Does the Bill of Rights apply to all Americans, or only those the government deems worthy?
Should American citizens be assassinated for committing crimes — however heinous — without being charged, tried, or convicted?
These are some of the exigent questions asked by Jeremy Scahill in his new film, Dirty Wars, a shocking piece of investigative journalism about the covert campaigns waged by U.S. Special Forces since the Sept. 11 attacks. (It’s a companion piece to Scahill’s book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.)
More disturbing still, the film contends that these mini-wars escape congressional oversight and media scrutiny because they justify themselves under the banner of the war on terror.
Scahill, 38, a national-security correspondent for the Nation, is author of the 2007 best-seller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, about the role of private military companies in war.
His latest investigation began as a follow-up story to a 2010 British report that U.S. troops had erroneously targeted a family in Gardez, in Afghanistan’s Paktia Province, an area with heavy Taliban activity.
Special Forces troops showed up as part of a rapidly escalating series of night raids — 1,700 in a three-month period alone. The troops killed an American-trained police commander and three women, two of whom were pregnant.
Witnesses told Scahill the Americans dug out the bullets lodged in the victims’ bodies, wiping out the only forensic clues. NATO’s press office tried to cover up the attack by naming the Taliban as the killers. Scahill presented his findings to the House Judiciary Committee — and only one member showed up.
Eventually, the reporter found that the Gardez attack was one of hundreds of missions undertaken by a Special Forces group called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which reports directly to the president.
Scahill follows some of JSOC’s activities, which go back to the beginning of the war on terror, finding more evidence that the group caused the deaths of numerous terrorists — and plenty of innocent victims in more than 45 countries that are not at war with us.
Scahill’s film takes an even darker turn when it looks into the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who was denied the right to trial guaranteed all Americans.
Scahill gives an in-depth look at the CIA-led drone strike against the New Mexico-born al-Awlaki, a Yemenese-American imam, while in Yemen. The White House said al-Awlaki was an active al-Qaida recruiter.
Grounds for arrest — or assassination? The Justice Department asserted that the killing was constitutional because President Barack Obama decreed it so.
Two weeks later, another drone strike killed al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was born in Denver. The administration said he was not the target, but refused to say who was.
Dirty Wars is essential viewing for all Americans, conservatives and liberals alike. It’s intense and depressing. It’ll make you angry.
Above all, it’ll make you wonder: What are we willing to sacrifice in the name of national security?