In the modern era, one thing that is common in just about every major war is that America is somehow involved. How deep their involvement goes and exactly what happens is never very clear which is why the seemingly never ending conflicts spawn so many documentary features.
Given the sheer number of overseas operations ongoing at any one time it is entirely too easy to lose track of what is happening and it is documentaries like Dirty Wars that seek to question not only America’s involvement but the way in which they wage war, and against whom.
Journalist Jeremy Scahill, a seasoned veteran war reporter since the 1999 Kosovo War, sets out to uncover some of the covert operations occurring in places such as Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia where largely unreported US operations take place alongside the well publicised visible war on the mainstream news channels. Central to these covert operations is a US Defence initiative called JSOC – the Joint Special Operations Command – which reports directly to the White House and, as such, the true nature of their activities is rather unclear.
Whilst reporting in Afghanistan, Scahill follows up the story of an early morning raid in which a number of civilians are murdered by what are said to be US forces. As he learns more about the activities of JSOC, the story widens and his journey crosses both national borders and the paths of some former JSOC personnel. The concept of the US government’s ‘kill list’ is uncovered along with the continued bank rolling of foreign war lords by the US military which is of course nothing new and has been a tactic adopted in many countries with varying results. That said ‘kill lists’ contain thousands of names including those of US citizens shows just how many threats the US sees that it has worldwide and it is estimated that JSOC already operates in over 100 countries with a reach that is ever expanding.
Ultimately, the more that we learn from war documentaries, the more we see that the US is engaged in a never ending war with just about every country in the world in some way. Heightened by 9/11, the level of involvement and spending on covert operations in the modern climate is staggering.
As with all war related stories not happening in one’s own back yard it is hard to feel engaged enough to consider this a call to action but this is as important a documentary as any of its peers in showcasing the very real war crimes that the US government engages in on a constant basis. With some public support and proper impetus these practices could perhaps be called into question in an open forum but however diverse the US presidential line has been in recent years it seems that one thing they all share is the opinion that ‘protecting’ the US is the number priority, whatever the cost.
Dirty Wars is as good a place as any to get an idea of how the US military operates when ‘at war’ and the shady practices that go with it. Nominated for an Academy Award next month, perhaps it will receive the audience it deserves and provoke some changes. One can but hope.