Director Talks about ‘Dirty Wars’: Part II


by Jason Harris

According to the movie’s website, Dirty Wars “begins as a report into a U.S. night raid gone terribly wrong in a remote corner of Afghanistan, and quickly turns into a global investigation of the secretive and powerful Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

As Jeremy Scahill digs deeper into the activities of JSOC, he is pulled into a world of covert operations, unknown to the public and carried out across the globe by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress. In military jargon, JSOC teams ‘find, fix, and finish’ their targets, who are selected through a secret process. No target is off limits for the ‘kill list,’ including U.S. citizens.

Drawn into the stories and lives of the people he meets along the way, Scahill is forced to confront the painful consequences of a war spinning out of control, as well as his own role as a journalist.

We encounter two parallel casts of characters.

The CIA agents, Special Forces operators, military generals, and U.S.-backed warlords who populate the dark side of American wars go on camera and on the record, some for the first time.

We also see and hear directly from survivors of night raids and drone strikes, including the family of the first American citizen marked for death and being hunted by his own government.”

The world has changed so much since director Rick Rowley and writer Jeremy Scahill began Dirty Wars. When they started the film, there was no public discussion on the war on terror, Rowley said. No one was talking about drones, targeted killing, assassinations or any of that. There may have been some talk on the fringes, but nothing like there is now, Rowley said. It eventually moved from the fringes to the editorial pages of the Washington Post.

Rowley doesn’t know why it is being talked about now when it wasn’t when they started the film. He thinks this discussion should have happened a decade ago so people would know why the war is being waged, what it’s doing to the world, and doing to us as a people. “It’s wonderful that it is, but the rhythms where they take us are difficult to explain.”

He’s not sure how these things happen, but after Sept. 11 it was bound to take some time before we could soberly look at what was going on, Rowley said. He thinks it could be happening now that President Barack Obama has been re-elected and he won’t be facing a challenge from a Republican contender.

“I think its safe for them to come forward and begin to talk about issues that they would feel differently talking about if you were about to go up against [Mitt] Romney.”

Rowley hopes his film is a part of the conversation that is going on at the moment. There are more than a dozen wars going on in the world at this time.

“There are a dozen of those countries where wars are being fought in our name, but without our knowledge and without our consent. And at home, they have assumed the right to execute American citizens without formal charges and without a trial.”

Rowley believes fundamentally important decisions have been made about who we are as a country and how we operate in the world, and it has all been made over the last decade in secret without a national debate. These wars have been orchestrated by the secretive and powerful JSOC, which Scahill is about to sue, he said. The lawsuit is coming about because of all the freedom of information requests that have not been answered by JSOC.

Scahill was also pressured not to publish certain articles, Rowley said. Scahill was threatened and his computer was hacked. Some of these instances are chronicled in the film. The film also delves deeper into JSOC’s activities.

You can find out where Dirty Wars is showing on its website,

Director Talks about ‘Dirty Wars’: Part One


By Jason Harris



Dirty Wars, which was released in June, follows investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller Blackwater, into the heart of America’s covert wars. He travels from Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia and beyond.

“The war on terror is the most important story of our generation,” said Rick Rowley, director of Dirty Wars. “It’s the reason why I became a war reporter a decade ago, because this is the longest war of our history. We passionately believe the American people have a right and a responsibility to know about the wars being fought in their names around the world.”

This global war on terror has killed thousands and thousands of people, including American servicemen, he said. It has also cost billions of dollars.

“It’s unfolding mostly in the shadows without any public knowledge or without any meaningful congressional oversight,” Rowley said.

Rowley and Scahill wanted to make a film that would bring the war out of the shadows and into the light of public discussion, he said. He wants people to have a conversation about the war, what the United States is doing in the world and what’s becoming of us as a nation, he said.

There were dangers for Rowley and Scahill while they were filming.

“It wasn’t safe for us to travel around with a big crew, so it was just Jeremy and I traveling together,” Rowley said.

Jeremy was the interviewer and on-air talent, while Rowley was the behind-the-scenes person responsible for filming, sound and doing any other production function required of him, he said.

“In each country, we figured out a different way to work and to keep us safe.”

They grew their beards out, dressed in local clothing and drove around in a beat-up Toyota in Afghanistan, he said. They had to feel out the edge of how far they could safely go outside of Kabul.

“We had to go out and came back before the sun set, because the Taliban take control of the roads at sunset.”

Their calculations were wrong occasionally, which is shown in Dirty Wars when they were trying to return to Kabul, Rowley said. There was an ambush, which caused them to be stuck on the road after sunset. They ended up hiding out in a room nearby until sunrise when they could travel safely again, he said.

There plan was to fly below the radar in Afghanistan, but in Somalia it wasn’t a possibility.

“The only way for us to move around was with security,” Rowley said about filming in Somalia. “We never liked the high security because it changes the way you operate in a country.”

In Somalia, they had to drive around with twelve soldiers armed with machine guns, a decoy vehicle and motorcycles riding with the convoy, he said.

“I have never been in a city as dangerous as Somalia. It really is a surreal place.”

They were there filming at the height of the battle between the local insurgency and the African Union. The insurgents weren’t accurate with their weapons past 100 meters, Rowley said.

“We felt relatively safe in that you had to be very unlucky to get hit.”

Jeremy did tell him that he saw the insurgents spraying bullets trying to hit him after seeing a white guy with the warlord, Rowley said.

“Luckily, I didn’t see it or I would have changed the way I was working there.”

Rowley did recount a story that one of the warlord’s troops told him about another journalist who was shot and killed in the exact same spot they were filming at.

The entire filmmaking process took about three years. The film cost between $300,000 and $400,000. It was financed by a number of different foundations, Rowley said.

“It’s a film that wouldn’t have been commissioned by a television network.”

This movie could have only been made with help from the nonprofit sector because of the risks and the scope of the investigation, he said.


Dirty Wars opened at Real Art Ways in Hartford, CT on Friday, July 12. The theater is located at 56 Arbor Street. Director Rick Rowley will be attending the 2:15 p.m. screening at RAW today, which is hosted by the ACLU of Connecticut with Medea Benjamin of Code Pink