Questioning Covert Conflict

Jeremy Scahill’s film and book project Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield examines US military policy abroad, with special attention to covert operations.  Last month, Stephen Moss reviewed the film:

The extent of the US military’s covert operations and the amount of “collateral damage” are shocking; the film shows that even US citizens have been the victims of non-judicial executions; and the argument that the war on terror is ultimately unwinnable because indiscriminate killings radicalise whole populations is persuasive. “Somehow, in front of our eyes, undeclared wars have been launched in countries across the globe; foreigners and citizens alike assassinated by presidential decree; the war on terror transformed into a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Scahill laments at the end of the film. “How does a war like this ever end, and what happens to us when we realise what was hidden in plain sight?”

Tom Gallagher elaborates on the book’s contents:

A book called Dirty Wars will naturally have no shortage of nasty stories.

One of the worst occurred on February 12, 2010, when US forces arrived in the Afghan village of Gardez, shot up a party celebrating the naming of the newborn son of an Afghan police officer and killed the father and six others, including two pregnant women. After a failed cover-up — during which family members reported seeing “U.S. soldiers digging the bullets out of the women’s bodies” in order to support a fabricated story that the women had been found already bound, gagged and executed when the Americans arrived — the U.S. military staged a very public meeting in which JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] Commander Admiral William McRaven personally apologized for the atrocity to Hajii Sharabuddin, the head of the household. The story disappeared from the headlines and the war went on. Several months later, however, Scahill met with Sharabuddin who told him that “now we think the Americans themselves are terrorists.” You didn’t see that part on the nightly news.

Reviewing the film in June, Steven Boone expressed desensitization to some of what the camera captured:

We’ve been here before. Popular documentaries like Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” did their best to demonstrate that foreign kids suffering or perishing because of disastrous U.S. policy are “just like our kids.” Given the incessant, almost automatic dismissal of such murders of children in this country—by pundits, Congress members, White House press secretaries, American generals, soldiers, and average Joes and Janes—it’s hard to see any meaningful difference between the folks who danced in the streets when the towers fell and Americans who find collateral damage offensive only when the collateral is American. Casual dehumanization of foreigners has become the norm everywhere. It’s as if 9/11 rolled back the world clock a century.

Scahill, Rowley and co-writer David Riker (creator of the classic neo-neorealist indie “La Ciudad”) do their part to attack this backwardness at the root. Clear and graphic images of the piles of dead children a U.S. drone strike left in a Yemeni field say so much more than (to cite a quietly outrageous moment early on) a general smugly, idiotically speculating that a pregnant Afghan woman our soldiers gunned down might have been a combatant. (“I’ve been shot at by women.”)

A recent interview with Scahill is here.