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New Movie Documents Out of Control U.S. War Machine

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Last night, I attended an advance screening of director Richard Rowley’s new documentary, Dirty Wars. The documentary, based on a book by investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, follows Scahill’s travels through Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia covering the U.S. military. Over the course of the film, Scahill slowly uncovers the shadowy world of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an elite U.S. combat unit that engages in covert operations around the world.

JSOC is the only military unit that reports directly to the White House. Its job is to “find, fix, and finish” suspected terrorist targets named on the President’s ever-growing “kill list.” Until recently, it operated in almost complete secrecy. The film makes it chillingly clear that JSOC has free rein to do anything to anybody—even U.S. citizens—anywhere in the world at any time: house raids, cruise missile and drone strikes, even handing over kill-list names to local warlords for outsourced assassinations. JSOC was created more than three decades ago, but it was only after 9/11 that JSOC dramatically expanded in size and scope and became a global war machine unto itself.

The film focuses on Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, but by the end it reveals that the U.S. has covert operations going on in dozens of countries on nearly every continent. The world truly has become a battlefield, and Scahill warns that America’s covert wars are “like a flywheel that has spun out of control.”

I have just one minor quibble. Scahill, who also co-wrote and produced Dirty Wars, wrote the 2007 best-selling exposé of notorious private security contractor Blackwater (now called Academi), and has written in the past about Blackwater participation in JSOC activities; but the film does not delve into the role that Blackwater and other private security firms play in JSOC. When I asked him during the Q&A after the screening why there was hardly a mention of Blackwater, Scahill explained that the 90-minute runtime necessitated leaving a good bit of material on the cutting room floor. (He also admitted that he’s “sick and tired of talking about Blackwater.”) Even though it glosses over the contractor accountability angle, the film is still compelling as a sort of investigative-journalism whodunit.

Dirty Wars will be released nationally on June 7.

By: Neil Gordon
Investigator, POGO

Neil Gordon, Investigator Neil Gordon is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Neil investigates and maintains POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database.

Topics: Contract Oversight

Related Content: Defense, Government Secrecy, Private Security Contractors

Authors: Neil Gordon

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