Dirty Wars: A Review of the Oscar-Nominated Documentary

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War is a dirty thing – it always has been and it will continue to be. The fact alone that all wars are fought because of greed or hate is inherently a terrible thing. So, to talk about covert warfare as if it were a shocking and wrong is almost silly, yet here we are.

I am thrilled that Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield has been nominated as an Oscar for Best Documentary this year. I read the book as soon as it was released and was lucky enough to attend the film’s premiere in Los Angeles where Richard Rowley, the director and cinematographer, spoke about the film and had a Q&A. I’ve been trying to convince everyone who will listen and is at all politically inclined to see this film.

Dirty Wars is based on a book by journalist Jeremy Scahill, who also authored the best-selling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army a story that helped to crack the lid of the Blackwater scandal. In some ways, Dirty Wars can be viewed as a continuation of this earlier book.

PHOTO: Dirtywars.org

PHOTO: Dirtywars.org

Dirty Wars provides a focused look at the covert wars around the world that the United States has been involved with since 9/11. When Scahill was a journalist in the near east, he uncovered a number of  signs there was much more going on in the “War on Terror” than was disclosed to the public. After some digging, Scahill discovered the backbone of the covert war in the near east was the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC.

At the time, JSOC was basically unheard of in media circles. The organization was formed after a botched rescue attempt during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980 but has stayed largely under the radar until recently. It took him a long time to even discover who the head of the operation was, at the time General McChrystal.

Eventually, JSOC would become a known figure after the murder of Osama bin Laden. But, JSOC is not a wonderful organization consistently saving the day. JSOC is also responsible for a night raid that resulted in the deaths of innocent people, including a US trained police commander named Mohammed Soaud Sharabuddin. This is just one example Scahill uses to paint a bloody picture of the organization. The film shows that night raids have become commonplace, resulting in countless innocent deaths and despite a lack of media reporting, at some points these attacks may have even occurred nightly.

JSOC is just one of the many topics covered in the film, and in the much more detailed book. The film also goes into great detail about the radicalization of the US born Anwar al Awlaki and the subsequent murder of him and his son, Abdulrahman, by drone strikes, the first known Americans killed in this conflict without due process of law. The film also covers the wars in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and offers details about drone strikes.

PHOTO: Dirtywars.org

PHOTO: Dirtywars.org

I do not believe that simply spreading the knowledge of what is taking place will stop the dirty wars in the near east, but without accountability innocent people are killed and brushed under the rug. Without constant pressure from the people our military is “protecting” they will take our “protection” too far and continue to give some validity to those who hate America for what we are doing to their families and friends, and will continue to commit heinous acts like Abu Gharib without real consequence. While the protesters against drone strikes have not ended the drone wars, they keep enough pressure on the government to prevent the program from expanding until there are enough voices to shut it down or a new program to take its place.

There have been some other extremely compelling documentaries released this year,  including the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing which features Indonesian death squad leaders reenacting murders they committed.  Blackfish, which I reviewed here, was also a strong contender that was short-listed for nomination, but didn’t make the final cut.

But Dirty Wars stands out for its music and filmography, in addition to presenting a compelling story that deserves to be heard. While I would first and foremost recommend reading the book, it is a long and in-depth read if you take time to absorb all the details; the more easily digestible film is a wonderful answer to spreading the darker side of the near east conflict. It is currently available for viewing on Netflix.