When investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill discoveres Anwar Al-Awlaki's name on a kill list for targeted assassination by the US government, he is surprised since Al-Awlaki was an American citizen. Al-Awlaki was American and Yemeni imam, who according to U.S. government officials, was a senior talent recruiter and motivator for the militant group al-Qaeda.
The assassination of Al-Awlaki without due process, including the targeting of his 16-year-old son in a drone strike, is one of several stories that Scahill investigates in the new documentary Dirty Wars. Directed by Richard Rowley and written by Scahill and David Riker, Dirty Wars is based on Scahill's book Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, which was released earlier this year.
The documentary is unsettling, to say the least. Scahill, who has reported from many countries and multiple wars, sheds light on a little known task force called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that reported directly to the president and was literally allowed to do whatever they felt they needed to do.This group and its commander were shrouded in secrecy until they were recognized for killing Osama Bin Laden, turning them into a much praised group overnight.
Prior to that though, Scahill connected JSOC to reprehensible acts that made little sense, such as raids like the one in February 2010 in the Paktia Province in Afghanistan that resulted in the killing of seven members of one family, including two pregnant women, during a night in which the family was in the middle of a celebration. Mohammad Daoud Sharabuddin, the first one that was killed, was a police commander that had worked alongside American soldiers.
Scahill also reports on stories about U.S. involvement with a strike in Yemen and with warlords, educating us on a few more instances that can help lift our collective ignorance.
It can be easy for anyone here to wash their hands of Dirty Wars with a "doesn't affect me"-type mentality. This is dangerous as what it does is say that foreign lives are not equal to yours. Mohammed Daoud Sharabuddin and the other six family members that were killed by the American soldiers did nothing to warrant being shot and killed in cold blood. They weren't Taliban sympathizers, potential suicide bombers, nothing. Furthermore, there are ramifications to these actions – just think about the animosity Sharabuddin's remaining family members must hold towards the country responsible for the deaths of their loved ones, a feeling that hadn't existed before this act.
Dirty Wars needs to be watched by all American citizens. However, the documentary does not include everything about Jeremy Scahill's investigations. For that, definitely pick up a copy of the book Dirty Wars, which includes more detail on the stories explored in the documentary and, most unfortunately, more examples in which we have declared the entire world a "battlefield". Don't think of this documentary as just a long commercial to promote the book though – watching the interviews in the documentary helps one understand the scope of the problem that Jeremy Scahill has worked incessantly to bring to light. Watch it.
Dirty Wars is currently in limited release and expected to open wider this weekend. It's also available as a rental through Video on Demand.