A documentary by Rick Rowley. Rated PG.
Welcome to perpetual war. It turns out that it’s not the all-consuming passion play of parades, sacrifice, and speeches that George Orwell predicted in 1984 but a subtler supply of low-level conflict, most of which we’re not even supposed to know about.
Taking its title from investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill’s book, Dirty Wars follows Scahill through the research he undertook in 2010, after an Afghanistan night raid in which a U.S.-trained cop and his family—including children and pregnant women—were murdered by Special Forces ops, who then blamed their error on the Taliban. This led the writer to poke around the shadowy world of Joint Special Operations Command, whose central business is targeted assassination—which is increasing exponentially under the current president.
The journalist had already spent a decade covering the region, and after getting stonewalled by the military, the government, and most media outlets (he has mostly written for the Nation magazine), his assessment is that the infamous Iraq War “deck of cards” kill list kept replenishing itself after early special-ops errors created angry new enemies along the way.
The lucrative “war on terror” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, in his view, exemplified by the more recent assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim cleric who really did go rogue. Two weeks later, his 16-year-old son was droned too, surely because he would seek revenge in the future. Feel safer?
Assisted by director Rick Rowley and cowriter David Riker, the terse, macho Scahill makes a convincing tour guide for this hell. Visual effects, underscored by harsh synthesizer music, lean toward Hard Copy sensationalism—unnecessary, given the gruesome evidence he uncovers. In the end, though, you think less about his presentation of events than the fact that hardly anybody else is asking about them.