Have you ever had your house raided in the middle of the night by foreign soldiers — whom your family is cooperating with — and had five members of your family, including two pregnant women, killed? Didn’t think so. But this is precisely what happened in Khataba, a small village in Afganistan, in a night raid conducted by the American Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) — the covert team that would later be credited with killing Osama bin Laden.
Thanks to this film, the fact that stuff like this happens is not just ‘something I know’. It’s something that however distantly, however far removed, however by proxy, I’ve felt. I’ve looked into the faces of the people it has happened to. I’ve seen them recount, and relive, their pain.
Slowly though, I started to become numb to it all. More corruption. More evil. America is an imperialist monster. The bankers are out of control. We’re destroying the environment. Yawn. What’s on next?? It’s awful to say, but the problems our world faces have started to bore me.
It’s maddening. It sometimes feels like watching a snarling, stupid dog running full tilt into a glass door over and over and over again.
I’ve had to create some balance, between my general desire to be informed on world geopolitical issues, and the very real fact that me knowing about every single horrific thing that is happening isn’t going to help much. I’m ready to start building a better world now. I’m always happy to see new documentaries out there, though, of course — for someone they might be the worldview shifting experiences that documentaries like Fahrenheit 9/11, The Corporation, and Zeitgeist: Addendum were for me — but I don’t watch a lot of them.
I’m really that glad I made an exception for ‘Dirty Wars’.1 The Oscar nominated — yet sadly not Oscar winning — documentary produced by in-the-trenches war reporter Jeremy Scahill, who’s book ‘Blackwater’ was the first to expose America’s use of that paramilitary mercenary force.
The murderous raid at Khataba is only the first of a series of focal points Scahill chooses throughout the film, which highlights the new way America is going about its wartime operations: not by marching armies into offending nations, but covertly, under cover of darkness and shrouds of secrecy. Unofficial operations; many of which take place in countries where the US government has declared no war, and even against citizens of the USA itself.
We see very directly the kinds of collateral damage and unintended side effects that this strategy has resulted in.
What makes Scahill’s documentary outstanding is not just the injustice it reveals, though it does plenty of that — it is the emotional content, obtained by right of the fearless work of the filmmaker. More than once, Scahill puts his life on the line in order to bring these stories home, and the least we can do is pay some attention.
Some have criticized the film for focusing too much on the filmmaker, but I think Scahill’s personal journey is as important as the information it uncovered. After you feel a little like you’ve spent some time with him on the ground in Afganistan, and spent time with the victims of the Khataba raid, to see the way the American media machine chews up both the story and Scahill himself — spitting them out into bite-sized, emotionally devoid chunks of info-tainment — is horrifying.
I don’t want to give away too much of what the film exposes, because it almost plays like a thriller, as we watch new pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, but I will say this:
This is an important film for everyone to watch. It’s not just for those who are blind or in denial about the terroristic nature of western imperialism, but for those of us who are in the know and have lost that necessary emotional connection to the tragedies which happen each and every day.
This film made me think twice about all the atrocities I’d allowed myself to become numb to, to ignore, and most of all, about all the ones that have passed without comment — that nobody will ever be able to know about.