Jan 22, 2013

'Dirty Wars': Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley's new film exposes the underside of covert American war

Jeremy Scahill film 'Dirty Wars' exposes covert American war
Beneath: Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is the national security correspondent for The Nation magazine. His 2007 bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army chillingly details the emergence of private contracting in the course America's War on Terror.

His new book Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield is due to be released later this year. Meantime the documentary film Dirty Wars is being screened at this year's Sundance Festival.

Scahill's remarkable journalistic journey into the dark underside of American covert war is referred to in Amazon's introduction as an attempt to chase down "the most important foreign policy story of our time."

The Amazon description provides some background:

From Afghanistan and Pakistan to Yemen, Somalia and beyond, Scahill speaks to the CIA agents, mercenaries and elite Special Operations Forces operators who populate the dark side of American war-fighting. He goes deep into al Qaeda-held territory in Yemen and walks the streets of Mogadishu with CIA-backed warlords. We also meet the survivors of U.S. night raids and drone strikes – including families of U.S. citizens targeted for assassination by their own government– who reveal the human consequences of the dirty wars the United States struggles to keep hidden.

The film takes viewers on a journey into the global activities of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and raises troubling questions about what is being done in the name of America. In many respects Obama is driving aggressive Bush-era policies the extra mile. An article in the The Nation Institute quotes Scahill as saying: "The primacy of JSOC within the Obama administration's foreign policy — from Yemen and Somalia to Afghanistan and Pakistan — indicates that he [Obama] has doubled down on the Bush-era policy of targeted assassination as a staple of US foreign policy."

The projection of American power outside US borders is occurring with increasing impunity. These covert operations raise serious ethical questions. For example in Pakistan there has been the practice of the so-called 'double-tap' strike. When local residents show up at the site of an initial drone strike they could well become the target of a second hit. Double-tap strikes have even targeted mourners attending funerals of those killed in earlier attacks. For a comprehensive view of the terror and mayhem caused by US drones check out reports at the The Bureau of Investigative Journalism website.

In its commentary on Dirty Wars the Sundance Festival notes:

... all bets are off, and almost anything goes. We have fundamentally changed the rules of the game and the rules of engagement. Prior to 9/11, it was customary for America to sound a formal declaration of war on a given country before attacking. Today drone strikes, night raids, and U.S. government–condoned torture occur in hidden corners across the globe, generating unprecedented civilian casualties. 

As the casualties of covert operations continue to rise it's an open question if the escalation of these tactics will provoke future attacks against US targets overseas - possibly the targeting of the American homeland in a fashion we have yet to witness. Even as Obama was announcing that "A decade of war is now ending" in his inaugural speech, US sponsored dirty war ops continue around the globe - the latest drone strikes being in Yemen.

Dirty Wars was directed by Richard Rowley, a member of Big Noise Tactical Media that has done excellent work. Rowley also directed Zapatista and This is What Democracy Looks Like - together with Jill Friedberg using footage shot by media activists.

Beneath Rick Rowley talks about the making of Dirty Wars and the issues it raises.

Also link to a Democracy Now video in which Amy Goodman talks with both Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley about Dirty Wars - here.