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by James Corbett
June 18, 2013
Dirty Wars is the title of a new documentary film released earlier this month, claiming to document the covert US actions in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere in the name of the phoney “War on Terror.” Narrated by and starring Nation / Democracy Now alumnus Jeremy Scahill, it is co-produced by Anthony Arnove and Brenda Coughlin and directed by Richard Rowley, and its trailer gives a hint of its slick, modern Hollywood docudrama sensibility.
The documentary has already won raves, predictably enough, from Scahill’s colleagues at the Nation and Democracy Now, as well as other sympathetic “progressive” outlets. It has even brought Scahill himself a certain level of celebrity in mainstream circles, something that a cursory glance at Scahill’s Twitter feed is enough to confirm is greatly important to him—that feed containing many more photos of the celebrities he meets and hangs out with than news or information about the Dirty War he is supposedly documenting. His mainstream pop culture icon status was cemented during his recent appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
But is Scahill’s documentary worthy of the endless praise that is being heaped on it? Sadly, according to researchers like Douglas Valentine in his scathing review of the film, “Dirty Wars and Self-indulgence” the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ As its critics—few and far between as they may be—have been at pains to point out, the documentary fails to explore the meaning or history of the phrase it has taken for its title, Dirty Wars, or examined the people (and the agency) which has had the biggest hand in conducting these operations in the past: the CIA.
Earlier this month I had the chance to talk to Douglas Valentine about Scahill’s documentary and the real history of the Dirty Wars that Scahill’s movie fails to mention.
Some may argue that this history of the dirty wars, while important, is not essential to the understanding of the modern day operations. After all, the current War on Terror dirty war is being led by different people in a different stage of history. But Valentine’s charge is a serious one; either Scahill is deliberately dumbing down the movie—focusing on interminable close-ups of himself and his reactions, using emotional manipulation to “grip” the audience, pretending to not know about the existence of JSOC in order to dramatize his “discovery” for the audience—or, worse yet, he genuinely doesn’t know this history, and the characters behind it. Either way, as the film’s critics note, the CIA—the organization that has been the lynchpin of all such operations in the past and has a documented history of military assets for plausible deniability in denying involvement in such actions—gets off scot-free in this 90 minute “expose” of the war on terror, only being mentioned once or twice, in passing, with excessive focus on JSOC and General William McCraven.
Whether the CIA designed this type of limited hangout or not, it plays into their hands to have a supposedly daring documentarian “exposing” the covert war on terror without identifying the parties and people behind it. Simultaneously, it works out well for Scahill and his cohorts, who get to bask in the mainstream attention that this supposedly taboo subject is—for some reason—receiving.
Whether the public will dare to raise these questions with Scahill in his public promotional events for the movie remains to be seen. Those looking for a response to such allegations would be directed away from Scahill’s Twitter feed, although those looking for pictures of Scahill with various celebrities are encouraged to stay tuned for his latest Twitpic.