Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines: We all know the basic branches of the U.S. military (even if many of us have the Village People to thank for that), and let’s throw in the Coast Guard to boot. But judging from this eye-opening, frequently devastating exposé of recent foreign conflicts, another fighting group—the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)—should be added to that list, even if its missions, counting in the hundreds, remain secret. Based on Nation journalist Jeremy Scahill’s extensive research on the ground in Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, Dirty Wars goes well beyond the euphoria that greeted Navy SEAL Team 6 when it took out Osama bin Laden. The movie chronicles years of secret White House–authorized attacks, along with their distressing collateral damage.
Bolstered by strong evidence and persuasive footage (disclosure: one of the film’s producers, Anthony Arnove, is a former colleague of mine at the political magazine In These Times), the doc resists becoming a factual slog—mostly—by remembering the human dimension. Scahill himself takes scruffy center stage and narrates in a worried flow of thoughts, adding immeasurably to the diary-like feel. There’s a softly keening score by the Kronos Quartet, never cloying or sentimental. And, as official denials and drone attacks mount, a sense of unavoidable escalation is hard to shake. Dirty Wars leaves some deeper questions unexplored, mainly the philosophical struggle between security and secrecy, but makes up grandly with raw data and one correspondent’s passion.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf