WHERE OTHERS FEAR TO TREAD Journalist Jeremy Scahill interviews survivors of a US Special
Forces raid in Afghanistan.
United States commandos answerable directly to President Barack Obama are killing countless innocent civilians every night in dozens of countries around the world.
Rather than fighting terrorism, these missions to kill alleged militants often come before the intended targets have ever done anything violent or illegal. And even if soldiers are lucky enough to hit their target — and often they don’t — these attacks, by covert raid or submarine- or drone-launched missile, also kill and maim innocent bystanders, turning actual and potential American sympathizers and allies into blood-feud sworn enemies of the United States.
Under the George W. Bush administration, and vastly and secretly expanded under the Obama administration, the US has created a self-perpetuating cycle of secret worldwide combat, robbing families in this country and around the globe of loved ones, peaceful futures, and the numberless benefits of security at home and abroad.
These are the theses — and the undeniable conclusions — of Jeremy Scahill’s newest book, Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield (Nation Books, $32.99) and its companion Dirty Wars film, directed by Richard Rowley, which SPACE Gallery is bringing to screen at the Portland Museum of Art four times this weekend.
In many ways the 83-minute film, distributed by indie-movie kingmakers IFC Films/Sundance Selects, is a trailer for the book. Taken on its own, the movie is a slow, dark procedural, following pieces of Scahill’s extensive multi-year investigation into how the Joint Special Operations Command, “the most covert unit in the military, and the only one that reports directly to the White House,” has taken charge in the fight against terrorism. In the process, JSOC has gotten Obama’s permission to kill anyone anywhere in the world — even US citizens — without specific allegations of wrongdoing, any functioning oversight or real spending limits, and in ways that only inflame international anti-American opinion, ensuring a steady supply of potential targets for a neverending war.
The film has compelling moments, to be sure. In the first ten minutes, for example, we meet a man who was at a party that was raided by US Special Forces, killing his wife and other family members, including an Afghan police commander who had extensively trained alongside the US military. The man tells of seeing the soldiers dig the bullets out of the bodies — even from people who were still alive — with their knives. Then the man himself was taken prisoner and held for several days. Upon his return to his village, he had been radicalized: “I wanted to wear a suicide jacket and blow myself up among the Americans,” he tells Scahill.
The corresponding scene in the book is stronger, by far. Of course it lacks the visceral video of a man dancing with friends and family only hours before he is killed by US Special Forces. It doesn’t include the actual sobs of a grieving woman. And the text also doesn’t let you hear the sweet, high-pitched voice of a six-year-old Afghan girl as she recites the names of family members Americans killed that night.