Director: Rick Rowley
3 (out of 5) Globes
Released as the country is trying to rectify drone attacks and NSA eavesdropping with the more transparent president it re-elected, the documentary “Dirty Wars” chronicles the recent history of covert and illegal attacks carried out by the U.S. government. Our guide is Jeremy Scahill, a longtime investigative journalist currently on staff at the Nation. Six years ago he helped expose Blackwater, the rogue band of mercenaries scouring about far-off war zones. He’s soft-spoken, grave, sad-eyed, a good listener. Indeed, many shots in the film show him listening to locals in Yemen, Somalia and other places where unchecked American Special Forces activity has left civilian lives destroyed. Few journalists are brave enough to venture into these regions, such as Gardez, Afghanistan, where three women and an innocent police chief were killed during a night raid, for which America only eventually accepted responsibility.
Scahill’s argument, strengthened throughout both the film “Dirty Wars” and the book of the same name (released in April), is the need to create peace has led America into endless war, and by now we’re creating more enemies than we’re eliminating. Due process has been eliminated, which wasn’t surprising during the Bush administration but is shocking under a president who ran on doing things differently. Without getting into the conspiracy-mongering and hysteria of the far right, Scahill calmly and relentlessly needles Obama and company for keeping, and even amplifying, processes introduced during the previous administration. Scahill even goes after the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which enjoyed attention after the death of Osama Bin Laden. Even they have dirty fingers in places beyond Abbottabad.
As a documentary lead, Scahill has a seriousness that’s perversely charismatic, and the film, directed by Rick Rowley, goes overtime to look as striking as its findings are illuminating and disturbing. It’s still, like most investigative feature length docs, only a documentary. That is to say it’s inferior to the book written concurrently, if only because a book has more information, and more information is what’s paramount. But as a gateway into Scahill’s book, as well as into a much-needed conversation, “Dirty Wars” is hard to beat.