Overview of “Dirty Wars”


Sami Gillette

Cycles are powerful and seemingly unescapable, especially when one reviews the annals of history. It is this power and impact of cycles that serves as a focus of the documentary “Dirty Wars” – a film that displays the discoveries of journalist and author Jeremy Scahill as he investigates covert US involvement in places such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen.

He explores the activities of Joint Operations Special Command (JSOC), which was for years a hidden organization that fought behind the scenes as part of the War on Terror. Scahill reveals the impact of drone strikes and night raids on various people and families, some of whom were attacked for a variety of unknown, unestablished reasons (according to Scahill’s research).

According to the film’s website, “JSOC teams ‘find, fix, and finish’ their targets, who are selected through a secret process. No target is off limits for the ‘kill list,’ including U.S. citizens.”

The documentary was haunting with images and tales of innocent children, men and women killed as JSOC sought its targets. An interview with a man associated with JSOC reveals disillusionment and regret as to the history and mission of JSOC. Scahill also reviews his multiple attempts to garner answers from those in power and in Congress – to no avail.

What was most powerful was Scahill’s interaction with the family of Anwar al-Awlaki who, according to CCN, was an “American-born Muslim scholar and cleric who acted as a spokesperson for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.” Scahill reveals al-Awlaki’s earlier transformation from a moderate to militant because of events that occurred in the Middle East that turned him against the United States.

In an interview Scahill outlines one of his biggest issues with al-Awlaki’s death following a US drone strike.

“Awlaki had never been charged of a crime by the United States in connection with any terrorist plot, there was no indictment against him, and he was basically sentenced to death without having even been charged with a crime,” he explained. It is this covertness, this lack of transparency and action without accountability that Scahill draws most attention to during the film.

“Dirty Wars” ends with the news that al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son had been blown to pieces in another covert US strike. Scahill explains that it is this type of act that should be known about. The son was killed for who he might become, rather than who he was. Violence begets violence, and while many may disagree with Scahill’s viewpoint, it is always important to see both sides of a story.

States “The Guardian,” “The argument that the war on terror is ultimately unwinnable because indiscriminate killings radicalise whole populations is persuasive.”