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Short Takes: Dirty Wars

By Nicolas Rapold

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(Richard Rowley, U.S., 2012)

Dirty Wars Richard Rowley

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? Dirty Wars makes the case that the War on Terror under President Obama has perpetrated fresh abuses of power through the activities of an elite military group known as the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). According to the film’s prime mover, Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill, JSOC conducts raids on and oversees missile strikes in places where we aren’t officially at war—and has even targeted Americans.

Richard Rowley’s sobering documentary, co-written by Scahill and director/ screenwriter David Riker, dramatizes the journalist’s unfolding exposé with a tone of ever-darkening dismay. As in other personally guided investigative docs like Gasland, Scahill gives a running in-your-head monologue while he chases down his leads. There are clandestine meetings with warlords and grainy footage from desolate bomb sites in locations ranging from Yemen and Afghanistan to Somalia and . . . Park Slope.

Scahill’s voiceover has a grim relentlessness that ties everything together, while maintaining the pretense that the viewer is at his side as he makes his discoveries. As the author of a new 680-page book on this subject, Scahill clearly has a lot to say in Nation-muckraking mode, suggesting a world of connections just beyond one’s grasp. Dirty Wars wraps a hefty chunk of his investigative journalism in one understandably paranoid package, with music by the Kronos Quartet to boot.

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