Richard Rowley’s Dirty Wars documentary follows investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill and his revelations about America’s military intervention in Afghanistan, Yemen, and other countries. Scahill investigates American killings of civilians, including pregnant women and children, covered up by the American services, particularly the Joint Special Operations Command, known as JSOC.
Dirty Wars, based on Scahill’s book “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield,” is one of the five nominations for the Best Documentary Oscar 2014. It is one of the three politics-based documentaries, along with The Act of Killing about Indonesia’s 1965 genocide, and The Square about the Egyptian revolution in 2011. The other two nominations are Cutie and the Boxer, a documentary about Japanese artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, and 20 Feet From Stardom—about backup singers and their contribution to the musical industry.
The story is told mainly through Scahill’s voice-over. In the beginning of Dirty Wars he says:
This is a story about the seen and the unseen. And about things hidden in plain sight.
Scahill’s research reveals Americans in Afghanistan killed innocent civilians and then covered up the traces. The secret nature of the operations allowed American soldiers to significantly abuse their power and thus turn the war against terrorism into a form of terrorism itself.
With the help of an anonymous inside man whose voice in Dirty Wars is altered so that he cannot be recognized, Scahill finds out the JSOC has been taking military action far beyond its jurisdiction:
The joint Special Operations Command handles all of the sensitive counterterrorism missions as the US government directs. And over time that was perverted into doing things that are far outside its mandate. […] Airstrikes, targeted killings. […] The world is a battlefield and we are at war. Therefore the Joint Special Operations Command can go wherever they please and do whatever it is that they want to do in order to achieve the national security objectives of whichever administration happens to be in power. A lot of it was of questionable legality. And most of it was outside of any stated battlefield. […] Because of the extreme secrecy surrounding the program, there was a variety of abuses.
Cahill exposes president Obama’s role in “questionable legality” as in a conversation with Yemen’s president, Obama tried to prevent the release from jail of a Yemen journalist who revealed American wrongdoings in Yemen. The call is still recorded on the White House’s official website.
Dirty Wars exposes America’s corrupt politics in a way similar to The Square’s exposal of the Egypt government. In an interview (video below), Cahill said he and director Richard Rowley were repeatedly facing security concerns, just like The Square’s film crew was in danger.