Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dirty Wars [2013]

MPAA (R)  RE.com (3 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
RogerEbert.com (S. Boone) review
AVClub (B. Kenigsberg) review

Dirty Wars [2013] (directed by Rick Rowley, writer David Riker and Jeremy Scahill) is a documentary in which Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondant for The Nation magazine seeks to shed light on the largely secret war that's being fought in our name against Al Queda and other terrorist groups.

Why would one care?  Well, when something is secret, not just "the good" and "the necessary" are hidden but also "the problematic," "the corrupt" and "the screw-ups."   And if this underside of our secret war is not periodically exposed, then this can eventually cause some real problems.

The documentary follows the story of three problematic screw-ups:

The first occurred in Afghanistan where a journalist Scahill came learned of a previously nondescript Afghan family in the hinterlands screaming for justice after four of their family members were killed for no reason in a night raid that even local NATO commanders did not know about.  The family had been celebrating the birth of a son (home video shows the family dancing).  Then the father of the newborn went outside (either because he heard something or because, well, he just needed to go outside) and ... got shot dead an American sniper.  Before the killing stopped, 3 other members of the family were dead.  And for what?  Nothing.  The family was screaming to the journalist that they had been pro-American and that the father who had been shot had been actually an American trained Afghan police officer.  And yes, it would seem that this really was a screw-up because a some days after the incident, an American general showed-up at their family's compound with a ceremonial sheep given to them to sacrifice in compensation.  (The Afghan family had photos of the conciliatory visit of the American general as well...)  But who was he?  Well he was the head of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), the command that later killed Bin Laden.

What else does JSOC do?  Well it did kill Bin Laden.  It has also been responsible for the majority of the drone and otherwise remote strikes across that part of the world, including apparently a cruise missile strike in Yemen that, rather than wiping out a terrorist training camp, all but wiped-out a harmless Bedouin clan in the hinterlands of said Yemen that has been herding sheep in those mountains since the basically the time of Abraham.  And a Yemeni journalist who first exposed this tragic remote massacre is languishing in a Yemeni jail as a result of an expressly requested personal favor asked for by President Obama of the President of Yemen.  Basically, a Yememi journalist is languishing in a Yemeni jail so as to not embarrass an American President.  (We don't jail journalists.  We have others jail journalists for us ...).   

Finally, JSOC was apparently responsible for the drone strikes that killed the American Muslim preacher al-Awalki (who had, in fact, radicalized and had joined AlQueda out there in Yemen).  Yet some days later in a separate strike JSOC also killed al-Awalki's 16 year old son.  What did _he_ do?  Nothing ... yet.  But Scahill does ask the question of where have we come to when we've started to kill people simply because they _may_ grow-up to want to kill us?  (Think of The Godfather Part II [1974], that was basically the plot-trajectory the young Vito "Corleone" growing-up to come back to Sicily to avenge the death of his father).  Have we really come to this?

So what's the value of a documentary like this?  Well, even if one doesn't particularly like facing its content (nobody likes to be embarrassed, nobody likes to hear bad things about people who we love, trust and hope are doing their best), documentaries like this are informative and therefore help us to make informed decisions.  Without said information, it is (by definition) impossible to do that.

So as uncomfortable as this documentary must make the viewer feel, it will help make future mistakes like these less likely (other mistakes though hopefully less of them will still probably occur).  And our interest in documentaries like this will also help us to appreciate what others, non-Americans, are going through in the War on Terror, hopefully helping us to empathize with their suffering as well.

So all in all a very good film.  It's painful to watch, but necessary if we are to remain the country that we are hoping to be defending.

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