Jeremy Scahill: the man exposing the US Dirty War.
By Stephen Moss 24th November 2013.
While making the documentary Dirty Wars, Scahill met the survivors of secret US hit squads in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – and promised to tell their stories.
Jeremy Scahill, whose provocative documentary Dirty Wars is released in the UK this week, has been described as a “progressive journalist” and an activist in the same mould as Glenn Greenwald. Is “progressive” a word he is comfortable with? “It’s not a term I would reject in terms of my personal politics,” he says, “but I see myself as an independent journalist and my mission is to try to tell stories about real people.”
Scahill’s critics write him off as an activist or an advocate, but he argues that all journalists have a point of view. “Oftentimes the ones who are activists on behalf of the state don’t get labelled as activists. People who accept the state’s version of events are considered objective journalists. People who question the state’s version of events, particularly in the face of overwhelming evidence that the state is either lying or involved in extra-legal activity, are tarred with the brush of being activists. There is a systematic smearing of anyone who questions the state, while people who are slavishly devoted to advocacy for the state somehow wear the crown of objectivity.”
The real people in the film – and the book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, which accompanies it – are the victims of what are, in effect, US hit squads operating in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other places where the American government is waging its “war on terror”. Starting with one murderous attack on an Afghan police chief and his family in eastern Afghanistan, Scahill widens the focus to portray an out-of-control US military, operating through a shadowy organisation called the Joint Special Operations Command, stalking an ever increasing number of targets in an apparently endless war. It is a compelling picture that tries to make sense of the spiralling number of drone strikes and targeted assassinations; tries, too, to prise a reaction from viewers who have been desensitised by a decade of such killings.
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Scahill began work on the film in early 2010, when he travelled to Afghanistan with documentary director Richard Rowley, a friend and colleague with whom he had worked in Baghdad. Rowley wanted to make a film about Afghanistan; Scahill wanted to examine President Obama’s hawkish foreign policy. They have ended up doing both. “We started to investigate a series of night raids [by US forces],” says Scahill, “and discovered that the people doing the raids were members of this elite secret unit. When we realised where else in the world they were operating, we realised we had a film.”
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