‘DIRTY WARS’ ★★★½
IFC Films presents a documentary directed by Richard Rowley. Written by Jeremy Scahill and David Riker. Running time: 86 minutes. Opening Friday at Landmark Century.
Updated: July 15, 2013 1:22PM
Richard Rowley’s “Dirty Wars,” a vital, gripping film demonstrates how America’s secretive, any-means-necessary approach to the War on Terror, far from ending with the Bush/Cheney era, has escalated under Barack Obama. Its ugly truths may have seen plenty of sunshine (and even admiration) since the killing of Osama bin Laden, but the film’s narrative drive offers a compelling package for viewers numbed by one news report after another about civilian deaths and secret hit lists.
Narrating with the grim urgency (if not the humor) of a doomed noir detective, investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill explains how he came to be interested in the Joint Special Operations Command. Reporting on the war in Afghanistan, he was curious about nighttime raids conducted by unknown forces. We follow as he travels in 2010 to Gardez, the site of a raid in which two pregnant women were killed. Speaking to the victims’ families, he can’t understand why the raid took place, but he learns enough to know U.S. officials are lying when they say the women were victims of a Taliban “honor killing.”
Witnesses at this and other raids speak of a different Taliban, an “American Taliban” — “men with beards and big muscles” who are clearly not U.S. soldiers. “Dirty Wars” shows how much Scahill uncovers about these units before the bin Laden mission turns some of them, SEAL Team 6, into national heroes.
He learns how often their victims aren’t terrorist masterminds but innocents: We see pictures of children, even infants, killed in raids. Back in the United States, Scahill speaks with some retired military officers who view this as acceptable collateral damage and others who were willing to resign over an ever-growing “kill list” of sanctioned assassination targets.
Those kill lists, which are now so numerous, become Scahill’s main focus. The Anwar Al Awlaki case gets a good deal of attention here, as the film describes how conduct of an ever-expanding war on terror, where crimes go unpunished and the official record can’t be trusted, is turning America’s friends into enemies.