes control and rains gunfire. While peaceful Kabul has been seen in the media time and time again, the story of Gardez has never before been told.
What Scahill finds is the story of a family attacked by American troops during a night raid in the midst of a celebration for a child’s birth. Five family members — including two pregnant women and a U.S.-trained Afghan police commander — died in the raid
The tragedy was likely a result of false intelligence, but what alerts Scahill is a gritty phone video that recorded voices of American soldiers trying to piece together a completely altered story in an attempt to cover up the incident. They also tried to erase their tracks by digging bullets out of the dead bodies. Among the images presented to Scahill is one of a U.S. admiral, McRaven, wearing a badge unfamiliar to Schaill: JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command.
JSOC became famous after its assassination of Osama Bin Laden, but little is known about its covert history, both at the time of Scahill’s reporting and now. However, Scahill, unable to forget the Gardez story, digs deeper into JSOC, traveling from Afghanistan to Somalia to Yemen and finds chilling facts about the unit, demonstrating the sheer power and scope that they have acquired through the years, and how its actions sometimes infringe on individual freedoms and human rights.
The documentary is filmed in the style of a detective story, (which means that it will be no fun for me to give away any more of the plot), and Rick Rowley’s fantastic cinematography, combined with Scahill’s charisma, as both a central character and the narrator, almost bring to mind a real-life version of Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo.
More importantly, the film is worth watching not only because of its outstanding style, but because of its substance. Jeremy Scahill is an award-winning journalist, famous for his last book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His journalistic work in Dirty Wars is just as solid. Although the incidents covered in the documentary — drone strikes in Yemen, the assassination of American citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki — are no longer unknown to the public, Scahill manages to delve much deeper than the mainstream media to find precious sources that back up his stories.
In the end, Dirty Wars is a story about two warfares: one, the War on Terror, and the other, against journalists like Jeremy Scahill, who fight for the truth. In the film, Scahill speaks of his own experience with the surveillance and threats from high-up authorities in his quest for the answer. He also talks about Yemeni journalist Abudelelah Haider Shaye, who was the first to report on the U.S. drone strike in Yemen and was then kept in solitary confinement under the wish of President Obama.
Dirty Wars is not a Hollywood film with a happy ending, nor does it offer an easy answer. No solution is presented for the problems portrayed. But if you wish to see the world as it really is, instead of what you believe it to be, watch Dirty Wars for an eye-opening look into events you only thought you fully understood.