Dirty Wars (2013): Jeremy Scahill’s Docu about US Covert Wars in Middle East

Dirty Wars by the journalist Jeremy Scahill investigates our Joint Special Operations Command’s covert wars in the Middle East and in Africa.

Scahill gets CIA operatives, military leaders and special operations personnel to go on the record for the first time.

Dirty Wars begins with an Afghan family speaking with about a military raid on their home during a celebration for a new born baby. What starts out as an investigation into this incident, turns into a much deeper look into what our special operations are doing and the covert wars they have been waging with little to no oversight.

As our wars wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s the right time to look back at our policies and what’s transpired over the past decade of wars. We’re already seeing increased criticism from the American people, all be it, in small amounts, towards our drone strike policy. This film takes a look at our wartime policies as we move forward as a country.

Coming off its debut at the Sundance Film Fest, Dirty Wars follows investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller Blackwater, into the hidden world of America’s covert wars, from Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia, and beyond.

Part action film and part detective story, Dirty Wars is a gripping journey into one of the most important and underreported stories of our time.

What begins as an investigation into a deadly U.S. night raid in a remote corner of Afghanistan quickly turns into a global investigation into one of the most secretive and powerful military units in American history

As Scahill digs deeper into the activities of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), he is pulled into a world of covert operations unknown to the public and carried out across the globe by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress.

Director’s Statement
A decade ago, I became a war reporter in order to cover our generation’s most important untold story. The War on Terror is the longest war in U.S. history; it has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives; it is being fought in dozens of countries; but it is unfolding in the shadows and we know next to nothing about it.

I made short films from Iraq and Afghanistan, but remained frustrated by the limitations on what kind of stories I could tell. It was not enough to be an embedded journalist and see the war only through the eyes of American soldiers. It was not enough to understand this global war through the experience of a single country in isolation. It was also not enough to tell stories of a war being fought in far off places that seemed irrelevant to life back home.

I got to know Jeremy during the Iraq War and Dirty Wars grew out of our shared experience as war reporters. But over three years of filming on the ground in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen, the film turned into something that I believe is much more powerful — an intimate and deeply personal story of life turned upside down by war.

As a journalist, you begin to think of yourself as invincible — you believe you can see and film all the intensity and pain of war, and that none of it will touch you. But it does touch you. It changes you. Somewhere along the way Jeremy and I both realized that there were two halves to what I was filming: an outside story that was an exposé of a war that had gone out of control, and an inside story — about a reporter, a person — changed by his journey. We realized that the film would only work if both stories were included.

This realization changed everything — our pace and rhythm, our voice and cadence, the way we filmed and looked at the world. The film that we ended up making looks and feels nothing like the film we set out to shoot. It is not filled with talking head experts, it is not narrated by a voice of god, and it does not unfold, visually or narratively, like an essay or an argument. Dirty Wars is part of a growing movement on both sides of the documentary/narrative film divide. It is a nonfiction film deeply committed to truth that also has the intimacy and depth of a well-told story.

Dirty Wars grew out of our experience as war reporters, but it is, in many ways, our attempt to escape our own limitations and to tell a story that doesn’t just make this war visible but makes this war real.