Film Spotlight: Dirty Wars


The documentary, Dirty Wars (2013), by reporter Jeremy Scahill examined the history of JSOC (Joint Specials Operations Command) and brought to light the dangerous shift in war tactics since its inception in 1980. In class, we watched Black Hawk Down, an example of JSOC intervention, and a tribute film dedicated to 19 U.S. fallen soldiers. Then we swayed to the opposite direction, and my upperclassman and I watched Dirty Wars. With predictable dismay, the ease with which the romanticized painting of heroes in Black Hawk Down was gobbled down and the rejection in Dirty Wars for speaking against the United States illustrated the persuasive power of films to influence society. The human mind likes to box up information into a tidy package. It’s easier to accept a positive message than swallow a disquieting one. Thus began the exercise to check bias and to analyze the facts so we could draw an intelligent conclusion.

There’s no one alive today who hasn’t been affected by the history of the 20th century. In most minds, covert operations, secret agencies, the fight against evil empires, assassinations, and technology leading the way for national victory have been a part of everyone’s cognizance.

Think of the movies and books you’ve read that have either told the story about a covert group

or warns you of the lunacy and scary world from unchecked power.

In the documentary, Dirty Wars, one interesting aspect concerned the legality for the U. S. to assassinate an American citizen. Anawar al-Awlaki was a U. S. citizen, a popular muslim cleric from Virginia and a voice of American muslims when the attack on 9/11 happened.  Deploring the terrorist action, over the course of a decade, he turned from moderate to speaking out against the actions of the United States toward muslims around the world.  Anawar was jailed without charges or trial for 17 months in Yemen. He was assassinated by JSOC in 2010. Two weeks later, Abdulrahman, the 16 year old son of Anawar,  was killed by a drone. Was it a strike or “collateral damage”?  Killed for what he might become? If that’s so, it’s sinister.

The War on Terror is about as winnable as the War on Drugs. Drones are carrying out the assassinations now and someone at control center has incredible power.

Is the JSOC abusing their power? What are the repercussions with drone use and covert intervention? Are targeted assassinations crimes against humanity? Are the heightened attacks on Muslims an example of growing genocide?


Weighty, disquieting questions. I don’t pretend to know the answer, but it saddens me to think our future seems as bleak as the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia.


21 thoughts on “Film Spotlight: Dirty Wars

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  1. Hi, Cindy:

    “Dirty Wars” and the War on Terror are prosecuted without the rules and guidelines of The Geneva Convention. Which basically means no rules at all. Terrorist organizations throughout the world have been networked and cross trained since the 1970s. While the U.S. can only retaliate with “deniability”. Which means covert and remote controlled when necessary (Drone or Hellfire strike).
    To surgical strikes and assassination of top and second tier leaders.

    The problem is, that there are far more terrorists that U.S., allied or coalition forces. For every leader killed. There is one primed and ready to take his place. Very Vietnam in that regard.

    Aided by a well entrenched media friendly propaganda machine in CAIR to play the Victim Card. Cry that Islam is a “Religion of Peace” when there is no evidence of same. And gin up sympathy, should an operation ever come to light.

    Should Due Process have been afforded Al-Awlaki’s nephew? Absolutely. With a Snatch and Grab, a military tribunal and time at Guantanamo, if need be. But we are dealing with a seriously depleted military compared to twenty years ago. A vastly over reaching President with a “Disposition Matrix” (Kill List). No regard for the Constitution or Bill of Rights. And a hard on for any perceived “enemies”.

    I’m far more concerned about future operations on domestic soil than overseas!


    1. I worry about drone attacks on U.S. soil in response to repeated attacks in 40-70 countries around the globe. There’s no way in hell I’d live in a city. Then I think about our civil liberties lost when our world will become like the robot spiders in ‘The Minority Report’ will come hunt us down. Police and government knowing our every move. No thanks! Thanks, Kevin for your input. We agree.


    1. I agree with Cindy, Ruth, that this one raises a lot of questions and should make you think.

      But, for what it’s worth, I like the film less than Cindy. I thought Dirty Wars’ stylistic choices annoying at best and counter-productive at worst. Scahill (and the director) make the mistake journalists are taught never to make – he puts himself at the center of the story, makes himself the focus of it, instead of letting the content speak for itself.


  2. Note, Cindy, that the above comment is not to indicate I flatly dislike this movie. I don’t. I just think its artistic choices flawed.

    I do always enjoy reading your reviews, though, especially when you start considering other art alongside it, the way you did here.


    1. Thank you–it was an eye opener for me. I try to look at differing perspectives. The ramifications of drone attacks are not known, but as a warring society, it scares me that we might be stirring the pot to justify the money spent. Cause and effect has run amok. I sit on my hands and feel frustrated. Thank you for the follow and your comment. It makes my day.


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