When investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill’s story about the US Special Forces unjustly killing a US-trained Afghan policeman and two pregnant women was raised in a White House briefing, it was dismissed as “conspiratorial theories”. However, when exactly the same type of “night raid” resulted in the death of Bin Laden, the party line changed somewhat.
Based on his own investigations and book of the same name, Dirty Wars documents Scahill’s struggle to discover and expose the truth behind America’s ongoing clandestine operations that are increasingly responsible for civilian casualties all around the globe. Of course now, in a post-Wikileaks world, the disquieting truth that America engages in less-than-reputable transgressions is hardly the shocking revelation it should be. In fact, at times, Dirty Wars feels positively familiar, as stylistically and thematically it resembles Zero Dark Thirty and State of Play, blended together with parts of the Bourne franchise. Yet it will manage to engage (and enrage) you throughout its lean running time.
One such illuminating and thought-provoking moment is when Scahill reports on the slaying of a 16-year-old American citizen living in Yemen, a victim of one of President Obama’s many drone strikes. Although officially he is just one of many for whom the maxim “wrong place, wrong time” could be coldly applied, it is more than suggested that the boy was killed for the the sole “crime” of being the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, a cleric whose radical preaching earned him a similar fate two weeks earlier.
A common criticism that has been made against Dirty Wars is that Scahill’s presence borders on overbearing, intrusive and even self-indulgent, which is understandable given he is seldom off-screen and his narration is heavily editorial. But it would be unjust to hold this against either him or the film.
Firstly, it is, after all, his story. Secondly, such is the scarcity of information available; director Rick Rowley hardly had another source to utilise. And thirdly, it’s hard to begrudge a man a place on the stage when he’s brave/foolish enough to enter the war-torn-to-all-hell ruins of Mogadishu for journalistic ends. The result includes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of barely concealed terror in Scahill’s face when he finishes interviewing a terrifying Somali warlord-turned-general who, now a beneficiary of American outsourcing, admits to killing on Uncle Sam’s behalf.
Dirty Wars is released nationwide on 29th November 2013.
Watch the trailer for Dirty Wars here: