Dirty Wars or: How Your Dead Family is Just “Collateral Damage”

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The NSA continues to wiretap our phone lines. The military tosses whistleblowers into solitary confinement pre-trial. Domestic drones soar above our cities. No matter one’s political affiliation, the government’s lack of transparency, flagrant disregard for checks-and-balances, and ever-growing war machine lead many to wonder whether the tactics used to hunt down and kill innocent civilians in “Dirty Wars” – reporter Jeremy Scahill’s horrifying documentary on covert US military attacks around the globe – won’t be hitting closer to home soon.

For years, Scahill has operated as national security correspondent for The Nation magazine. In 2008, he authored the chilling bestselling book, “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” His experience covering war internationally led him to create “Dirty Wars” to expose US government-led night raids, drone attacks, torture, and other appallingly frequent debauched operations in countries like Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia – places where the government allows, and even orders, the killing of civilians (and American citizens) seemingly without conscience or fear of retribution. The film documents Scahill’s interactions with victims’ families and his efforts to bring the injustices he reveals to Congress, the Army and the media – efforts that are met with stonewalling, denials, and scarier yet, admissions that something is very wrong – something that even those in power do not have the courage to challenge or even discuss. Scahill’s research leads him to “that something”: a paramilitary force at the very top called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) – a force that gets its “dirty” working orders directly from the president of the United States.

Truthout interviewed Scahill to find out just how much more Orwellian things can get.

Lauren Wright for Truthout: Billions upon billions of dollars are being pumped into the government’s JSOC unit. Its kill list and the countries it is operating in (over 70 now) are growing daily. What can we as Americans do to stop this seemingly insatiable beast?

Jeremy Scahill: “I’m not running for office and we didn’t make this film to tell people what to think or do. But we haven’t even had a real debate in this country about what a healthy national security policy should look like. We’re at the beginning stages of a conversation. If we as citizens don’t realize that our basic liberties are under attack right now and make it our business to confront the security state, things are only going to get far worse.”

Wright: Obviously this is a big issue overseas, but do you think this type of “intelligence” gathering and these secretive “covert operations” are affecting us domestically as well?

Scahill: “Look at the context of all this. We’ve got a constitutional law professor who is also a Nobel Peace Prize winning president presiding over the surveillance state. We have the aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers; we have journalists who are having their phone records seized by the justice department; we have this intensification of drone wars….And now we have this info on phone wiretapping in the US. We [US citizens] are operating out of fear and sacrificing our most basic liberties for the idea that we need to be kept safe by the state. For too long people have been silent in the face of the erosion of their civil liberties. And if this is going to happen under a Democratic president who is viewed by many as a transformative figure, then it’s only going to get worse.”

Wright: What inspired you to make this film?

Scahill: “We [the filmmakers] wanted to put a human face on the people on the other side of the missile. We want to get you to recognize their humanity. They’re not “collateral damage.” They are human beings who are dying. I’ve been doing this kind of reporting for my entire adult life. We were sort of looking at it like this – eight years of the Bush war in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, a perpetual state of war. Then Obama campaigns on the idea that he’s going to change the way this country conducts its foreign affairs, but it became very clear early on that this wasn’t going to happen and that he was intensifying the war in many respects – expanding drone strikes, the war in Yemen, special ops night raids with no journalists covering them….So we started to investigate these series of raids, and when we realized it was this covert JSOC group, we became obsessed with figuring out who they were.”

Wright: Are you worried you’ll end up on kill list, especially when you’re traveling internationally? You stated in the movie they’re already tapping your phone, your computer…

Scahill: “To be blunt with you no, of course I’m not on a kill list. I don’t think that at all. I think the people they are putting on these kill lists are people that they believe are engaged in terrorist plots. I think the threats that people like me endure are of a different nature. I’m concerned they are monitoring communications of journalists and in doing so they are snooping into the lives of not just me, but the people we are talking to. And those are the people that could be at risk. I think that everybody that does this kind of reporting right now has cause for serious concern about being monitored. I’m more concerned about protecting the sources who give me info.”

Dirty Wars opens in theaters throughout the US in June and July 2013.