Dirty Wars (2013)

“America knows war.  They are war masters,” says a tribal warlord to Jeremy Scahill.

It’s been almost 12 years since the September 11th attacks.  So much has changed in the U.S. since then, especially when it comes to military operations.  The nature of war as we knew it really changed when the U.S. invaded Iraq in early 2003 (wrongfully, I might add).  It was one thing to invade Afghanistan; Osama Bin Laden was suspected of hiding there.  However Iraq was much different.  There was no declared war; the Bush administration used 9/11 to coerce Congress into approving military action simply because that administration wanted Saddam Hussein’s head on a plate.  Even though they knew that Hussein had absolutely NOTHING to do with 9/11 or Bin Laden, there was a lot of money to be made for invading Iraq (private companies lobbied hard to “win” contracts to “reconstruct” Iraq).  The election of Barack Obama in 2008 brought hope to the U.S., and although we’ve finally pulled out of Iraq and will soon pull out of Afghanistan, the number of secret raids and drone strikes have increased rapidly (as well as the number of questions concerning them).

Jeremy Scahill is an independent investigative journalist who has covered much of the war on terror overseas.  He works primarily as a National Security Correspondent for The Nation magazine, although he does contribute to other news outlets.  His first book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, was released in 2008 to great acclaim.  It depicts the rise of the extremely controversial military contracting firm Blackwater and its presence in Iraq during the U.S. occupation (Blackwater has since renamed itself “Academi”).  Scahill’s next book, Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield, was released a few months ago and also served as the basis for his new documentary, Dirty Wars (which he co-wrote, narrated, and produced).  The film starts with Scahill investigating a U.S. night raid in a remote corner of Afghanistan that went terribly wrong.  His investigation into the raid soon turns into an investigation of a covert unit called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  As he digs deeper, his investigation takes him all over the globe as he tries to expose their wrongdoings and discovers that no one is off limits for their kill list, which can include U.S. citizens.

Scahill’s film poses an important question to us: What is the ultimate goal to all the bloodshed that is spilled?  Many survivors of the night raids were pro-U.S. until they lost their loved ones due to “bad intel” (one of them even tells Scahill that he felt like becoming a suicide bomber to avenge the loss of his loved ones).  The changing nature of the war on terror is disturbing, with covert units and drones going into countries where there is no authorized fighting.  Scahill brings the actions of JSOC to the attention of Congress, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. However, Congress and the rest of the media were all ears when Seal Team Six, one of the covert units of JSOC, killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.  Scahill even includes the story of Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric who became radicalized by the post-9/11 wars.  He was targeted and killed by an American drone in Yemen in 2011, along with three bystanders, without the benefit of a trial.  Then, a week later, al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son was also killed by a drone, and the theory behind that seems to be that the U.S. military feared that al-Awlaki’s son might grow up to be like his father or another Osama bin Laden.  Scahill also questions why President Obama approved the jailing of a Yemeni journalist who uncovered a drone strike that killed women and children.  Scahill’s film makes us question who we are and where we’re headed as a nation.  It doesn’t look good, but there is still hope as long as people demand that the government and the military be held accountable for their actions.

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