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Popcorn Preview: Dirty Wars

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Film: Dirty Wars (2013)
Cast includes: Jeremy Scahill, journalist for The Nation
Director: Rick Rowley (The Fourth World War)
Genre: Documentary, based on Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill (90 minutes)

Kabul, Afghanistan: "This is a story about the seen and the unseen.... It's about things hidden in plain sight." Jeremy Scahill has been a war correspondent for over a decade. "It's hard to say where it began. This was supposed to be the frontline of the war against terror and the mission to win hearts and minds." Yet Scahill becomes aware of another war... one fought in night raids. "No one seems to know who is doing the fighting. One thing for sure, I won't find out by staying in Kabul." A little noticed news item gives Scahill a destination. Everyday NATO issues a press release with a safety assessment of every road... red, green, black. Gardez is located on a black road... as dangerous as they get. They'll have to be back in Kabul by nightfall.

In Gardez, Scahill learns about a night raid that killed a policeman and two pregnant women. He sees the bullet holes. He watches cell phone video of the three victims just days before, enjoying a family celebration. He learns that the Americans dug the bullets out of the bodies. He sees cell phone video of the bodies and the funerals. "What lead the Americans here?" the family wants to know. NATO claims it was a Taliban honor killing, but Scahill finds the family more believable... especially the little granddaughter. Back in DC, Scahill meets with the House Judiciary Committee... if you can call it a meeting. There's almost no one there. Scahill originally came to the attention of congress in 2007, when he testified about Blackwater. Scahill's book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, put Scahill in the public eye. He made the talk show rounds but found that to be like going into a boxing ring. Jay Leno asked, "Why are you still alive. Are you paranoid?" He'd certainly have reason to be... as we'll learn.

Scahill's digging eventually leads him to someone named McRaven and a secret army called JSOC. JSOC was first created back in the 1980s. During Iraq's "Deck of Cards" days, it was JSOC that eliminated the deck's most wanted. It wasn't until the killing of Osama Bin Laden that the country first learned about the existence of JSOC... and McRaven came out of the shadows. Scahill first became aware of McRaven because he appeared on a cellphone photo from the Gardez incident.

Dirty Wars is like a fast moving news story. Information that's denied in the beginning of the film is later confirmed. This is definitely a controversial film, in part because the topic is controversial, no matter how you tell it. While Scahill definitely has a point of view, the story is so riveting and well told that it's hard not to give it some credence. Unlike a Michael Moore documentary that starts with a theory and goes after supporting evidence, Scahill appears to follow leads wherever they take him. Gardez is only the starting point, and there's no doubt that many innocent people have been killed. Officially, "they were in the wrong place at the wrong time... casualties of war." It's impossible not to find this disturbing. It's not a Democrat or Republican thing, but we'd really like a better explanation. However, we're not likely to get the classified part of the story any time soon. It's hard to deny that the killings, rather than eliminating enemies, have created more of them. It's not just in Afghanistan... Scahill takes us to Yemen and Somalia. But the frontlines keep expanding.

No matter how you come down on the issues, this film, along with the book will become part of the national dialog, so it's well worth seeing. Jeremy Scahill has enough credibility that it's impossible to ignore his reporting. It's doubtful that we'll ever be privy to the classified information, so in that regard, the story is seriously incomplete. But one thing we know for sure is that we're creating an "endless list of enemies." Winding down these wars seems nearly impossible, and that's perhaps the most disturbing part of all. "We've created one hell of a hammer. And for the rest of our lives, we'll be looking for nails."

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
War correspondent Jeremy Scahill investigates claims of secret killings of women and children by Americans in Afghanistan and discovers a secret army

Popcorn Profile
Audience: Grown-ups
Distribution: Art house
Mood: Depressing
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: Amateur video
Primary Driver: Convey information
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Timely topic & Thought provoking

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