It was around 10:45 P.M. Sunday night, May 1st, 2011, when I received a New York Times alert on my phone claiming that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan. Is this real? Within minutes of turning on the TV, and seeing the ‘Breaking News’ banners flash across the bottom of every network’s screen, the realization of its veracity sank in.
Overnight, SEAL Team Six, the elite Navy SEALS from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), who led the pre-dawn raid that killed bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, became household names and national heroes. Disney even attempted to trademark the name SEAL Team Six.
Who are these guys, and why have we never heard of JSOC before? That is the subject of the new documentary by Richard Rowley and Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield.
The film, based on the recently released book with the film’s namesake, follows reporter Jeremy Scahill, author of the New-York Times best-seller Blackwater and investigative correspondent for The Nation magazine, as he uncovers America’s new covert wars and the most secret elite fighting force that carries them out.
The story begins with Scahill investigating several American strikes inside Afghanistan that killed innocent civilians, many of them women and children, with no apparent ties to any terrorist groups.
One of these was in the city of Gardez in the southeastern part of Afghanistan, where an American-trained police commander and several members of his family – including two pregnant women, were killed in a 2010 night raid. A cell phone video of moments before the raid shows the family gathered, clapping and dancing, celebrating the naming of a child. In what sounded like a recount of a torture flick, one of the surviving members of the family states that he saw the American forces dig the bullets out of the dead, pregnant, women’s bodies so as not to leave any traces of their attendance.
The U.S military and NATO initially denied involvement, claiming that it was the Taliban that had ambushed the family. But, as news stories began to leak, they eventually admitted their involvement and sent Admiral William McRaven himself, the commander of the most elite secret U.S. military force, to apologize and gift the family a sheep (a forgiveness ritual of that culture).
The film’s central theme is that, provoked or not, America is increasingly fighting wars in secret and without checks or balances. Once upon a time, before 9/11, it was customary for the U.S. to publicly verbalize a formal declaration of war and seek congressional approval in order to launch any military strikes against a new country. Not anymore. Today, JSOC’s units carry out night raids, drone strikes and targeted assassinations in an estimated 75 countries (most of which we have not declared war against), while also outsourcing some of its work to warlords in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Its motto: The World if a Battlefield.
While it was the Bush administration that deployed these phantom militias, Scahill discovers that President Barack Obama has expanded their operations and given them new reach and legitimacy, hitting “harder, faster, stronger”. Kill list are drawn up and updated constantly as each new strike, usually based on bad intelligence, breeds more and more new terrorists –leading to an endless war that extends through Republican and Democratic administrations. A recurrent remark in the film, from those who lost family and friends because of these strikes, was: “I want jihad against Americans,” –many of who were once pro-America. They also refer to the JSOC SEALS as “American Taliban” because of their signature beards.
In an interview with Scahill yesterday, he spoke of the importance of the Wikileaks cables in piecing the together his investigation as well as providing him with valuable leads:
“It’s impossible to quantify how important WikiLeaks has been to my work. We found some of these warlords in Somalia because of the WikiLeaks cables. Our knowledge of the American role in that cruise missile attack in that village in Yemen, where we went and interviewed with the survivors, we know from the WikiLeaks cables that the United States had conspired with the Yemeni government to have the U.S bomb Yemen, and then Yemen to take the responsibility for it -and we learn that in the WikiLeaks cables. When we were trying to figure out where to go around the world we literally were scouring those cables to look for interesting stories that may be off the beaten path.”
In the process of gathering information and making this documentary, Scahill reveals that his computer was hacked. He obviously pissed off the wrong people, and something tells me that those people have access to drones.
This film is a chilling revelation of the true costs of war, as well as what our government has been doing in the name of our nation-state. If there is one film that you need to watch regarding the global War of Terror, THIS IS THE ONE.
Danielle DeAbreu is a former model and student at William Paterson University studying Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Political Science.
Follow me on Twitter @DaniDeAbreu13