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Laramie Movie Scope:
Dirty Wars

Secret military units fight secret wars around the world

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 4, 2013 -- This documentary film is out there on the dangerous edge of journalism. It tells the kinds of stories that can lead to career-ending smear campaigns, jail or even death, and that is just at the hands of governments. Getting these stories involves going to very dangerous places. Jeremy Scahill is one of a small number of investigative journalists willing to get stories like those in this film.

Scahill, author of “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield” takes a camera crew with him into these dangerous places, tracking the activities of a secretive military force called the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). This organization controls Special Mission Units (SMU) which carry out attacks in such far-flung places as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.

One of the alleged SMU missions investigated by Scahill in the film is at Gardez, a village in Afghanistan. Witnesses tell Scahill that the Americans came to this village and killed an Afghan police commander and three women, two of them pregnant. The attack was meant to kill terrorists, but apparently targeted the wrong house. Later in the film, we see Commander William H. McRaven of the Special Operations Command making a peace offering to the affected family in Gardez, including the sacrifce of a goat.

This sort of “collateral damage” has been well-documented in missile strikes and drone strikes. Here Scahill presents evidence that a lot of innocent people are dying in more conventional type raids carried out by Special Missions Units. Scahill also presents evidence that these deaths are not widely known because they are done in secret and they are covered up afterward. Evidence is removed, sometimes by cutting bullets out of bodies, and the missions are classified secret.

These Special Mission Units are outside the normal U.S. military organizations. The Special Operations Command reports directly to President Obama. The film takes us to a number of places where these secret operations happened.

The film shows Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye in jail, at the personal request of President Obama. Eventually the journalist was pardoned two years later by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the President of Yemen, over Obama's objections. Abdulelah Haider Shaye earned the ire of the U.S. when he reported that an American cruise missile strike in Yemen had killed 14 women and 21 children. Originally, the Yemeni government had taken the blame for the attack.

The film concludes with two drone attacks which killed two American citizens, Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, in Yemen in October, 2011. Scahill argues that the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, by the order of the President, crosses a line in American and international law which should not be crossed. One gets the feeling that America is losing its soul with these kinds of attacks.

In addition to legal and moral arguments, Scahill makes a further argument against these kinds of military strikes, and that is the “collateral damage” of innocent people being killed by mistake, men, women and children, are creating more enemies than we are eliminating with these strikes. That is a question that deserves an answer.

This is a very disturbing film. From a journalistic point of view, it would be better to have more documentation for the claims made in this film, but enough evidence is presented to raise serious concerns about the legality and the wisdom of carrying on these secret wars. Most of the video shot in this film is done with hand-held cameras. Video from various other sources is also used. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2013 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)