Film: Scahill probes U.S. covert wars

By GAETANA CALDWELL-SMITH

“Dirty Wars,” a documentary film, written by Jeremy Scahill and directed by Rick Rowley. 

The documentary film “Dirty Wars” should sicken, anger, and depress you. Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, who wrote the film, has done his job.

Seems that the United States presidential administration has allowed the CIA to work jointly with a once secret U.S. paramilitary team known as JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) to do its dirty work outside the law.

Since 9-11-2001, and the beefing up of the Patriot Act, JSOC has been authorized to kill anyone carte blanche that the U.S. government determines is intent on doing harm to the United States—politically, militarily, or socially. These suspects are not arrested, and are given no jail time, no trial—just death carried out in secret by this team of uniformed, armed dudes (some dudettes in the future, perhaps) who answer to no one but whomever happens to be in the White House at the time.

Recently, their operations went wider in that they are authorized to kill even U.S. citizens believed to be connected to terrorists in any way, be it through family, a charitable organization, friend, or acquaintance.

Immediately after the U.S. bombed Afghanistan in October 2001, and invaded and shelled Iraq in 2003, Scahill went to these countries on his own with his notebook, a tape recorder, a translator, and a cameraman. He trucked into dangerous provinces in Afghanistan to investigate night raids, and after winning the villagers’ trust, interviewed them. They spoke openly about the atrocities that the U.S. military and its coalition forces wreaked upon them.

There is a scene where the villagers show Scahill cell phone videos in which families are dancing and singing at a wedding party. Suddenly, it turns to chaos when, without warning, the building is bombed and shelled, and the wedding partiers—men, women, and children—are blown to bits and maimed. They show him photos of the aftermath: fathers carrying limp bodies of their children, women wailing, the bloodied dead, dying, and wounded. They are disturbing and difficult to look at.

This type of raid was carried out by U.S. forces who allegedly had proof that their targets were harboring the Taliban or al-Qaeda. With scenes like these, and there are several, Scahill raises the documentary from a dry, factual account featuring the talking heads of pundits, military officials, or world leaders to the heart-wrenching personal stories of innocent people’s suffering and those responsible.

The film concludes with the assassination by a U.S. drone strike of outspoken radical Muslim Anwar Al-Awlaki , an American citizen, in Yemen. Scahill included photos and videos of Awlaki’s 16-year-old, American-born son growing up, and as a young college student, playing sports with his friends in the United States. He had gone to a rural section of Yemen to look for his father. He too was killed in the same manner. Why? Both were on the U.S. administration’s not-so-secret “kill list,” so they were fair game.

Awlaki was killed not for any terrorist acts but for his words. He had been charged with inspiring Muslims in America and in the Arab world to kill Americans. His son? Guilt by association. Father and son were never charged with any crime, nor were they arrested or brought to trial, which is an American citizen’s right.

As one reviewer stated, Scahill uncovered a “world of covert operations unknown to the public and carried out across the globe by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress. In military jargon, JSOC teams ‘find, fix, and finish’ their targets.”

“Dirty Wars” is an important film detailing a “war” that goes largely unreported. In fact, the film played in only one theater here in San Francisco for one week. Still, we are fortunate that Scahill and other truth-seekers and tellers like him have not been silenced. But can we be certain—given the fate of Snowden, Assange, and Manning—that they will not be?