Netflix Instant Classic: Dirty Wars

Genre: Documentary, Political

Who’s in it? Jeremy Scahill

You’ll like it if… You have reservations about the War on Terror, you just want to see some real reporting for a change.

I woke up this morning and started watching “Meet the Press.” The topics were tabloid, the panelists were petty, and the discussion was shallow.

And this is the high end of mainstream political discourse in the United States.

So, it’s refreshing to watch a movie like Dirty Wars, written and produced by a journalist who went where he wasn’t supposed to go, and asked questions he wasn’t supposed to ask.

Jeremy Scahill is a legitimate journalist – a rare thing to find in the “information” age.

In 1998 he want to  Nigeria, where he investigated Chevron’s role in killing two environmental activists. A year later, he traveled to Belgrade to report firsthand on the war in Kosovo.   And throughout the 2000s, he ventured to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he covered the U.S. war effort.

His first book,  Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, was an international best-seller that detailed the private military contractor’s role in the Iraq war .

However, it’s his second book, Dirty Wars: The Word Is a Battlefield, that forms the basis of this movie.

Dirty Wars starts in Afghanistan where a nighttime raid conducted by U.S. special forces goes terribly wrong.

Believing some 50 Taliban members are present, U.S. troops crash a wedding of Afghani civilians, shooting one innocent man (a high-ranking member of the U.S.-trained security force at that) and two pregnant women.

After attempting to cover up the crime the soldiers flee, leaving a broken family in their wake.

Alone, this incident would be tragic enough. But, as Scahill finds, similar incidents are occurring all around the globe, many in countries where the United States isn’t officially conducting military operations.

In Yemen, a U.S. cruise missile, ostensibly targeting supposed terrorists, kills more civilians. And in Somalia, warlords discreetly acknowledge taking money and arms from U.S. suppliers to fight as proxies.

As the movie unfolds it becomes clear that the U.S. government has given its special ops unit, JSOC, carte blanche to kill whomever it deems a threat to national security.

Ultimately, this raises two important concerns:

1) A secretive branch of the military has become the judge, jury and executioner for an ever-expanding list of suspected terrorists.

2) The the number of civilian deaths (essentially murders committed by the U.S. government)  is rising along with the scope of the raids.

These are very real concerns.

It’s now estimated that three civilians are killed for every one person of interest targeted in a special forces strike. That fact is not only brutal, it’s dangerous. It’s damaging to the reputation and credibility of the United States, and it’s creating more terrorists, as the family members of the fallen seek retribution.

This is highlighted by Scahill’s visit to the family in Afghanistan, whose surviving members weep over pictures of their dead family members and swear revenge against the “American Taliban.”

Equally disturbing is that these operations are all the work of a single specialized unit. There’s no transparency or accountability,  just an ever expanding list of targets.

Indeed, since the start of the Iraq war the list of  JSOC’s “terrorist” targets has grown from 55, to 200, to more than 2,000.

That includes one American citizen whose only crime is speaking out against and inciting violence toward the United States.

Given that, it’s easy to see why Scahill is nervous. Civilian deaths aside, he worries that these targeted assassinations – which are rapidly expanding in both number and reach – contradict America’s founding principles and corrode to our moral core.

Yet, as Scahill notes, it’s JSOC that hunts down and kills Osama bin Laden. And that’s where the debate comes in.

No doubt, Scahill’s critique is valid. His criticisms of JSOC can’t be dismissed, but neither can the threat of legitimate terrorists like Osama bin Laden.

So the questions linger…

What degree of injustice abroad will the American public tolerate for the sake of domestic security?

Should the unit behind these operations continue to operate with no oversight or accountability?

Will these missions ever end or will they go on in perpetuity?

Are we creating more terrorists than we’re killing?

Is there a chance, however small, that the practice of preemptively killing American “terrorists” overseas one day comes home?

These are difficult questions and they may not have any answers at all – much less clean-cut ones.

But at least Jeremy Scahill is asking them. That’s more than I can say for David Gregory, Meet the Press, and the rest of mainstream American media.

So if you have the stomach for it, give it a watch and make up your own mind.

Note: The trailer for this movie sucks, so here’s Jeremy Scahill talking about it on Real Time.

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