Dirty Wars (2013)

dirty-wars-posterBy: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –

When the Oscar nominations for Documentary Feature came in, I was surprised to see Dirty Wars make the cut.  Granted, I hadn’t seen the film yet, but after a decade plus of War on Terror/Iraq/Afghanistan/Whatever the Hell We’re Calling Things These Days documentaries filling a nomination slot or two year after year, and with so many other strong contenders this year, I thought we’d finally get a field full of different subject matter.


Like this Bieber Terror that is currently gripping the Nation

Well, I was wrong.  This film belongs.  Dirty Wars tells the story of one journalist’s (Jeremy Scahill) investigations into JSOC, who we now know of as the “military” group that nabbed Bin Laden, but who has long operated on the shady, not even remotely legal periphery of the U.S.’s recent wars, both declared-err “authorized” (Iraq and Afghanistan) and not (Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Pakistan, and apparently The Philippines, Trans-Saharan Africa, and throughout the Americas… What. The. Fuck.?)

A Toast

I don’t know how you can watch this film and not see red afterwards.  If you’re a conservative of a certain ilk, it’d be because of the all of the brazen lies on the display or the temerity of calling the actions of “our” soldiers and decision-makers into question.  Possibly also if you’re a liberal of a certain ilk, because newsflash, folks, what everybody’s punching bag George W. Bush began, current President Obama has just expanded tenfold, apparently with zeal.

Barack Obama

Change.  Indeed.

Basically, Scahill meticulously documents his investigation into unreported, outside of the rules of engagement, well, engagements, which have apparently expanded to 2 or 3 per night in Afghanistan alone.  In these “engagements”, military members affiliated with JSOC raid homes, businesses, what have you in order to take out people who have been branded terrorists and put on a “kill list”.  Sometimes they get real bad guys, I’m sure.  Other times, when the intel’s bad, innocents (like the civilian wedding party which had five members, including two pregnant women and a U.S. trained police officer, gunned down in front of their eyes) get maimed or killed.  There is zero accountability for this.

From there, he follows the threads to Yemen, where a missile strike (in a country we are NOT at war with, mind you) apparently targeting a terrorist arsenal blows up a camp of Berber tribesmen… well, more specifically, a bunch of the children of a camp of Berber tribesmen.  The Yemeni journalist investigating this was imprisoned, and when the Yemeni President was about to bow to public pressure and free him, President Obama personally called him and intervened, requesting that he stay imprisoned.  He was freed last year, thankfully.

I hate sounding like some bugfuck Alex Jones conspiracy nut, but this stuff is all well documented.  Oh, last year apparently another drone strike targeting an Al Qaeda leader in Yemen instead wiped out 17 members of a wedding party.  Again, nobody has been held accountable on the public stage for this.

Dirty Wars just keeps following this trail down the rabbit hole, as similar stories across the region, from Somalia to Iraq to Yemen again, reoccur.  One story in particular (and you may have heard of it) is that of Anwar Aw-Awlaki, yes, at one point Public Enemy No. 1 and yes, certainly a  terrorist.  Make that AMERICAN CITIZEN Anwar Aw-Awlaki, who was killed, WITHOUT A TRIAL, by a drone strike.



Sure, you could argue that he renounced his citizenship by committing acts of treason… but from a legal standpoint that’s dubious as fuck, and still doesn’t provide a (legal) basis for execution.  Oh, and how about his 16 year old boy, with no documented terrorist activities outside of being the son of his father?  Yep, killed him too.  Nope, we never got an official explanation, although sources have said Obama was “surprised and upset” with the attack, and that “significant steps” have been taken to avoid civilian casualties.  As the victims of last year’s wedding fiasco how well that’s working out for them.

This is how terrorists are made, folks.  If a, say, team of Chinese special forces operatives showed up at your door in the middle of the night, put a bullet in your pregnant wife, and then fucked off without an explanation, never to suffer any public consequences, and all you eventually get (sometimes) is an acknowledgment that they made a mistake, how would you respond?  What if it was happening 2 to 3 times a night, all across your State?  Welcome to the life of your average Afghani villager.

Okay, rant over.  Clearly all I’m really qualified to do here is comment on the film itself, and as documentaries go, it’s a decently made one with an excellent score provided by the Kronos Quartet.  Scahill’s first person shooting style is both ballsy and lends credence to the information he’s providing.  I just wish that information was less credible.  As an American citizen, I really do.

Beer Two

The one issue I have with the film is stylistically.  It clearly massages footage at points for dramatic effect, like withholding translation of the little girl’s words until later, and little touches it uses to spice things up like the espionage-y photo snapping transitions or night vision scenes introduce the illusion of a third party watching or interacting with the subjects for no apparent reason.  Stick to the information-providing, folks.  That’s plenty engaging by itself, and this cheap style shit just waters it down.



This is either an insidious piece of propaganda of the worst order, or a seething indictment of a country and government that has utterly betrayed the ideals that it’s supposed to stand for.  I really don’t see how Dirty Wars could be interpreted as anything but one of the two.


Drinking Game

Take a Drink: every time you hear about another innocent casualty

Take a Drink: whenever gunfire is heard

Take a Drink: whenever you see something that positively sickens you.

Do a Shot: for every express act of willful ignorance by an authority figure

About Henry J. Fromage

Movieboozer is a humor website and drinking games are intended for entertainment purposes only, please drink responsibly.

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